The Wright Tavern is a landmark in Rockingham County that has successfully been restored to its nineteenth century condition. Construction on the inn commenced around 1810. The building remained in the Wright-Reid family until it was sold to the Rockingham County Historical Society in 1967.
Original Date Cast:
Rockingham County was established by the General Assembly in 1785, when the state divided it from the northern section of Guilford County. In 1787 construction began on the Rockingham County courthouse. Built east of Big Rockhouse Creek, the courthouse hosted sessions that November, despite the fact that construction on the court/jail did not officially end until May 1788. The courthouse in 1794 gained a post office that stayed in operation for 200 years, before closing in 1994. Due to the desire to increase the small populace growing around the courthouse, the General Assembly created the town of Wentworth on the site.
William Wright (1762-1824) came to own a 1500-acre plantation in the area, as well as nearly twenty slaves. William was the son of James Wright, who migrated from Maryland to North Carolina after the Revolution. It is believed Wright built the earliest existing section of the tavern. However, the main structure was not built until 1816. Wright received a liquor license the following year and by 1821 Wright was operating his tavern at rates that specifying 25 cents for breakfast and supper, 37 ½ cents for dinner and 10 cents per a night for lodging.
By the end of 1823, William Wright had passed proprietorship of the tavern to his son James. The younger Wright, born in 1788, soon added a new, finer wing to the tavern, thus creating more public space. By 1840, the earliest parts of the tavern had deteriorated and James Wright had it demolished. He replaced it with a two-story frame building, which gives the tavern its modern façade.
Among other things, Wright’s activities included from 1830 to supplying food to the prisoners at the jail. His plantation by 1860 consisted of 750 acres of tobacco, corn, hay, wheat, oats, peas, potatoes, and yams. His livestock included horses, a mule, milk cows, cattle, and sheep. He owned twenty-four slaves in 1860.
James Wesley Reid—James Wright’s grandson by his daughter Anne E. Wright and Methodist minister Numa Fletcher Reid—would help run the tavern after his grandfather’s death in 1876. James Reid, an attorney who graduated from Emory and Henry College of Virginia in 1869, made many improvements to the tavern. He installed new doors, had the northeast wing enlarged and spread to two stories. This may have been to house some of the twelve Wrights and Reids living in the area the area. James Reid would go on to become a U.S. Congressman and died in Lewiston, Idaho, in 1902.
In the 1890s, the tavern left the ownership of the Reid-Wright family. Adelia W. Johnston, Nannie E. Johnston, and Virginia H. Wright, James Reid’s daughters, continued to live and work in the tavern through the decade. In 1898 Nannie repurchased the tavern and it remained in the family’s ownership until it was sold to Rockingham County Historical Society in 1967. It became part of the National Register of Historic Places in 1971. The building has since undergone extensive restoration as the society has returned the tavern to its original appearance. It now serves as a local museum.
Lindley S. Butler, Wright Tavern: A Courthouse Inn and Its Proprietors (1973)
Lindley S. Butler, Wright Tavern: A Brief History (1970)
Charlotte Observer, January 5, 1994