Skip to main navigation Skip to main content
Primary focus of archaeological investigattion at Higbee's Taverrn site.

Higbee's Tavern

Site ID: 15Fa222

Kentucky Archaeological Survey
Unless specified, we cannot provide site location information.


​​​​​​​​​Prior to widening US Highway 68 in Fayette County, archaeologists from Cultural Resource Analysts investigated t​​he remains of an early nineteenth-century tavern operated by John Higbee.  Like many establishments that catered to early nineteenth-century travelers, the tavern was a log or wood frame structure. It also served as Higbee's home.  

Higbee, a native of New Jersey, arrived in Kentucky by 1789 with little more than a horse.  Within two years, he owned 50 acres just outside of Lexington and a small herd of cattle.  His property sat along the main road between Lexington and Harrodsburg. Using this to his advantage, he established a tavern there by 1796. As his business grew, Higbee bought more land. He developed a farm, a mill, and a distillery, and put enslaved African Americans to work.  

Brass buttons recovered from the site.


​Investigations documented foundations, cellars, and trash pits. These were associated with the main house/tavern, a detached kitchen, a smoke house, a storage cellar, and a slave house.  Ceramic and glass tablewares, bottles, eating utensils, and smoking pipes showed that the tavern was a place for travelers to sleep, eat, drink, and socialize.  Pieces of coins found at the site - more commonly known as “pieces of eight” - reflected the frequent exchange of money that would have taken place there.  The nation’s currency was still being established when Higbee's tavern was in operation. People could use any silver or gold coins as payment. They cut them into pie-shaped slices for more exact change.  

The recovery of whiskey and wine bottles, a large number of drinking glasses, jewelry, and ​​musical instruments, such as a mouth harp, reflected the drinking and social events that took place at the tavern.  Unlike dishes typically found at house sites, those from the tavern represented a wide variety of types.  It appears that Higbee purchased inexpensive, locally made dishes as well as expensive imports to accommodate his economically diverse patrons.  To most of the public, he likely served typical tavern fare on plain durable dishes. He would have reserved the fine china and more elegant meals for wealthier patrons. 

Clay tobacco pipe bowls recovered from the site.

What's Cool?

Dining at Higbee's Tavern

The artifacts from Higbee's tavern show that he catered to a diverse clientele, and like any good businessman, took measures to accommodate them.  Wealthy businessmen, their enslaved workers and servants, foreign travelers, and people taking their livestock to market - all would have stopped at Higbee’s tavern.  

Typically, Kentucky taverns were known to serve the usual southern diet of salted pork, squirrel, cornbread, and whiskey.  An analysis of the animal bones from the site revealed that the tavern also served patrons beef, mutton, and chicken, and wild game such as venison, dove, duck, and a variety of fish. Some patrons ate very expensive cuts of meat. Others ate poorer quality cuts. It appears that Higbee also imported food like scallops from the Gulf of Mexico for his more exclusive patrons. 

The archaeological remains recovered from Higbee’s tavern show that not all early nineteenth-century taverns were mere places to sleep serving simple meals.  Some tavern owners attended to the specific needs of individual guests.

A silver piece of eight (left) and a mouth harp (right) from the site.

Related Materials

Keep the Search Alive!