New London Projects
Touching the Past
Liberty owns two properties in historic New London – Mead’s Tavern and the Bedford Alum Springs hotel. Both properties boast a rich history dating back to the 18th century and stretching into the present. Be a part of peeling back the layers of this town’s history.
The New London Projects provide opportunities for Liberty students to work with preservation professionals and gain hands-on experience. There are many ways to get involved:
- Take a public history class: Our public history courses take students on-site to hear from archaeologists and architectural historians. Through exhibits and tours, students also provide historical interpretation for the public.
- Volunteer: Student volunteers uncover artifacts onsite alongside archaeologists. There are also opportunities to volunteer at New London Day in October and other public history events.
- Conduct research: History students contribute to New London research and have presented their findings at Liberty’s Research Week and the annual conference of the Archaeological Society of Virginia.
- Apply for an internship: Students from a variety of majors can use their skillsets in an internship.
History of New London
In 1753, Virginia was growing – fast. Settlers were heading over the Blue Ridge Mountains for the West and the Virginia General Assembly was forming new counties throughout the state. On the edge of the frontier, Bedford County was founded, and William Calloway gave 100 acres of land for the new county seat. The next year, a jail and courthouse were erected in the town near the intersection of Great Wagon Road and Wilderness Road, and here New London’s role in history began.
Taverns and stores began popping up along the main street as New London became a colonial Virginia hotspot. William Mead built a tavern in 1763 across the street from the courthouse. From this location over the next few decades, the sounds of court verdicts wafted through its windows and during recesses people waded through its doors. At chairs and tables in the rooms, travelers had a meal and drink before heading over the mountains to the West and soldiers from the local arsenal played games and talked of the revolution.
But in 1781, Bedford County was divided to form Campbell County. The county seat was moved to Liberty, now Bedford, and New London began to see its decline. After years as a tavern, in the early 1800s, Mead’s Tavern was transformed into a girls’ school run by Samuel T. Miller and his mother Ann. The building later served as a doctor’s office, insurance office, and minister’s home. It served as a private residence until 2012 when Friends of New London purchased it.
Liberty acquired the building from Friends of New London in 2015. Since then, the tavern has gained new life as a place of education, research, and discovery while its structural and archaeological layers have been peeled back to reveal the building’s history. The oldest standing structure in Central Virginia, Mead’s Tavern holds rich architectural treasures, including 18th-century architectural features. Archaeological study of the lot, porch, and basement uncovered tens of thousands of artifacts, including pipe stems, game pieces, coins, and military buttons from the structure’s revolutionary-era tavern period and thimbles, buttons, and pins from the girls’ school period. Restoration of the structure is underway, starting with the basement, which includes preserving Virginia’s oldest intact brick wall west of Richmond.
Bedford Alum Springs Hotel
The hotel property also has its roots in colonial America. Before a resort hotel stood on the property, stores and taverns sat along the main street bustling with its westward explorers, court visitors, and revolutionaries. John Hook, a Scottish merchant with loyalist sympathies, built his store on one of these lots where Thomas Jefferson supplied his nearby estate, Poplar Forest. On the backside of the property stood one of only five continental arsenals. The arsenal supplied Nathaniel Greene’s southern campaign and later housed weapons seized at Yorktown. The arsenal relocated to Harper’s Ferry by 1812.
In the 1850s, Peregrine Echols began bottling and selling water from the local alum spring for medicinal use and in 1859 opened the Bedford Alum and Iodine Springs Resort. In the 1870s, Echols’ sons transformed the property into a grand resort and made use of the old arsenal building as a dance hall. At the height of the 19th-century mineral springs craze, resort guests walked down a brick path lined with osage orange trees to the springs and, according to testimonials, found healing in the waters and mountain air. The current structure, dating from the 1910s, is the third resort hotel on the site, with the previous two destroyed by fire. It served as a hotel before transitioning to a private residence in the 1930s.
Since Liberty acquired the property in 2018, it has become a center for archaeological, architectural, and landscape investigation. An archaeological survey uncovered artifacts from every period of the property’s use, including slag from iron smelting, ceramics, and hand-wrought nails from the colonial stores and taverns, bottles used to store the alum springs water, and beads and buttons from hotel visitors. Osage orange trees still stand along the remnants of the brick path leading to the springs. A colonial-era basement sits feet beneath the ground on John Hook’s lot. Future projects will include excavation of the site where archaeologists believe they found a set of steps leading to the arsenal building basement.
Friends of New London
Friends of New London, a local historical society, owns three properties in New London. They are working to restore buildings that hold other layers of New London’s history, including the African American United Methodist Church and the Holt-Ashwell House. Learn more about their projects at newlondonmuseum.org.
For more information about the New London projects, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
New London Day
Join Friends of New London and Liberty University on October 2, 2021 (10 a.m.-3 p.m.) for New London Day, featuring the preservation and restoration of Mead’s Tavern and the old Bedford Alum Springs Hotel.
Your starting point for New London Day is Mead’s Tavern, 594 Alum Springs Rd.
- Learn about the ongoing architectural study and restoration on a tour of Mead’s Tavern directed by Liberty University students in period attire
- Learn what archaeologists uncovered in the excavation of the Mead’s Tavern basement.
- Visit the old Bedford Alum Springs Hotel property and learn about its history dating back to the Revolutionary Era
- Experience an interactive archaeology exhibit detailing the most recent discoveries.
- Visit the historic African American Church, built on the site of a church that predates the Civil War
- Visit the camp of the Montgomery County Militia featuring live demonstrations with Revolutionary-era reenactors.
- Attend a local history forum featuring an expanded World Wars exhibit.
Other events include a children’s activities, food vendors, and live music.
All activities are free of charge.