The following information is from "Red Lion, The First One Hundred Years", published at the time of Red Lion's Centennial celebration in 1980.
Red Lion Tavern
The most complete early history of any one part of Red Lion is that of the land of the Red Lion Tavern from which the town was named. This is made possible for the most part because descendants of the early tavern owners maintained an ongoing story about their family, passed down through the generations. In addition, the land of the tavern is one of the very few parcels in town that can be traced back through recorded deeds, tax records and maps.
James and Sarah Crosby moved into the Red Lion area around 1785. Their first land holdings and most of their subsequent holdings (up to 330 acres) were just east of Red Lion, near the Peach Bottom Road. They farmed the land and operated a tavern they called the Plantation Inn. In 1802, James Crosby died, leaving instructions in his recorded will that his land holdings were to be sold and distributed among his wife and children. Within 2 years, his wife purchased a 2 1/2 acre plot at the intersection of the Freysville Road (E. Prospect St.) and N. Main St. (then part of the Peach Bottom Road). She was a licensed tavern operator in 1804, so either a tavern was already at the intersection at that time, or she had one built.
Sarah Crosby died in 1826, and operation of the tavern was taken over by her daughter, Mary, and her son-in-law, W. Jacob Nicholas. According to the family story, it was this young couple who named the tavern "Red Lion", after a tavern owned by his family in England. The earliest York County history mentioning Red Lion, written by John Gibson and published in 1886, stated that "The Red Lion Tavern was a characteristic old-time public inn, with the picture of a lion painted red in front of the house. Tradition says that the lion was not a voracious one that scared away thirsty visitors, but a mild, peaceful sort of fellow, with an inviting look".
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George R. Prowell, writing in 1901, gave this account of Red Lion in his extensive history of York County: "The land upon which this borough is built was originally a part of both York and Windsor Townships. This land was first purchased from the heirs of William Penn by one of the earliest settlers west of the Susquehanna. Red Lion was the name of a public inn which stood within the present limits of the borough as early as 1840." (Nicholas ran the tavern from 1826 through 1841.) "On a swinging sign in front of the hotel was a lion painted red and hence the origin of the name. This old time hostelry was a prominent stopping place for wagoners over the public road from Wrightsville and the Susquehanna across York County and the state of Maryland to the city of Baltimore."
The tavern was later operated by a Jacob Hake who last had a tavern license in 1863. The building was used only as a private residence since that time. It stands at 271 North Main Street.
The Incorporation of Red Lion
During the years immediately preceeding 1880, the idea of incorporating the area into a borough was discussed frequently by the people. Finally, a meeting was called on April 8, 1879 by John M. Hyson at Red Lion Hall to discuss the matter. The results of that meeting can be best described by quoting from Red Lion's Golden Jubilee Book. "At this meeting, the sentiment of incorporation became crystallized. It was decided to have a survey made of the intended borough. This original survey was carried out by Jacob R. Wallace on June 7, 1879."
"On January 16, 1880, the Court of Common Pleas of York County confirmed the action of the Grand Jury, whereby the prayer of the petitioners, representing a majority of the free-holders residing within the limits set forth therein, was granted and Red Lion incorporated into a borough."