Clio Logo

Which came first, the burger or the shack? The log façade you see on today’s Burger Shack is not a veneer applied by some corporation to produce an “authentic” old-timey atmosphere for diners, nor is it truly original. McAtee’s tavern was demolished and rebuilt using some of the original materials. Artifacts recovered during the process helped to confirm local lore that the building had been used as a tavern.


  • Front of McAtee's Tavern, 1995.
  • Interior wall, 1995
  • Burger Shack
  • Some of the artifacts found during demolition/rebuild of McAtee's Tavern. Note the book of coins in the upper left corner of the photo. Most of these dated from the operation of the tavern, a finding consistent with having paying customers frequent the building.

In 1807 Harrison McAtee spied a promising location for a tavern: alongside the new Little River Turnpike and near a source of fresh water, Flatlick Run. The difficulty was that neither the tenant, William Benard Sears, nor the sub-tenant, William Vallandingham, had the right to sell the land, Nonetheless, McAtee and Vallandingham struck up a bargain (one that would eventually land them both in civil court).

Using hand hewn 10″x10″ log timbers over a stone foundation and with two stone chimneys on the northern and southern sides, McAtee built his tavern, a smokehouse and ice-house and other buildings to support his business. The tavern was two stories, with two rooms, a bar room and a kitchen on the first floor, and bedchambers upstairs. There were two front doors leading from the porch to each first-floor room. Stairs were located in the larger kitchen room so that ladies could enter the tavern, have a meal and retire without entering the masculine space of the bar room. This gender separation was typical of tavern construction in this area during this period, but it did not mean that women did not enter the bar room. Indeed, the Fairfax County Court issued a tavern license in 1807 to Charity McAtee, not Harrison. Harrison does apply for a license himself in 1814 and 1815.

In addition to issuing a license, the Fairfax County Court regulated the rates taverns could charge for food and liquors that were posted in the tavern, Following is a transcript of the rates established at the Fairfax County December Court of 1816 for liquors:

 

For one warm dinner with cider beer spirit & water or toddy $..75

For one quart of good spirit or French brandy or in that proportion $1.–

For one quart of continental rum or in that proportion .50

For one quart of peach brandy or in that proportion .75

For one quart of apple brandy or in that proportion .50

For one quart of whiskey or in that proportion .50

For one quart of good Maderia wine or in that prop.$1..75

For one quart of good port Lisbon or other wine in that proportion $1..–

For one bottle of claret $1..50

For one bottle of English porter .42

For one bottle of American porter .42

For one quart of toddy made with good spirits .34

For one quart of punch made with French brandy or good spirits .50

For one hot breakfast or supper with tea or coffee .50

For one gallon of corn .25

For one gallon of oats .25

For one nights lodging in clean sheets .25

For one night or twenty four hours stablage for horse with hay or corn blades .50

For one quart of cider .12 ½

For one night or twenty four hours pasturage for horse .12 ½

 

In 1819 an economic panic set a depression in motion that filled local debtors’ prisons and challenged many businesses. The rate for one nights lodging, set at $0.50 for 1817, was reduced to $0.17 in July 1819 and $0.12 ½ in March 1820. Liquor rates also decreased, but at a lesser percentage. Perhaps this downturn had some bearing on Harrison McAtee’s decision to sell his house on March 22, 1822.

Perhaps one day Burger Shack will offer a “Court day” and sell beer at $0.42 a glass and $0.25 for a gallon of oats for your car.

Debbie Robison. McAtee's Tavern, Built 1807 in Nothern Virginia History Notes. Accessed via website, 6/21/2020: http://www.novahistory.org/MitchellWeeks/McAteesTavern.htm

Image Sources(Click to expand)

Northern Virginia History Notes

Northern Virginia History Notes

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Northern Virginia History Notes