18th century-style coffeehouse opening at Colonial Williamsburg

Monday, November 9, 2009


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Coffeehouse opening at Colonial Williamsburg

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. — Don’t expect soy lattes or Internet access for your laptop, but your next visit to Colonial Williamsburg could include a stop in a coffeehouse.

Visitors will be able to experience an 18th century-style coffeehouse when R. Charlton’s Coffeehouse opens Nov. 20 on Duke of Gloucester Street at the historic site.

Free coffee, tea and hot chocolate inspired by 18th-century recipes will be served in demitasse cups at R. Charlton’s. Costumed re-enactors will discuss with visitors how the consumption of these drinks related to colonial society, hospitality and political issues of the day, including trade and taxes.

R. Charlton’s, named for coffeehouse proprietor Richard Charlton, was a real establishment in the 1760s, frequented by politicians, gentry and others. The China tea imported from England, West Indian coffee, chocolate from the Caribbean rim and high-style cuisine placed the establishment a cut above other local taverns. Patrons gathered there for social gossip, political discussion and the latest news from England.

The coffeehouse was even the site of a protest against the Stamp Act of 1765, in which England imposed taxes in the colonies on newspapers, pamphlets and legal documents. That protest will be incorporated into Colonial Williamsburg’s programming, debuting for one episode at the Nov. 20 opening and becoming a regular scene for visitors in the spring.

The coffeehouse recreation began as an excavation by the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. A Victorian home had been built on the foundation where the original coffeehouse stood, and Williamsburg’s archaeological studies of the site began in 1995 after the home was purchased by Colonial Williamsburg and moved to a new location outside the historic area.

Some pieces from the coffeehouse had been repurposed inside the Victorian home, and thousands of artifacts were unearthed at the site, enabling historians and artisans to reproduce for R. Charlton’s the look of everything from furniture to coffee cups. Shingles, nails and even paint were handcrafted by workers from Historic Trades, an interpretive department at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. The planning, design, construction and endowment of R. Charlton’s Coffeehouse was funded by a $5 million donation from the Mars Foundation.

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