The Boyd Tavern in downtown Boydton, Va., has been in existence for well over two centuries. During this time, it has served as a tavern and a hotel, has been divided into apartments, and, after substantial restoration efforts by The Boyd Tavern Foundation, was available for historical tours and event rentals prior to the onset of the pandemic. It played a significant role in the early development of the town of Boydton, was likely visited by Thomas Jefferson during a visit to the town to conduct court business, and served as a recruiting station for the Confederate Army during the Civil War.
Mecklenburg County, of which Boydton is the seat, was formed in the early 1760s. The government was established at the home of Richard Swepson, who was given the responsibility of building the courthouse and jail, and was also granted a license to keep an ordinary, what we would today call a bar or tavern.
In 1786, Swepson’s son, Richard Swepson, Jr., was granted a license to keep an ordinary. The building that he used is believed to be the original part of what is today the Boyd Tavern, though the name was not yet established. The structure was one story and consisted of four rooms.
Richard Swepson, Jr. sold the land on which the courthouse, prison, and tavern had been built to his brother-in-law, Scottish immigrant Alexander Boyd the Elder, in the early 1790s. When Boyd was appointed Commissioner of the Justice of the Courts for Mecklenburg County, he handed over management of the tavern to his sons, Richard and Alexander the Younger.
Alexander the Elder died unexpectedly in 1801 while in court. His grave can be visited just northeast of the tavern, across Washington Street. Upon his death, ownership of the tavern passed to his widow and sons.
Around 1805, the tavern underwent its first major expansion with the addition of two side wings and a second story over the main part of the home.
Following pressure from some members of the community who believed Alexander the Younger to be operating a monopoly in the entertaining business, Alexander the Younger deeded the courthouse tract to the county and offered to divide his property and lay out the town.
In 1812, Boyd Town was established and made the county seat. At the time, the country was fighting Great Britain in the War of 1812, so the newly laid out streets were named after American patriots.
The tavern was expanded several times between 1816 and 1823, with a one-story brick kitchen, a porch, and a two story brick wing added onto the main structure. But these additions were costly and, combined with the economic depression of 1819, led to Alexander the Younger selling the tavern to Colonel William Townes, who renamed it the Boydton Hotel.
Colonel Townes was an importer of thoroughbreds and began to sponsor four-day horse races in Boydton. Attendees stayed at the tavern, where a ball was regularly held on the second day of the races.
From 1836 to 1854, the property changed hands several times and, in the 1850s, the tavern became a terminal for the Petersburg-Boydton Plank Road stageline shuttle.
The property was purchased by Langston Easley Finch in 1863 and renamed the Finch Hotel. Finch enlisted architect-builder Jacob Holt to modernize and expand the hotel with the goal of attracting more business after the Civil War. Holt was based in Warrenton and is responsible for much of the antebellum architecture in Warren County, including the downtown house that bears his name. Holt raised the wings of the tavern to two stories, modified the porch and the entrance doors, and remodeled the interior.
The tavern changed hands twice in the 1880s and was closed for a few years until acquired in 1899 by Nannie Boyd Haskins, who operated the building as a boarding house until she sold the property in 1912.
In 1916, a fire destroyed the two-story brick wing that Alexander the Younger had built in the early 1800s. Fire was fought with fire – dynamite was used to explode the end of the tavern closest to the flames, which created a fire break, preventing the remainder of the structure from being engulfed. The two-story porch with its intricate jigsaw woodwork and posts is believed to have been added during the renovations following the fire.
The property changed ownership again in 1917. J. Edward Bing bought the tavern in 1922 and converted it into apartments, for which it was used until the 1970s.
A. Haskins Newman inherited the property in 1958 and sold it to the Boyd Family Memorial Foundation in 1974. The Boyd Tavern Foundation obtained ownership in 1988 and began the monumental effort of restoring the tavern, which had fallen into disrepair. Today, part of the building is leased as office space, and, during non-COVID times, the beautifully restored tavern can be toured by groups. Many antique pieces, including some that are original to the tavern, are on display. The space can be rented for events to those following all government orders and CDC-guidelines.
For information, call Boyd Tavern and leave a message at 434-738-9800. For more photos, visit https://www.warrenrecord.com/collection_e868b74e-6d3f-11eb-a045-5b2be9b05d81.html.