Built in 1763, Mead's Tavern is considered to be the oldest standing structure in Central Virginia. William Mead, one of the trustees of the town of New London, acquired Lot 6 when the town was first chartered. It was there that he erected a "magnificent house" which functioned as a tavern for several decades. In the early 19th century, the building was transformed into Roland Academy, a school for girls. After passing through the hands of various private owners, the building was purchased by the Friends of New London in 2012. In 2015, Liberty University purchased Mead's Tavern from the Friends of New London. They have since contracted with local firms for archaeological and architectural studies which will pave the way for application to the National Register. Planned restoration will provide a hands-on learning lab for Liberty University history students.
Backstory and Context
Nestled at the bottom of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Colonial town of New London is an unincorporated community that sits in Campbell County, Virginia. It once served as a last stop before travelers headed West over the Appalachian Mountains using the Great Wilderness Road.
New London became the county seat of Bedford County in 1754 and Mead’s Tavern was built shortly thereafter in 1763. The tavern is thought to be the oldest standing structure in Central Virginia and is the only Colonial era structure still standing in New London. The building itself has gone through numerous changes over the past two and a half centuries. William Mead, a prominent and wealthy man from Pennsylvania, was the original builder and owner of Mead’s Tavern.
Mead’s Tavern’s history is most remembered for a few key events in American history. Patrick Henry’s well-known “Beef Speech” during the infamous Johnny Hook Trial took place across the street from Mead’s Tavern at the New London courthouse. It also resided down the road from a Colonial Arsenal used in the Revolutionary War and served as an aid for General Nathaniel Greene. In 1784 the building was sold, and it continued to operate as a tavern until the early 1800s when it was turned into Roland Academy. The academy was a girl’s school run by Samuel Miller, who also once owned the property of the Bedford Alum Springs Hotel, a New London resort located a short walk away from the Tavern.
Once the girls school closed down, Mead’s Tavern was then turned into a private home and used as the doctor’s office for Dr.Thaddeus Kabler, and then later turned into insurance office for William Abbott. It was then sold as a private home once again before being sold to The Friends of New London in 2012. The Friends of New London is a group of locals concerned with the preservation of New London history. In 2015, the organization sold the property to Liberty University. Since then, Liberty has been in the process of restoring Mead’s Tavern and using it as a hands-on learning experience for the students in their history department. An archaeological dig underneath the porch of the Tavern turned up 18th century coins, most likely dropped by patrons of Mead’s Tavern, as well as a button from the uniform of a soldier in Wayne's Legion, the first American Army. In 2019, a game piece fashioned from broken dishes, as well as pearlware was found during excavations at Mead’s Tavern.
The building is considered an important piece of American history as it has played a role in every century since the founding of the United States. It has seen famous court trials, the American Revolution and so much more. Liberty University is working hard to research and collect enough information about the building and its history to nominate it for the National Register.
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Pezzoni, J. Daniel and Barry Rakes, Interim Historic Structures Report: Mead's Tavern, New London, Virginia. Liberty University, 2017.
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