Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Clinton Inn aka The Eagle Tavern

Early in the 19th century, a stage line was operated between Detroit and Tecumseh on what was originally an Indian trail. With the coming of the early settlers from the east, however, it became the settler's route as well. As traveling increased and roads were made possible for stagecoach travel, taverns were built along this route. Originally known as Parks Tavern when built in Clinton, Michigan, around 1831, this building was renamed the Eagle Tavern in 1849 and the name remained until the Civil War. It was one of the first of the taverns built on this road, which eventually extended to Niles, Michigan in 1832, and then, by 1833, the road made it to Chicago, when it became the Chicago Turnpike, and finally Chicago Road/US 12 (
Semi-weekly stages were tried first, but daily coaches soon followed and, before long, there was double daily service, with extra coaches often necessary.

This Inn served originally as the first overnight stagecoach stop between Detroit and Chicago, offering food and drink for the weary travelers, back during a time when stagecoaches and horses were the main mode of travel. The travelers could find a place to sleep in one of the upstairs bedrooms. Rooms contained several beds, with two or three people - who were often strangers - sharing beds. Along the major travel routes, these bedrooms, at times, could be filled frequently to overflowing so that not only were the beds filled, but floor space was taken as well.
Men and women were usually put in separate rooms; since most of the travelers were men, it wasn't often a huge problem.
Since there were no bathrooms in 1850, bedrooms would be provided with a washstand, pitcher or jug of water, drinking cup, towel, chamber pots (how'd you like to empty those!?!), looking glass, and possibly clothing closets.
The Eagle Tavern's bedrooms were upstairs to the left of the stairway (the back of the building is not part of the original tavern and was added by Henry Ford).

I should like to present here a couple of descriptions of what it was like traveling by stage on this Chicago trail. This first one is in the words of Levi Bishop from 1835: "I started west from Detroit in a stagecoach. I had to secure my seat three days in advance. This was when the land speculation fever began to rage somewhat extensively. When the time came, I started west on the old Ann Arbor Road. We broke down once on the way, but there happened to be a wagon maker on board and he repaired the damage in about 15 minutes. We made nine miles the first half day."

Part of the road was corduroy and vehicles broke down, and sometimes stagecoach passengers had to get out and walk. This sets the stage for our second traveling story:
It is told of a stage that left Clinton's Eagle Tavern for the west one morning loaded with passengers. The road was very muddy and the coach had managed to get a mile from the village. The passengers walked back to the inn to spend the night, and early the next morning returned to the coach. During the second day it got three miles from Clinton. Again, the passengers returned to the Eagle Tavern. On the third day the coach must have reached another tavern, for the passengers did not return.

People of all types and classes mixed together in taverns. Tavern patrons ate at a common table, slept in common bedrooms, and socialized in common rooms. There was little privacy.
Local patrons from the village would use the tavern for relaxing, socializing, and gossiping, as well as for hearing news from the outside world.

The folks that stayed at the Eagle Tavern never left for want of food. As stated, in part, from a Village hand out:
"The foods that tavern keepers offered came from local farms and grew wild in the countryside, and tavern menus varied tremendously with the seasons. Fresh fruits and vegetables were available only at harvest time, and winter meals relied heavily on foods preserved by salting or drying. Since Calvin Wood, proprietor of the Eagle Tavern in 1850, was also a farmer, much of the food that he served might have come
from his own nearby farm.

As quoted from a Detroit News article from 1927:
"People nowadays would be appalled to see the quantity of food that was served then. There were never less than three kinds of meat. There were side dishes of vegetables and salad. Red cabbage was a favorite for salad because of its decorative appearance. Then there were pickles and crackers and cheese always on the table."
Also, the article continues to tell of jellies and preserves, five or six kinds of cake, and two or three kinds of pie, particularly mince pie. On each table were two casters of pepper, vinegar, mustard, and spices in brightly polished containers.

Once again, from a Village hand out:
Alcohol consumption during the 19th century reached a peak that has never since been duplicated, so it is not surprising that the American temperance movement came into being during that time."

Besides being a stopping place, the tavern was also famous for its dance parties and balls, which took place on the second floor.

Second floor hall: through this doorway on the left was the grand ballroom described below.

One who lived near the "Eagle' (as it was affectionately called by the locals) explained in a letter to Henry Ford one her most pleasurable experiences while at the Eagle Tavern:

“My childhood and girlhood home were within 6 miles of that old tavern, and I danced all night in the ballroom at my last ball in July 4, 1859. There was a dance pavilion, a bowery on one side that was covered with flowering vines. I think it was 100 feet long, and the dining hall was at one side in the house, a hall connected it. On that 4th of July night there were 100 couples. I remember well every detail of my last ball at that old tavern in my ball dress. I was a week devising and making it (the dress) sitting up late nights. I was not sorry later, as the best dressed & best dancing couple that won the most votes were to lead in the Grand March. I must say it, with my dress and dancing, won as the leading lady, and a tall young man, whom I had never seen before, and, I think, from Lansing, won as my partner, and was brought to me by the ballroom manager and introduced to me, and we were ever soon gliding down the Ballroom…followed by the other 99 couples. We marched around back to the place we started, and the whole party formed in double rows in a cotillion. I was then dancing with my evening escort, Charles Wood, of Grand Ledge.

The midnight banquet was spread on two long tables, where all the good things were put on, decorated with summer flowers and lighted with hanging chandeliers. At one end of the table a whole roasted pig with a cob of corn in its mouth, and at the other end of the table was several roast turkeys, and in the middle of the table was a huge pyramid cake about 3 feet high, and there were high glass bowls of raisins, nuts, and candies, and every other good edible. The dining room was on the other side of the building from the ballroom, connected by a hall.”

Yes, the ballroom floor of the above recollection still exists on the second floor. And, it truly is "springy"!

The above is an actual recollection by 89 year old Mrs. Marie L. Moreaux (formerly Tripp), speaking of what was, perhaps, the most special night of her life. The ballroom in which she writes of still exists but is no longer in use, and is located on the 2nd floor. It was constructed so that the floor had a slight spring to it to give the dancers the experience of a “delightful sense of exhilaration as they glided over the smooth surface.” The ballroom was known throughout that section of the country for its spring dance floor.
Mrs Moreaux continued,

“It was a very popular place and supported the finest ‘orchestry’ music in that part of the country, especially the violin…of whom was one Ray Anthony Niles, who was a pattern of old Beau Brummell of ancient times. He played the violin that charmed all his hearers, and helped to make that old tavern popular. He was before my time as he went with the crowd of gold diggers to California.”

That may have been the former Miss Tripp's last ball but it certainly was not the last at the Eagle Tavern. In 1872 it hosted a "Union Dance Party" and a leap year ball in 1876. This last ball was truly the final dance for the tavern - the Clinton Town Hall was built in that year and all future dances were held there instead.
Besides the balls, the second floor ballroom area was also the place where locals could gather for concerts, performances, lectures, and debates. The area could also provide overflow sleeping space on nights when the tavern was crowded with people seeking overnight accommodations.
The inn became the Union Hotel during the Civil War, and lodged soldiers going to and coming from the front.
Walter Hubbell Smith purchased the inn in 1864, and it was his daughter and heir, Mary Ella Smith, that sold it to Henry Ford.

A ladies parlor is off to one side, this being a spot for the women to gather before or after dining, out of earshot of the, at times, boisterous men over in the barroom on the opposite side of the tavern. It offered a quieter, cleaner setting for women and children to wait for the stage, or for women of the local community to gather and socialize (this room has also been called the Gathering Room).

The Ladies Parlor

The barroom, where the tavern-owner generally served as the bar-keeper (the term 'bartender' was not common until at least the 1860's - barkeeper was the appropriate term before that time), was the primary place for men to get a drink and to socialize as well as have discussions that could be too harsh for feminine ears. It's here where you might find settlers moving west, stage drivers, local businessmen, farmers come to town, circuit-riding lawyers, or political candidates.

The barroom at the Eagle Tavern

Tavern drinking in 1850 usually entailed "treating." Each man in turn bought a half-pint of whiskey, which was passed around the room.
Beer and wine were much less popular.
Chewing tobacco was very common and closely associated with drinking. Intervals of drinking and chewing were part of the daily ritual for countless men, and tavern floors were liberally stained with tobacco juice from spitting. Spittoons were provided, but men either ignored or missed them on a regular basis.The bar-keep in the barroom

The public sitting room

The middle room served as the public sitting room. Here, travelers could wait for the stage or for the announcement that a meal was ready. Locals could also catch up on the latest news by talking to the travelers, or even read the newspapers provided by the tavern-keeper or left behind by a traveler. As one traveler wrote: "Our Inn is crowded to suffocation, and the sitting room is filled with stage drivers and citizen boarders, smoking pipes and playing euchre, the national Game of Michigan."

Food was served in the dining room on a strict schedule, and diners, as stated previously, ate at a common table, with everyone served together. The large dining room as it is today was constructed after the building was moved to Greenfield Village to provide a lunchroom for children who were attending Greenfield Village schools. According to museum records, the original dining room was slightly narrower than the adjacent tavern kitchen (about 14 feet wide). It's original dimensions suggest that in the 19th century it probably only contained one table for dining.

The fireplace in the original Eagle Tavern kitchen. It's now another waiting room for guests

Since country taverns were operated by households, tavern cooking was home cooking. The year the Eagle Tavern replicates in Greenfield Village is 1850, when Calvin C. Wood, who was primarily a farmer, and his wife, Harriet, owned and ran the place, most certainly with help from local labor. This means that more than likely it was Harriet who would have supervised the housekeeping and likely presided over the public table as the tavern's hostess. Young men from neighboring farms or young unmarried women from the general area would have supplied the cooking and keeping. With food coming from the Wood family farm and the meals served being very substantial, the patrons on the receiving end were served in abundance.
In mid-19th century Michigan, the predominant method of cooking was over an open fire, although cookstoves were available by the late 1830's. A bake oven would have most certainly been used during the Woods tenure at the tavern. Most food would have been stored in a ground level storage room or in a cellar. Taverns also might have a separate springhouse, mainly for keeping dairy products fresh, and an ice house.
Complied from traveler's accounts, merchant's account books, local newspaper advertisements, and historical reminisces, it has been learned that the most common meat served in taverns in this part of Michigan was pork, followed by chicken, beef, local game such as venison, rabbit, and quail, and finally, seafood. Vegetables, of course (and as mentioned) were mostly of whatever was in season, though potatoes were the most common vegetable served, followed by cabbage, corn, peas, and onions.
Fruits were also of the season, such as peaches, pears, and apples. Bread, of course, was a mainstay.

One should be properly dressed in period attire to get the full experience from dining at the Eagle Tavern!

There is a wonderfully detailed description of how a mealtime worked at a local (Detroit) tavern in 1838. This could very well describe in a similar vein mealtime at the Eagle Tavern, or any other local tavern:
"When the dinner bell was rung, the was a general rush to the room, as if they had not tasted food for several days. Not being so ravenous as it seemed to me they all must be, I waited until they had all entered, and in consequence could not find a place at the table. However, I had only to wait about six minutes, when one, having finished his meal, walked off, on which I occupied his place. But, by this time almost everything seemed cleared off, so that I with difficulty obtained a fragment of bread and a cup of coffee. I soon found out the reason of the rush to dinner and, benefitting by my experience, pursued the same course as the rest.

Very little conversation took place, each individual seemed to hurry on as fast as possible, and the moment one finished he rose and went away. There was no change of plates, knives, or forks, everything being eaten off the same plate, excepting pudding, which was taken in saucers."

For overnight lodging and three meals, according to other local accounts (there are none for Eagle Tavern), the patron could have paid anywhere in the range from $.50 to $1.50. As you can see, prices varied somewhat.

In 1925, Henry Ford purchased the building and renamed it the Clinton Inn. To look at the dilapidated structure at the time of the exchange made his ardent helpers and followers wonder what he saw. "There was only one man in 4,000 that would consider it anything but a pile of junk," said his right-hand man, Ed Cutler.
And the inside was even worse! Piles of old magazines, ten year old bottles of milk, eggs, and "tons of stuff."
But, restore and relocate the structure they did, and by the spring of 1929, the restoration was complete, using original materials whenever possible.

In 1982 the name was changed from the Clinton Inn back to the Eagle Tavern, for this was in line with Greenfield Village's new goals of making itself more functional and accurate. Period correct meals continue to be served along with desserts of the season, much as it had over 150 years ago, and is done so by candle light. Much of the information for the present table settings were based on those described in Miss Beecher's Domestic Receipt Book, a popular volume of recipes and household advice published in 1850. From Miss Beecher and similar sources, it became apparent that both bread and butter plates and salad bowls were unknown in the mid-19th century. Forks and knives constituted a set, while spoons were considered more specialized utensils for serving, for eating soup and dessert, and for stirring hot drinks.

During the Christmas season, a roaring fire in the fireplace helps to give off an ambiance rarely found elsewhere.
It is, by the way, one of the few locations in Greenfield Village where 1st person is practiced (1st person is where the workers dress and act as if they are from the time they are portraying, in this case, 1850).

What so many do not realize while strolling the hallowed grounds of Greenfield Village is the 'hidden' social history of the structures that are there. I do not mean purposely hidden, because one could hear hours of stories about each building if all were told! But, it is these little facts that make the buildings come to life. To think that the Eagle Tavern, of which my wife and I frequent often for lunch and considered to be our favorite place to dine, held grand balls in the mid-19th century never even crossed my mind. As with all the buildings here that I research extensively, I will look at it a little differently than I have before, and I will try to imagine the 100 couples entering this wonderful piece of Michigan history back in the summer of 1859.

An original photo of the Eagle Tavern taken sometime in the late 19th century

How that very spot looks here and now, over 100 years later

The marker marks the original location of the Eagle Tavern



1 comment:

rose haft said...

Whenever we visit family in Michigan, I look forward to a day at Greenfield Village & taking our children & grandchildren for a meal at the Eagle Tavern. It never fails to charm the guests we bring. I do wish there was a big plate glass window into the kitchen so the youngsters could see how their lunch is cooked & how their great-great grandparents cooked. I really appreciate the whole village, the presenters & time we spend every year.