Carillon Park’s 1830s-style tavern dinners
By Joyell Nevins
How would you like to experience history where Dayton history began? The Newcom Tavern, the oldest standing building in Dayton, is now the gathering place for Carillon Park’s tri-annual Tavern Dinners.
While the park is generally a daytime, school-aged attraction, it modifies that persona for the Tavern Dinner. Carillon is lit with lanterns and open only to dinner patrons, with a more adult focus – although there is no age limit or minimum to enjoy the evening. In the park’s historic tradition, this dinner has a twist – it is set in the 1830s, after the canal had just opened in Dayton.
What you’ll see
Although patrons eat at Newcom, they first gather at Deed’s Barn, where costumed volunteers will greet them. There, the group of up to 27 is separated into three family units – the Newcoms, Hamers and Thompsons, named after the three founding families of Dayton. Then, patrons are taken to the William Morris House, where dinner is being prepared. Yes, Carillon Park staff and volunteers implement the whole menu themselves – no catering needed here!
Dinner attendees get to see and hold the kitchen tools used in that era. They can feel the warmth of a bake oven – before modern-day ovens with thermometers, women used their hands to measure the amount of heat – or make their own coffee and tea. For the adventurous, you can even learn to shoot a musket.
“We let people touch, feel and see what it was really like [in the 1830s],” assistant director of education Mary Masterson said. “They immerse themselves in that time period.”
Then, it’s on to Newcom Tavern for the big event – a four-course family style meal. Attendees sit at two long, wooden tables with benches for seats, surrounded by authentic furniture from the era. In fact, the reason the food isn’t made in Newcom Tavern is because the decorations are authentic – the William Morris House, meanwhile, is filled with replicas.
The tavern building was built in 1796 at the corner of Main and Water [now Monument] Streets – where the zebra-striped building at Riverscape now stands. Newcom Tavern became the first church, the first school and was more of a gathering place than an alehouse.
“It served the community,” Masterson said.
Masterson noted since George Newcom also served as the sheriff, there wasn’t too much trouble in the tavern – although it did get pretty lively!
What you’ll eat
Tavern Dinner food is specific to the season and time period. Masterson said that is the most time-consuming – and fun – part of putting the dinners together: determining the menu.
“It takes research and practice, and a lot of experimentation,” Masterson said. “That’s why it takes so long to set the menu!”
Masterson and her staff scour cookbooks from Dayton History archives, Colonial Williamsburg. Va., and other historical sites. The menu changes depending on the time of year as well – March is the end of winter feast, so there’s fresh meat, but a lot of pickled and dried goods. They do use spices gathered from Carillon’s garden the year before. In October, during the harvest feast, Masterson pulled fresh vegetables from the Carillon garden.
This year, several of the recipes came from Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson and a historic plantation in Charlottesville, Va. The dinner starts with onion soup and Sally Lunn bread, a type of French hard roll. The main dish is roasted beef with the following accompaniments: Thomas Jefferson’s macaroni with eschalot (onion) sauce, peas with onions, stewed cabbage and carrot fritters. Carrot fritters are boiled and mashed carrots, cooked with heavy cream. Dessert is pound cake with brandied cranberries. Alcohol is also available upon request (IDs are checked at registration).
Masterson said the cooking crew starts at 8 a.m. the day of the dinner to get everything ready: chopping, boiling and baking without modern conveniences.
“It’s a good long day, but a lot of fun and a great experience,” Masterson said.
She did admit that at the end of the night, they use the very modern sink and dishwasher at Carillon’s Culp Cafe to clean up – otherwise, they’d be hauling buckets of water and washing dishes until midnight.
Dessert is accompanied by entertainment. This time, Ellie Hoffman will be playing the fiddle. Other musicians have come with the hammer dulcimer, flute or violin. Masterson said they rely heavily on local entertainment and enactors from the fair at the Village of New Boston, Ohio.
She also said Dayton History is always in search of someone new to help with the dinner. Volunteers assist in cooking and preparation, serving, set-up and cleanup – and they always dress in period garb.
Dayton History presents End of Winter Feast Fridays and Saturdays from Friday, March 14 through Saturday, March 29, from 6 – 9:30 p.m. at Carillon Historical Park, 1000 Carillon Blvd. Tickets cost $45 for members and $50 for non-members, with all proceeds going to the Education Department of Dayton History. For ticket or volunteer information, please call 937.293.2841 or visit daytonhistory.org.
Reach DCP freelance writer Joyell Nevins at JoyellNevins@DaytonCityPaper.com.