In September of 2008, the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation began the reconstruction of Richard Charltons 18th-century Coffeehouse. The Foundations Architectural Historians designed the building to appear as close to the original as our evidence permits, and the plan incorporates the remaining portions of the Coffeehouses original foundations. The buildings site, the location of the Cary Peyton Armistead House until 1995, has been the subject of extensive archaeological research in consultation with the Armistead family.
These excavations revealed critical information about the building and its history, in concert with evidence from a number of other sources: The size and shape of the Coffeehouses porch was determined by soil samples and the original footings, the sites historic timeline was filled-in with advertisements and public accounts, details of the building's structure and interior were seen in wooden fragments from the Armistead House, and the day-to-day business of the Coffeehouse was informed by tens of thousands of archaeological fragments.
The Colonial Williamsburg Foundations Historic Trades department will be creating much of the construction material, including bricks, rafters, shingles, and metal hardware, using traditional 18th-century building methods.
A generous $5 million gift from Forrest and Deborah Mars made the Coffeehouse project possible. The Mars family has been prominent supporters of the foundation for nearly 25 years.
English coffeehouses appeared in the 17th century and quickly became popular. These establishments provided patrons with new beverages such as coffee, tea, and chocolate. Even more importantly, coffeehouses served as sites for the energetic discussion of politics, news, and business. Despite Williamsburgs relatively small size, locals sought to emulate the cosmopolitan fashions of Europe, which included this coffeehouse culture.
In the early 1760s, Richard Charlton, a local wigmaker, became proprietor of a newly converted coffeehouse near the Capitol. During the ten years the coffeehouse was open, many important political figures frequented its rooms, including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Lieutenant-Governor Francis Fauquier, as well as many merchants and gentry.
Why is it important?
Although the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation is well known for its historic taverns, the addition of a coffeehouse will provide the chance for guests to experience this specialized social environment; once completed, Charltons will be the only reconstructed and interpreted 18th-century coffeehouse in the nation.
Richard Charltons Coffeehouse is also significant because of the role that it played in the towns history. Beyond its list of famous patrons, the Coffeehouse served as an important center of social, political, and business activity within the town, due in part to its proximity to the Capitol.
Finally, the Coffeehouse will be the Colonial Williamsburg Foundations first major reconstruction on the main street of the Historic Area in fifty years. A project of this scale and breadth gives Colonial Williamsburgs research and trades departments the opportunity to work closely together, utilizing the advances made in scholarship and technology in recent decades.
What will the result be?
When completed, Richard Charltons Coffeehouse will serve as an interpretive space allowing visitors to learn more about the role of coffeehouses in the colonial period. In addition to interpretation, visitors will also be able to sample coffee, hot tea, and chocolate. In addition to coffeehouse-based programming, the new structure will also provide an engaging location for other Historic Area programming, including Revolutionary City and special events.