Back in 2012, as I was driving down Route 20 toward the Locust Grove Town Center, I noticed a sign near the intersection of Route 20 and Zoar Road. The silver sign was erected by the Virginia Department of Historical Resources stating that Robinson’s Tavern was nearby. At that time, there was a restaurant in the Locust Grove Town Center called Robinson’s Tavern and I wondered why that restaurant would have an historical marker. Thus began my research into Robinson’s Tavern.
In 1791, John Robinson bought 168 acres from Brigadier General Alexander Spotswood on the north side of Orange Turnpike, now known as Route 20, as part of Spotswood’s efforts to civilize the Wilderness area of Spotsylvania County. John’s son, Thomas, built the tavern about 1815. The tavern was located about where the sign “Locust Grove” is today. In addition to being a typical tavern, it also served as a stagecoach stop between Charlottesville and Washington.
During the Civil War, the tavern served twice as a hospital for Union troops.
In the fall of 1863, after the Battle of Gettysburg, both Generals Robert E. Lee and George G. Meade returned their armies to Virginia along the Rappahannock and Rapidan Rivers. After engaging in several small battles, Meade developed a plan for his 80,000 troops to attack Lee’s 50,000 troops to end the fight. Lee’s troops were south of the Rapidan. Meade heard that Germanna Ford and two others were unguarded, so he planned to attack from that direction. The Union crossed the Rapidan on November 26, and, the Confederates, having heard of the planned attack, began moving towards the Union. On November 27, the two sides met near Robinson’s Tavern and Mine Run. The two armies moved around each other for two days. Finally, on December 1, Meade, frustrated, moved his troops back across the Rapidan towards Culpeper. The tavern was used as a temporary hospital during the fight.
In May 1864, General Ulysses S. Grant began his overland campaign, marching east from Culpeper. Confederate General Ewell and his troops camped on the grounds of the tavern on their way to the Wilderness on May 4, 1864. .On May 5 and 6, 1864, the Battle of the Wilderness broke out a few miles up Orange Turnpike. As the fighting got more intense, and Saunders Field began burning, the tavern was set up as a Union hospital for two days.
After the war, life returned to normal. Modernization came to the corner in the early 1980’s. With the paving of Orange Turnpike, the purchase of the land around the intersection by Ken and Lora Dotson and the construction of Locust Grove Town Center’s first building and the Exxon Station, Robinson’s Tavern was moved about ½ mile west on Zoar Road. The original building can still be seen there today.
Upon completion of the second building in the town center, Robinson’s Tavern Restaurant became one of the occupants until it closed in 2012. Mountain View Barbeque became the next occupant from about 2013 to 2014. The site has been Generals Quarters Restaurant since February 2016.
Author: Milbrey A Bartholow
Date: May 2018
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