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Folsom Tavern Has Moving History

Folsom Tavern /

Washington stopped by for breakfast after the Revolutionary War. Since then Exeter, NH’s Folson Tavern has been an inn, a lunch spot, a Chinese laundry, faculty housing, a private residence, a train stop, an antiques store, a dress shop and a shoe repair station. Moved twice, the former "Raleigh" tavern is now an integral part of the American Independence Museum.



American Independence Museum
One Governor's Lane, Exeter, N.H. 03833, 603-772-2622
Open Wednesday - Saturday 10 am – 4 pm, $5 adults, $3 children

Official web site

Moved Twice, Exeter's Revolutionary Tavern is finally Home

Last year the 1775 Folsom Tavern in the village of Exeter, New Hampshire moved 100 feet. That is the short version of the story. But behind this seemingly short journey is a sweeping tale that spans centuries and takes in a dizzying cast of characters including George Washington himself.

Folsom Tavern re-eneactors / American Independence MuseumOnce a meeting place for patriots during the Revolution, the historic tavern was, until recently, tucked up a downtown side street. Obscured by a row of trees, it was all but invisible to passersby. But in 2005 the American Independence Museum (AIM), the nonprofit owners of the tavern, decided it was time to put Exeter history back on main street.

"We wanted the tavern to embrace the town again," says John Merkle. "That’s what taverns are supposed to do."

Merkle’s firm TMS Architects orchestrated the recent move, inching the three-story structure down a 15-foot incline to a new granite-faced concrete foundation, clearing trees, restoring rooms and returning the tavern to its 1780s appearance. The work continues, and when it is completed, AIM officials plan to add a modern addition, connecting the tavern to the Ladd-Gilman House (c. 1721) which is even older.

Museum executive director Funi Burdick, herself a trained architect, imagines a history campus on a hill where the town’s Revolutionary story can be told. Among its treasures AIM owns two early drafts of the United States Constitution and a very rare broadside copy of the Declaration of Independence, once read aloud to the citizens of Exeter by John Taylor Gilman in 1776. The Folsom Tavern, in this master plan, will house an educational center up front in the original building, and a secure, modern exhibit hall at the back.

"It all happened right here in Exeter," Burdick says. "The Folsoms and the Gilmans were real players in the creation of America. The Declaration copy was discovered about two decades ago in the attic of the Ladd-Gilman House.

Now we can use these same historic buildings to keep the political discussion going, and to demonstrate that the same dramatic debates are alive today. We are a government that continues to re-invent itself."

The completed campus will accommodate lectures, touring school groups, public meetings, displays, office and research space and outdoor activities – ideally at the same time. Returning the restored Folsom Tavern to Water Street sets in motion an efficient cascade of museum improvements, all focused on the theme of the Revolution.

"It's like re-opening the public debate on how democracy really works, both here and around the world," Burdick says.

Moving colonial buildings is not uncommon in these parts. Our ancestors did it frequently. Milestone Engineering & Construction, Inc. of Concord managed the move, this time with the aid of computerized hydraulic equipment.

"We’ve done this before," says Milestone president Frank Lemay. "It’s very common to pick up old houses to put foundations under them."

His company also recently completed work at the Seacoast Science Center and analyzed the endangered historic North Church steeple in Portsmouth. As structural engineer and construction manager on the Folsom project, Lemay’s firm was also responsible for the tavern’s new foundation, rebuilding chimney bases, replacing old sills, reframing the first floor and a litany of moving-related projects.


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