Handmade from the virgin forests of oak and broad leaf pine, this tavern was built in 1780 to serve as the first stagecoach stop outside of Hartford on the Boston to Albany Turnpike. The tavern was constructed for Jonathon Pettibone, Jr. during the revolution. He was the son of a patriot killed in the fighting around New York in 1776, and the spirit of ’76 runs deep within the walls and floors of this historic structure.
Allow yourself to slip back 220 years to a cold snowy day in a horse drawn sleigh. With Hartford already a day’s travel behind, it is not hard to imagine the triumph and jubilation felt by those passengers on the Boston to Albany turnpike as they crested the top of Talcott Mountain. There in the distance, across the river, lay Pettibone’s Tavern. Smoke poured out of the multiple chimneys and all on the coach knew that hot chowder and cold ale were within sight.
The Pettibone Tavern was a meeting place to exchange news of the war, and Captain Phelps of Simsbury used the tavern as a rendezvous with Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys to engineer the bloodless capture of Fort Ticonderoga in the nearby New York colony. It is highly likely that both of our nation’s first two presidents stayed at The Pettibone Tavern during their travels between Boston, New York and Philadelphia. The majority of Washington’s cannon and shot came from the rich ore deposits in western Connecticut, and George Washington is mentioned by name in a US Supreme Court case involving The Pettibone Tavern regarding the quartering of troops. John Adams noted in his memoirs that he preferred the Albany Turnpike to the Boston Post Road that runs along the shoreline of Connecticut. He made the countless trips from his family farm in Quincy, Massachusetts, to the Continental Congresses in Philadelphia and to our nation’s first seat of government in New York, both as Washington’s vice president and during his own administration.
After the war the Pettibone Tavern remained the central public house in the growing community, but being on the fringe of civilization it was burned to the ground by Indians in 1800. Even today, one can descend the steps into the old basement and view the charred remains of the hand hewn oak timbers that supported the original tavern. Quickly rebuilt, the tavern re-opened in 1803, but times had changed. Instead of the thriving slave trade in nearby Newport and New York City, the abolitionist movement was gaining momentum. The bricked up tunnel that connects the basement of the Pettibone Tavern to the basement of the old red colonial home across the street at 327 Hopmeadow Street evidences this relationship.
Harriett Beecher Stowe published Uncle Tom’s Cabin in 1850. She would later be addressed by President Lincoln as “the person who wrote this little book that started this big war.” One can only guess how many nights she spent at the Pettibone Tavern when the stagecoach stopped for the night during her frequent trips from her home in Hartford to her parents’ home in Litchfield. Once again the tavern played a role in the early formation of our new nation.
Over the years, the tavern has served as a private residence as well as a restaurant in the more recent history. After experiencing severe water damage in January of 2008, the restaurant then known as Pettibone’s Tavern was purchased by the current owners. It was reopened that November after extensive renovations as Abigail’s Grille and Wine Bar.