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July 15, 2008

CW to reconstruct Charlton's Coffeehouse next to Capitol on Duke of Gloucester Street in the Historic Area

The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation has applied to the City of Williamsburg to allow reconstruction of Richard Charlton’s Coffeehouse on its original foundations to recreate the 1765 hotbed of political, business and social activity adjacent to the colonial Capitol. The project is one of the most important reconstructions on the Historic Area’s Duke of Gloucester St. in half a century and is made possible by a generous $5 million gift from Mr. and Mrs. Forrest E. Mars Jr. of Big Horn, Wyo.

“Reconstructing Charlton’s Coffeehouse—the foundation’s first complete reconstruction in 50 years—will constitute a major architectural and educational contribution to the Historic Area,” said Colin G. Campbell, Colonial Williamsburg’s president and chief executive officer. “We are extremely grateful to Forrest and Deborah Mars. Their gift will enable Colonial Williamsburg to highlight the importance of the Coffeehouse in the social and political life of Williamsburg during the period preceding the American Revolution. We anticipate that the project will be of great interest to guests, scholars, artisans and other observers.” When reconstructed, the coffeehouse will be the only one of its kind in the U.S., and ticketed visitors will have the opportunity to enjoy hot tea, coffee, chocolate and pastries in an authentic mid-18th-century setting.

Richard Charlton, a Williamsburg wigmaker, converted an existing storehouse into a coffeehouse—a single story-and-a-half wood frame building over a brick cellar with a porch running along the entire front facing Duke of Gloucester St. The location, most recently the site of the Cary Peyton Armistead House, has been the subject of extensive archeological research in consultation with the Armistead family.

The reconstruction is designed to appear as close to the original structure as historical, archaeological, and architectural evidence permits. It will incorporate the building’s original foundations as well as new laid foundations to replace later brickwork. The lower story will be laid in English bond, corresponding to the original brick walls. The one-and-a-half-story framed portion of the building—35 feet square—will be constructed from sawn weather boards and roof surfaces covered in wooden shingles. A central brick chimney will allow the three first floor rooms to have functional fireplaces. Research indicates that at least two of the first floor rooms were used for serving food and beverages which were prepared in the cellar. Other rooms on the first and second floors may have been rented or used for lodging or living quarters.

True to its 18th-century use, the cellar will house food and beverage preparation and storage space. In addition, the cellar also will accommodate a modern heating, ventilation and air conditioning system.

The reconstruction will provide an exciting new venue for Historic Area programming including using the porch as a principal stage for scenes from The Revolutionary City and special event performances.

Furnishings will include reproduction furniture, ceramics, glassware, hardware, and other items representing the variety of activities that took place there. Reproduction maps, prints, pictures, advertisements and broadsides will adorn the walls, and period newspapers will be available in the main rooms.

The project also includes reconstruction of the one known outbuilding associated with the coffeehouse—a dairy roughly 10 feet square with brick foundations. The reconstructed dairy will be used as a public exhibition site and will be furnished accordingly.

One of the most dramatic encounters of the period leading up to the American Revolution took place on the porch of Charlton’s Coffeehouse in 1765 when an angry crowd protesting against the Stamp Act confronted the appointed collector for Virginia, George Mercer, and demanded he swear an oath that he would not distribute the official stamped paper. The royal governor, Francis Fauquier, intervened and saved Mercer from the crowd. Mercer later resigned his position and the Stamp Act was repealed by the British Parliament the following year.

Forrest Mars’ interest in Colonial Williamsburg began as a youngster during family visits to the restored colonial capital and he has been supporting The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation for nearly 25 years. Mars and his wife, Deborah Clarke Mars, are Life Members of the Raleigh Tavern Society. They will be listed on the Courtyard of Philanthropy at the Visitor Center as among the foundation’s 20 most generous benefactors.

The family’s Mars Foundation of McLean, Va., has previously made grants to Colonial Williamsburg supporting a range of projects including the Courthouse restoration, the George Wythe House redecoration, costuming, the Peyton Randolph outbuildings project, Great Hopes Plantation, and, most recently, the Historic Trades Foodways chocolate programs.

Deborah and Forrest Mars preside over the advisory board of the Colonial Chocolate Society, an informal organization made up of representatives from Mars Incorporated, University of California-Davis, Colonial Williamsburg and other living history museums—all interested in the research, interpretation, and presentation of historical chocolate making. Mars Incorporated and Colonial Williamsburg have partnered with the other museums to create the Mars American Heritage line of chocolate products available at Colonial Williamsburg’s Craft House, Tarpley’s Store, Greenhow Store, Raleigh Tavern Bakery, DuBois Grocer, and WILLIAMSBURG Revolutions in Colonial Williamsburg’s Visitor Center. American Heritage Chocolate has been designed and developed as closely as possible to 18th century chocolates eaten and consumed as a drink for pleasure and used by the armies as rations. The American Heritage line includes an authentic chocolate drink mix, chocolate sticks, and chocolate bars and is also sold at Historic Deerfield, Fort Ticonderoga, Mount Vernon, Monticello, and Fortress Louisbourg. It meets 21st century manufacturing standards.

Forrest Mars is the former chief executive officer, now retired, of the family-owned Mars Incorporated, a company with global sales of $22 billion. Mars has 66 brands in five product areas including snack food, food, nutrition for health and wellbeing, beverages, and pet care. Mars’ chocolate brands include Milky Way, Snickers, Mars Bars, and M&Ms.

Established in 1926, the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation is the not-for-profit educational 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. Within the restored and reconstructed buildings, historic interpreters, attired as colonial men and women from slaves to shopkeepers to soldiers, relate stories of colonial Virginia society and culture – stories of our journey to become Americans – while historic trades people research, demonstrate and preserve the 18th-century world of work and industry. As Colonial Williamsburg interprets life in the time of the American Revolution for its guests, it also invites them to interact with history. “Revolutionary City®,” a dramatic live street theater presentation, is a 2008 Rand McNally Best-of-the-Road™ Editor’s Pick. 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 Web site at

Media Contact:
Jim Bradley
(757) 220-7280