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The White Horse Tavern Is Rhode Island’s Oldest Building
June 21, 2021

The White Horse Tavern Is Rhode Island’s Oldest Building

by The CE Shop Team

Little Rhody, Pour Me an Ale

Rhode Island might be the smallest state in the country, but its historical impact packs a punch. Newport was a major trade and shipping hub in the late 17th century, and the White Horse Tavern served patrons as proudly back then as they do today. The White Horse Tavern is not only the oldest building in the Ocean State, but it’s also the oldest bar in the country (and the 10th oldest restaurant in the entire world).

The White Horse Tavern

First constructed in 1652 as a two-story, two-room residence for Francis Brinley, a Rhode Island resident. After Brinley moved to Boston, the property was acquired by William Mayes, Sr. and converted into the tavern we know today. For nearly a century, this tavern served as the meeting hall for the new Colony’s General Assembly, Criminal Court, and City Council. Not only did White Horse Tavern provide a meeting place for those looking to imbibe ale and cider, but it also played a crucial role in Newport’s foundation as a city. 

In 1702, William Mayes took over the family business as the tavern’s innkeeper and was even granted a license to sell “all sorts of strong drink”. Beyond his day job, Mayes was also a notorious pirate, and his antics created a diverse mix of patrons that were loyal to the tavern. After a short stint running the tavern, ownership and operations were handed off to William’s sister Mary Mayes Nichols, who managed the property with her husband Robert. Over the next 200 years, the Nichols family largely remained the tavern’s sole owners. The tavern didn’t don its name until 1730 when a Mr. Jonathan Nichols became the tavern keeper and christened it “the White Horse Tavern”. After years of wear and tear along with neglect, the property was in rough shape. In 1954, it was acquired by the Preservation Society of Newport County, which gave the building a much-needed restoration. This restoration saved the property from being demolished, and it was later recognized as a National Historic Landmark in 1972, earning its place on the National Register of Historic Places. 

The tavern’s Colonial style is typical for Newport, featuring clapboard walls, a gambrel roof, and plain doors bordering the sidewalk. Inside, giant beams line the ceilings, drawing guest’s eyes from the ceiling to the classic chimney. It is quintessential 17th-century architecture that’s well worth a visit. Today, the tavern continues to carry on the tradition of good fellowship, food, and cheer. Here’s to the next 350 years of excellence, White Horse Tavern!

The White Horse Tavern History
Source: Wikimedia

Real Estate in Newport 

With space being limited and new developments slowed both by the lack of land and the pandemic, home prices in Newport have skyrocketed. The average home value in Newport is $660,693, well above the average back in the late 17th century and significantly higher than the U.S.’s current average home value ($287,148). For clients seeking a historic property, this 4 bedroom, 4.5 bathroom home built in 1734 is the perfect option for those looking to live in a slice of history.

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