Fitch's Tavern
    by Erin Hernon

William D. Fitch ran a tavern in the “Dyer House on the corner of Seventh and East Jefferson Streets.” The tavern hosted dances for the general public on several occasions, though students had to obtain permission from the faculty in order to attend. In fact, only five out of twenty five tickets were available to UVa students for a dance thrown there in December of 1838. The tickets cost $2-$3, and students were required to be in uniform while in attendance. These dances also appear to have been a chance for the male students to interact with women in the area; for example, Reuben Thomas, a second year, brought a date to a dance at Fitch’s in February 1840.
 
Students often did not obtain permission from the faculty and got in trouble for drinking there or being out of uniform in public. Such was the case for Joseph B. Cosnahan, who was suspended for two weeks in 1839 and required to spend that time at Ira B. Brown’s tavern in Charlottesville. Aside from wholesome fun, dances were also an opportunity for students to drink alcohol off Grounds. It was not uncommon for students to get alcohol at Fitch’s tavern and return to Grounds intoxicated. In the fifth session (1829), many students drunkenly returned from a dance at Fitch’s tavern, and Dr. Harrison reported them for making too much noise. He claimed to have heard “indecent propositions made to a female servant” among general rowdiness. The students were all reprimanded, and some were dismissed.
 
Aside from serving as a place for students to escape from responsibilities at school, Fitch’s tavern was also a boarding place. In session 23, Henry L. Stevens and William F. Ravenel were granted permission to board there with their cousin, Julius DuBose, who was also a student at the University. That same year, the faculty granted Horace Shifflet’s guardian, Benjamin Sneed, permission to have Shifflet board at Fitch’s. Fitch’s tavern was thus a social hub for UVa students, and a respected establishment among members of the Charlottesville community.

References: 

Dinsmore, James. “Dyer House.” Photograph. 1820. From University of Virginia Special Collections Library. http://search.lib.virginia.edu/catalog/uva-lib:83931.
 
K. Edward Lay, The Architecture of Jefferson Country: Charlottesville and Albemarle County, Virginia (Charlottesville, University Press of Virginia, 2000), 148.
 
University of Virginia. Faculty Minutes, sessions 5, 15, 16, and 23.