Kings Arms Tavern-
When Jane Vobe opened the Kings Arms Tavern in 1772, little did she know that it would go on to become one of the town’s most genteel establishments. It would seem that later on in its’ prime that one French traveller referred to it as a place “where the best people resorted.”
If that statement holds true then it might explain why the Kings Arms was one of the more successful taverns in Williamsburg, VA during the latter half of the 18th century. The tavern gained a brilliant reputation among the gentry. Why George Washington and William Byrd III were known to be frequent customers of Mrs. Vobes. Thanks to records from the time we know that the tavern had 4 rooms, 2 passages (hallways), a bar on the first floor, and 9 rooms plus 2 passages (hallways) on the second floor. As the political climate shifted in the colonies, so did the name of the tavern. When the American Revolution broke out, the name changed to “Mrs. Vobes” and then later on down the road it became the Eagle Tavern.
Reconstruction on this site began in 1949 when the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation decided another tavern was needed. They took Mrs. Vobes former establishment and joined it with the Alexander Purdie House next door. (Purdie was a publisher of the Virginia Gazette and official printer of the Colony of Virginia). The reconstruction lasted for about two years and once it was completed a modernized tavern with spacious seating was ready to accommodate guests with great food and entertainment.
Most folks don’t know this, but in the Alexander Purdie House portion of the tavern, some of the upstairs rooms were converted into an apartment. One of the very first Assistant Managers of the Kings Arms Tavern lived there. Her name was Erna Gendrel. Erna was a hard working African American woman who was loved by the staff. Each day when the servers, hosts and barkeeps came into work they would all wish her a good morning. Then as they parted ways for the evening, they would wish her a good night. Before you know it, this became tradition and it lasted for a long while. One unfortunate January evening though, Ms. Erna Gendrel laid herself down for a good night’s sleep and never awoke again.
The staff were devastated. A great light in the world had suddenly gone out. The memories of her would be cherished. Erna was buried in nearby Cedar Grove Cemetery, gone to those left behind, but not forgotten. The tradition of saying good morning and good night to this beloved manager had now come to an end. Erna’s old apartment was converted to a dining room eventually and life carried on.
A few months after her passing, the staff at Kings Arms Tavern began to sense that Erna could still very well be around. Odd cold spots would appear randomly throughout the tavern. Doors would sometimes open and close on their own. Windows left open to provide air circulation would be closed and latched by themselves. Various staff made claims of being watched by someone unseen. On the rare occasion, Erna’s lilac perfume could be smelled in Up Room (her former apartment). From that point on they decided they should go back to the tradition of wishing a good morning and good night to their former beloved assistant manager. It was almost from the moment they started it back up that the ghostly activity stopped. Do they still carry on this tradition at Kings Arms Tavern? That remains to be seen. The lips of the staff are sealed. All we know is this, the Kings Arms Tavern is a house known for its’ spirits and in more ways than one.