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July 5, 2010

New Exhibition to Showcase Reconstruction of “This Old Coffeehouse”

The newest exhibition in the Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg offers guests a look behind the scenes on the process of recreating Richard Charlton’s Coffeehouse. “This Old Coffeehouse,” opening Sept. 25 at the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum, reveals the archaeological, architectural, and historical sleuthing that brought this important historic building back to Duke of Gloucester Street 120 years after it was demolished.

Museum guests explore the process of developing the design, erecting the building, and furnishing the interior of the first major reconstruction project on Duke of Gloucester Street in 50 years. The exhibit promises answers to several basic questions: “How do we know? How did we do it? Why did we do it?”

“This exhibition provides our guests with a better understanding of the research required for our presentations on 18th-century life,” said Matthew Webster, Colonial Williamsburg’s director of historic architectural resources, who curated the exhibition. “The process that accurately recreated Charlton’s Coffeehouse has not only returned an important structure to Williamsburg’s Historic Area, but also provided a valuable learning and interpretive opportunity.”

The exhibit draws on archaeology, architecture, decorative arts, historic trades and archival elements to show visitors the process of rebuilding the history, landscape, structure, and interiors of Charlton’s upscale meeting place, which served the politically powerful, the economically elite and the socially savvy.

In the exhibition, prints of period coffeehouses, a painting of Nathaniel Walthoe, who leased the building to Charlton, Charlton’s estate inventory and multiple Virginia Gazette advertisements show the development of the social and economic background that created the interpretation guests experience today at the coffeehouse.

A treasure trove of archaeological artifacts recovered during excavation of the site, such as table wares, food remains, and household implements will illustrate how the coffeehouse functioned, the diversity of menus offered to 18th-century patrons and how this information played a role in what guests see and experience at the site today.

Architectural fragments from the original 1750 structure, drawings, models, and reproduced framing, locks, hinges, plaster, paint, and wallpaper will show the evidence for reconstruction decisions made and the process of reproducing these elements for the Coffeehouse project. As the exhibition illustrates the process, it also demonstrates the capabilities of The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation to carry out such a unique project.

“This Old Coffeehouse” opens Sept. 25 in the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum and will remain on view through December 2012. Admission is by Colonial Williamsburg admission ticket, Museums ticket or Good Neighbor Card. “This Old Coffeehouse” is the fourth new exhibition opening during the museum’s silver anniversary year.

The Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg include the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum and the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum. The Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum is home to the nation’s premier collection of American folk art, with more than 5,000 folk art objects made during the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. The DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum exhibits the best in British and American decorative arts from 1670–1830.

The Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg are located at the intersection of Francis and South Henry Streets in Williamsburg, Va., and are entered through the Public Hospital of 1773. Museum hours are 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily. For museum program information, telephone (757) 220-7724.

The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation is the not-for-profit educational and cultural institution that preserves and operates the restored 18th-century Revolutionary capital of Virginia as a town-sized living history museum, telling the inspirational stories of our nation’s founding men and women. Williamsburg is located in Virginia’s Tidewater region, 20 minutes from Newport News, within an hour’s drive of Richmond and Norfolk, and 150 miles south of Washington, D.C., off Interstate 64. For more information about Colonial Williamsburg, call 1-800-HISTORY or visit Colonial Williamsburg’s website at

Media Contact:
Jim Bradley
(757) 220-7281