On the Tavern Trail

I remain obsessed with colonial taverns, an obsession that stems from 1) the fact that Salem has several establishments called “taverns” which are not really taverns; 2) the loss of one spectacular tavern and “denaturing” of another on one of Salem’s most venerable and now saddest streets, and 3) my desire to learn how to create digital historical maps. I searched through this unwieldy blog of mine (which needs an index) and see that I’ve posted on taverns several times before, but here I go again. This particular post was prompted by a walk down Boston Street, once and still a major entryway into Salem, with many historic structures still standing—though much altered as “spotty” zoning has long been the rule. I don’t think that this street has been paved for decades, so it’s sort of a minefield if you’re in a car, so walking is preferable. Last week’s obsession was cemeteries, and so I wanted to see an old cemetery that is situated on the Salem-Peabody line on Boston Street: the Old South Cemetery, in which many members of the Trask family of Salem are buried as they owned considerable land in this area. As soon as I saw them all lined up in the cemetery, I thought of the “ancient” Trask family homestead which was once nearby, which for many years operated as the Black Horse Tavern, and on my walk back I passed by a much altered building which once served as the tavern of Daniel Frye: its McIntire interior woodwork and Zuber wallpaper was stripped out in the 1920s and sold to the Saint Louis Museum of Art, and now it is tattoo parlor with a fake palm in front, right next to a new housing development distinguished by a mishmash of architectural styles and liberal use of plastic.

Tavern Boston Street Cousins

Tavern Black Horse

Tavern Trask Interior

Tavern Trask Chest

20190819_104539Boston Street in the 1890s from the Frank Cousins Collection of Glass Plate Negatives as the Phillips Library, via Digital Commonwealth; the Trask Homestead/Black Horse Tavern on Boston Street—exterior and interior—in 1901, New England Historical and Genealogical Register Volume 55; the Symonds Chest which was once in the front parlor of the Trask homestead/Black Horse Tavern, Yale Digital Collections; 94-95 Boston Street, once Frye’s Tavern, now partly a tattoo parlor.

I’ve been working intermittently on a series of digital maps which can present Salem’s colonial history in a visual format and contain a lot of information in this blog: the end goal would be one map with many layers like this great prototype here. The work is slow as I’m on a steep learning curve with the software, and there is also a lot of content to uncover: so far I have working maps on Salem churches, houses where enslaved people resided, and taverns. The first topic is easy enough to research, but I need a lot more information to present the extent of slavery and hospitality in a substantive manner. There were a lot of taverns in colonial and early-19th century Salem, both licensed and unlicensed—and I don’t think I’ll ever be able to locate all of the latter! Despite the warning of the pastor of the First Church that “drunkards are excluded from the kingdom of heaven”, the number of taverns in Salem appears to have increased steadily over the century from 1670 to 1775, with many anecdotal complaints against their “excessive number” in the town records. According to Sharon Salinger’s Taverns and Drinking in Early America, “as a whole, Essex County averaged one tavern for every 219 people….[but] Salem town averaged one tavern for every 80 persons, a slightly higher proportion of drinking houses than the larger ports.” I’ve still got quite a bit of work to do to find all those taverns, but this is my working map:

Tavern Map

Tavern Key

It took me quite a while to figure out all the various “Ship” taverns and the myriad tavern names attached to the buildings I have labeled “Essex Place” in my key; I’ve got a lot of tavern-owner names, but not all the locations. Some of the descriptions fuel my obsession: the famous Sun Tavern is described as “rough cast”, or covered in rough plaster in which pebbles and glass shards were embedded in ornamental patterns, and I would love to find an image of the “Great Tavern with many peaks” which was said to resemble the Bradstreet House on Essex Street, itself transformed briefly into the Globe Tavern. Because I can’t find my perfectly-preserved tavern in Salem, I often look for them on road trips. Yesterday I drove west along part of the closest approximation of the old upper “Boston Post Road” between New York and Boston: routes 20, 9, 67, and 20 again from Waltham to Springfield. Along certain stretches of this route–the non-urban and suburban ones—you really feel as if you are on the old Post Road, a feeling that is intensified by the eighteenth-century mile markers along the way. I was looking for taverns but got a bit distracted by the markers: you would expect both to be in clear view but I was looking with 21st century eyes and often they were a bit “hidden” or off the beaten path. But that just makes the journey more alluring.




Tavern Pease Forbes AAS









Taverns and markers along the old Boston Post Road in central Massachusetts: the Golden Ball in Weston, Wayside Inn in Sudbury (easy to find!), Pease Tavern in Shrewsbury (and in a c. 1900 photograph by Harriette Merrifield Forbes at the American Antiquarian Society), where the markers were very easy to find, markers in Leicester, East Brookfield and West Brookfield, where “Ye Olde Tavern” is still very much alive and open. There was also a beautiful house for sale right at the head of West Brookfield common, which fulfills all my tavern fantasies–there’s even a ready-made post for the sign.

20 responses to “On the Tavern Trail

  • Tom Miller

    Check the Swet Isley Tavern on Rt 1A in Newbury, one of Historic New England’s properties. They do a Tales and Ales program in May and October each year – sells out quickly though. Also the Ship Tavern in Salem was established c1639
    by John Gedney, the father of Eleazor Gedney, the builder of the Gedney House, another Historic New England property.

  • Bonnie Henry

    So when are you organizing this tavern tour – hopefully with some real libation stops along the way! Dave and I are in – for the history, company, and beverages!

  • Glenn McDonald

    Hi Donna,

    Since Boston Street is part of my old stomping grounds, I thought I’d add another inn/tavern to your list. I don’t remember the provenance of my information, but it is probably the Salem Evening News’ series of photos of buildings as they appeared in the mid-19th Century. The series ran in the early 1960s, and I still have a photo, or two from that series.

    On the North side of Boston Street, between Stafford Street and the lumber yard, is an old center chimney building clad in some gawdawful green siding. As I recall the story, it was a stage stop/inn/tavern at the end of the 18th Century. At some point, it was converted into low-end apartment housing. I knew several of its denizens in the early/mid 1960s, none of whom came to good endings, shall we say.

  • Rebecca

    You would like the parker tavern in Reading. Have you ever been to visit?

  • Kevin

    Not sure if this in in your timeframe but are you researching Mumford’s Hotel? I think it was located on the Salem Turnpike, early 1800s? It was the site of a brawl between the Crowninshields and Mumfords. The local papers reported on it, although with some very negative racial references as the Mumford’s were African American. I believe it was also a brothel?

  • Helen Breen

    Hi Donna,

    Good luck with your research into Salem taverns for your digital historical map project.

    In your travels you mentioned the Wayside Inn in Sudbury, one of my favorites along with the Concord Inn. I also enjoy spying those road markers along the way.

    I have asked the local library to acquire INN CIVILITY, Urban Taverns and Early American Civil Society by Vaughn Scribner that you mentioned in a recent post. Great subject …

  • Brian Bixby

    I have wondered exactly what “tavern” signified to 18th and 19th century Americans. Considering they did not normally consume alcohol, or serve it, it’s a mite curious that the Shakers acquired two “taverns” in the years just after the Civil War. They built their own in South Union, Kentucky, which I stayed at a bit over a decade ago, and acquired one in Shirley, which is a private residence just off route 2 in Shirley. The latter is probably the model for the tavern that figures in William Dean Howells’ fictional Shaker village of Varley in “The Undiscovered Country” (1880), which novel is an excellent example of how Shaker villages came to be portrayed as Arcadias in the late 19th century.

    • daseger

      Yeah, I’m going with a strictly materialistic concept here but you’re right, their roles seem random and myriad: meeting places, drinking places, eating places, inns, courthouses, etc…the Shakers were so entrepreneurial, they must have had a reason for their taverns: a place for traveling salesmen to stay while looking at their wares?

      • Brian Bixby

        Oh, the purpose we know: they needed some place to store their visitors, commercial and tourist, both.

        Can’t have stray people from the World running around the villages; defeats the purpose of isolating believers from the World. Most villages had put up commercial visitors in their Office buildings; most still would. But post-1865, at least two villages decided they needed dedicated facilities. South Union put theirs by the RR station, which allowed them to control the flow of visitors. Shirley bought a place that apparently had a disreputable reputation, but was only a mile or two away.

  • Eilene Lyon

    Donna, this is such a wonderful project you’re tackling. I see some great tips here in the comments, too. It reminds me a bit of the National Road and it’s mile markers and taverns, too. That Black Horse tavern has one heck of a chimney – and presumably many and massive fireplaces to go with it. Great post!

  • lisebreen

    Fabulous, Donna. I would like more information on a former Cape Ann Methodist minister who was said to have been egged and abused by a mob when he shut down a tavern in Salem called the Gardner House, near the station and a tunnel. Where would that have been? There must be other reminiscences about this incident.

    One report said that boys held signs saying George Waugh was kicked out of Gloucester because he was a n***** preacher and this was a “waugh” for men’s rights. There are also assertions that he was a conductor on the UURR, possibly from Rockport, but more likely from Salem. Please let me know if you have more information in this regard. Below are more details from my transcriptions:

    From the Boston Evening Transcript of Jan 9, 1897:The early fifties found him over a charge in Rockport, Mass., about the time that Robert Rantoul was a candidate for the governorship of the State. He became a warm friend of Mr. Rantoul and canvassed his district for him. Mr. Waugh was an eloquent and magnetic speaker. Rockport and Gloucester were made up of many villages, and it was the custom for those who were speaking at the meetings to go from one village to another in the stage coach with the committee. …
    Mr. Waugh was one of the early Abolitionists of the State, and his home in Salem, where he moved from Rockport, was the refuge of many a slave on his way from the South to Canada, and many a slave did he guide to the boundary line. He was always engaged in reform movements, and it was at Salem, at the time when the Maine liquor law was passed in this State [1852], that he, while stationed over a church there, took an active part in the temperance movement. The temperance organization to which he belonged voted to enforce the law, and he and three other gentlemen were appointed to a committee to see that law was executed. They at once began with the Gardner House, located near the station and the tunnel. The arrest of the proprietor caused a great commotion, and Mr. Waugh was egged by over three hundred citizens and driven to his house. At about nine o’clock that evening the sheriff called and took him and his wife and carried them to Lynn. He had hardly left the house when the mob arrived, and had he not been under the protection o the sheriff, he certainly would have suffered at their hands. During the excitement a poster was displayed all over the city, in which appeared the following in relation to the deceased:”Reverend George Waugh, a N***** Preacher. The Waugh (war) against men’s rights, was kicked out of Gloucester. Kick him out of Salem! Kick him out of the County!”
    The arrest of so prominent man as the proprietor of this house caused such a commotion that the temperance people thoroughly ignored their work, and left this committee to hedge for themselves, which so disgusted Mr. Waugh that he from that time forth never had anything to do with any secret organization. During the Second Advent interest Salem was very much aroused, and Mr. Waugh, with his magnetic and eloquent words, presided over a large congregation. It frequently happened that he stood for hours in the water on the ocean front baptizing people in the winger months from which he and those baptized never received cold. After his charge at Salem, he removed to Stoughton, Mass., where he lived until within a few years in a quiet way. for the past years he had lived with his son, W. Wallace Waugh of the Boston Home Journal, at his home in the Roxbury district.

    The Salem Register of Aug 19, 1852, says that the account in the Boston Chronicle was untrue and that Rev. Geo. Waugh was not pelted with rotten eggs, nor did he take refuge in the Court House. This article stated, “A few boys, and some of a larger growth [!] followed him through Central and Essex Sts. to the City Hall and after making a few noisy demonstrations, dispersed. We are sorry to say that the spirit of groggery is rather rampant in Salem, though not quite so bad as one would suppose …”

    • daseger

      Ummm….have not heard about this before; let me poke around. If I can’t come up with anything more, there’s a great facebook group called Salem Ma History Exchange with some good researchers on board.

  • lisebreen

    Thank you, Donna. I will look for the FB group. Here is one candidate. DB Gardner at 14 Front St. posted an ad in 1850 for Old Scotch Whiskey, Jamaica Rum, Holland Gin and French Brandies, of the choicest brands, in the Custom House Stores in Salem and Boston.

    Of course, Waugh was mentioned by Siebert.

  • Renée Maynard

    Hi Donna – I was wondering if you have any information on the Old Ferry Tavern at the landing of the Cape Ann Side Ferry.

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