Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Williams Ordinary

Williams Ordinary at 17674 Main Street (Rt. 1) in Dumfries was built in the 1760's.

The 1930's WPA Guide to the Old Dominion identifies this as the "Two-storied brick STAGECOACH INN, a pre-Revolutionary hostelry known first as William's Ordinary, then as Love's Tavern, has stone quoins on the front corners and around the doorway."

Although the precise date and the builder are unknown, it's believed that this Georgian building may have been built in 1765 by James Wren. This 2009 DAR plaque indicates that an important architectural feature is the front wall layed in all-header bond.


All-header bond has the small ends of the bricks -- headers -- facing out this way:

Common bond, used on the side walls of the building, has the long sides of the bricks -- stretchers -- outward, broken at intervals by all-header lines this way:

Other prominent Georgian features include the rusticated front doorway...

...and the flat arches over windows.

This Aquia sandstone quoin on one corner of the building bears graffiti from 1900.

A marker placed by the Colonial Dumfries stands in the parking lot on the south side of the building.


The marker explains what an ordinary was and illustrates the concept with a 1820 watercolor, "Barroom Dancing," by John Lewis Krimmel.

What’s an Ordinary?
The term ordinary was common in Europe and early America. These establishments provided travelers with an ordinary meal and sleeping space. Such places were also called taverns or inns. Ordinaries were the social centers of a community where patrons met and exchanged news. Many taverns operated in Dumfries, but those operating in this building were likely among its finest.
The marker also includes this Library of Congress photo.

Williams Ordinary was called Albert’s Hotel when this photograph was taken in the early 1930s.
In the Civil War period, this was Love's Tavern as this Civil War Trails marker says.

Dumfries, an important Potomac River port chartered in 1749, became strategically significant in the autumn of 1861 when Confederate forces built batteries along the Potomac River nearby to blockade Washington, D.C. Gen. William H.C. Whiting, commanding Confederate forces, established his headquarters here at Love’s Tavern (Williams’s Ordinary) while winter camps were erected around Dumfries.
This HMdb photo from the Prince William County Libary shows Williams Ordinary in the early automobile era when US 1 was a ribbon of mud.

This is how it was in 1919 for travelers between Richmond and Washington along what later became U.S. Route 1, shown is the Dumfries area in Prince William County.
Today, Williams Ordinary is home to the Prince William County Department of Public Works Historic Preservation Division. This Prince William county seal was on the door of a pickup truck in the parking lot at Williams Ordinary.

Modern traffic along this historic route is notorious. As Interstate 95 fills up, Rt. 1 in Dumfries becomes impossibly crowded. This shot is typical of my many unsuccessful attempts to photograph the old tavern.

This motorcyclist provided less visual interference.


  1. My wife & I had a nice visit hanging 'round the old inn y'day, Dec. 1, 2012, to study & photograph it. I've been familiar with it for a number of years, say, since the mid-1990s. My family from N.C. went up 'n down U.S. 1 in the 1950s & 60s on annual jaunts to D.C. Ever since learning of Williams, I've been intrigued with it. I still live in N.C. and just pass near it every few years, so y'day was the first time I've ever stopped at the site. This was, of course, the King's Highway back in the 18th century. Thanks for your posts & great photographs.

  2. My Grandfather H.O. Johnson operated a Furniture Store on the first floor of building during the late 50's. At that time the building was still known as the"Old Stagecoach Inn". I have many fond memories as a child playing in the rooms located on the upper floor.

  3. Really enjoyed this article and the photos. Thanks for posting.

  4. In the early 1960's, the Inn became a Lutheran Mission Church about the same time that the Lutheran church in Triangle, VA was established. It was leased by the Dumfries Lutheran Mission on July 1, 1960/1961 and was converted for worship, Sunday school, and fellowship activities. My father was the new young preacher helping to prepare the building for worship with other young future parishioners. Woodbridge church was also begun at this time by the young Rev. Fred Vonderlage.