Built in 1775, the Folsom Tavern once served as the center for Exeter life, hosted George Washington for a meal, and has been moved three times in the past 200 years.
Imagine being in Exeter in November 1789 and waiting for George Washington to ride up to the Folsom Tavern on horseback.
Well, that is what actually happened.
Colonel Samuel Folsom, his wife Elizabeth, and their daughters hosted George Washington for breakfast. Today, you can visit the very same room where our nation’s first President once enjoyed a “light collation,” which is a fancy way of saying breakfast.
An image of the Folsom Tavern today.
The Early Years (1775-1869)
Built in 1775 by Colonel Samuel Folsom, brother of General Nathaniel Folsom, Folsom Tavern originally stood facing Exeter’s central square – now Exeter’s Bandstand at the corner of Front and Water streets. After Folsom’s death in 1790, his wife Elizabeth continued to run the Tavern until her death in 1805 as “Widow Folsom’s Inn.”
The historic structure stayed in the family until 1856 when it was sold to George Washington Dearborn, a retired druggist who kept a “curiosity” antiques shop in the building.
A Tavern Transformed (1869-1929)
In May 1869, approval for the widening of Water Street was granted to alleviate the traffic congestion in the center of town, and the Tavern was set back closer to Sleeper’s jewelry store. During the first move, the original chimneys were removed and the building was put on a high foundation that allowed for shops beneath. Upon Dearborn’s death in 1896, he bequeathed his ‘corner estate’ to Elizabeth Ewer, an unmarried local woman who was known as “Miss Lizzie Ewer, Inspirational Lecturer and Test Medium,” a mystic and landscape painter.
In 1897, the Exeter, Hampton and Amesbury Street Railway began in 1897 and the Tavern’s lower floor became the passenger station waiting room. The upper floors of the building held apartments and offices, including the headquarters for the Exeter and Hampton Electric Co. At various times, the basement was home to a shoe repair shop, a Chinese laundry, a millinery shop operated by Nellie Rollins, and the passenger waiting station. Oliver R. Yeaton and his wife Augusta Cenith Beardslee ran the streetcar waiting station and opened their restaurant, later called “Washington’s Lunch,” in the waiting room around 1907. The Tavern was then purchased from Elizabeth Ewer on November 4, 1909 by John Scammon.
The Tavern’s New Home (1929-1992)
In 1929, Scammon sold the site upon which Folsom Tavern stood to the Standard Oil Co., and with “a fine appreciation of the niceties” he gave the building to the Society of the Cincinnati. Society members raised the funds needed to move the Tavern to its third foundation at 21 Spring Street. The old Tavern site became a Standard Oil filling station. The Folsom Tavern remained empty until 1947 when Foster and Martha G. Stearns moved in.
The Sterns sponsored a major renovation and modernization by Boston architects Downer & Root, as its original kitchen was not moved when the tavern was moved from its prior location. After Foster Stearns died in 1956, Martha moved into a suite in the Exeter Inn, and the Tavern subsequently housed four more tenants off and on until 1992.
Rebirth of Folsom Tavern (2004-Today)
In October 2004, Folsom Tavern was moved to its current location on Water St. in downtown Exeter. Restoration of the building has included the installation of a new roof and clapboards as well as the removal of a 1950’s-era kitchen and bathroom. Interior restoration began in January 2006. On May 8, 2006, the museum received $100,000 from New Hampshire’s Land and Community Heritage Investment Program (LCHIP) to complete interior restoration of the Tavern. The project was completed in Spring 2007.
Today, Folsom Tavern is used for special events at the Museum and as a function space for both community groups and area businesses. The Tavern also features a brand new, hands-on Children’s Exhibit.