Indian King Tavern Showcases State History

BY Lauren Wanko, Correspondent |

The year is 1777, these travelers are tired and thirsty. The Indian King Tavern in Haddonfield is a welcome site.

“The bar may have been the most important room in the tavern. This is what attracted people,” said Docent Kevin McGonigal.

Guests enjoyed plenty of rum, beer and wine at the colonial tavern which was originally a brewery and general store. By the 1770s it evolved into a tavern, which included a public dining room for locals and guests — men only.

“If women cared about their respectability they didn’t wander taverns freely,” Resource Interpretive Specialist Michelle Hughes said.

The women were invited into a private dining room. Upstairs it wasn’t unusual for a number of guests to stay in one room, says Hughes. It’s a bit different than the hotel rooms folks are used to today. This one has a pillow filled with straw and a chamber pot. As for the bar…

“Ours is going to look a little different,” Hughes said. “You don’t sit around it to have your drinks, but it is where the drinks are going to be served out of. And it’s caged here in this tavern because this tavern has lodging, so when the tavern keeper wants to close the bar for the evening that’s literally what he does to protect his alcohol through the overnight hours.”

The colonial tavern is large. It’s made up of 24 rooms.

In the Assembly room from January to September 1777 it’s where the newly formed state Legislature met. Many people are unaware of the many historic moments that happened in the room, says Hughes. The Declaration of Independence was read into the state minutes for the first time during a legislative session and politicians also voted to adopt the state seal.

Those aren’t the only notable historic events that happened in the tavern.

“They change New Jersey from a colony to a state, even though we had signed the Declaration of Independence, on all our government documents we were still referring to ourselves as a colony even though we were a continental government. So they make that change and they vote on it here at the tavern,” Hughes said.

“It’s sometimes a place people just pass by unknowing that such wonderful history took place here,” said Historic Interpreter Linda Hess.

The building was a tavern for just under 100 years.

“Haddonfield votes to become dry in 1873. Since the tavern had lodging it was an easy transition to just become similar to a boarding house or a hotel with no alcohol,” Hughes said.

Eventually the state acquired the property in 1903.

“It’s New Jersey’s very first state acquired historic site. They did a five-year restoration on it between 1903 and 1908,” said Hughes.

The museum is now open to the public five days a week for free tours. Volunteers often dress in period attire and portray life as it was during the Revolutionary War.

“This is a really relatable property,” Hughes said. “Everybody gets eating and drinking and hanging out with their friends and family to discuss what’s going on in the world.”

Two hundred forty years later, that hasn’t changed.