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Indian King Tavern, Haddonfield, New Jersey

Rich Finds and Future Potential

Cistern hole Well marker
An interior cellar cistern (above, left) may contain important artifacts. The first major archaeological dig at the facility occurred in 2005 yielding a 4,000-year-old stone Indian tool as well as several thousand other artifacts from the 18th- and 19th-centuries. The main exterior well (marked by the DAR) it also a target for further exploration (above, right).
The Indian King remained open as a tavern until 1873 when, in the midst of a growing national temperance movement, Haddonfield voted to outlaw the sale of liquor within its borders. During subsequent decades the building was operated as a restaurant, ice cream parlor, boarding house and, for a short period, the local post office. In 1900, when developers announced plans to turn the dilapidated structure into a tenement house, local residents began a "Save the Indian King" campaign. In 1903, the government of New Jersey purchased the tavern property as its first State Historic Site.

First Historic Restoration in 1908
At that time the building had an awkward structure attached to its east end. Its exterior was also encrusted with additions made throughout the nineteenth century, including Victorian trim and a large shed built along the sidewalk. In a historic restoration project that lasted from 1908 to 1910, architects removed the east-end structure and refurbished the building's exterior into what is seen today.

Architectural studies of the building were conducted in 1975 by Goettelmann Associates and in 1985 by Haddonfield architect William D. Brookover, who is also Chief Historical Architect for Independence National Historic Park in Philadelphia. Among other things, the studies found that part of the stone foundations in the southwest section of the building date to 1732 and were part of the foundation of an earlier brew house that was torn down to make way for the 1750 construction of the current tavern building.

2005 Archaeological Dig
Although it was recognized throughout the 20th century that the tavern and its grounds were a potentially rich archaeological site, the first excavations weren't conducted until the summer of 2005. Then, a team of archaeology students from Burlington County College led by Steve Hardegen, a senior historic preservation specialist with the New Jersey Office of Historic Preservation in Trenton, spent six weekends excavating parts of the rear yard. They recovered a 4,000-year-old Indian artifact and several thousand other artifacts from 18th- and 19th-century life at the tavern building. The full, illustrated story of that 2005 dig can be seen on the HistoricCamdenCounty.com Web site.

Additional archaeological studies are needed to determine the exact location of the tavern's 18th-century kitchen outbuildings, privies, wells and other structures. Privies and wells were often filled in with the daily trash of past eras and frequently are the single richest source of archeological data about a site and its surrounding community. In the 18th century, the tavern property was several modern blocks deep and contained various sorts of buildings, including breweries and stables.

Yet Another Mystery in the Cellar
In the floor of the tavern's cellar -- another of that subterranean space's many mysteries -- is a curious circular hole four feet in diameter that was filled and sealed over with a thick concrete cap (above, left). Speculation is that it was once a cistern used for storing rain water that was later filled in with tavern trash and rubble. It has never been excavated. In the rear yard, the Daughters of the American Revolution earlier in the century installed a marker over what is thought to be the tavern's main well -- long ago filled in with tavern trash and debris (above, right). Its contents also remain unexplored.

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© 1995 - 2005, Hoag Levins


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