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Warren County Local History by Dallas Bogan

The Early Tavern, Its Laws And Requirements

Dallas Bogan on 18 September 2004
original article by Dallas Bogan
Return to Index to see a list of other articles by Dallas Bogan

There is nothing which has been contrived by man which
so much happiness is produced as by a good tavern or inn.
Samuel Johnson

Tavern License Requirements

Ohio had not yet become a state when a law was adopted in the Northwest Territory that purposed to govern the licensing and regulating of taverns. After the Indian Peace Treaty, in 1795, a great migratory trend began flowing into the Ohio lands. As the pioneer forged through the woodlands of the new Ohio country, shelters were sought. The first settler of an area, anxious to inspire others to build in his part of the wilderness, opened his house as an inn.
Law, as was mentioned previously, governed these early taverns. Its purpose was declared to be "For preventing disorder and mischiefs that may happen by multiplicity of public houses of entertainment."
A requirement of the law was that every keeper of a public tavern, ale-house, or public house of entertainment, be licensed by the Governor of the territory on recommendation of the court of quarter sessions.
Original payment fixed for the license was four dollars to the Governor and twelve dollars for the county. This fee of $16 for keeping tavern in a log house in a new country was undoubtedly high, and so in 1800, it was lowered to $4, $8 or $12 at the judgment of the court.
Ohio taverns licenses for years maintained a minimum fee of $4. Other early Ohio license fees were for selling goods and operation of a ferry. The retailing merchandise fee was $10 while keeping a ferry ranged from $4 to $18.
Laws regarding the business of tavern keeping were duplicated from the regulatory laws in the older colonies and were quite unsuited to the conditions of the Northwest Territory. These laws, unchanging for the most part, were kept on the statutes of Ohio's books, believing, that the State would soon grow up to them.
The requirements for obtaining a tavern license in Ohio were as follows: The applicant must be of good moral character; the tavern must be necessary at the place designated; the applicant must furnish suitable accommodations; and the applicant must be a suitable person to keep tavern.
A respectable woman could, in Ohio, obtain a license to run an inn, but in New England the law required that should an inn-keeper die, his widow must provide a fit man that is Godly to manage the business.

Tavern Types

There were two different groups of taverns in the new Ohio territory. The first group was the taverns that initially cared for the overland and inland transport systems before the coming of the railroad. The second group of taverns served the roving and local trade.
The first group served the pack-trains, the wagoners and their freighters, which consisted of thirty to forty tarpaulin-covered wagons in the line (not to be confused with the Conestogas with their human freight), and the drovers with large herds of cattle, hogs or sheep going and coming between Ohio and the Eastern markets.
The second group included the taverns of various construction, size and equipment, which catered to distinct classes of society, such as the emigrant, the entertainer, the peddler, the Court, the Legislature, the aristocrats, etc. The second group included the taverns of various construction, size and equipment which catered to distinct classes of society, or which served all men, such as the emigrant, the entertainer, the peddler, the court, the legislature, the aristocrats, etc. Materials engaged in the construction of the early Ohio tavern consisted of undressed or rough logs, dressed or squared logs, clapboards nailed over the dressed logs, clapboards on framework, brick which was generally locally burned, field stone and dressed sandstone.
The log cabin was not the simple construction it appears to be. It took brains as well as brawn to construct this early shelter. The three general categories of this early marvel were: the single round, rough or undressed log cabin; the single dressed or squared log house with mortised end corners; and the double log house, dressed or undressed, with a hallway, all included under one roof with a huge chimney at either end.
The frame tavern generally resembled a structure in which the owner/builder was accustomed to in his native homeplace. Many different styles were used.
Brick was used as a substantial building material for the tavern. Many times a poor grade of brick was used. The window frames as well as the doorways broke the walls. The side walls occasionally were extended into stepped gables or they merged into the wide single or double chimneys on the two top sides of the tavern roof.
The stone-clad tavern was frequently constructed from native undressed field stone or from dressed sand-stone. The style consisted of an architectural design, which was a simple Georgian or Pennsylvania Dutch or Maryland replica.

The Tavern Patronizer

The tavern, ordinary (an early name for an inn), or inn had its beginnings in the early age of modern man. Without this occasional stop travelers were at a great disadvantage.
Bartering was a way of life for early settlers. The inn was frequently a bartering center. The American colonies used beads, tobacco, codfish, sperm oil, apple-jack, ginseng, bone, blankets, peltry (rawhide undressed skin of fur-bearing animals etc.) and numerous other articles including knives and gunpowder for trading purposes. Farmers met in the tavern in friendly gatherings to discuss the conditions of the weather, whether too dry for pasture, or too wet for the crops.
Settlers of the Ohio country were one of exile, but, with their happy, enthusiastic drive for a home of their own, their keen, alert, active minds were fulfilled to no end. Clearing land, building their log homes, barns, and communities, brought forth hard work, perseverance and a happy relationship with their neighbor.
The tavern patronizer expressed a life of merriment and enthusiasm. Settlers came from miles around to dance the quadrille and the Virginia Reel. Young men appeared in their high silk hats and long-tailed coats, all decked out with their long trousers or spats buckled under shining pumps.
The young ladies were seated behind the men and wore "Polk" bonnets laced over their long pretty curls. Their dress was one of finery, countless folds of linen or linsey-woolsey draped over wide hoopskirts that folded up along the horse's flank.
Arriving at the community social center, the young lady would dismount and quickly head for the dressing room. She would, after a short time, emerge in her brightly- colored calico, or perhaps mayhap silk.
Her hair was serenely parted in the middle and brought back over the tips of her ears, or if Providence had been kind, clusters of curls would fall over them which duplicated the style of the times.
Dancing was the highlight of the evening. It was considered the main affair which was enjoyed by all. Graceful bowing, lively stepping, swinging of partners, all to the tune of a good old-fashioned fiddle. The dances were not complicated and were fashioned to the needs of the average citizen.
These gala affairs allowed the participants, for a moment in time, to forget the homesickness, the always present dangers of travel, the crossing of the fast- running streams, the memories of muddy roads, and the laborious hills which most all had to cross.
Many infares took place at the village inn. It was a reception by the parents or other relatives or friends of the groom to the bride, her family and friends. It contrasted from the wedding only by the absence of the marriage ceremony.
Great multitudes arrived at the festivity on horseback. In the early days they rode double. As wealth increased, the horses became more numerous and young ladies as well as young men maintained their own mounts.
Such occasions called for a method of mounting or dismounting the horse. An "upping-block," or horse-block was called into play. It consisted of a three-foot length taken from an oak log three or four feet in diameter. This was properly placed on end from which the young lady sprang into her saddle. As time moved on, these slightly imperfect ones made of handsomely carved stone replaced blocks. Still later, occasionally one was found made of wrought iron.
When a young gentleman was seemingly romantically attached to a certain young lady, a more intimate method would be used. The young lady would simply place her dainty foot into the left hand of the cavalier, and with one motion, she was lightly lifted into the saddle. Young men, showing their suave charisma, generally disliked the upping-block and would rather place their left foot into the stirrup and swing into the saddle.
St. Valentine's Day was generally a lively time at the inn. Unmarried grown-ups mostly attended it.
Old-time singing schools were very popular in the days of old. The ballroom at the inn was the favorite gathering place for this event. After the singing there was typically a dance or game in which all participated. The names of the girls were placed into a hat and drawn at random by the young men.
Another use for the inn was the spelling matches, which made our grandparents such authorities in the art of English, spelling, etc.
Tecumseh, the mighty Shawnee warrior, threatened the settlers at the newly formed colony of Springfield in 1807. Men, women and children all rushed to the tavern of Griffith Foos, and thereby fortified themselves for some days against a threatening assault, until a treaty was signed and the Indians left without harm to the settlers.
The early tavern knew the statesmen, scholars, doctors and lawyers; outlaws, pirates, bullies, ripsnorters; evangelists, circuit-riders, priests, parsons and pastors; land promoters and salesmen; foreign tourists, and the curious travelers.
The Indian tribes furnished rest and rejuvenation for the white man in the Ohio country in the early years of settlement. Loramie's trading post was established in the Miami Valley not far from present day Piqua.
Some of the Indian guest houses consisted of a framework made up of sturdy saplings, bent at the top and brought together to form a curved, sloping roof with an opening near the center to emit the smoke from the fire within. The covering generally consisted of good-sized pieces of bark or wood slabs.
In 1798, before the actual clearing had been made for the roads, the tavern-keeper paid $1.00 per bushel for corn; $1.50 per bushel for wheat; $4.00 per 100 pounds of flour; 65 cents per bushel for potatoes; 75 cents per bushel for oats. From 1800 to 1810 unrefined sugar cost 35 cents per pound; chocolate 3 shillings 6 pence per pound; tobacco 4 cents per yard.
In 1801, board in a backwoods tavern was $1.00 per week, and a fraction of a week at the rate of $1.50. Indian corn, turnips, pumpkins, cranberries, wild game, domestic fowl and copper distilled whiskey cost next to nothing. Apples cost $3.00 per bushel--but the keeper got along without them. Two quarters of venison sold for 25 cents, butter 10 cents or less per pound. Fish was found in abundance in the Ohio streams, but the Indians were the only ones to feast on this delicacy. Few pioneers enjoyed this luxury of the waters.
During the height of the stagecoach era, 1830- 1850, breakfast in the taverns consisted of ham, beefsteak, fried potatoes, griddle cakes or waffles, spread-stuffs, and coffee. Supper was served from three to five o'clock; this meal included ham, turkey, and cucumbers.
The taverns were not a social club in any way. One source says: "All the Taverns filled with guests in the roughest style of conviviality (festive, jovial, merry)
from which I infer that the last day of the week in generally devoted to the orgies of Bacchus by the same classes of people who on the succeeding day, attended with pious regularity the dogmatic lectures of some fanatick dispenser of the gospel. What an heterogeneous animal is man!"
Another source says: "The taverns were more noted for innocent past times, the diffusion of rumors and now and then a rare bit of eloquent opinion as to how the affairs of the State and Nation ought to be conducted."
In 1793, Griffin Yeatman built the first large tavern in the growing metropolis of Cincinnati. It was originally an unlathed, unplastered structure. The nails and hardware for its construction were brought overland from the east to the point at Pittsburgh and from there boated down the Ohio. This tavern contained a tap-room, dining hall and ballroom and had a side walk in front of the building, this possibly being puncheon plans laid in the mire of the river flats.
Another tavern keeper in Cincinnati was Levi McLean. His versatility was displayed as a tavern keeper, music teacher, butcher and jailer.
Dayton had its first tavern built by George Newcom in 1798-1799. This served also as his home. It was said to have been the first building in the Miami Valley chinked and plastered with lime mortar. A boy watching exclaimed, "Colonel Newcom is plastering his house with flour!" The building was two-story, contained four rooms, had four windows, and the first store in Dayton was opened on the second floor in 1800. Newcom's house also served as local jail when necessary, as the first house of worship and as Dayton's Court House Number One. Most of the furniture was made from surrounding beech and buckeye trees, the open dresser being laden with shiny pewter. Above the great fireplace stood tall brass candlesticks gleaming in the firelight. "The bell on the tall clock so excited the Indians in the vicinity that they stole up of a night to hear it strike." (This log structure can be seen in the Carrillon Park in Dayton, Ohio.)
Ephriam Hathaway was proprietor of the Black Horse Tavern (later known as the Lebanon Hotel and still later as the Golden Lamb Hotel; the present location was built in 1815 by Jonas Seaman) in Lebanon. This structure was built in 1800. It was significantly hewed and was used as the first store in the vicinity and as a substitute court room for the district from 1803 to 1826. Beginning in 1802, three men who gained prominence in the upbuilding of the state made the tavern their home, Rollin Campbell, Joshua Collett, and Icabod Corwin.
The first public hall in Xenia was held in Jimmie Collier's tavern. During the War of 1812 it was the seat of Courts of Enquiry and Courts Martial, while at one time a British Officer and his servant were held prisoner within its walls. This was the Grand Hotel of the place.
South Charleston was a stopping place on the stage line. Henry Clay and Thomas Corwin frequented this location while on their way to the Legislature. This tavern occasionally was used as a temporary jail while enroute to the Columbus penitentiary.

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This page created 18 September 2004 and last updated 28 September, 2008
© 2004 Arne H Trelvik  All rights reserved