Thursday, December 23, 2021

Holidays at the Inn and Tavern

It is that wonderful time of year again when we spend time with friends and family and welcome warm thoughts of holidays past.  We often reminisce of holidays past, and the use of fragrant evergreens and warm candlelight to represent life and light during winter. It is this tradition that has led to the now popular custom of placing lights on Christmas trees. Historians believe that “the Protestant reformer Martin Luther is credited with first decorating a small evergreen tree with candles, representing the stars in the sky that twinkled over Bethlehem,” in the 16th century (Leiser 2015). For centuries candles have been used not only to trim trees and pose as the gathering location for holiday celebrations, but they have also been a beacon for weary travelers and the main source of light in the dark. The artifacts we are discussing today may have done just that.  

With the warmth and lights of the holidays in mind, we are examining the archaeological remains of a candle and candlestick. Recovered during archaeological investigations of a 19th century inn and tavern site, these artifacts may have been used to light a room where friends came to enjoy one another’s company, or to light a window to help guide a traveler to the inn.

Water Street Inn circa 1900 (Pennsylvania State Archives, Ira J. Stouffer Photographs, MG-327, 1915)

In 1842 Lewis Mytinger built a large brick hotel and tavern called the Water Street Inn. The inn stood at the junction of two major roads in the village of Water Street in Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania. A gathering place for locals and travelers alike, the inn was leased to a series of innkeepers for several years, before being used as a girls’ boarding school in the early 1850’s.  In the early 1920’s the inn underwent extensive renovations, but soon after began to deteriorate.

Water Street Inn site in 1991 (Heberling 2015)

The inn continued to function as a tavern until the 1970s when fire damaged the structure and the southern end of the building collapsed. In 1992 archaeological investigations began for PennDOT’s Water Street intersection improvements, and in 1995 the remaining structure and ruins were razed for public safety reasons.

Archaeologists recovered this copper alloy candlestick during their investigation. It is identified as a socket candlestick due to the socket or pocket, where the candle is placed. The holder has an out-turned rim, a hollow shaft, and a short, broken tube on the bottom that would have fit into the missing base (Hume 1969, Geake 2019). This candlestick’s period of manufacture began during the late 16th century and continued through the 18th century (Geake 2019). Since this candlestick was found on a 19th century site, it may have been a family heirloom that had been passed down through generations and ended up at this inn. In the 17th century the popular sport of candle jumping, a game where young girls would jump over a lit candle trying not to put out the flame, was another use for candlesticks (González and Hatch 2019).  Perhaps this candlestick and the game had been passed down through a family to one of the young girls that had attended the boarding school located in the former Water Street Inn.

Candlestick and candle fragment from Water Street Inn Collection (36Hu151), The State Museum of Pennsylvania 

When the inn and tavern were constructed, there was no electricity, and the main light source for rooms would have been candlelight or oil lamps. Along with the candlestick holder a section of a white tapered candle was also recovered from the site. The wick is missing from the candle, but the hole where it once existed remains. Wax candles have been made for centuries, but major developments in candle making occurred in the 1820s when French chemist, Michel Chevreul discovered how to extract stearic acid from animal fats, creating stearic wax. Joseph Morgan developed a machine that permitted continuous production of molded candles in 1834, making candles more affordable and less laborious to produce. By the mid-1850s paraffin wax was first produced, which then led to the mix of paraffin wax and stearic acid for a higher burning point, resulting in a much stronger and odorless burning candle (National Candle Association 2020). The candle found at the Water Street Inn site is most likely a 19th or 20th century molded candle.

 We often take for granted the ability to flip a switch and turn on a light, but the use of candles for lighting the way is still an essential tool in many regions of the world. The lighting of candles is an important cultural tradition for many and illustrates the important role that light plays in our lives. The Water Street Inn and Tavern had a long history likely filled with interesting people, colorful personalities and happy children who may have been brought together by this candle. We hope you have enjoyed this “enlightening” bit on candles and Pennsylvania history and our efforts to bring the past to life. We wish you all a happy and healthy holiday season!

View additional candlesticks in the collections from The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. 



Geake, Helen

2019      Finds Recording Guides: Candle holders. The British Museum. Electronic document,, accessed December 15, 2021.


González, Kerry S. and Brad Hatch

2019      It Was Colonel Weedon With a Candlestick on Sophia Street: Another “Clue” to Fredericksburg’s Past. Electronic document,, accessed December 15, 2021.


Heberling, Scott D., Brenda Carr, and Patti L. Byra

2015      Phase III Archaeological Data Recovery Water Street Inn Site (36Hu151), Prepared for Pennsylvania Department of Transportation Engineering District 9-0 and the Federal Highway Administration. Heberling Associates, Alexandria, PA.


Hume, Ivor Noel

1969      A Guide to Artifacts of Colonial America. University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia (reprint)


Leiser, Amy

2015      History of the Pennsylvania Christmas Tree. Monroe County Historical Association. Electronic document,, accessed December 14, 2021.


National Candle Association

2020      History. Electronic document,, accessed December 15, 2021



For more information, visit or the Hall of Anthropology and Archaeology at The State Museum of Pennsylvania .

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