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The Old Washington Tavern

Updated: Jul 1

Washington tavern
1936 photograph taken by the HABS (Historic American Building Survey) photographer of the tavern in Washington, Hempstead County, Arkansas. It was torn down in 1940. (Library of Congress)

In 1936, the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS), an arm of the Works Progress Administration, documented the many historic structures in and around Washington and Blevins, Hempstead County, Arkansas. This was done in preparation for the Southwest Proving Grounds, a military training ground that took over a large part of this area and pretty much leveled everything, including homes and cemeteries.

One of the buildings that HABS documented was the old Washington Tavern. Built about 1830, the Washington Tavern was never a grand structure, but it served as a stage coach station as well as the nearest American boarding house to Mexican Texas. It was inside this tavern where Sam Houston recruited people like James Bowie to join him in his effort to wrest Texas from Mexico and bring it into the US. Eyewitnesses, like the English geologist Featherstonhaugh, described Houston as "moody and brooding" and the people he met at the tavern as "shifty" and "dangerous."

Carl Drexler, an archeologist at Southern Arkansas University in Magnolia, explained that the building in the HABS photograph was torn down in the 1940s. "The Morrison Tavern was built in the 1960s. It’s meant to broadly reference the earlier one, but its architecture is generalized for what would be appropriate to the period, not recreating the earlier structure, and they do not share the same footprint or placement on the block." Thank you, Dr. Drexler! 

Read more about southwestern Arkansas's fascinating history in my book, "The Red River in Arkansas: Gateway to the Southwest."

Restored tavern
A tavern sits in Historic Washington State Park, built in the 1960s to demonstrate the architecture of the period.
The description of the "Old Tavern" by the HABS preservationist in 1936 explains that the last owner of the tavern was Rhoda Petty (LOC).
The tavern as it was being re-built (Arkansas Historical Society).

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