Monday, January 21, 2013

A quick stop at the Indian King

A trip to Haddonfield isn't complete without a visit to the Indian King Tavern, so after our find at the Elizabeth Haddon School, we headed back to Kings Highway.

You'd think that an 18th century tavern would stick out like a sore thumb in a suburban New Jersey downtown, and in most towns, you'd be right. Not in Haddonfield. The town's commitment to preserving its colonial look is so successful that we ended up heading out of town before we decided we'd gone in the wrong direction.

At least we had the right road. Kings Highway is one of the oldest throughfares in New Jersey, having been mapped between Burlington and Salem in 1686. Both towns hosted busy ports, making travel between them important, and also adding to the prestige of those communities along the road. Taverns cropped up along the way to feed and shelter travelers and, as we discovered during our visit to Rahway's Merchants and Drovers Tavern, became important forums for public discourse.

We found the Indian King's door closed when we arrived; a gentleman was clearing the front walk of leaves and told us that the museum is usually open on Fridays and Saturdays. Just our luck, though, the caretaker was on site and graciously ushered us inside, to an environment that felt very much like Merchants and Drovers. I wouldn't have been surprised to see a clutch of patriots debating the latest actions of the State Assembly, which met there on several occasions in 1777.

Because we'd dropped by unannounced, I didn't ask for the full story on the site, but what the caretaker told us whetted our appetite for a future visit. Not only was the tavern once the de-facto legislative seat, it was the site of several New Jersey government firsts, including the very first time legal documents declared us to be a state, not a colony. More recently, in 1903, the Indian King became the first historic site to be acquired by the state government.

We'll definitely be back again for the full tour, likely during one of the many events the tavern's Friends organization has slated for the year. According to the caretaker, they're finalizing the calendar now and are likely to hold open houses, a beer tasting and a July 4 reading of the Declaration of Independence. Hopefully they'll update their website as soon as the dates are set.

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