Colonial Williamsburg, America’s oldest and largest living history experience, remains near and dear to my heart. At times, I have felt like I lived and walked along Duke of Gloucester Street when Williamsburg was Virginia’s 18th-century capital. That street runs from the late 17th-century “Wren building” of the College of William and Mary to the reconstructed Capitol. “The Revolutionary City” now rests within a 301-acres Historic Area, most of which is closed to traffic. Folks stroll along or take carriage rides, stopping to see craftsmen at work and merchants in their shops. I was excited to return to one of my most favorite places in the world.
The day began by parking at the Visitor’s Center and hopping a shuttle bus. I got off to tour the colonial Capitol building with friends Judy and Carol. Afterward, we came upon R. Charlton’s Coffee House. During its heyday, this was the perfect location for attracting thirsty merchants and politicians leaving the Capitol. Today, it appealed to us; why sure, I could use a mid-morning coffee. Besides, the coffee house wasn’t open the last time I visited the town.
Reconstruction of the site began in 2008 and a team of researchers, curators, tradespeople and builders completed the restoration in November 2009. The coffee house like all other buildings in Williamsburg is an authentic recreation and is experienced with the aide of historic interpreters: folks that take on the persona of an early 18th-century character and engage with visitors. In keeping with its legacy, R. Charlton’s Coffeehouse serves samples of coffee and chocolate to guests. But, only about a dozen visitors may enter at a time, so we had a short wait on the front porch.
We were greeted by a hostess and entered a rather elegant room with fine furnishing and wallpaper. We sat while she explained the history of coffeehouses and the room. This was a private space typically rented for special gatherings. You see Charlton’s wasn’t just an 18th century Starbucks where you ordered a coffee-to-go. Oh no, it was a popular stop for Williamsburg elite, a place for digesting words as much as coffee. Gentlemen and politicians would sit around tables with steaming cups and hash out problems or make deals. It became a gathering place and sounding board for rebellion in the American colonies.
Our tour ended up in the southwest room, the public room – much like a tavern. This room included a bar in one corner, a fireplace and some small tables with chairs. Here we met Mr. Charlton and his brother. They chatted about their business, and we were served our choice of coffee, tea, or velvety chocolate in dainty china cups. I recommend the hot chocolate, it’s a thick and authentic blend of cocoa, vanilla, cayenne, and just a pinch of sugar. The three of us enjoyed its luscious feel and taste in our mouths along with the repartee of the proprietors.
Charlton’s coffeehouse was the first major reconstruction on Duke of Gloucester Street in fifty years. While it’s part relic and part fantasy, I enjoyed the establishment and the way visitors are spoon fed tidbits of history.