BRIDGETON — The battles at Lexington, Concord and Bunker Hill had been fought, and it would still be a few months before the Continental Congress would formally vote to break away from Great Britain.
Residents in Cumberland County would regularly gather at tiny Potter’s Tavern here, waiting for news of what would happen next and what action they might have to take.
Part of what they learned about the escalating events of the day came from The Plain Dealer, a hand-written document — perhaps the closest thing the city had to a newspaper at the time — that would be nailed to the tavern door between December 1775 and February 1776.
But Cumberland County Historical Society President Jonathan Wood said the information in The Plain Dealer lacked one crucial word: independence. That notion was still months away, waiting for the publication of Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense” and the ratification of the Declaration of Independence, he said.
Potter’s Tavern is still here. The white-clapboard structure sometimes known as “Bridgeton’s Independence Hall” sits alongside East Broad Street and across from the Cumberland County courthouse.
The tavern usually opens every July 4, but the historical society is trying something new this year: The tavern is now open every Sunday in July from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Wood said the society wants to determine whether tourists passing through the city on their way to and from shore resorts will stop and visit the site. That will determine whether Potter’s Tavern, which has so far been visited by primarily local residents, will open more frequently, he said.
Vineland resident Eddie Santiago was one of the people who visited the tavern Sunday. A self-proclaimed history buff, Santiago said he has past by the tavern many times and always wanted to see what was inside.
“I think this is just awesome,” Santiago said after touring the two-story house. “The size of the rooms. I love the kitchen.”
Santiago said he hopes other people will visit Potter’s Tavern because of the historic role it played for Cumberland County during revolution.
“It’s an important part of history,” he said.
Potter’s Tavern opened in 1773 and is named after its operator, Matthew Potter. Potter came to the colonies from Ireland, although the exact date he arrived is unknown.
The tavern was located only a few feet from the original county courthouse, which was located in the middle of what is now East Broad Street. Lawyers and members of public would make the short walk from the courthouse to the tavern when their business was done, Wood said.
Wood said he does not know how long the building operated as a tavern.
The county bought the tavern in 1959 and did renovation work on the building. The county still owns the building, which is operated by the historical society.
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