Preserving history. See what the historic Courthouse Tavern has to offer (Tidewater Review, Novermber 28, 2012)

Staff Writer

KING & QUEEN – In 1864, the Union Army set fire to the buildings that made up the King and Queen Courthouse green. It was the second recorded fire to take out the county’s courthouse, clerk’s office, and jail; the first having burned in 1828, and the second the Courthouse Tavern survived. Lore says that the Union Army refused to burn the tavern down in 1864 after rumors circulated that there was a sick man in one of the rooms. The soldiers were allegedly afraid they’d catch his illness if they went to get the man out of the tavern and would not knowingly burn it down with him inside.

The historic Courthouse Tavern dates back to at least 1802 when surviving tax records show Dr. John Smith owned it and probably used it for his medical practice.

Thirty years later the tavern would change ownership numerous times: Thacker Muire in 1832, Robert Myrrick in 1843, and Lee A. Dunn in 1851.

In 1851, William B. Bird acquired the tavern, which remained in his family for 60 years. Bird’s daughter, Ella Purcell, would take over the tavern in 1893. Purcell is thought to have added the tavern’s third floor and front porch. During these times, the tavern was a busy place, offering food, shelter, and camaraderie for the lawyers and judges that traveled periodically for cases held in King and Queen’s courthouse.

According to Page Mclemore, museum council and historical society member, court was open once a month and since the courthouse was “off the beaten path” the tavern was a necessity.

When the Fleets took over ownership of the tavern in 1911, it was deeded that Purcell would have life-rights to the building and be allowed to live in one of the rooms until her death, which she did until she died in 1926. The Fleet family ran the tavern until 1921 when the Fary family took over until 1941. That year King and Queen County bought the tavern and converted it into office space.

When the county offices moved into the new administration building in 1999, Mclemore said officials suggested to the historical society that the building be used as a museum, and in 2001, with the help of state grants and the Jessie Ball DuPont fund, the Courthouse Tavern Museum first opened its doors.

Mclemore said the historical society painstakingly took the time to rehabilitate the building to help preserve some of its original historic flavor. The brick floor was reconstructed and the fireplace hearths were made from brick found in the original floor. The mantles were copied from the original mantles in the tavern’s second floor bedrooms.

The ground floor of the tavern houses the dining room and a museum office. The floor also includes the “Making a Living” display, including trades through the centuries from 1600-1900, and a Sundial exhibit featuring the 1715 St. Stephens Parish Sundial, the oldest sundial in colonial Virginia, along with the base of the baptismal font from the church. The ground floor also features a courthouse green historic district exhibit as well as an exhibit highlighting information on the tavern building itself.

The first floor includes the tavern parlor where the tavern owners would greet overnight guests. This room features the three centuries of “Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” display, along with period furniture, as well as an early 20th century tea dress made from pineapple fibers and a second day dress from 1882. The first floor also includes a changing exhibits room, which currently features the Ivor Hume Bottle Collection, along with information on bottles and archeological excavation at Newington Plantation.

There is also a library, which offers periodicals, papers, genealogical books, as well as copies of the King and Queen Historical Society’s bulletin chalked full of county information published twice a year since 1956.

The second floor includes two bedrooms: one featuring life pre-plumbing and electricity with kerosene lighting, fireplace, bathing tub, and indoor potty. The room also features a handmade (1855-1860) quilt face believed to have been made in King and Queen by a group of friends as a wedding present before the Civil War intervened. The second bedroom represents the early 20th century, displaying new electrical inventions like fans, heaters, vacuum cleaner, and sewing machine.

The museum grounds also include a log schoolhouse and a carriage house complete with a Franklin Buggy originally used in King and Queen County.

On Sunday, Dec. 2, the Courthouse Tavern Museum will host its sixth annual old-fashioned Holiday Open House from 2 to 5 p.m.