The White Horse Tavern
The White Horse Tavern, located in Newport, Rhode Island, is the oldest running tavern in America. The building was constructed in 1652, and was originally the two-story home of Francis Brinley. In 1673, it was acquired by William Mayes, Sr., who turned it into the tavern that it is today. Since a limited group of people read in those times, public establishments used symbols to define themselves, and a white horse signified a tavern, hence the building's name.
Backstory and Context
The tavern was a popular haunt for many folks in the day, including colonists, British soldiers, Hessian mercenaries, sailors, pirates, founding fathers, and more. In fact, until the Colony House was built about a century later, the spacious tavern was a meeting house for Colony’s General Assembly, Criminal Court and City Council.
In 1702, William Mayes, Jr. became the new innkeeper, and was granted a license to sell "strong drinks." However, Williams, who was a notorious pirate, was an embarrassment to the officials of the British Colony, so his sister Mary Mayes Nichols and her husband took over the innkeeper role soon thereafter.
Twenty-eight years later, in 1730, Jonathan Nichols became the new tavern keeper, and gave it its official name instead of simply the white horse symbol. Later that century, though, the then-owner Walter Nichols moved his family out of the tavern in 1776, leaving the White Horse, Newport, and Hessian mercenaries behind. The tavern was closed during this turbulent time of slave trading and protesting against the British rule that was occurring at Liberty Park across the street. However, at the end of the Revolutionary War, when Williams returned, the tavern re-opened and went through renovations to enlarge it.
The building was showing its age by 1954, and was then acquired by The Preservation Society of Newport County for restoration. It was re-opened in 1957, and only changed owners twice in the following decades. It is still standing strong today, and is the "very essence of 17th Century American architecture.”