When it comes to dining experiences, Eagle Tavern in Greenfield Village is one of a kind. The stagecoach tavern was built in 1831 in Clinton, Michigan. Calvin Wood and his wife Harriet operated it from 1849 to 1854, offering food, drink, and accommodations to the locals and those who came through the town. In 1927, Henry Ford purchased the tavern and brought it to Greenfield Village as the Clinton Inn, where it first served as a cafeteria for Edison Institute students and then for visitors. In April 1982, Eagle Tavern officially opened as the restaurant we know today. Forty years later, Eagle Tavern continues to delight members and guests with mid-1800s food and drink.
As we celebrate the beginning of the 2022 Greenfield Village season, Sous Chef Kasey Faraj shares three of his favorite Eagle Tavern recipes for you to try at home.
Photo by Emily Berger
“My absolute favorite thing about the tavern is the overall guest experience,” said Faraj. “There is simply no place like this anywhere in America where we are taking our guests on a journey to the past. Everything from our Calvin and Harriet Wood characters chatting with our guests to the food, to the look of the bill of fare and restaurant, and the servers in period clothing, we all collectively create an experience that is unique, historically accurate, and unmatched by any establishment.”
Faraj found inspiration for his menus from classic mid-1800s era cookbooks, like Mrs. Putnam’s Receipt Book and The Kentucky Housewife. It was in these wonderful books that he was inspired to create dishes such as our delicious Asparagus Soup, Pork and Potato Balls, and Bouilli Beef.
Eagle Tavern’s Asparagus Soup
½ pound unsalted butter
1 ½ cups yellow onion, medium dice
1 teaspoon fresh garlic, minced
5 pounds asparagus, trimmed
1 ½ cups celery, diced
2 bay leaves
¾ gallon vegetable broth
½ cup cornstarch
1 quart half-and-half
Salt and pepper to taste
Heat a stockpot and melt the butter.
Add the onions and garlic and cook over medium-high heat until onions are translucent.
Add the asparagus, celery, bay leaves, and vegetable broth. Bring to a boil.
Once boiling, turn heat to low and simmer until asparagus is tender.
Add the cornstarch and half-and-half and puree the mixture with a hand blender until smooth. (You can also slowly break down the asparagus with a potato masher.)
Add salt and pepper to your liking.
Adjust the cornstarch if thicker or thinner soup is desired.
Strain if you wish to have a lighter-style soup. Serve with fresh bread or crackers.
“The awesome curators here at The Henry Ford and I collaborate to find these menu items in cookbooks from the past,” said Faraj. “I then take said items and build the menu through both seasonal availability and the story of Harriet and Calvin Wood. It is not as simple as, ‘I found a recipe for a mid-1800s era style corn soup, so we are going to offer that soup.’”
Faraj and team take everything into consideration:
How did season and local availability influence the meals that a tavernkeeper like Harriet Wood might have prepared for her tavern customers?
What foodstuffs could have been imported in southern Michigan in 1850?
What type of meals and desserts might Harriet Wood have had time to prepare over an open hearth in her busy tavern kitchen?
“In-depth research from period American cookbooks found in our research center, and expertise from our curators, help us find our way to these answers,” he said. “The ability to find a recipe from a book written almost two centuries ago, test that recipe, and then place it on a menu (that is seasonally accurate!) is what makes a chef working in historic dining challenging—yet fun!”
Eagle Tavern’s Pork and Potato Balls
3 pounds cooked Idaho potatoes
3 fresh eggs
1 pound cooked pork-sage sausage, crumbled
Salt and pepper to taste
1 pound unsalted butter
Put cooked potatoes in a large mixing bowl. Using a potato masher, mash the potatoes until there are very few lumps.
In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs.
Add the crumbled sausage, salt, and pepper to the eggs and mix until evenly distributed.
Using a spoon or a small scooper, shape the mix into small balls no larger than a golf ball.
Heat a nonstick pan and melt the butter.
Cook the balls in the butter until browned on all sides and the internal temperature is 165° F. When cooked, sprinkle with additional salt and pepper and serve with extra butter, if desired.
One last recommendation from Chef Faraj: Eagle Tavern’s Bouilli Beef. “This dish is great served with roasted potatoes and mashed parsnips,” he said.
Season the beef with salt and pepper. Heat the vegetable oil in a stockpot on the stove and sear the meat on all sides.
Add the rest of the ingredients except for the soy sauce, mustard, cornstarch, and pickles.
Bring it all to a boil; once boiling, turn the heat down to a low setting and cover. Let cook slowly until the meat is almost fall-apart tender, 2-3 hours. Turn off and leave on stove.
Take half the stock the beef was cooked in and strain. Whisk together the soy sauce, mustard, and strained stock in a small saucepot over medium heat. Add the cornstarch and bring to a slow boil; cook until gravy is slightly thick. Add the cooked beef and plate with the turnips it was cooked with.
Ladle 2-3 ounces of gravy over each piece and top with chopped pickles.
This summer, we’re highlighting some of the cocktails and nonalcoholic “temperance beverages” that are available at Eagle Tavern in Greenfield Village. Inspired by history but with a modern flair, these drinks pay homage to the Eagle Tavern barroom’s Michigan history as a sort of “community center.” We’d love for you to stop by and try one of these refreshing concoctions for yourself—or try making them at home. Today’s feature is the Maple Bourbon Sour.
This summer, we’re highlighting some of the cocktails and nonalcoholic “temperance beverages” that are available at Eagle Tavern in Greenfield Village. Inspired by history but with a modern flair, these drinks pay homage to the Eagle Tavern barroom’s Michigan history as a sort of “community center.” We’d love for you to stop by and try one of these refreshing concoctions for yourself—or try making them at home. Today’s feature is nonalcoholic Mint Iced Tea.
This summer, we’re highlighting some of the cocktails and nonalcoholic “temperance beverages” that are available at Eagle Tavern in Greenfield Village. Inspired by history but with a modern flair, these drinks pay homage to the Eagle Tavern barroom’s Michigan history as a sort of “community center.” We’d love for you to stop by and try one of these refreshing concoctions for yourself—or try making them at home. Today’s feature is the Stone Wall.
This summer, we’re highlighting some of the cocktails and nonalcoholic “temperance beverages” that are available at Eagle Tavern in Greenfield Village. Inspired by history but with a modern flair, these drinks pay homage to the Eagle Tavern barroom’s Michigan history as a sort of “community center.” We’d love for you to stop by and try one of these refreshing concoctions for yourself—or try making them at home. Today’s feature is the nonalcoholic Cherry Effervescing.
This summer, we’re highlighting some of the cocktails and nonalcoholic “temperance beverages” that are available at Eagle Tavern in Greenfield Village. Inspired by history but with a modern flair, these drinks pay homage to the Eagle Tavern barroom’s Michigan history as a sort of “community center.” We’d love for you to stop by and try one of these refreshing concoctions for yourself—or try making them at home. Today’s feature is the Mint Julep.
In a 9 oz glass, muddle the leaves from 2 sprigs of mint.
Add 4 seconds of a pour of sugared water, and continue to muddle.
Fill with cracked ice, then add 1 jigger of bourbon or brandy, and 2 brisk dashes of bitters (to taste).
This summer, we’re highlighting some of the cocktails and nonalcoholic “temperance beverages” that are available at Eagle Tavern in Greenfield Village. Inspired by history but with a modern flair, these drinks pay homage to the Eagle Tavern barroom’s Michigan history as a sort of “community center.” We’d love for you to stop by and try one of these refreshing concoctions for yourself—or try making them at home. Today’s feature is the Lemon & Ginger Shrub.
Outside Greenfield Village’s Eagle Tavern, an early 1830s building originally from Clinton, Michigan, is a sign that reads: “Calvin Wood, Caterer.” Yes, Calvin Wood was a real guy—and the tavernkeeper at Eagle Tavern in 1850. The Eagle Tavern building was just a few years old when Calvin Wood and his young family arrived in nearby Tecumseh Township about 1834. Little could Calvin guess that life’s twists and turns would mean that one day he would be the tavernkeeper there!
Why caterer? In the 19th century, a “caterer” meant someone who not only provided food and drink, but who also catered in any way to the requirements of others. Some tavernkeepers, like Calvin Wood, referred to themselves as “caterers.” As Eagle Tavern’s tavernkeeper a few years hence, Calvin Wood would offer a bed for the night to travelers, a place to get a meal or a drink, a place to socialize and learn the latest news, and a ballroom upstairs to hold dances and other community events.
Moving to Michigan
1857 map of portion of Tecumseh Township, inset from “Map of Lenawee County, Michigan” (Philadelphia: Bechler & Wenig & Co., 1857), highlighted to show Calvin Wood’s farm located southeast of the village of Clinton. Map image from Library of Congress.
In the mid-1830s, Calvin and his wife Jerusha sold their land in Onondaga, New York, and settled on a farm with their children in Lenawee County, Michigan—a few miles south of the village of Clinton and a few miles north of the village of Tecumseh. (Calvin and Jerusha’s children probably numbered four—all but one would die in infancy or childhood.) The Wood family had plenty of company in this journey. From 1830 to 1837, Michigan was the most popular destination for westward-moving settlers caught up in the highly contagious “Michigan Fever.” During this time, the Michigan Territory’s population grew five-fold!
The move to Michigan offered promise, but the years ahead also held misfortune. In the early 1840s Calvin lost Jerusha, and some of their children likely passed away during this time as well. By 1843, Calvin had married for a second time, this time to Clinton resident Harriet Frost Barnum.
Harriet had left New York State with her parents and siblings and settled in Monroe County by 1830. The following year, 19-year-old Harriet married John Wesley Barnum. The Barnums moved to Clinton, where they were operating a “log hotel” along the Chicago Road in the fall of 1835. In October 1836, Wesley Barnum died, leaving Harriet a young widow with two daughters: Irene, age two, and Frances, age four. After their marriage, Calvin and Harriet’s blended household included not only Harriet’s two daughters, but also Calvin’s son. (There may also have been other Wood children in the home as well, though they might have passed away before this time.)
Calvin Wood, Tavernkeeper
In the early and mid-19th century, tavernkeeping was a small and competitive business. It didn’t require much experience or capital, and as a result, most taverns changed hands often. In 1849, farmer Calvin Wood decided to try his hand at tavernkeeping, an occupation he would engage in for five years. Many other tavernkeepers were farmers as well—like other farmer-tavernkeepers, Calvin Wood probably supplied much of the food for tavern customers from his farm. Calvin Wood didn’t run the tavern alone—a tavernkeeper’s family was often deeply involved in business operations as well. And, of course, Calvin’s wife Harriet was the one with previous experience running a tavern! Harriet would have supervised food preparation and the housekeeping. Frances and Irene likely helped their mother and stepfather in the tavern at times. Calvin’s son, Charles, was married and operating his own Tecumseh Township farm by this time.
Residence of F.S. Snow, & D. Keyes, Clinton, Michigan,” detail from Combination Atlas Map of Lenawee County, Michigan, 1874. / THF108376
By the time that Calvin and Harriet Wood were operating the Eagle Tavern, from 1849 to 1854, the first stage of frontier life had passed in southern Michigan. Frame and brick buildings had replaced many of the log structures often constructed by the early settlers twenty-some years before. The countryside had been mostly cleared and was now populated by established farms.
Mail coaches changing horses at a New England tavern, 1855. / THF120729
Detail from Michigan Southern & E. & K. RR notice, April 1850. / THF108378, not from the collections of The Henry Ford
Yet Clinton, whose early growth had been fueled by its advantageous position on the main stagecoach route between Detroit and Chicago, found itself bypassed by railroad lines to the north and south. The Chicago Road ran right in front of the Eagle Tavern, but it was no longer the well-traveled route it had once been. Yet stagecoaches still came through the village, transporting mail and providing transportation links to cities on the Michigan Central and Michigan Southern railroad lines.
Map of Clinton, Michigan, inset from “Map of Lenawee County, Michigan” (Philadelphia: Bechler & Wenig & Co., 1857). Map image from Library of Congress.
Though Clinton remained a small village, it was an important economic and social link—its businesses and stores still served the basic needs of the local community. During the years that Calvin operated the Eagle Tavern, Clinton businesses included a flour mill, a tannery, a plow factory, a wagon maker, wheelwrights, millwrights, coopers who made barrels, cabinetmakers who made furniture, chair manufacturers, and a boot and shoe maker. Clinton had a blacksmith shop and a livery stable. The village also had carpenters, painters, and masons. Tailors and seamstresses made clothing. A milliner crafted ladies’ hats. Merchants offered the locals the opportunity to purchase goods produced in other parts of the country, and even the world: groceries (like salt, sugar, coffee, and tea), cloth, notions, medicines, hardware, tools, crockery, and boots and shoes. A barber provided haircuts and shaves. Three doctors provided medical care. In 1850, like Calvin and Harriet Wood, most of Clinton’s inhabitants had Yankee roots—they had been born in New York or New England. But there were also a number of foreign-born people from Ireland, Scotland, England, or Germany. At least two African American families also made Clinton their home.
Many of Calvin’s customers were probably people who lived in the village. Others lived on farms in the surrounding countryside. Calvin’s customers would have included some travelers—in 1850, people still passed through Clinton on the stagecoach, in their own wagons or buggies, or on horseback.
Advertisements for Eagle Hotel, Clinton, and The Old Clinton Eagle, Tecumseh Herald, 1850. / THF147859, detail
Though Clinton was a small village, Calvin Wood faced competition for customers—the Eagle Tavern was not the only tavern in Clinton. Along on the Chicago Road also stood the Eagle Hotel, operated by 27-year-old Hiram Nimocks and his wife Melinda. It appears that the Eagle Hotel accommodated boarders as well—seven men are listed as living there, including two of the town’s merchants. These men probably rented bedrooms (likely shared with others) and ate at a common table.
In 1854, Calvin Wood decided that it was time for his five-year tavernkeeping “career” to draw to a close. He and Harriet no longer operated the Eagle Tavern, selling itto the next tavernkeeper. Initially, the Woods didn’t go far. In 1860, Calvin is listed in the United States census as living in Clinton as a retired farmer. Yet Calvin and Harriet Wood soon moved to Hastings, Minnesota, where Harriet’s daughters, now married, resided. There Calvin and Harriet would end their lives, Calvin dying in 1863 and Harriet the following year.
The Wood family tombstone in Brookside Cemetery. / THF148371
You can still pay Calvin a “visit” at Brookside Cemetery in Tecumseh, where he shares a tombstone with his first wife, children, his father, and his brother’s family. For Harriet? You’ll have to make a trip to Hastings, Minnesota.
Jeanine Head Miller is Curator of Domestic Life at The Henry Ford. Many thanks to Sophia Kloc, Office Administrator for Historical Resources, and Lisa Korzetz, Registrar, for assistance with this post.
Postcard, Aerial View of Greenfield Village, 1940 / THF132774
Henry Ford’s idea of re-creating a historic village in Dearborn, Michigan, began to take shape when he restored his own birthplace (1919) and childhood school (1923) on their original sites. In 1926, he proceeded with a plan to create his own historic village, choosing a plot of land in the midst of Ford Motor Company property and beginning to acquire the buildings that would become part of Greenfield Village.
One of Henry Ford’s earliest ideas for Greenfield Village was to have a central green or “commons,” based upon village greens he saw in New England. Ford envisioned a church and town hall flanking the ends of his Village Green. He couldn’t find exactly what he wanted, so he had them designed and built on site in Greenfield Village.
The design for Martha-Mary Chapel was based on a much larger Universalist church in Bedford, Massachusetts. It was one of six nondenominational chapels that Ford erected. This was the first and only one built of brick.
Ford named the chapel after his mother, Mary Litogot Ford, and his wife Clara’s mother, Martha Bench Bryant. The Martha-Mary Chapel has been used for wedding ceremonies since 1935, as shown here.
First Wedding Held in Martha-Mary Chapel in Greenfield Village, 1935 / THF132820
The bell up in the tower, likely cast during the 1820s, is attributed to Joseph Revere & Associates of Boston, Massachusetts—a foundry inherited by Joseph from his more famous father, Paul Revere.
Bell, Cast by Joseph Warren Revere, circa 1834 / THF129606
Town halls were the places where local citizens came together to participate in town meetings. Town Hall in Greenfield Village is patterned after New England public meeting halls of the early 1800s.
Town Hall in Greenfield Village, September 2007 (Photographed by Michelle Andonian) / THF54040
These buildings also became gathering places for political elections, theatrical performances, and social events. We have often recreated the types of activities that might have appeared in town halls of the past, such as this 2007 performance.
Ragtime Street Fair in Greenfield Village, July 2007 (Photographed by Michelle Andonian) / THF52067
Scotch Settlement School
Henry Ford also decided he needed a schoolhouse for his Village Green. This one-room school—which he himself attended when he was a boy back in the 1870s—was from the so-called Scotch Settlement in Dearborn Township. Here it is on its original site in 1896.
Group outside Scotch Settlement School at Its Original Site, Dearborn Township, Michigan, 1896 / THF245422
Scotch Settlement School had been one of Henry Ford’s first restoration projects. In 1923, he had restored the school and operated it on its original site as an experimental pre-school—shown here around 1926.
Scotch Settlement School at Its Original Site in Dearborn Township, Michigan, circa 1926 / THF115902
Once in Greenfield Village, this school served as the first classroom for the Edison Institute school system that Henry Ford started in September 1929—an experimental combination of progressive education and “learning by doing.”
Henry Ford with Students outside Scotch Settlement School in Greenfield Village, 1929 / THF96582
Ford thought a historic inn would make a nice addition to his Village Green. In 1927, he purchased this old 1830s-era inn from Clinton, Michigan—shown here on its original site in 1925. Even though this was never its name, he called it Clinton Inn.
Eagle Tavern at Its Original Site, Clinton, Michigan, 1925 / THF237252
Clinton Inn first served as a cafeteria for students attending the Edison Institute schools. When Greenfield Village opened to the public in 1933, it was the starting point for carriage tours. Later, it became a lunchroom for visitors, as shown below.
Visitors Lunching at the Clinton Inn (now Eagle Tavern), Greenfield Village, 1958 / THF123749
When we decided to turn Clinton Inn into a historic dining experience, we undertook new research. We found that a man named Calvin Wood ran this inn in 1850 and called it Eagle Tavern. Today, we recreate the food, drink, and ambience of that era.
Eagle Tavern in Greenfield Village, October 2007 / Photographed by Michelle Andonian / THF54291
You can learn more about Eagle Tavern in this episode of The Henry Ford’s Innovation Nation, this blog post about creating the historic dining experience in Greenfield Village, and this blog post about our research and interpretation of drinking at Eagle Tavern. Also check out this blog post I wrote on how our research changed the interpretation of five Village buildings, including Eagle Tavern.
J.R. Jones General Store
What would a village green be without a general store? The J.R. Jones General Store was originally located in the village of Waterford, Michigan. Here it is on its original site in 1926, just before being moved to Greenfield Village.
J.R. Jones General Store (Just Before the Move to Greenfield Village), Original Site, Waterford, Michigan, 1926 / THF126117
We decided to focus upon the era of James R. Jones, who operated this store from 1882 to 1888. During that time, Jones sold everything from coffee and sugar to fabrics and trims to farm tools and hardware. No wonder it was called a general store!
J.R. Jones General Store in Greenfield Village, September 2007 (Photographed by Michelle Andonian) / THF53762
Check out more content about the J.R. Jones General Store on this episode of The Henry Ford’s Innovation Nation and the related content on our web page.
Logan County Courthouse
This courthouse, from Postville (later renamed Lincoln), Illinois, is not just any courthouse! From 1840 to 1847, Abraham Lincoln was one of several lawyers who practiced law here as part of the 8th Judicial Circuit. Later, it was a private residence, as shown here about 1900.
Group outside Logan County Courthouse at Its Original Site, Lincoln, Illinois, circa 1900 / THF238618
Lincoln thrived on the judicial circuit—handling all sorts of cases, representing different types of people, and getting to know local residents. All these experiences helped prepare him for his future role as America’s sixteenth president.
Lithograph Portrait of Abraham Lincoln in 1860 / THF11619
To Henry Ford, Abraham Lincoln embodied the ideals of the self-made man. Ford searched for a way to memorialize Lincoln’s accomplishments. When he learned of this courthouse, he obtained it, then had it dismantled and reconstructed on his Village Green.
"First Court House of Logan County Where Abraham Lincoln Practiced Law, Lincoln, Ill.," 1927 Postcard / THF121352
After the courthouse was reconstructed in Greenfield Village, Ford filled the building with Lincoln memorabilia. The chair he subsequently purchased, in which President Lincoln had been assassinated, is visible inside a glass case in this 1954 photograph.
Logan County Courthouse in April 1954, Showing the Abraham Lincoln Chair Then on Exhibit in Greenfield Village / THF121385
Dr. Alonson B. Howard was a country doctor practicing medicine near Tekonsha, Michigan, from 1852 to 1883. Dr. Howard would have attended to everything from pregnancies to toothaches to chronic diseases such as kidney disease and tuberculosis.
Portrait of Dr. Alonson B. Howard, 1865-1866 / THF109611
The building, originally constructed in 1839 as a one-room schoolhouse, was conveniently located in the front yard of the Howard family farm. So, when the school moved to a new building, Dr. Howard took over this building as his office.
Dr. Howard's Office at its original site, Tekonsha, Michigan, March 1956 / THF237140
After Dr. Howard’s death in 1883, his wife Cynthia padlocked the building and there it remained—virtually intact—until removed to Greenfield Village between 1959 and 1961. It opened to the public in 1963.
Interior of Dr. Howard's Office at its original site, Tekonsha, Michigan, March 1956 / THF237188
You can learn more about Dr. Howard’s life and work in this blog post.
Eagle Tavern at Its Original Site, Clinton, Michigan, circa 1890 / THF110473
“I am sure the Americans can fix nothing without a drink…. To use their expression, the way they drink, is ‘quite a caution.’” –Frederick Marryat, A Diary in America (1839)
What Was a 19th-Century Tavern Like?
Today the term tavern, as well as the now largely British term public house, are understood to be synonymous with the American term bar—places licensed to sell alcoholic beverages. In the mid-19th century, the two former terms denoted places identical to inns or hotels, which provided lodging and food as well as drinks. Regardless of what the establishment was called, its center was surely its barroom—and thus, perhaps, the modern equivalence of the terms tavern, public house, and bar.
Even in a large rural inn such as Eagle Tavern, which had a public sitting or reading room, a formal or ladies' parlor, and a dining room, it was in the barroom where guests registered and paid bills, arranged to board a horse, or booked passage on a public coach. But even more than that, the barroom was a sort of men's community center primarily patronized by local "regulars" to talk about crops and weather, argue about politics, smoke or chew tobacco, play cards, quarrel, and learn about distant goings-on from out-of-town visitors and the newspapers they left behind. Public celebrations such as elections, Independence Day, and other holidays; court sessions; and militia musters turned the barroom into the focus of a town-wide communal binge.
The barroom at Eagle Tavern. Photograph by Michelle Andonian. / THF54347
Drinking in 19th-Century America
Drinking, of course, was what bound the barroom's clientele together. Alcohol consumption during the early 19th century reached a per capita peak which has never since been duplicated. In 1838, James Logan, a Scottish visitor to Detroit who echoed most other foreign travelers' accounts of the period, wrote:
“Indeed, drinking is carried to a great height both in Canada and in the State of Michigan. No sooner are they out of bed than they call for their bitters, and all day long they drink at brandy, gin, or whiskey, taking, however, only a wine-glass at a time, which they mix in a tumbler with a little sugar and water. Just enough is taken at once to raise the spirits, and when the excitement subsides, the dose is repeated, so that in this way inebriation is avoided, although a great quantity is taken in the course of the day.”
Bond for Tavern Licence in Red Hook, New York, May 3, 1830 / THF148000
A single modern statistical comparison should serve to underscore Logan’s impressions. It has been estimated that in 1830 the average American male above the age of 15 consumed more than 7½ gallons of distilled spirits per year, while today Americans drink about 2½ gallons of liquor per capita per annum. It is perhaps not surprising that the American temperance movement came into being at this time of unparalleled alcohol consumption. As Capt. Frederick Marryat, the English writer, recorded in A Diary in America, published in 1839:
“They say that the English cannot settle anything properly without dinner. I am sure the Americans can fix nothing without a drink. If you meet, you drink; if you close a bargain, you drink; they quarrel in their drink, and they make it up with a drink. They drink because it is hot; they drink because it is cold. If successful in elections, they drink and rejoice; if not, they drink and swear; they begin to drink early in the morning, they leave off late at night; they commence it early in life, and they continue it, until they soon drop into the grave. To use their expression, the way they drink, is ‘quite a caution.' As for water, what the man said, when asked to belong to the Temperance Society, appears to be the general opinion: ‘It's very good for navigation.’”
Beverage Options in Eagle Tavern
What then do we know of what was served in Eagle Tavern's barroom? Whiskey was the beverage of the period. Throughout the upland South and Midwest, whiskey was distilled from a mash composed of a majority of corn and a smaller percentage of other grains. In Pennsylvania and the mid-Atlantic region, rye was the primary grain. Both were straight, unblended spirits. Modern bourbon whiskey and American or Canadian blended whiskey ("rye") are derived from these two beverages. Locally made whiskey was extremely cheap, about $.20 a gallon or $.06 cents a quart.
Rum, the favorite distilled beverage of the 18th century, had declined in popularity (outside of New England) because tariffs on imported spirits, or on the imported molasses necessary to make domestic rum, priced the drink much higher than whiskey. Imported rum from Jamaica and the Virgin Islands (St. Croix) and domestic rum made in Massachusetts were commonly available. Domestic gin, brandy, and fruit brandies were popular. Notable among these was applejack, an apple brandy frequently made in New Jersey. Sweet brandies and cordials were ladies' drinks. Imported Holland gin (often called Geneva), Cognac, Scotch, and Irish whiskey were available but expensive.
The Print "Dance in a Country Tavern" in The Old Print Shop "Portfolio" Catalog, December 1948 / THF148039
In apple-producing regions, hard cider (simply called "cider") was the most popular fermented beverage. Cider was overwhelmingly popular in late 18th- and early 19th-century New England, and its popularity was carried westward into New York and Michigan by migrating Yankees. Cider was cheap to produce but costly to ship, so a 31-gallon barrel ranged in price from $.50 at a country cider mill to $3.00-$4.00 in an Eastern city.
Beer, which would replace cider in popularity after 1850, was more expensive than cider or whiskey. The ale and beer made at the time were top-fermented products similar to the "bitter" served in English public houses today. Modern American beer is a lager beer (fermented at the bottom of a vat and aged in cold storehouses) introduced by German brewers during the 1840s. Popular during the 1850s in cities such as Milwaukee and Cincinnati with large German populations, lager beer became an American national beverage only after the Civil War. The temperance movement, high wartime taxes on whiskey, and the Union Army's practice of serving lager beer rations all contributed to the elevation of its popularity.
When a stagecoach stopped to change horses, the ladies might well choose a temperance beverage while the men ordered more bracing refreshment. / THF120729
Wine drinking was even less widespread than beer drinking. The only domestic wines available in Michigan were made at wineries near Cincinnati, Ohio, from the Catawba grape native to Eastern North America. The sparkling wines made of this grape were praised by European travelers who compared them to fine French champagne. At comparatively high prices, French red Bordeaux (claret), sauternes and champagne, German Rhine wine (hock), and Spanish and Portuguese fortified wines (sherry, Madeira, and port) were available. Tastes in wines overwhelmingly favored sweet rather than dry types.
Tavern drinking usually entailed "treating." That meant that each man in turn bought a half-pint of whiskey that was passed around the room. Whiskey was normally consumed in a tumbler with or without ice or water and frequently flavored with one of several kinds of bitters. Generally, sweet, mixed drinks known by names such as cock-tails, juleps, smashes, slings, cobblers, sangarees, punches, stone walls, stone fences, etc., were popular in city hotel barrooms and were thought to be more "refined" and thus more suitable for gentlemen (and ladies) than straight whiskey.
The original 1982 version of a re-created drink list at Eagle Tavern, based on 1850s-era menus. / THF123847
The variety of mixed drinks in 1850 was far more limited than those ingeniously compounded by 20th-century bartenders. But a modern visitor to Eagle Tavern could not be expected to acquire an instant taste for straight corn whiskey. So, in designing our menu, we sought to find 19th-century mixed drinks that were similar in taste to modern drinks. In so doing, we found that the original "cock-tail,” a classic American drink first created in the late 18th century (and supposedly named for the custom of serving it in a glass decorated with rooster feathers), tasted very much like our present-day "Old Fashioned." Similarly, modern visitors to Eagle Tavern find that our "Planter's Punch,” a drink made with rum and citrus juices and first concocted during the 18th century in the British West Indies, is quite comparable in taste to a modern "sour."
Of course, there are also some elements in Eagle Tavern barroom that visitors find amusingly unfamiliar. Most notable among these is the presence of a piece of macaroni in place of a straw or a stirrer in their drink. The reason for this is quite simple. In documenting drinks of the mid-19th century, we found that several, including cobblers and juleps, were invariably served with a straw or "sucker,” as it was often called. Paper straws were not known in 1850, and we were at a loss to understand how we could properly serve such drinks in a 19th-century manner. As fortune had it, the following entry was noticed in an 1848 American dictionary: “Sucker, a tube used for sucking sherry-cobblers. They are made of silver, glass, straw, or sticks of macaroni.” It is little discoveries like this that transform our sometimes dry-as-dust research into an intriguing experience for patrons of Eagle Tavern in Greenfield Village.
Peter H. Cousins is former Curator of Agriculture at The Henry Ford, and led the research into the drinking habits of mid-19th-century Americans for the Eagle Tavern restoration project. This post was adapted from an article in Volume 12, Number 1 of the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village Herald (1983).