Raleigh Tavern in Colonial Williamsburg gets new look

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The Raleigh Tavern is believed to have had a porch during the late 1700s. (Photo courtesy of Colonial Williamsburg)
The Raleigh Tavern is believed to have had a porch during the late 18th century. (Photo courtesy of Colonial Williamsburg)

The Raleigh Tavern in the center of Colonial Williamsburg is getting a facelift, one archaeologists hope will make the building more historically accurate.

After Colonial Williamsburg historians reinvestigated the last reconstruction of the tavern, which was completed in 1929, it was determined the Raleigh Tavern likely contained a front porch, something currently absent on the building.

An archaeological dig is currently underway at the Raleigh Tavern, Colonial Williamsburg’s first exhibition building, that is expected to be completed early 2017. The extensive dig hopes to uncover intact 18th century layers that will help historians better conceptualize what a porch might have looked like in the late 1700s.

As work progresses and artifacts are collected and analyzed, evidence for the porch will be incorporated into new architectural drawings that will be used to construct the porch.

Jeffrey Klee, an architectural historian for Colonial Williamsburg, has spent nearly seven years studying the Raleigh Tavern and said the decision to add a porch was not the result of a new discovery, per se.

“It wasn’t even that we found new evidence,” he said. “We looked again with new eyes and 80-something years of experience. We looked at the archaeology. There’s a number of things that have pointed to a porch for a number of years.”

Some of the evidence for a porch stems from old newspaper articles published in the Virginia Gazette in 1773, as well as Revolutionary-era archaeological drawings and map depictions of the site.

The construction of the porch, which will span the entire width of the Raleigh Tavern, will be a large-scale project that is expected to cost more than $300,000, Klee said.

Despite the cost of the project, Klee said the porch will help provide a new level of authenticity to the Raleigh Tavern and will allow for Colonial Williamsburg to potentially offer new programming.

“The porch allows us to talk about tavern life in the 18th century in a richer way,” he said. “Porches were an important adjunct to tavern interiors. It was a place where life in the tavern could spill outside. … We can start to explore that component of tavern life.”