Taverns in both city and rural locations grew with America.
Although taverns in early Colonial America were principally located along roadways of smaller crossroads and villages, city taverns increased along with the growing country and many became quite pretentious.
California boasted of Hotel Leger in Mokelumne Hill, built in 1852. It was once known as Hostel de l’ Europe—“the most luxurious hotel in the heart of the gold rush territory.” Windsor Hotel, built in 1886 at Garden City, Kansas, was known as the “Waldorf ” of the Prairies.”
City Tavern in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania announced it had a “Long Room divided into boxes, filled with tables and elegantly lighted”. Most establishments of this type served everyone at long tables, where little conversation took place. Europeans considered this type of “feeding” vulgar.
Although these accommodations in the cities offered more than the typical tavern or inn, they were not always the most ideal place to lodge. It was indeed a good thing when the traveler arrived on the day the bed sheets were changed. In 1798 innkeeper Eliza Hudson of the Mansion House in Kinderhook, New York, advertised he provided lodging and clean sheets for a shilling. A competing tavern in nearby Tarrytown offered “lodging and clean sheets, 3 sh; dirty sheets, 1sh (shilling).”
The famous City Tavern in New York City was originally called the Old Dutch Stadt Herbert. The Tammany Society (“successor to the Sons of Liberty) was organized here in 1789. City Hotel, in New York City, was the first to be called a “hotel” in the United States. It opened in 1794 on the site of the Old Province Arms Tavern, later to become the Great New York House on Broadway. The precursor to our modern-day hotels, travelers claimed it had “no equal in the United States.”
Rural taverns–those in villages and in between towns, were of a simpler design in which they were often private homes turned into taverns. They became quite numerous in early America, often-times because of travel times and distance. William Cullen Bryant observed while traveling through Illinois near Springfield in 1832 that “every house on the great road in his country is a public house, and nobody hesitates to entertain the traveler or accept his money.”
Middletown, Virginia, was home to the Wayside Inn. Appreciating the appeal of its name, Robert Louis Stevenson wrote: “For my part I like a story to begin with an old wayside inn...” Wayside Inn has been operating since 1797. It was visited by both Union and Confederate soldiers during the Civil War.
To learn more about the sign above, please click on the link to “Trade and Tavern Sgns” at the above menu.
Source: Tavern Signs of America, by Helene Smith