mouse over the image to enter the Virtual Wolfe Tavern

As foretold with the New Wolf Moon 2008:
By the Full Moon of January 22, 2008 ~ the Olde Wolfe Tavern ~ razed a half century ago ~ would be raised anew as a virtual E-stablishment ~ offering an ideal opportunity to come to a meeting of the minds ~ conitnuing the conversation (face-to-face) at provisional Wolfe Tavern settings & (electronic interface) at the Virtual Wolfe Tavern bulletin board ~ picking up the thread here which posts and posits about the "ongoing conversation" at the "provisional" Wolfe Tavern on March 25, 2010).
Wolfe Tavern

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Provisional Wolfe Tavern settings ~
during the old-style (Julian) calendar civic year (March 25, 2010 - March 24, 2011 (so far):
3/25 ~ Loretta Restaurant
4/25 ~ Oregano Pizzeria Ristorante
8/22 ~ The Grog Restaurant


While parish meetinghouses were central to the spiritual community and often served a dual use for secular town meeting --- "publick houses"[2] offered another meeting place for casual socializing or gamming. These establishments were a perfect setting for locals, transient vendors and travelers to gather, relax by the fire and share the latest news or gossip from near and far.

For many generations passing time or a lifetime here in the Waterside, Wolfe Tavern was a favorite respite --- the place where your ancestors tarried[3] along life's journey. Good food and food for thought became the standard fare: Patrons discussed current events and debated topical issues while exchanging banter over a tankard of ale or mug of mulled cider, flip or syllabub. Although Wolfe Tavern now stands only in historical notation, its connotation remains a strong edifice in the Waterside community's "Fifth Estate," unrivalled in its mystique and moment.

The original tavern inn first opened its doors in 1762 when William Davenport converted his dwelling house on the lower corner of Threadneedle Alley and State (then Fish) Street, nearby to Market Square. At first the establishment was advertised (under the proprietor's name) as an inn for lodging guests. Soon the Davenport Inn's parlors became a popular meeting place for locals --- particularly those who had served with Captain Davenport during the 1759 expedition to Quebec. The tavern's assumed epithet (Wolfe Tavern) was inspired by its distinguished sign --- an elaborate carving of General James Wolfe, in tribute to the fallen hero of that epic battle which had decided the French and Indian War.[4]

With its proximity to Market Square and the Waterside Parish meetinghouse (down the way) and town hall (across the way) --- Wolfe Tavern became a convenient place for the Waterside people to congregate before and after town meeting. Tradition holds that mere motion to petition the General Court to form the separate town of Newburyport made significant headway at Wolfe Tavern[5] --- a deed done in 1764. Other words and deeds emanating from Wolfe Tavern would have consequences beyond the bounds of the Waterside community. Within a decade, the first militia company of seamen mustered to defend American rights would be formed at Wolfe Tavern. A plaque marking the original site of Wolfe Tavern is dedicated to the Independent Marine Company formed there in 1774, mounted on the exterior wall of the building where the tavern once stood. (Home again in good form to mark that year's milestones, Lord Tim poses at the plaque a generation after it was dedicated in 1974.)

For nearly two centuries, a local establishment called Wolfe Tavern (with Old or "Olde" sometimes appended as an adjective) welcomed patrons in three physical downtown settings --- and nearly a half century of that period in that first location. When the original Wolfe Tavern was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1811, along with a large portion of downtown Newburyport --- within two weeks its proprietor reopened his establishment on the lower corner of Temple and State Streets, on property which was outside the fire's devastion. While alterations were made to better cater to patrons and overnight guests, that setting proved too limited for the popular tavern inn. So in 1814 the estate and outbuildings on the upper corner of Harris and State Streets were altered, expanding those premises to provide suitable and convenient accommodations for the volume of travelers that regularly passed through Newburyport by coach.

About that time, a replica of the Wolfe Tavern sign was carved to replace the one damaged in the Great Fire. Painted by renowned Moses Cole, that sign was hung at the tavern's new and final situation, where it was prominently displayed (except for the brief interval a proprietor changed the name of the hotel to "Merrimac House"). During renovations to the commodious structure in 1887, the name was restored and the sign was remounted.

Old Wolfe Tavern stood in that final location for nearly a century and a half. Given the owner demolished the structure without much public notice in the fall of 1953 --- in hindsight, that loss was a painful lesson that would educate the community about historic preservation. The next decade began Newburyport's earnest movement toward that end ~ resisting the rampant demolition that many historic communities suffered with the "urban renewal bulldozer. "

Part and parcel of Newburyport's beginning, the Wolfe Tavern's demolition still stands as a memorial to the volitions of both the movement and the establishment which took part (and for the better part, partnered) in Newburyport's renaissance and regeneration a generation ago ...

And for those born in Newburyport, or drawn to the natural and manmade beauty of this special place called the Waterside, Wolfe Tavern remains an icon --- and reigns as such in all its chapters to the very last. It was said that a kiss shared while sipping lemonade on the sagging porch of the old Wolfe Tavern would last a lifetime: It was a recipe that guaranteed the perfect "pucker."

The Wolfe Tavern sign can be found at the Historical Society of Old Newbury's Cushing House Museum. The memorabilia are stored in personal scrapbooks and shoeboxes and in museum and private collections. The memories are restored any time a chapter in its rich history is retold.


[1] The original Wolfe Tavern is depicted in a half-tone illustration by the recognized engraver James Akin (also spelled Aikin) whose engraving of Lord Timothy Dexter is said to capture the form of Newburyport's most colorful character. This rendition of the Wolfe Tavern depicts its setting on the corner of State Street and Threadneedle Alley --- with (what is now) Inn Street shown in the background. An image of an early 20th Century postcard depicting the Wolfe Tavern in its last situ on the upper corner of Harris and State Streets can be sought at this link without. The image at this link within depicts the venue a generation later, sometime in the 1940s, a decade before the Wolfe Tavern's demolition in 1953.

[2] "Publick house" was a 16th Century term (1574) which originally meant "any building open to the public." A century later (1669), the term "public house" was assigned to any establishment licensed as an inn, providing food and licensed to sell ale, wine, and spirits. In the 18th Century (1768), public houses became known as "taverns." The word "pub" was not commonly used until the mid-19th Century (1859).

Historians indicate that in the British Isles, the various terms were eventually used to distinguish the class of patrons. However, in the British colonies, the terms simply varied by region. In New England, "tavern" was the most popular term. "Inn" and "tavern" were used interchangeably in the Middle Atlantic, and the term "ordinary" was used in the southern colonies. Typically, the term "ordinary" would imply that a meal was offered at a set time and price to the public. The term "inn" would imply overnight stays could be arranged while"tavern" meant that the establishment offered both food and entertainment.

In Newburyport, it then is understandable that the Wolfe Tavern would carry both tavern and inn designations, for it was a destination for weary coach travelers and locals alike. The establishment was frequently advertised with a simple reference to the current proprietor or landlord of the house, while noting the original owner as Davenport. It was the locals who simply called it Wolfe Tavern, in memory of the hero.

Subject to social mores which dictated that taverns be ranked by the class of their patrons, the best was always reserved for those traveling through town by coach. The poorest of the population patronized taphouses, and such establishments were plentiful by the Waterside's wharves near Market Square.[6]

[3] For a period of time in the mid-20th century, a single proprietor owned both the Wolfe Tavern and the Garrison Inn. In fact, both establishments used the same Iroquois chinaware that included their logos with the evocative bywords, "where your ancestors tarried." (An image of that collectible dinner plate can be viewed at this link without.) Although the Garrison Inn still graces Brown Square and remains in full operation as a restaurant and "boutique hotel" (under different proprietorship) --- vindictive actions taken by that former owner deprived future generations of the opportunity to "tarry" at Wolfe Tavern. For as noted above, when denied transfer of a liquor license between the two establishments in 1953, the then owner demolished Wolfe Tavern without public notice and quickly auctioned off many of its priceless artifacts, antiques and collectibles. Few vestiges remain in the public domain. However, the Newburyport Public Library's archive room is a repository for some of the old registers of the Wolfe Tavern and a few of the collectibles are on display at the Cushing House Museum, which also houses the Wolfe sign.

[A generation later, amidst study of Newburyport for a white paper/thesis on Community Interactivism: The Fifth Estate, fascination with the community's history (and history in the making) prompted a corollary piece entitled A Place called the Waterside: A review and vision about the generations of the Waterside people --- past, present and future. Stories about Wolfe Tavern were testimony that its timeless social edifice could never be razed, but was bound to rise again in some form --- somewhere, sometime, someplace --- as a "virtual" necessity.]

[4] A ship-carver, William Davenport had served as captain of the triumphant British colonial company that sailed from Newburyport in 1759 to fight in the Battle of Louisbourg during the French and Indian War. To honor of General James Wolfe (who had lost his life in that victorious campaign) Davenport carved an elaborate swinging sign of the general's head and bust and hung it from a pedestal in front of his establishment. Interchangeably known as the Davenport Inn and Wolfe Tavern, the latter name gained favor by its patrons --- many of whom had served in that battle. From then on, the tavern sign became its signature.

[5] The discourse for the inhabitants of the Waterside Third Parish of Newbury (the Waterside people so called, chiefly Merchants, Traders, Mariners & Artificers) --- would focus on a civic course of action: remonstrance to the General Court to form the separate town of Newburyport. While the Waterside's people petition outlined their myriad differences with the inhabitants of the First and West Parishes (those in these agrarian parts being farmers and husbandsmen) --- Wolfe Tavern plays and interesting part (and parcel) in Newburyport's first Act.

As noted below, the Waterside people's petition included a grievance concerning the new county court house & town house in ye Waterside on the corner of then Fish and Essex Streets. Page 243 of Currier's History of Newbury further elucidates the situation, as such. In 1762, the County of Essex appropriated 200 pounds for a new court house "provided the town raise a like sum for the same purpose" (to serve as a town house). The proposal was not acceptible to many legal voters in the First and West Parishes, and was voted down at the March 29th town meeting. However by July 7th of that year, several inhabitants in the Waterside Third Parish subscribed a sufficient sum to acquire eleven rods of land on the upper corner of Essex and Fish (now State) Streets, and soon thereafter built a "capacious" town and court house on that lot at no cost to the other parishes. Nevertheless, the inhabitants of the outer parishes would have none of it --- refusing to meet at the new town house.

Expressing their frustrations about the prevailing & growing spirit of jealousy & opposition, the Waterside people memorialized this disquietude, party spirit and objectionable conversation in the closing argument of the aforementioned petition:

"the present state of the town relative to ye new Court house lately built at ye Water side by the County & people there, which altho’ most conveniently situated as well for the use of ye town & county, as have once & again been voted by the Court of sessions with respect to the County large & capacious enough for the whole town, whereas the old house is not as well situated for publick convenience, yet the town as yet have not & we suppose will not meet in it, which the Memorialists can not but think proceeds from a party spirit which is so diffused & become so general in some parts of town, that it is sufficient objection with them to any measure proposed, or thing done, tho’ ever so just & reasonable in its nature, that ye Water side proposed or did it.

It was evident that the Waterside people were not circumscribed by their proprietorship of "certain lots of land" in four acre increments --- but truly flourished in the heart of the Waterside where their life and livelihoods were centered. This was their sphere of influence. This, to the Waterside people, was progress. They would close up their shops or leave their ships, wharves and counting houses, sup at home or the Wolfe Tavern --- dropping by the tavern after meetings to further discuss the "community in the work." It would not be an expanse of deeded property that this wave of the Waterside people would hand off to the next generation --- but a legacy of enterprise and entrepreneurship. And indeed, by offering this leg up with a good public education, the next generation could get onboard, learn the ropes and take the helm for the next leg of the journey. The Ship was ready.

In hindsight (and soul sight) the parting of the ways between the Waterside people and "Olde Town" was inevitable. The memorialists' petition to the General Court was officially approved under the Provincial Governor's seal on February 4, 1764. When this was said and done, the Waterside people put the Plan in Motion for generations to follow. And Wolfe Tavern would be the place to gather before and after (and sometimes for) town meeting --- as an opportunity to come to a meeting of the minds.

[6] When a youthful Timothy Dexter traveled on foot to Newburyport from Charlestown in the latter 1760's with but "8 dollars and 20 sents" in his pocket--- the newly freed apprentice would not have been amongst the weary sojourners accommodated at Wolfe Tavern. Upon settling in the Waterside community --- a "plase all noue" to him --- the tanner and town solon would probably frequent the tavern as much as any of his fellows. And a generation later --- ranked fourth according to wealth in the Waterside community --- Dexter might well stroll down from his upper State Street residence to order sumptuous meals at Wolfe Tavern for himself and guests.

Then again, it is said that Dexter preferred to entertain at home. Guests wined, dined and divined well into the night at the Tracy House. And despite the fact such hospitality was a constant source of contention with his spouse, the salons resumed when Dexter later took up residence at his High Street mansion. Indeed, it is a striking coincidence that both the Tracy House (now the library annex) and Dexter House would from time to time serve as tavern-inns, since Dexter expressed aspirations to become a tavernkeeper --- predicting that Newburyport was destined to become a "destination" for what Lord Tim and the Knowing Ones might well term entourism.

And so be it, with the Spirit Awakened, Lord Tim reopens the doors to a virtual Wolfe Tavern --- transformed once again in the New Millennium --- an e-stablishment offering a good e-lixir for what ails you.


Readers may find it interesting to browse this link without ( webpage) for more information and folklore concerning publick houses and taverns. A complete transcription of "Stagecoach and Tavern Days," a comprehensive work written by Alice Morse Earle (originally published by The MacMillan Company in 1900 and recently digitized by the Arnold Bernhard Library in July of 2006) is offered at link without.

And do visit the website for more etymological insight --- logical and logistical --- which should be cited as Comity's resource for the word "pub" and its source "public house."

[Historical facts confirmed with John J. Currier's "Ould Newbury: Historical and Biographical Sketches."]
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