Mid-Atlantic Brewing News October/November 2008

Indian King: A Tavern Restored

By Rich Wagner

The Indian King Tavern was built in 1750 and has the distinction as being the location where the General Assembly drafted legislation to create the State of New Jersey. And while this is not a restaurant today, there’s plenty to see and do to get a feel for the days when it was.

The first thing the visitor notices inside the Indian King Tavern Museum are the furnishings. For the first 85 years as a museum, the rooms were virtually bare and it was not until 1994 that William Mason, the site’s historic preservation specialist, solicited craftsmen to volunteer to build furniture to fill the 8,500 square foot space! Ten carpenters and a blacksmith rose to the call and became the “Indian King Tavern Craftsmen’s Guild.” William researched the archives of other restored taverns, and was able to furnish the volunteers with plans for chairs, chests, cabinets and tables as well as candle stands, buckets. The blacksmith created all sorts of things including hinges, fasteners and even some tavern puzzles. They also reproduced the original high-backed bench in the tavern’s dining room with three authentic booths, and even the main colonial “bar.”

There are lots of special events that include period music and programs have included the “Past Masters of Early American Domestic Arts,” a group that is committed to “understanding through doing” in order to authentically demonstrate the skills and practices common in every day life. In order to do that they do extensive research using newspaper stories, diaries, letters and whatever else is available. Clarissa F. Dillon is president of the group and has appeared at the tavern museum telling audiences about her first-hand experiences in plowing a field with oxen, working in a blacksmith shop and making a Windsor chair.

And while it's not accessible to visitors, the underground vault for beer and wine, like most such caverns, is the subject of much local lore. During the Revolutionary War, it supposedly served as a makeshift prison for deserters and traitors, and might have sheltered escaped slaves as a way station on the Underground Railroad to freedom in the North.

The Indian King Tavern Museum is at 223 Kings Highway East in Haddonfield, NJ