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Bed Check: Historic housing in Colonial Williamsburg

The Market Square Tavern, an 18th-century building in Colonial Williamsburg where Jefferson rented a room while studying law with George Wythe in the 1760s.
The Market Square Tavern, an 18th-century building in Colonial Williamsburg where Jefferson rented a room while studying law with George Wythe in the 1760s. (Becky Krystal/the Washington Post)
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The Washington Post
Thursday, September 2, 2010; 10:48 AM

What would Thomas Jefferson have thought?

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It's a contemplation hard to suppress inside the Market Square Tavern, an 18th-century building in Colonial Williamsburg where Jefferson rented a room while studying law with George Wythe in the 1760s.

I was there as an overnight guest. The restored tavern is one of about two dozen restored or reconstructed buildings you can stay in while visiting the historic attraction. It was the first such accommodation to become available, opening to the public in 1931.

Surveying my quarters, I think Jefferson would have approved. As a man who knew how to appreciate the finer things in life, he probably would have liked the tidy coffee setup, the crisp white linens, the lavender-laced bath products.

His fellow Colonial-era travelers would also have appreciated the luxury of having their own beds. According to an information sheet posted in my room, communal lodgings were not uncommon in America in those days. As one European noted, it was a most "indelicate custom."

Delicacy, however, is the modus operandi in Colonial Williamsburg. When I checked in, I availed myself of the ice water steeped with sliced oranges in the lobby of the Williamsburg Inn, which handles check-in for the historic houses. Then a bellman escorted me to the tavern - he on a forest green bike, me trailing in my silver compact car.

My guide took care to show me around the building, including pointing out the vending- and ice-machine room. Could that have been Jefferson's abode? Oh, the indignity! (No one's sure of exactly where his room was.)

Such anachronisms, of course, are not uncommon in Colonial Williamsburg. Case in point: the nice flat-panel television in my room. I got a particular kick out of a card placed in front of it, with the juxtaposition of "Colonial Houses Historic Lodging" and "TV Channel Guide." (Note to staff: It's time to update the guide when what it says is the dining info channel turns out to be Univision.)

But a well-appointed room is only half the appeal of staying in the heart of Colonial Williamsburg. The other is, well, staying in the heart of Colonial Williamsburg.

With evening approaching, I looked forward to watching other visitors leave and having the place to myself. After dark, my brother, a William & Mary grad student, and I walked up and down Duke of Gloucester Street, or "the Dog" as he called it with all the assurance of a local. We encountered roving groups on ghost tours and a woman yelling "Listen to me!" at the top of her lungs into her cellphone.

Mostly, though, the scene could have been one straight out of the 18th century. The stars twinkled brighter than I've ever seen them in Washington. Becapped and aproned reenactors lolled about in front of the restaurant tavern across the street from my lodging tavern. The streets eventually emptied. And when I got back to my room, the chill of the night had elicited a slight dampness that somehow felt so authentic that I didn't even mind. It was quiet, too. Only one other room of the available 11 seemed to be occupied.

By morning, some of the magic had faded. What sounded like a garbage truck rumbled by around 6 a.m. And when I walked out for breakfast, I saw employees spraying for bugs on Duke of Gloucester and witnessed a car wreck in Merchants Square.

No matter, though. As tavern proprietor Gabriel Maupin promised in a 1771 ad, I'd been treated to "the best Entertainment and Accommodations." Regardless of the century.



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