America’s Oldest Tavern
It’s hard to imagine life in 1673 when The White Horse Tavern opened. The new world was an unruly collection of English colonies, and colonial Newport was particularly harsh with long frigid winters, no heat, electricity or other modern conveniences. Taverns played an important role in those early days, and The White Horse was a regular haunt for Colonists, British soldiers, Hessian mercenaries, pirates, sailors, founding fathers and all manner of early American folk. Take a look at this video to see why many consider us a “bucket list bar.”
Originally constructed in 1652, the tavern began as the two story residence of Francis Brinley, “the massively framed building and quarter acre of land fenced with Pailes at the corner of Farewell and Marlborough Streets” was acquired by William Mayes, Sr. in 1673 and he converted it to a tavern. Not everyone read in those early days, and public establishments identified themselves with symbols – a white horse signified tavern.
A Meeting Place for More Than 100 Years
For the next one hundred years, before the Colony House was constructed, this large and comfortable tavern was the meeting place of the Colony’s General Assembly, Criminal Court and City Council. In 1702 William Mayes, Jr. succeeded his father as innkeeper and was granted a license to sell “…all sorts of Strong Drink.” William was a notorious pirate, who had just returned to Newport with his bounty. Openly welcomed and protected by the townspeople, Mr. Mayes caused much embarrassment to officials of the British Colony. Mary Mayes Nichols, William’s sister, and her husband, Robert, shortly followed as innkeepers.
Birthplace of the Businessman’s Lunch
In 1708 city councilors dined here and charged their meals to the public treasury.
Jonathan Nichols became tavern keeper in 1730 and gave the tavern its present name. Walter Nichols, the proprietor in 1776, moved his family out of the tavern and Newport rather than live with the Hessian mercenaries billeted there by the British. This was a turbulent time in Newport, and slaves and free men gathered across the street at the Liberty Park to hold slave elections and to protest British rule. When Walter Nichols returned after the war he added the gambrel roof and re-opened an enlarged White Horse Tavern.
In November of 1895 the Nichols family sold to Thomas and Bridget Preece and the building became a rooming house.
Restored in 1957
By 1954 the structure showed years of use and neglect. Through the generosity of the Van Beuren family the property was acquired by The Preservation Society of Newport County and meticulously restored. It re-opened as The White Horse Tavern in 1957.
O.L. Pitts of Fort Worth, Texas, along with three partners, purchased the White Horse Tavern in 1981. Infamous participants in the revelry of the America’s Cup races, they continued the tradition of good fellowship, good food and good cheer. On his ninetieth birthday, O.L. Pitts turned stewardship of the Tavern over to Paul Hogan, a Newport native and only the sixth owner in three hundred and fifty years. No building is believed more typical of colonial Newport than the White Horse Tavern, with its clapboard walls, gambrel roof and plain pediment doors bordering the sidewalk. Inside, “its giant beams, small stairway hard against chimney, tiny front hall and cavernous fireplaces are the very essence of 17th Century American architecture.”