The Folsom Family and Tavern

An image of the Folsom Tavern today.

The state chapter of the Society of the Cincinnati started here after the Revolutionary War.

The Folsom Tavern in Exeter, New Hampshire, was built by Colonel Samuel Folsom during 1775. Samuel (1732-1790) was the brother of General Nathaniel Folsom, a delegate for New Hampshire in the Continental Congress (1774 and 1777-1780) and a major general of the New Hampshire militia.

The structure replaced a previous building that had burned about 1768. That building was erected by the grandfather of Samuel and Nathaniel (Deacon John Folsom) and faced the river. The new tavern stood facing the square and was located on the corner of Water Street and Front Street.

Samuel was a lieutenant colonel of the Exeter Corps of Independent Cadets commanded by Colonel John Phillips. During 1780, Samuel married his second wife, Elizabeth Emery, with whom he had four children—Nancy (known as Anna), Samuel, Betsy (known as Elizabeth) and Joanna.

Former commissioned officers of the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War met at the tavern on Tuesday, November 18, 1783, to form the New Hampshire chapter of the Society of the Cincinnati. George Washington was the Society’s first president.

Six years later, President George Washington stopped at the tavern on the morning of November 4 “to partake of a collation” during his tour of New England. Local lore has him kissing Elizabeth Emery’s sister, Margaret.

Tavern Changes Hands

When Samuel died during 1790, his estate passed to his wife and his three daughters. The widow continued to run the tavern until her death during 1805. The property remained in the Folsom family until it was sold during 1856 to Dr. George W. Dearborn, a local eccentric druggist. When he retired, Dr. Dearborn converted the residence in a museum. In the basement, he kept many rare curios for sale and the building became known as the “Old Curiosity Shop.”

During May 1869, the community approved the widening of Water Street to alleviate traffic congestion in the center of town. This forced the building to be set back from the street. The original chimneys were removed and the building was placed on a high foundation that allowed for shops and later the passenger station for the Exeter, Hampton & Amesbury St. Railway.

Dr. Dearborn died during 1896 and left his “corner estate” to Elizabeth Ewer, an unmarried local woman who was known as a mystic and landscape painter. She made some physical improvements, including windows, porch, entry way and an iron fence, and leased parts of the building for income to the local electric company, a millinery shop, a restaurant called “Washington’s Lunch” and a Chinese laundry.

Judge John Scammon, an honorary member of the society’s New Hampshire chapter, became the next owner of the building during 1909. Twenty years later, he sold the site to the Standard Oil Company and gave the building to the society. Members raised funds and moved the tavern to its 21 Spring Street location. During October 2004, the Folsom Tavern was moved again and possibly for the last time. Restoration was completed during 2007.