Haddonfield's Hadrosaurus spacer

Indian King Tavern, Haddonfield, New Jersey

Tunnels, Dungeons and Colorful Legends

Cellar portal 1 Beer and wine chamber
The multi-level chambers that make up the cellars of the 250-year-old Indian King Tavern have given rise to many myths and legends.
The cellar of the Indian King Tavern -- a labyrinth of ancient brick and multi-level chambers -- has long been the subject of rumors about dank dungeons, secret tunnels and eerie happenings. For instance, it has often been suggested that an escape tunnel connected the tavern's underground to the basments of buildings directly across the street.

Tunnel-like Room for Beer Storage
When Mathias Aspden built the building in 1750, he had workers excavate an underground room below and beyond the normal basement area. This brick-domed, cavern-like section extended out under the front sidewalk and was intended for
NOTE: For safety reasons, and in accordance with the fire code, visitors to the tavern are not permitted to tour the cellars.
use as cool storage space for casks of beer and wine stored beneath the tavern. This cask chamber was entered through one of two cave-like openings (above, left) in the south wall. Over the years, people who encountered this space could easily mistake it for a tunnel. In fact, those using only candles or oil lanterns would have been unable to see its far end. As you climb down from the cellar into this cask chamber, an arched brick overhead closes in claustrophobically. It is a space of total silence heavy with the odor of moist decay (above, right). The bricks are slimy to touch and, when you turn out your light, the blackness is absolute. It's like one of those subterranean places Edgar Allan Poe used to create for his climactic entombment scenes where a deranged character bricks in his victim alive.

Candle grotto Jail cell
The tavern cellars include candle grottos and dungeon-like compartments.
Temporary Jail Space
Adding to the general dungeon-like atmosphere of the cellar are its many inset wall grottos for candles (above, left) and at least one side chamber with window bars (above, right). It is believed that during the Revolutionary War, the tavern cellar was used as a temporary jail by Continental forces to hold captured deserters and suspected traitors before they were transferred to facilities elsewhere in the county. During periods the British occupied the village, it seems equally likely that they kept prisoners in the same well-secured basement space. Thus, in later years, there would have been many stories told about the dank spaces beneath the tavern where a man could paw his way through spider webs as he stumbled through the dark, listening to the thump and scuff of his captors in the rooms above.

Underground Railroad
During the 1800s, Haddonfield's Quaker community was a vigorous supporter of the region's anti-slavery movement. The town was one of many throughout Camden, Burlington and Gloucester Counties that served as impromptu way stations on the "Underground Railroad" of safe houses used by escaped slaves traveling north toward New York and New England. For this reason, it has often been speculated that the large cellars of the Indian King could have served as a hiding spot for escaped slaves. However, recent investigations into the history of Underground Railroad activities in the region have found no evidence that the Indian King Tavern building was ever involved. In fact, it's proprietor during the Revolutionary War era was a slave owner.

Unexpected Cellar Connections
Later in the 1800s, the cellar of the Indian King was connected through another tunnel-like hole in its east wall to the cellar of an adjacent building (that no longer exists). The merchant tenant of that second building is reported to have rented his own cellar as well as that of the Indian King for storage. Thus, workmen and other curious visitors who wandered down into the Indian King cellar would have come upon a tunnel-like opening in the east wall leading into the pitch blackness of the neighboring cellar as well as the tunnel-like opening to the cask chamber in the south wall. The inter-connection of the two cellars would also have allowed persons so inclined to play tricks by seeming to "disappear" into the Indian King's cellar and then return through the tavern's front door. This was easily accomplished by simply walking from the Indian King cellar into the neighboring cellar, climbing that building's stairs and walking back out onto Kings Highway to re-enter the Indian King's ground floor next door.

Like everything else about the tavern, its cellar is clearly infused with the spirits of nearly 250 years of human adventure, memory and legend that inevitably stimulate the imagination in any number of mysterious and fascinating ways.

All Rights Reserved
© 1995 - 2005, Hoag Levins


top bar Quick Navigation
Next Section
Previous Section
Home Page bottom bar


Back-Breaking History Lessons: 'Past Masters' at the Indian King

Photo Feature: Indian King Domestic Arts Demonstration

A Year of 250th Anniversary Events Ends

Christmas Music 2000 at the Indian King

Brad Mattson Named Volunteer of Year

George Washington Visits the Indian King

Slaves at Mt. Vernon: An Indian King Performance

Archive of
Previous Tavern News Stories

Lucy ad