The first five U.S. presidents, the founding fathers, were all veteran travelers in New England. And in their travels, they left behind tracks of where they stayed that tourists still follow today if they want to eat like a president.
Many of the public houses these men stopped at have been obliterated by time. Many more were converted into private houses. But some gems remain where you can still sit down to dinner and eat like a president.
One of them, the Green Dragon in Boston’s North End, claims to be the headquarters of the American Revolution. But it has only an uncertain connection to the original Green Dragon, watering hole of Paul Revere and John Hancock. John Adams liked to stop at the original Green Dragon for a tankard or two.
Washington Ate Here
George Washington left tracks all across New England. First coming to the region in 1756 to visit Governor Shirley of Massachusetts, he made his next trip to assume command of the Continental Army.
His later trips, as president, were political. He needed to thank the wealthy patrons and soldiers who supported the American Revolution. Washington also wanted to get a sense for the mood of the country. For this northern tour, he decided not to stay in the homes of private citizens. Choosing one invitation over another would surely lead to hurt feelings.
Instead, he stayed at public accommodations, following his usual pattern of rising early and starting his travels. Then he’d stop for breakfast and travel to a town where he would receive a hero’s welcome. As a result, he often dined with the public.
In Fairfield, Conn., in October 1789, George Washington stayed at the Sun Tavern. Though you can’t eat like a president there. But you can visit as it’s now part of the Fairfield Museum and History Center.
Eat Like a President in New Haven
In New Haven, the Union League was built in 1860 on the site of the home of Roger Sherman, a member of the Continental Congress. The club provided a base of support for Abraham Lincoln. Now a restaurant, the Union League Café, the owners noted that Washington visited Roger Sherman in his home there. So while Washington didn’t exactly eat there, he sort of ate there.
Beer’s Tavern in New Haven played host to Washington in June of 1775 when he traveled north to take command of the Continental Army at Cambridge, Mass. John Adams also reported staying there while travelling to the first Continental Congress in 1774. Adams returned again and again on his trips back and forth to Philadelphia. Over the years, Beer’s went through many iterations, but you can still eat like a president there today. The restaurant now operates under the name ‘Ordinary’. It has a wonderful description of its history here.
On his way north to Cambridge, Washington also stopped at the Silas Deane house in Wethersfield, now part of the Webb Deane Stevens Museum. He later returned to the nearby Joseph Webb House, also part of the museum, in May of 1781. The house then served as his headquarters. It was here he met with French commander the Comte de Rochambeau, who traveled from Newport, R.I., to discuss plans for the siege of Yorktown.
Then on his never-ending quest for supplies for his army, Washington also visited Thomas Leffingwell at the Leffingwell Inn in Norwich, Conn. The inn is open as a museum today.
In Middletown, Conn., Bigelow’s Tavern was the popular place to dine. Thomas Jefferson and James Madison stayed there on their return trip from Vermont in 1791, and John Adams stayed in 1774 when passing through Connecticut.
Started by Timothy Bigelow, his widow operated the tavern after his death in 1776. She managed it successfully for decades, despite being accused of sympathizing with the Tories during the American Revolution. Unfortunately, it is long since gone, but the building in its place, which also houses the Middletown Police Department, is home to the First & Last Tavern. Perhaps the presidential spirit remains there.
In Greenwich, Conn., Knapp’s Tavern is also known as Putnam Cottage, after its famous guest, Gen. Israel Putnam. But as Knapp’s, innkeeper Isaac Knapp kept it as a tavern and hosted both George Washington and John Adams. No longer a tavern, the building can be visited, however, as it is now a museum.
In Guilford, Conn., Thomas Jefferson and James Madison stayed at the Stone Tavern, with Jefferson rating it above average. That tavern isn’t around anymore, but there is a well-known Medad Stone Tavern in Guilford. Unfortunately, it never opened for business.
Mr. Stone, anticipating a change in the route of the Post Road in 1802, built a new tavern along what he thought was the new route. The road, however, went elsewhere leaving him with a tavern with no customers. Today it’s a museum.
The White Horse?
Madison and Jefferson also liked to stay at Bull’s Tavern in Hartford. John Adams visited this tavern, too, and enjoyed his stays. Frederick Bull ran the tavern, now gone, but his brother, Captain William Bull, ran a tavern in Litchfield. The Captain William Bull Tavern moved from its original site and incorporated into the Tollgate Hill Inn and Restaurant.
During George Washington’s celebratory trip to New England in 1789, he left Rhode Island off the itinerary because the state hadn’t taken any action to ratify the U.S. Constitution. When Rhode Island did ratify, Washington made things right in 1790 and traveled to the state for celebrations in Newport and Providence.
In Providence he stayed at the Abner Daggett’s Golden Ball Inn, since demolished. In Newport the only tavern in business today where he might have visited is the White Horse Tavern. French commander Rochambeau frequently patronized the establishment. Though there is no record of it, Rochambeau might have dined with Washington there when Washington came to spend a week in Newport in 1881.
Eat Like a President in Massachusetts
Two locations where Washington definitely dined are Massachusetts museums now. The first, of course, if the Longfellow House in Cambridge, which is where he spent the most time in Massachusetts while commanding the Continental Army. He also dined at the Munroe Tavern in Lexington, a hot spot for anti-British meetings before the war. Washington visited the tavern on his 1789 celebration tour, and today it’s open as a museum.
Several other stops along Washington’s tour in Massachusetts remain open to the public. Ye Olde Tavern in West Brookfield (which also hosted John Adams in addition to Washington) remains a restaurant today.
Washington dined at Faneuil Hall in Boston, though it’s hard to envision the president sitting down at today’s food court. He went on to visit the Jeremiah Lee Mansion in Marblehead, a museum today. And in Newburyport, Washington stayed at the Tracy Mansion, now the public library.
Washington also dined and danced at the Salem, Mass., Cotting-Smith Assembly House, a Federalist club. It’s now used for functions by the Peabody Essex Museum, where guests can perhaps eat like a president.
James Monroe also made a stop in Salem on his 1817 tour of New England. The fifth U.S. president probably traveled more extensively throughout New England than any of the founding fathers apart from John Adams. He had to take a long road show to try and soothe New Englanders’ hostility over the War of 1812.
His trip took him through all the states, including extensive travels in Maine and Vermont. As with the other presidents, most of the places he stopped at (Clapp’s Inn in Walpole, Mass., Wyatt’s Inn in Dover, N.H., Gilman’s Hotel in Newburyport) no longer serve the public. Salem, Mass. hosted a reception for him at the Old Town Hall, new at the time.
While Monroe made it to Vermont, Thomas Jefferson has the distinction of visiting the northernmost part of the Green Mountain state. He crossed Lake Champlain from New York and landed at Crown Point and Chimney Point, now an historic site owned by the state. On his travels south through Vermont, Jefferson visited Bennington, and he was so intrigued by Vermont’s maple syrup that he sent 20 maple trees to his Monticello home, in hopes that America could free itself from dependence on sugar from the West Indies.
John Adams, meanwhile, did the most travelling around New England. His diaries tell of many taverns where he stopped — mostly, sadly, now gone. He stayed at Newcomb Tavern on a trip to Barnstable on Cape Cod, now a private house. Ironically, Loyalists tended to patronize the Newcomb Tavern in the run up to the American Revolution.
Adams also visited Allen’s in Biddeford and Webb’s in Falmouth (Portland), an inn that doubled as the town jail. He stopped at Tilton’s in Portsmouth, N.H. Washington also made it to Portsmouth in 1789, dining at the Langdon House, now a Historic New England museum. Washington also visited the Pitt Tavern, now part of Stawbery Banke, and made a stop at the Folsom Tavern, now open in Exeter, N.H., as a museum.
This story about how to eat like a president was updated in 2021. If you’d like to find out how to eat like more modern presidents, click here.