One nation, under the table—The Haunted Taverns of Annapolis

In early America, life was generally centered on a handful of places including the local tavern. Serving as the social and governmental center, the tavern often was the ersatz community center, especially in sparsely inhabited areas. Residents of far-flung farms and plantations could meet other locals, find solace from the ennui of rural life, hear the news, pick up mail, or conduct government business in places where courthouses were unavailable. Travelers could find a drink, meal or sometimes a place for the night as well as possibly hear warnings of Indian movements in the region. Throughout the South, the seeds of many small towns and communities were planted by taverns.

In urban areas, the tavern was one of the primary settings for meeting people, doing business, or hearing and discussing the news of the day. In fact, much of the early work in the founding and building of this country was done in taverns; therefore, it’s no surprise that the tune for our national anthem, “To Anacreon in Heaven,” is an English drinking song. The First Continental Congress conducted much of its business in Philadelphia’s City Tavern and other drinking establishments around the city. The seeds of discontentment that would blossom into the American Tree of Liberty were watered with the beer, coffee, and spirits of taverns.

St. Anne’s Episcopal Church in the center of Church Circle. A number of streets radiate from this point. Photo taken 1906, for the Detroit Publishing Company. Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Collection.

In Annapolis, long considered one of the most beautiful, cultured and cultivated cities in the colonies, many taverns took root, some of which are still in operation today. The city was incorporated in 1708 but its origins dated to some fifty years earlier with the founding of a small village by the Puritans. Governor Sir Francis Nicholson moved the colony’s government to this small settlement in 1694 from heavily Catholic St. Mary’s City. In planning the city, London-born Nicholson modeled it on Sir Christopher Wren’s designs for London after the Great Fire of 1666. He utilized Wren’s Baroque design for the city streets, with important places, like churches and houses of government, set within it with streets projecting out like spokes.

Reynolds Tavern
7 Church Circle

One of these circles surrounds St. Anne’s Episcopal Church, on its third building built in 1858. Facing the church is Reynolds Tavern, a fine example of an urban tavern. The building was constructed around 1747 to face the first St. Anne’s Church that was around 40 years old when the tavern was constructed. The structure was built by William Reynolds as a private residence and hat shop. At some point in the early history, part of the building was opened as the “Beaver and Lace’d Hat,” a tavern (I would presume the name is a reference to beaver felt which was prized for use in waterproof hats).

The license for the tavern was taken out by Mary Funnereau, who may have later married William Reynolds. The establishment was highly regarded as evidenced by the legend that George Washington was a frequent guest. One story tells of him professing his love to Mrs. Reynolds only to be pursued by Mr. Reynolds out of the building and down the street. More in line with the historical record, the Corporation of the City of Annapolis and the Mayor’s Court met in the tavern. The tavern operated until the building passed into the hands of William Reynolds’ son-in-law who used the building briefly as a boarding house. In 1812, the former tavern was taken over by the Farmers Bank of Maryland. When the bank realized the building was ill-suited as a banking house, a building for that purpose was constructed next door and the house renovated as a private house for the Cashier of the Bank.

Reynolds Tavern, 1960. Photograph by Jack Boucher for the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS). Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division.

The bank owned the edifice until 1932. Standard Oil considered tearing down the landmark for a service station but local citizens saved the house and it became a library. In the early 1970s, it returned to its roots and became a tavern and inn. With so many souls passing over its threshold, from slaves to servants, private citizens to future presidents, it’s no surprise that the tavern has paranormal activity.

The tavern hosted an investigation in 2004 that caused quite a stir. The Maryland Ghost and Spirit Society under the leadership of sensitive, Beverly Litsinger, held an overnight investigation that uncovered evidence of what Litsinger claimed was not one (as was previously believed), but five spirits in the structure. An account of the investigation in The Sun notes that activity was picked up by a bevy of monitors throughout the building and a dish was mysteriously broken in the kitchen. According to an article in The Capital, the owners were exhausted by all the commotion stirred up by the investigation and decided not to publicize any further paranormal investigations.

Staircase of the Reynolds Tavern, 1960, during its time as a library. Photograph by Jack Boucher for the Historic American
Buildings Survey (HABS). Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division.

The owners, however, did find enough evidence of spiritual activity within the landmark. One of the most convincing pieces of evidence was human-shaped indentions in one of the upstairs beds. Numerous experiences had led up to the investigation including objects moving on their own volition, voices including one singing Christmas carols and human-shaped indentions appearing in an upstairs bedroom. The spirit was assumed to be that of Mary Reynolds, who had run the tavern after her husband, William’s, death. While the owners have discontinued investigations, stories are still told about the tavern and it can be assumed that the spirits continue to make their home within the brick walls of the Reynolds Tavern.

Middleton Tavern
2 Market Place

Looking out towards Annapolis harbor and built to serve many of the seamen coming into the city is the Middleton Tavern. The exact date for the building’s construction seems to be a point of contention, the form on the building for the Maryland Historical Trust estimates the building’s construction at around 1754, though the current owners of the tavern provide that the tavern was established in 1750. It is possible that the tavern predated the building, but no evidence is provided by the Trust. The site, however, was occupied by a ship carpenter’s yard as well as a dwelling and garden.

Middleton Tavern, `964. Photograph for the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS). Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division.

It is known that the building was constructed by Horatio Middleton as a dwelling house and at that time or soon thereafter opened as a tavern for seafaring men. Throughout its history, it did attract a notable clientele which may have included George Washington as well as Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe. The building remained a tavern until it was converted into the Marx Hotel around the time of the Civil War. After almost a century of use as a tavern and inn, the building fell into disuse in the late 19th century and served a variety of commercial ventures. In 1968, the building underwent restoration and reopened as Middleton’s Tavern. The building was gutted by fire in 1970 and then 1973, but the shell of the building has been restored with a modern interior.

Like its older sister establishment, the Reynolds Tavern, the Middleton’s illustrious history has left a spiritual residue. In my research, I have not located any information on investigations, though the spiritual activity seems fairly well known. According to the Ghost Eyes – Most Haunted Places in America blog, there are three spirits witnessed in and around the tavern: a Revolutionary War soldier and a shadowy form are seen flitting throughout the first floor dining room while outside the tavern a gentleman in 18th century seaman’s attire has been seen staring out to sea.

Rams Head Tavern
33 West Street

While the building at 31-33 West Street that houses the Rams Head dates to around 1831, the site’s history is associated with Annapolis tavern history that stretches into the 18th century. Located just down the street from the Reynolds Tavern, the site was home to the “Crown and Dial” which opened in 1792 and two years later the “Sign of the Green Tree.” The site was utilized as a variety of businesses and the 31-33 West Street building also housed residences. The Rams Head Tavern opened in the building. The business has since expanded with locations opening throughout the region.

The site’s history as the site of historic taverns has given rise to the legend of “Amy.” The legend speaks of a young woman employed to “entertain” tavern guests who may have died while actually plying her trade, so to speak. In fact, what is said to be the bedpost of her bed still survives in the downstairs bar.

31-33 West Street, 1964. Photograph by Jack Boucher for the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS). Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division.

While the story has little historical evidence to prove it to be less than fiction, the stories of tavern employees are most definitely non-fiction. Servers have run into Amy’s apparition while Beverly Litsinger (who investigated the Reynolds Tavern above) captured her supposed shadowy image in a photograph. Another spirit mentioned as residing in the tavern is that of an elderly woman. Yet one other spirit is said to rattle the chain-link of the bar’s liquor cage. Among other activity, the staff finds silverware turned upside down and have drinks turned over. Perhaps these are spirits of temperance?

Other Haunted Taverns

A few other haunted taverns have popped up on my radar while doing the research for this article. Beverly Litsinger mentioned O’Briens at 113 Main Street as being “so haunted it’s ridiculous.” The Drummers Lot Pub at 16 Church Circle, the same street as the Reynolds Tavern is on the haunted pub tour, though I cannot find any other information regarding it. But if you’re in Annapolis, raise a glass of spirits to the spirits that may be all around you.

Sources

  • Annapolis, Maryland. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 5 June 2011.
  • City Tavern. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 5 June 2011.
  • Gary, Nancy. “Annapolis stories: Ghost tales haunt Annapolis’ past.” The Capital. 3 November 2008.
  • Haunts at Maryland’s Middleton Tavern, TheGhost Eyes. Accessed 7 June 2011.
  • Heyrman, Peter. “Annapolis.” Maryland Online Encyclopedia. Accessed 5 June 2011.
  • Horseman, Jeff. “There’s something (spooky) about Mary!” The Capital. 30 October 2002.
  • Knight, Molly. “In an Annapolis tavern, hunting the paranormal.” The Sun. 22 February 2004.
  • Middleton Tavern – History.” MiddletonTavern.com. Accessed 7 June 2011.
  • Pachler, Jessica. “After Dark: Discover ghosts of Annapolis.” The Capital. 30 April 2004.
  • Pitts, Jonathan. “Haunt Hunt: Beverly Litsinger is on the trail of the ghosts of Anne Arundel County.” The Sun. 25 October 2009.
  • Rams Head Tavern History.” Ramsheadtavern.com. Accessed 8 June 2011.
  • Rey, Diane. “Rams Head a favorite haunt for ghost group.” The Capital. 4 May 2009.
  • St. Anne’s Church. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 6 June 2011.
  • Tavern. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 5 June 2011.
  • Trieschmann, L. and K. Williams. Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties Form for the 31-33 West Street. Maryland Historical Trust.
  • Trieschmann, L. and K. Williams. Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties Form for the Reynolds Tavern. Maryland Historical Trust.
  • Walker, Andrea K. “The ghostly history of Annapolis.” The Sun. 1 May 1995.
  • Walker, Dionne. “Reynolds ghostbust a bust?” The Capital. 6 March 2004.
  • Williams, Kim. Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties Form for the Middleton Tavern. Maryland Historical Trust.
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