|McAtee’s Tavern, Built 1807
by Debbie Robison |
December 29, 2012
Oral tradition. Stories told countless
times at socials, picnics, and places of worship; passed down from one
generation to the next, from neighbor to neighbor. What assurance do we have,
after 200 years, that a tale still told holds true? For generations, the small log
cabin on Route 50 at Flatlick Branch was said to be a
tavern, but few believed. In this case, however, oral tradition was right.
McAtee's Tavern, Photo Courtesy Helen Ross, Architectural Historian, Virginia Department of Transportation, 1995.
Some time ago, the weary teamster, exhausted by his
efforts to drive his team along jarring roads to the ports in Alexandria from the
Shenandoah Valley, could find rest
and refreshment at a number of establishments built along newly constructed
turnpikes. Enterprising opportunists established ordinaries (taverns) on land
adjacent to these gravel-paved toll roads. Harrison McAtee
was one. For him, success may have been difficult to come by, for in 1807 young
America’s citizens were suffering through an economic depression caused by a
McAtee chose to build his ordinary
on a three-quarter acre lot along the Little River Turnpike (now known as Route
50) where it crosses Flatlick Branch. The tavern was
situated upon an incline about 280 feet west of the stream, yet still afforded
a convenient watering spot for horse and mule.
View of Little River Turnpike (Rt. 50) from Tavern, Photo Courtesy Helen Ross, Architectural Historian, Virginia Department of Transportation, 1995.
Negotiations for purchasing the land were conducted
with William Vallandingham, who held a sublease from
William Bernard Sears, possessor of a three-lives
Selling the lot to McAtee may have been an attractive
alternative to farming what became a small parcel of land cut off from the rest
of the leasehold by the introduction of the turnpike.
Thus was put into motion events that would years
later embroil Vallandingham, McAtee,
and a host of others in a court case that spanned twelve years, for Vallandingham
did not have authority to sell the lot.The original 1788 lease, entered into by
William Bernard Sears and Theoderick Lee, the
landowner, stipulated that William Bernard Sears couldn’t sell or transfer the
lease without the consent of Theoderick Lee.
McAtee and Vallandingham were both cognizant of the
restriction. McAtee agreed to purchase the lot, but
if Vallandingham was unable to dispose of his lease
without including the land that McAtee purchased, then
Vallandingham would pay McAtee
the value of the improvements McAtee made on the lot.
And so, “some time in the year of 1807 McAtee purchased of a certain William Vallandingham a Lot of
ground at a place known by the name of Flat Lick for which he paid to the said Vallandingham
the Sum of Fifty dollars upon which he
erected and built a house.”
|DESCRIPTION OF TAVERN|
The tavern McAtee built,
“or had built”, was constructed of hewn 10″x10″ log timbers over a stone
foundation. Two stone chimneys flanked the northern and southern elevations. The
southern chimney, which was on the gable end farthest from the Little River
Turnpike, was larger. Each chimney served a fireplace on the first and second
Two rooms, one of which was known as the bar room,
were located on the first floor and were separated by a log partition wall
containing a doorway.
Partition Wall in McAtee Tavern, Photo Courtesy Helen Ross, Architectural Historian, Virginia Department of Transportation, 1995.
In an 1825 court deposition, Franklin Cockerille stated that he obtained a key to the “Bar room.”
Doors may have been secured with carpenter
box locks. A key to this type of lock was discovered under the rear addition.
Key found under floor of McAtee Tavern
Access to the second floor was gained via a
staircase located along the southern side of the log partition wall in the room
with the larger fireplace.
McAtee Tavern Staircase, Photo Courtesy Helen Ross, Architectural Historian, Virginia Department of Transportation, 1995.
The room with the large fireplace and the stairway
may have been the kitchen. That fireplace contained a metal hook that attached to
a crane that was used to swing pots in and out of the fireplace. If that room
was the kitchen, then the room closest to the road would have been the bar
room. At some point, vertical board wood paneling was installed on the end wall
of the room.
Interior of McAtee's Tavern, Possibly the Bar Room, Photo Courtesy Helen Ross, Architectural Historian, Virginia Department of Transportation, 1995.
Entrance to the tavern was achieved through one of
two front doors sheltered under a covered porch that extended the length of the
building. Each front door had an adjacent window.
Front porch of the tavern, Photo Courtesy Helen Ross, Architectural Historian, Virginia Department of Transportation, 1995.
Small windows that penetrated the gable ends on the
second level added light and ventilation to the bed chambers.
McAtee Tavern Second Floor Bed Chamber, Photo Courtesy Helen Ross, Architectural Historian, Virginia Department of Transportation, 1995.
The roof was constructed of 4″ wide round-butt wood
shingles over skip boards attached to the roof rafters. Collar ties provided
support against lateral pressures increased by snow loads. The rafters were
attached to the log frame with large 3/8″ thick hand-wrought iron spikes.
Over time, several additions we appended to the
Additions Appended to McAtee's Tavern, Photo Courtesy Helen Ross, Architectural Historian, Virginia Department of Transportation, 1995.
Near the tavern were several accessory structures.
The smokehouse was constructed of log and was clad in vertical wood siding.
Metal hardware was imbedded in the rafters and collar ties. Presumably the meat
was hung from the hardware.
McAtee Tavern Smokehouse, Photo Courtesy Helen Ross, Architectural Historian, Virginia Department of Transportation, 1995.
McAtee Tavern Smokehouse Roof Rafters, Photo Courtesy Helen Ross, Architectural Historian, Virginia Department of Transportation, 1995.
The springhouse was constructed of stone. A well was
located adjacent to the springhouse.
McAtee Tavern Springhouse and Well, Photo Courtesy Helen Ross, Architectural Historian, Virginia Department of Transportation, 1995.
|State laws governed the operation of taverns. Those who wished to keep a tavern were required to obtain an ordinary license from the county court. Fairfax County Court Minute Books show that Harrison McAtee was granted an ordinary license at the February 1814 court.|
|Licence is granted Harrison McAtee to keep an Ordinary at his house in this County until the first day of May next Benjamin Mitchell Security tax $3.25 paid in court.|
In May, he extended his
license for a full year with George Whaley paying a $22.20 security tax.
Harrison McAtee may have been assisted in his
tavern-keeping endeavor by Charity McAtee, presumed to be his mother.
She obtained an ordinary license in 1807. The relationship
might have been easily confirmed or refuted had John McAtee, Charity's husband,
not declared in his will that his children, whom he declined to name, wouldn’t
Liquor Bottle Fragments Found Under McAtee Tavern
The Fairfax County Court regulated tavern rates that ordinary keepers were ordered to post
or “set up in their respective Taverns” for notification to the public.
Following is a transcript of the rates established at the Fairfax County
December Court of 1816.
The Court proceeded to fix
the rates of Liquors (etc.) for Tavern keepers as follows
For one warm dinner with cider beer spirit & water or toddy $..75
For one quart of good spirit or French brandy or in that proportion $1.–
For one quart of continental rum or in that proportion .50
For one quart of peach brandy or in that proportion .75
For one quart of apple brandy or in that proportion .50
For one quart of whiskey or in that proportion .50
For one quart of good Maderia wine or in that prop.$1..75
For one quart of good port Lisbon or other wine in that proportion $1..–
For one bottle of claret $1..50
For one bottle of English porter .42
For one bottle of American porter .42
For one quart of toddy made with good spirits .34
For one quart of punch made with French brandy or good spirits .50
For one hot breakfast or supper with tea or coffee .50
For one gallon of corn .25
For one gallon of oats .25
For one nights lodging in clean sheets .25
For one night or twenty four hours stablage for horse with hay or corn blades .50
For one quart of cider .12 ½
For one night or twenty four hours pasturage for horse .12 ½
It was Ordered that the several
Ordinary keepers in this County do set up in their respective Taverns a copy of
the above rates and sell agreeable thereto or be subject to the fine imposed by
Travelers who possessed the
necessary coin to enjoy the comfort and benefits of clean sheets at McAtee’s tavern
may have also snuggled into the warmth of a
hand-sewn quilt. Inscribed on the underside of a fireplace hearth support
board, discovered when the house was dismantled, is what appears to be an
“uneven six-sided block right-triangle pieced quilt pattern.”
Quilt Pattern written on underside of a hearth framing board.
Those lodgers who desired
partaking of the offered “warm dinner” might have been served their meal on creamware pearlware blue
shell-edged plates. Pottery sherds unearthed by
salvage archaeology provide examples of over a dozen different blue shell-edged
plates; based on glazing, incisions, and hand-painting technique. Some sherds evidence
what is generally considered earlier,
higher quality brushwork where individual strokes are painted to craft a
feathery edge. Other plates, manufactured with production rather than
craftsmanship as the strategic objective, had rims painted with a brushstroke
that passed along the edge of the plate once or twice as it turned on a wheel.
While each hand-produced plate would necessarily differ, the variations suggest
that plates were replaced with a similar pattern over time.
Plate Sherds Found Under McAtee's Tavern
themselves fortunate if they discover a coin at a dig they can use to assist in
dating the site. In the early 1800s, you would expect scarce coinage to be
generally handled carefully; kept tucked away until it was required for
purchase. Twenty-four coins dated during the timeframe McAtee
owned the tavern were found. Most had fallen under the floorboards. Perhaps the
frequency of lost coins is increased in establishments where coin is often
expended, particularly in exchange for spirits. Additional coins from later
periods were also discovered, but in much lesser numbers.
Coins and other artifacts from beneach McAtee's Tavern
As an economic panic and
depression of 1819 1822 caused neighbors to struggle, and filled local
debtors’ prisons, tavern keepers were similarly challenged. The rate for one
nights lodging, which was set at $0.50 during the December Court of 1816, was
down to $0.17 in July 1819 and $0.12 ½ in March 1820. Liquor rates also
decreased, but at a lesser percentage. Perhaps this downturn had some bearing
on Harrison McAtee’s decision to sell his house on
March 22, 1822 to Lewis Cross.
McAtee's Tavern was demolished, though a reconstructed structure using some of the original materials exists. During the
deconstruction, a variety of objects were found under the floors, in the attic, and stuffed in the walls.
Post-Civil War blouse tucked into wall for insulation.
Pot hook used to hold kettles over the fire.
Wood block may have been part of a mantlepiece.
Ceramics found under tavern.
Early writing implements for use with a slate board.
 USDA, A History of American Agriculture 17761990, Economic Cycles, as viewed at http://www.agclassroom.org/gan/timeline/economic_cycles.htm
 William Bernard Sears purchased a three-lives lease on a 148-acre lot from Theoderick Lee See Loudoun County Deed Book (LN DB) R:149, September 6, 1788; Theoderick Lee had inherited a larger tract of land from his father Henry Lee II, See Prince William County Will Book (PW WB) G:373, August 23, 1787; Henry Lee II inherited from his father Henry Lee I, See Northern Neck Grant A:186, January 2, 1724.
 William Vallandingham purchased a lease on a 148-acre tract from
William Bernard Sears sometime between 1788 and 1807. Per FX DB U2:315 and
 Loudoun County Deed Book R:149, September 6, 1788.
 Fairfax County Chancery cff #52k, March 22, 1822.
 Fairfax County Chancery cff #52k, March 22, 1822.
 Fairfax County Court Minute Book, December 1816.
 Fairfax County Chancery cff #52k, March 22, 1822.