Mead’s Tavern Holds 200 Years Of History From New London Area

To a passerby, Mead’s Tavern in New London, Virginia, might not look like much. The structure appears to be modest enough, a quaint white house with a porch along a quiet street, but its walls contain over two centuries of history. It’s history that earned the tavern an official spot on the National Register of Historic Places, on Nov. 17. 

“Mead’s Tavern is sort of the centerpiece of New London because it is the oldest building, now it’s on the National Register, and so it gives us a place to start interpreting and preserving the history of the entire area,” Donna Donald, director of public history initiatives at Liberty University, said.

Donald said the building is also known to be the only surviving building in New London from the colonial era and is unique because no other two-story taverns from this period can be found in this part of Virginia.

According to an article on Liberty’s website about New London projects, the structure was built in 1763 by William Mead and went on to serve a variety of purposes after its days as a lively tavern at the heart of a bustling town. The article states that it was used as a girls’ school, a doctor’s office, an insurance office, a minister’s home and  a private residence.

An educational video for Liberty’s history program stated that the tavern was purchased by Friends of New London, an organization at the New London history museum, in 2012 and that Liberty acquired the property from them in 2015.

Today, the tavern is a place of research and education. According to Donald, past excavations in the basement and under the porch have unearthed tens of thousands of historic artifacts that tell the story of the tavern’s past. 

“The Liberty University History Department currently uses Mead’s Tavern as a centerpiece for our public history courses where students study historic preservation, archaeology and participate in presenting the site to the general public,” Samuel Smith, chair and graduate program director and professor of history, said.

The process to add Mead’s Tavern to this register began in 2015 according to a post on Liberty University Department of History’s Facebook page. The post explained that the tavern qualified for three of four applicable National Register criteria: relation to significant events, architectural significance and carrying the “potential of providing deeper insight into history or prehistory.”

Donald described the process of nominating Mead’s Tavern as extensive.

“Not just any place can be on the register,” Donald said. “There are certain criteria it has to meet. It goes through multiple review processes. The nomination undergoes careful review and often, as is the case here, additional information is required.”

According to Donald, Mead’s Tavern’s status on the register is just that: a status. It doesn’t change the building itself or restrict Liberty’s decisions to change it, although it does open funding opportunities.

“It’s like a stamp of approval, a recognition of what we always knew to be true about the importance of the building,” Donald said. “It gives it a kind of legitimacy in the eyes of the historical community that it didn’t have before.”

Junior Allison Polnac toured Mead’s Tavern during a visit to New London for her history class. Polnac said she was impressed by the architecture and history of the building. 

“I think that it is really special that the tavern is being recognized as a historical landmark,” Polnac said. “It highlights its significance to the community and illustrates that the research and preservation efforts by Liberty is not going unnoticed.”

Polnac said her visit allowed her to learn the history of the area, something that was previously unfamiliar to her.

“It is important to preserve the history of a place, especially the tavern because there are so many stories and influence behind the start of the buildings,” Polnac said. 

While the tavern’s position on the National Register of Historic Places has been secured, the work is far from over. According to Donald, the first restoration phase will include stabilization of the tavern’s basement and will launch later this month. 

“We’ll actually start construction equipment and workers on site, which we really haven’t seen much of that beyond archeology up to this point so that’s really exciting,” Donald said.

Seiler is a news reporter. Follow her on Twitter

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