Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Get acquainted with early American history at Gadsby's Tavern Museum

Gadsby's Tavern Museum was a thriving business in the 18th century in Alexandria, Va. At one time a tavern and hotel, the building is now two separate entities, an operational restaurant, and an active museum. Gadsby's Tavern is centrally located in Old Town Alexandria.


Gadsby's history

The section of the building which now houses the museum was once a prosperous tavern which opened somewhere around 1785. The current Gadsby's Restaurant was once the City Hotel, which opened in 1792. The building itself has a deep connection to America's colonial roots.
Gadsby's Tavern

Back in the latter part of the 18th century, Gadsby's was a location where many prominent people visited, ate, drank, socialized and attended meetings and performances. George Washington was a patron, as was John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe and Marquis de Lafayette, to name a few. The tavern is known to have hosted many other domestic and foreign dignitaries as America was establishing herself.

Fast forward to modern day and visitors can still enjoy these buildings.

Touring Gadsby's Tavern

The long-standing, 18th-century tavern is still in amazing condition; the building has been restored to how the business existed during the time frame of 1785-1810. Tours are open to the public, and visitors are treated to a professional 30-minute tour which is full of interesting facts, history and complete descriptions of historical events, day-to-day operations and everything else connected with Gadsby's deep historical connection to the City of Alexandria and to early U.S.history.
Gadsby's Tavern
Main tavern room

During your visit, you'll get to see the main tavern room where customers stopped to eat, drink, hold meetings and socialize. Business competition was pretty high back in those days so tavern owners had to be creative and come up with ways to draw customers to enter their establishments. It was common to use marketing tactics such as board games, cards, and other enticements to attract regulars. This is highlighted in the museum's interpretation. Across the hall from the main room was a small private dining room.

Main tavern room at Gadsby's Tavern in Old Town Alexandria
Gadsby's Tavern

After visiting these two rooms, your tour guide will lead you to the second floor where you'll enter a very large room which was used for meetings and other events. There are also two stairways which lead off this room. The first leads up to the third floor where traveling men stayed. 

Back in Colonial times, it was expected men would share living quarters for overnight stays. There are two tavern rooms upstairs with approximately four beds. The guide showed us underneath the mattress to expose ropes holding up the mattress. He also said it is speculated the design of these beds is where the expression "sleep tight" comes from.

Gadsby's Tavern sleeping quarters
Sleeping quarters for men staying overnight
After touring the third floor you'll go back downstairs and take the second stairway (only a couple of steps at most) and this connects you to the hotel component of the buildings. In this area is a huge ballroom and also you can see an example of a "real" hotel room as opposed to the more informal sleeping quarters upstairs in the tavern section of the building.

The ballroom is where many famous historical people spent time for parties and other significant events. George Washington was honored at two grand birthday parties here. 

Ballroom at Gadsby's Tavern
Ballroom at Gadsby's
Additionally, many other socially and politically prominent events took place in this room. This is one museum where photographs of the interior are allowed, with only one exception where an old oil painting is located. 

Hours and fees

If you happen to be visiting in Alexandria, Gadsby's is a great addition to any itinerary, especially for the history or architecture buff. The museum is open for daily tours, but hours are limited, check with Gadbsy's before you visit to ensure you can plan a time when the museum is open. The museum fee is quite reasonable. There is also a small gift shop. 

For more information on current admission and hours, please visit the Gadsby's Tavern Museum website. Gadsby's is located at 134 N. Royal St. in Old Town.

A glimpse inside one of the regular hotel rooms of an earlier time at Gadsby's

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