By RACHAEL SMITH, News and Advance
NEW LONDON, Va. (AP) — The only remaining colonial structure in New London recently celebrated a special milestone.
Community members, friends of New London and Liberty University staff celebrated the unveiling of a new plaque Feb. 10 at Mead’s Tavern, which was recently added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Donna Donald – director of public history initiatives in Liberty University’s history department and also a board member of Friends of New London, a local non-profit preservation group – said the project was collaborative .
“A lot of different people have contributed to the research, to encouraging the means of financial support, to encouraging the development of classes, all the different facets that have gone into it and I appreciate that,” she said.f
The two-story tavern, built in 1763, provided meals and overnight accommodation for travellers. The building was then transformed into a school and a medical practice before becoming a single-family dwelling in the 1820s.
William Mead, the tavern’s original owner, never lived in the building, but the first inhabitants of the basement may have been his employees, Robert Hairston or Richard Turner, and their families.
The National Register of Historic Places is a federally compiled list of buildings, sites, and structures that have been officially recognized as having historical and cultural value to the nation.
Randy Lichtenberger, the tavern’s chief archaeologist and founding member of Friends of New London, helped organize tours of the building and said it looked a little worse now than it did in 2012 when Friends of New London purchased the property.
“It’s obviously a structure that you have to see with your mind, in your heart, not with your eyes at the moment, but it’s a natural part of the restoration process,” he said. “Things have to look worse before they get better in general. We are at this stage right now. So please excuse our mess. Wonderful things sometimes hide beneath modern elements, and Mead’s Tavern is one of them.
It was a real struggle for Friends of New London to raise the money to acquire the Campbell County property, he said, but by the time it hit the market their research indicated that he It was a diamond in the rough – the last surviving Colonial-era structure in New London as well as one of the oldest in the entire region.
“Our board of directors and the many friends pooled our resources and were able to purchase the tavern, we worked late nights removing carpets to reveal the wooden floors, spending hours pulling adhesive strips and staples, cleaning and dusting to keep it looking good,” he said.
In 2015 Liberty University purchased the tavern and since then students have been involved in ongoing excavation and restoration projects in association with the Friends of New London and local archaeologists.
The first phase of restoration will include the stabilization of the basement of the tavern launched this winter.
Lichtenberger said Mead’s Tavern’s addition to the National Register of Historic Places validates the group’s efforts to save a piece of ancient history for future generations.
Sam Smith, director of LU’s history department, has always been fascinated by the fact that the tavern was built even before the creation of the United States.
“1763 is a unique year. It’s the end of the French and Indian war and people are on the move,” he said. “There’s the Proclamation of 1763 that’s supposed to stop American settlers from going west, but a lot of people ignored it. And a lot of people went down the old wagon road, which is now pretty much Interstate 81. So this place represents the movement and activity that was happening in the same year that the French and Indian War ended .
Smith said the site was special for the history department and he is grateful to the people who worked hard to move the project forward.
“Essentially, we use Mead’s Tavern as a lab for our students to study archaeology, to study historic preservation, to study digital history and other public history initiatives,” he said. “It was very valuable for our students. So it’s a special place for us. And it’s special that we got this recognition and unveiled this plaque.
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