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Newly restored McCaa’s Tavern offers glimpse of colonial life in Camden

Historic Camden is opening its newly restored McCaa’s Tavern, housed in a former early-American residence and doctor’s office and inspired by the original 18th-century McCaa’s Tavern that was located nearby.
Historic Camden is opening its newly restored McCaa’s Tavern, housed in a former early-American residence and doctor’s office and inspired by the original 18th-century McCaa’s Tavern that was located nearby. sellis@thestate.com

In 2015 as in 1815 – and for ages long before – what problem is there that couldn’t be settled over a good beer? Well, they can’t all be settled, but at least there’s beer to be had.

Ah, bless the taverns.

Even more an integral part of a community than today’s bar, a tavern in the 18th and early 19th centuries, in the time of American colonialism and early nationhood, was a central community station. Entertainment was had, travelers would rest, politics and business were discussed and news was spread.

A step into the newly restored McCaa’s Tavern at the Historic Camden Revolutionary War Site will be for visitors a step back into the late 18th and early 19th centuries, when America was just taking shape.

“This would have been your focal point” of the community, said Joanna Craig, director of Historic Camden Revolutionary War Site. By the early 19th century, there were about 20 taverns and inns in Camden, which was an important backcountry town and frequent stopping place for travelers, Craig said.

Sitting amid the 107-acre historic site, the new McCaa’s (pronounced “Mc-Cah’s”) Tavern actually was a former residence and doctor’s office built in the late 1700s and owned at one point by Dr. John McCaa.

McCaa’s father had, in fact, run the original McCaa’s Tavern just down the road from the Historic Camden site around 1794, according to Craig.

Since 1991, the McCaa house on Historic Camden’s Revolutionary War Site had sat in a “crude” state, Craig said.

It was open for tours and tavern night events to provide insight into colonial tavern life but did not present a true picture of what such a space would have looked like.

After a two-year restoration effort funded by the city of Camden, Kershaw County and independent donors, McCaa’s has become a close representation of the original McCaa’s Tavern and other typical early-American taverns.

Flanked by two “long rooms” on either side of the entryway that can be used as dining or dancing rooms for future events, McCaa’s “piece de resistance,” as Craig described it, is its cage-bar taproom in the back corner of the house.

In such a place in colonial America, there would be drinks, especially wine and beers, often brewed by the tap owner and poured from kegs. There would be food – maybe good or maybe bad, depending on the tavern. There would be games, from checkers to backgammon to billiards. There might be music and dancing, and a place to lay your head as you paused on your travels.

On top of all that, “this became the communication center for everybody,” Craig said.

“They could catch up on everything that was going on – because you arrive, and you’re coming in from the coast, so you’re bringing with you that information. So everybody could be chatting with you,” Craig said.

Taverns were the place where mainly men gathered to discuss just about anything, from everyday business to politics to planning the Revolution, Craig said.

The future of McCaa’s Tavern probably won’t see much politicking. In addition to tours, it is envisioned to be a period-based community gathering space, hosting both public and private events and dinners in the evenings, with hopes of making it a lunch stop, too, for heritage tourists making their way through the historic town, Craig said.

“People want experiences,” Craig said. “They want to feel enmeshed in something.”

It’s more than just a fascination with the facts of the Revolution that draws people to Camden’s historic sites, said Camden Mayor Tony Scully.

“We’re looking for our American identity,” Scully said. “People are looking to answer the question that has been asked for all of recorded history: ‘Who am I?’”

In some way, at McCaa’s, that answer might just come at the bottom of a glass.

Reach Ellis at (803) 771-8307.

Raise a glass to McCaa’s

Historic Camden will celebrate the grand opening of the newly restored McCaa’s Tavern from 5:30-8:30 p.m. Oct. 6 at the Historic Camden Revolutionary War Site, 222 Broad St., Camden.

The event will feature wine, beer and music.

Tickets are $20 per person and can be purchased at the door or by reservation. Call (803) 432-9841 or email hiscamden@truvista.net.

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