Friday, September 23, 2011

Franklin and Adams slept here: Indian Queen Tavern at East Jersey Olde Towne

New Brunswick's reputation as a Revolutionary-era city is tempered largely by the presence of Rutgers University, one of the original eight colonial colleges. Essentially all of the period architecture is gone from the city's riverfront and dock area, obliterated by Route 18 and redevelopment over the past 30 years. However, history buffs and fans of the musical 1776 are well aware of the some of the more notable of the era's personages who visited during the war.

Yes, Alexander Hamilton was there with his troops at a point... but the big guns are John Adams and Benjamin Franklin. New Brunswick was a stopover for them in August 1776 as they traveled from Philadelphia to Perth Amboy and Staten Island to meet with British General Howe. According to David McCullough's venerable biography John Adams, the pair were to represent America's side in a discussion of the recent declaration of independence from the British crown. The conversation ended, of course, with a stark refusal to surrender and thus rejoin the empire.

The story of the night before the discussion is rather whimsical in nature and says a lot about the historic pair. Because accommodations in New Brunswick were mostly full at the time, Adams and Franklin were forced to share a room. Some even say that the pair even had to share a mattress. It wouldn't be surprising -- after all, inns of the day didn't exactly have the queen posturpedics today's hotels do. According to legend, Franklin spent much of the night expounding on the merits of keeping the window open. He'd published a theory on the benefits of fresh air, believing that people in closed rooms were more likely to catch cold from each other. Adams, on the other hand, feared the night air but eventually fell asleep to the sound of his bed partner explaining his beliefs.

Fortunately, the inn where they overnighted, the Indian Queen Tavern, has been restored. Unfortunately, it's not at its original location at the corner of Albany and Water Streets, an intersection now covered by an entrance to Route 18. You can visit the tavern now at East Jersey Olde Towne in Piscataway, which is where I found it.

Olde Towne is a collection of historic and reconstructed homes and buildings from around Middlesex County and environs, all arranged in a tidy, walkable community off River Road. Though they feel a bit too tidily situated, the New Brunswick barracks next to a tavern next to a home and blacksmith shop... and a tiny square brick church.... a visitor quickly warms to the thought of them all located in one place. You could do a nice little study of East Jersey colonial architecture in probably a half hour.

The tavern and the barracks, especially, caught my attention. Long interested in New Brunswick's colonial past, I took a look at the addresses and tried to place where the buildings had stood, in comparison to today's streetscape. Not surprisingly, both were fairly close to the Raritan, if not absolutely on it. The city had been a busy and productive port area, with lots of shipping and commerce. No doubt, it was quite a toddling town in its day. Small wonder that colonial luminaries had found their way there.

The community is open from Tuesday through Friday and on Sunday afternoons; I guess they keep it closed on Saturdays due to the proximity to Rutgers Stadium. Unfortunately that's when I was there, so I didn't get the chance to check out the building interiors, but it's definitely worth another visit. The Indian Queen, at the very least, deserves more attention.

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