– Click on the image to enlarge or purchase –
The Hanover Tavern is part of the Hanover Courthouse National District. The early story of the tavern is closely linked to the Hanover County Courthouse which lies on the opposite side of U.S. Route 301. A license was first granted for a tavern at the site in 1733, two years before the start of construction for the courthouse. I have not managed to find any record of who the original owner was.
In 1743, William Parks, then editor of the Virginia Gazette, purchased the tavern. At the time it was part of a 550-acre plantation. The tavern itself occupied 3.5-acres. The next recorded owner was John Shelton, who purchased the tavern in 1750. John Shelton and Eleanor Parks Shelton were the parents of Patrick Henry’s wife, Sarah. He allowed Henry and his family to stay at the tavern whilst he was practicing law at the Courthouse, including during the famous Parson’s Case in 1763.
The Tavern, which for obvious reasons had become known as Shelton’s Tavern, is one of the few surviving colonial era taverns in the United States. Not only is it famous for its long term resident, Patrick Henry, but it has also housed George Washington, Lord Cornwallis and the Marquis de Lafayette. During the Civil War, both Union and Confederate troops used the Tavern on their way to and from the battlefields.
What is now known as the Hanover Tavern has provided meals and lodging to the people having business at the Hanover County Courthouse for almost two centuries. It also served as the Post Office from the 1790s until 1911.
In 1953, the Barksdale Theatre, Central Virginia’s first nonprofit professional performing arts organization, was founded at the historic tavern. On August 1 that year, six actors, two children, a dog and two pigs moved into what remained of the tavern. When they learned that their new neighbors looked forward to eating on evenings out, they combined favorite recipes and created the nation’s first dinner theater. They lived upstairs, performed downstairs, and served hearty meals in the historic rooms that fell in between.
In 1990, the non-profit Hanover Tavern Foundation purchased the 3.5-acre site including the historic building from the Barksdale Theatre. The Foundation’s goal was to restore, preserve and utilize the Tavern as an historical, educational, community and cultural resource center for the general public. After successful fundraising campaigns and completion of the restoration, the building reopened to the public in 2005. The Barksdale Theatre, now merged with Theatre IV to become Virginia Repertory Theatre, has since returned and uses the Hanover Tavern as one of its two home locations for its performances.