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The Rider Tavern


The Rider Tavern
255 Stafford Street
Charlton, Massachusetts


From Massachusetts Turnpike, take exit 9 (Sturbridge). Turn right at second exit onto Route 20 east. After entering Charlton, at the fourth set of traffic lights turn left onto Center Depot Road. Then turn right at the blinking light. The Rider Tavern, 255 Stafford Street, is about 1 mile on the left, at the intersection with Northside Road.

Excerpts from "A Bicentennial History of the Rider Tavern 1797-1997"
By William O. Hultgren

Located on the former Worcester and Stafford Springs Turnpike twelve miles west of Worcester Massachusetts is the most outstanding historic building in the Town of Charlton, The Rider Tavern. The tavern is being restored by and is the home of the Charlton Historical Society.

The imposing architectural features of the structure, together with its original interior woodwork, stenciling and hardware make Rider Tavern one of the least altered and best documented examples of a wayside tavern of the Federal period in New England.

Work began in early 1797 on the ninety foot long by thirty two foot wide, three story building. Eli Wheelock, a local innkeeper and distiller, planned that this new inn would be the finest building on the road between Worcester and Hartford. To help him in building the new tavern he formed a partnership with a local businessman, Leonard Morey.

On September 18, 1797, during the construction of his new tavern, Eli Wheelock died. Village tradition attributes the thirty-seven year old man's death to injuries sustained in a fall from the third story roof of the uncompleted building.

In October, 1799, Morey brought the construction work to completion after being named administrator of Wheelock's estate. His Accounts as Administrator against the Estate of Eli Wheelock 1797-1799 has provided an invaluable resource in the researching the sources and prices of materials used in the construction of the tavern.

The record provides information that tells us that every item used in the construction of the twenty-one room building came from within six miles of the Northside Village except for the whiting and white lead for the paint which came from the store of Stephen Salisbury in Worcester, twelve miles away.

Following Wheelock's death the tavern building was divided into thirds to settle his estate. In 1800, the recently remarried widow of Eli Wheelock received the eastern one third as her dower or widow's third. The remaining two-thirds of the building was then sold at auction.

The exterior and to some extent the interior indicate very early alterations of the building. It is suspected that these changes were made to accommodate the widow's third.

In 1801, the west two-thirds of the building was bought by brothers Isaiah and William Rider. This purchase included the distillery begun by Eli Wheelock.

The west section bought by the Riders contains the important public rooms. Immediately inside the west door, on the right of the stair hall, is the barroom. On the left are the public dining room and the ladies parlor. An arched doorway connected the two rooms. In the dining room, the west wall partition could be swung up out of the way, doubling the size of the room.

Directly behind the barroom is a small dining room called the "Lafayette Dining Room". In 1824, Lafayette was the guest of the United States, traveling through the country receiving tumultuous greetings from all who could see him. General Lafayette, the ardent young Marquis de Lafayette, who left France to assist America's cause in the Revolutionary War was entertained in this room.

It was during this tour that the General visited the tavern. Preparations were made well in advance of his visit on September third. The cavalry companies and militia from Charlton and surrounding towns were gathered in the "militia lot" opposite the tavern to welcome him. The General then reviewed the assembled troops, greeting many an old comrade among the veterans. After dining, a receiving line was formed.

Clearly, this was the greatest date the tavern had witnessed. Unfortunately, Isaiah Rider had not lived to see it. Rider had died the year previous and in January of 1824, Nathaniel Wilson, Jr. of Spencer acquired the tavern. Wilson promptly changed the name to Wilson's Coffee House.

On the second floor is a ballroom twenty by sixty feet long along the front of the building. A stencil pattern of swags and tassels in black follows along the top of the walls. Another design of leaves and rays outlines each window and door and repeats above the wainscoting. Dances, balls, lectures and the then popular lyceums were frequently held in this room with crowds numbering 300 sometimes attending.

Three plain and one fancy bed chambers are also on the second floor in the east end. The one door from the ballroom into these rooms is the only door in the building connecting the eastern former widow's third with the west two thirds.

A small sitting room is directly off the east hallway on the first floor with a large parlor beyond. Investigation revealed nine layers of wallpaper on the receiving room walls. The two oldest layers were of the early type of papers, printed in blocks and pasted end to end to form a roll. The earliest printed on sheets fifteen by nineteen and one-half inches, consisted of four strips, two red and two white, in a free flowing vermicular pattern on a beige ground. The other was a paisley print on a black ground, a rarity since very few wallpapers were printed in black.

The plaster walls beneath the papers were found to be painted in red coral color decorated with a hand painted design in four colors. Extended commas of white, yellow, green and black arch in wide vine-like arcs across the walls. The signature "Betsey Town Rider, Charlton, Mass." Is scratched into the plaster over the mantel.

The parlor is this building's most elegant room. The mantelpiece shows the greatest attention to detail of any in the tavern. Raised panel wainscoting is tipped with a band of reeding and stops under a moulded chair rail. The ceiling mouldings reflect the same design. The walls of this room were also found to be decorated with a stencil. Under eleven layers of wallpaper the baby-blue color of the walls served as a base for a stencil pattern in indigo-black.

Behind these two rooms are the family's kitchen and a small bedroom. The fireplace in the kitchen has been altered by mortaring in a large kettle for boiling clothes. The east bedroom has been altered by adding a partition wall to provide for a pantry and the old exterior doorway has been covered but its threshold clearly shows in the eastern exterior wall.

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