Hanover Tavern History
A license for a tavern at Hanover Courthouse was issued in 1733. Patrick Henry and his wife Sarah lived in that Tavern for several years in the 1760s. The diary of George Washington indicates that he visited there. Lord Cornwallis stopped there on his way to Yorktown, and left without paying the bill. The original Tavern no longer stands, having been replaced by the current Tavern, which was constructed in six phases between 1791 and 2005.
In 1953, six actors from NYC, two children, a dog and two pigs moved into Hanover Tavern after purchasing the landmark for $25,000. They founded Central Virginia's first professional theatre of the modern era, and named their company in memory of a deceased college friend, Barbara Barksdale. When they learned that their new neighbors looked forward to eating on evenings out, they combined favorite recipes and created the nation’s first dinner theatre. They lived upstairs, performed downstairs, and served hearty meals in the historic rooms that fell in between.
By 1959, four of the original founders moved on, leaving Pete and Nancy Kilgore and Muriel McAuley firmly in charge. This dynamic, history-making trio produced Greater Richmond’s first professional productions of plays by Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller, Eugene O’Neill, George Bernard Shaw, and Edward Albee.
They also served as visionary civic leaders. In defiance of Jim Crow laws, Barksdale was Virginia’s first performing arts organization to open its doors to integrated audiences.
While creating great theatre, Pete, Muriel and Nancy also continued the endless task of restoring the Tavern. In 1990, the Tavern was sold to the Hanover Tavern Foundation. In 1993, Pete, Muriel and Nancy retired after 40 years of exemplary service. To accommodate renovation, Barksdale left the Tavern for a decade before returning in 2006.
In 2012, Barksdale and Theatre IV merged to become Virginia Repertory Theatre. Virginia Rep’s work at Hanover Tavern will always be known as our Barksdale Season.