A Crossroads of American History
Mead’s Tavern is the oldest standing structure in Central Virginia and the only remaining colonial building in New London. The crossroads upon which New London is situated became an intersection of peoples, cultures, and historical eras. During the colonial era, settlers from the north and east traveled this way to the frontier. William Mead took advantage of the opportunity provided by this busy place and built his tavern right at the crossroads. The building’s survival on the original lot represents a valuable opportunity for historical investigation of the rich, but largely forgotten history of a seemingly inconsequential town called New London, Virginia.
In November 2021, Mead’s Tavern was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Read the full nomination here: https://www.dhr.virginia.gov/historic-registers/015-0120/
William Mead purchased Lots 5 and 6 in New London in 1761 and quickly built a building. He operated a tavern in the building from 1763 to the late 1780’s. In 1784 Mead sold the property to William Harris and they relocated further south to be closer to family. The building hosted a girls’ school, Roland Academy, from the early 1810’s to the mid 1820’s; the headmaster was Samuel T. Miller. It served as a Manse in the 1890’s, as well as Dr. Kabler’s home and office in the early twentieth century before he moved across the road.
Taverns, like Mead’s, were important to communities during America’s Colonial period and were often the first building built in a town. Many taverns had a simple taproom, however, high-class taverns had a separate room dedicated as a parlor in which respected individuals dined. The tavern was a welcome sight for a traveler, especially one traveling to the wilderness, seeking food and lodging for himself and his animals. Taverns were also often used by locals to conduct business, hold debates, hear the latest news, and enjoy some entertainment. Despite the festivities, tavern keepers were placed under strict regulations to keep the peace and prevent gambling. The court clerk signed off on the licenses and enforced the law.
New London’s decline may explain why Mead’s Tavern did not remain a tavern. The decline of New London began in 1782 when Campbell County was split off of Bedford County. After the county seat was moved to Liberty, now Bedford, the courthouse fell into disarray. In 1787, the courthouse was rehabilitated when Virginia decided to make New London the District Court for several counties for a short time. After this court removal the town’s prestige faltered yet again. The final blow to the town’s prestige was the removal of the arsenal in 1812. There were several attempts to restore New London’s prestige. In 1813 citizens of Bedford and Campbell counties petitioned the State Assembly to combine the counties and restore New London as the county seat. This petition was soundly rejected. In the late 19th century the town’s name was changed to Bedford Alum Springs in the hope that a resort in the area would bring new life to the town. The resort folded after many years and the town’s name reverted to New London in the early 20th century.