Saturday, August 29, 2009

Indian King Tavern (Haddonfield) Plus One

I squeezed in a two-fer on this trip. In addition to the main attraction – the Indian King Tavern in Haddonfield – I also stopped by Gabriel Davies Tavern in Glendora.

My wife and daughter were attending a bridal shower nearby today, so I agreed to drive them down and then set off on my own. I headed a few miles up the Kings Highway and I was soon at the Indian King Tavern.

The Tavern, built in 1750, was designated a state historic site in 1903, New Jersey’s first! This was also where the New Jersey legislature met in 1777 and declared the Colony to be a State. They also adopted New Jersey’s Great Seal while they were at it. The town of Haddonfield was also occupied by both British and Continental troops around the time of the Battle of Red Bank in late 1777. The British made their last pass through here after they evacuated Philadelphia in 1778.

I once visited the tavern as a school boy. At that time, the rooms were sparsely furnished and the highlight was the vast and spooky cellar. Today, you can no longer visit the cellar. However, the rooms are well-recreated as a typical up-scale 18th century tavern. An old tavern bench was found on site and has been reproduced with authentic booths to equip the main eating room. Those booth set-ups reminded me of the quintessential Garden State eating establishment. Had I stumbled upon New Jersey’s first diner?

While the on-site interpretation is not as detailed as the Indian Queen Tavern in East Jersey Olde Towne, it’s well worth a visit if you’re in South Jersey. Haddonfield is a pleasant town and the tavern is located on the main shopping and dining strip. You may notice a seemingly incongruous bronze dinosaur amid the shops. It’s the Hadrosaurus, New Jersey’s state dinosaur, whose skeleton was unearthed just a few blocks from the Indian King. There’s a small park at the discovery site, but there’s not much to see, as it’s difficult to get down into the small quarry where the remains were found.

After my Haddonfield excursion, I decided to make a quick stop off at the Gabriel Davies Tavern, not far from where I grew up. This house was built in 1756 – the date is clearly marked out in brickwork design on the side of the house. When I was growing up, the home was privately owned. As pre-teen boys, my friends and I prowled the wooded trails near Timber Creek, but we made sure to give “Shooky’s place” a wide berth. Legend had it that the old man who lived there would sit in his attic with a shotgun ready to take out any trespassers.

I was fascinated by the place, knowing that its history coincided with the Revolutionary War. I had heard it referred to as Hillman’s Hospital, being that George Washington designated it for potential use as a Continental Army field hospital, if needed. The house may have even cared for some of the injured from the Battle of Red Bank – there are claims of blood stains on the attic floor.

I actually never heard the name “Gabriel Davies” attached to the house until Gloucester Township opened it as a museum after the owner, William Schuck, died in 1976 and left the property to the town. I wish I had overcome my unfounded fear as a kid and actually knocked on the door while Mr. Schuck was still alive. By the time I actually stepped foot inside, the interior had been restored to resemble an 18th century home. The house is usually open every other Sunday afternoon, but I couldn’t find a good web site to help the potential visitor. [Interesting coincidence: A colleague of mine at Monmouth University recently told me that he laid out the curbstones there as his Eagle Scout project about 10 years ago.]

I wanted to mention the house here because it holds a very prominent place in my childhood. It was my daily reminder that “history” need not be a static museum experience, but a continual connection between our own era and the past. And it’s one of the main reasons why this blog exists today.


Anonymous said...

Patrick, I moved away from Glendora when i was 10 years old. Me and my sister would play in the woods. The story back in the day was that a old man would shoot you with rock salt if you came on his property. Well that was further from the truth. One day, we did go there and he was a nice man and gave us a full tour of his house. I had to be six or seven at the time. I went back a couple times in the years after. That experience gave me the love for history. I was playing on the net and found the history of the Tavern since I left some 40 years later. Looking at the pictures put right back in his yard as a little boy with wide eyes taking it all in. I just wanted to share that with you. Mike Elwell

Anonymous said...

Mr. Schuck was my great uncle and a bit of a "hermit". I remember being at the house only on several occasions when I was a child still living near Woodbury, NJ. I remember hearing of Mr.Schuck's passing and found that the house had been gifted to a local historical group. I have been back only once to tour the inside. Not much like I remember it. It seems though that as a child I remember a large patch of pumpkins growing on the property near what I remember to be a garage or carriage house.

James Laux

Patrick Murray said...

James -- I was 12 when your uncle died. The garage is still there. There was also a ranch-style house on the property where the caretaker, Jonathan lived. We used to run into him on occasion when we walked our dog in the woods around the property. Someone sent me the link to this home movie taken inside the house in 1956, which may look more familiar to you:

Anonymous said...

Hi Patrick. I grew up on 5th Ave. in Glendora in the 1960's. My sister, friends, and especially my cousins from South Philly looved exploring the woods surrounding Shookies house. He actually was a very nice man, giving us tours of the house, showing us little dried up bat bodies found in the attic and the dried blood blood on floor fron the wounded soldiers(?). My favorite though was when he would treat us to an ice cold drink of water he pumped himself from the well on the back porch! What memories, I'll never forget them.

Wendy said...

My sister owns the Hillman House in Glendora, which was actually the true Hillman Hospital appointed by George Washington. Her home was built in 1697 and was occupied by John Hillman. The history regarding the Tavern is incorrect and has been confirmed to be in process of being corrected. The tavern house is the sister house to her home and at one time was connected by an underground tunnel system. They have also been documented to be a part of the underground railroad.

Patrick Murray said...

@Wendy -- That's fascinating! When I say I grew up not far from there, I literally mean up the street. Always glad to uncover facts that improve what we thought we knew. But I can't figure out which is your sisters house. I don't remember anything else down there that looked that old -- was the exterior heavily renovated? Is it that house at the very end of 3rd where it becomes a dirt road? Let me know, I'm really curious!

Alura Cein said...

My dad grew up on 2nd ave right around the corner. He is 66 now. He too, Mikey Koneful, and others used to visit Shookys. He found a white clay ball there near Timber Creek, and wondered if it had something to do with the house? A war relic? Indian Artifact? He wasnt sure, when he found it back in the 1960s. Did they have a mill there? Just wondering, Great story though....

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