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Phelps Tavern of Litchfield, Connecticut

Tavern keeping proved a popular occupation for Phelps family members. By 1800, there were at least four Phelps taverns situated in northwestern Connecticut and located within twenty-five miles of one another.

Darius Phelps (1752-1818) kept a public house in Norfolk, which served as the meeting place for the local chapter of Freemasons. In nearby Colebrook, Arah Phelps (1761-1844) ran an inn built in 1787 that later became known as the Red Lion. Upon obtaining a license in 1786, Noah Phelps (1740-1809) of Simsbury in Hartford County opened a tavern in the home formerly occupied by his brother Elisha Phelps (1737-1776). 

A fourth Phelps tavern, located in Litchfield, was built by David Buell in 1787. The impressive three-and-a-half story structure was acquired by John Phelps (1756-1833) nearly a decade later.

phelps tavern

Phelps' Tavern, East Street, Litchfield, Litchfield County, Connecticut in 1933. It was demolished in 1839.

"It was built in 1785 by David Buell, a successful merchant of the town who had conducted a tavern about a mile east of Litchfield. He was, besides being a tavern keeper, a dealer in "Ladies Stuff Shoes', exchanged sole leather for cash or flax, was Litchfield agent for a State lottery for raising money for public works, and was joint publisher of the Monitor, the town journal. The tavern was later sold to John Phelps. The late Eugene L. Phelps was probably its best known proprietor. This historic inn, which stood on East Street overlooking the Green, had a lofty assembly room, or ballroom on the top floor, around the sides of which ran a broad and comfortable divan.

"Here many of the gala balls were given in the earlier times, To realize what gayety and what personalities this famous ballroom knew, one must recall that Litchfield was the home of one of the earliest law schools, that being the one conducted by Judge Tapping Reeve and which knew students such as Aaron Burr, Joseph Calhoun, Uriah Tracy and James Gould, who later himself conducted the school. The town was also the home of Miss Pierce's Female Academy, one of the first women's educational institutions in America, and both these schools made good use of the facilities at Phelps' Tavern for their social functions. The invitations to such events were sometimes printed on the backs of old playing cards, and the Litchfield Historical Society have in their possession some of these. Probably the most famous ball ever to be held here was one in honor of Lafayette in 1824.

"Phelps Tavern, as it was called in early days and also in recent years, knew one interim in which it was known as the United States Hotel. The building which is now being as the United States Hotel. The building which is now being demolished, was considerably remodeled from its original state, much of this being done after a fire in 1911. The present property owner, Mr. Louis Bird, is expected to replace this building with a new hotel, and although Litchfield will be losing a most famous landmark, it will likewise be gaining a much more modern hostelry."

In March 1939, the famous Phelps' Tavern was demolished. This hotel was the oldest in Litchfield County, and probably in the State, in point of continuous service.

From Old Inns of Connecticut (M. D. Terry) and History of Litchfield 1720 (A. C. White)