Arnold’s Tavern is long gone. Yet the Morristown watering hole where Gen. George Washington once made his winter headquarters continues to exert a strong–and long–grip on the imagination.
Mackenzie Bell Flener, 11, came all the way from Horse Branch, KY, to play her fiddle Wednesday on the Morristown Green, near the former site of family ancestor Jacob Arnold’s place.
“He played the fiddle in the tavern,” Mackenzie explained.
Mackenzie and her mother, attorney and law professor Arnold Flener; her grandmother, Loreca Arnold Flener; and her cousin, Marcus Arnold of Indiana, are history buffs making a visit to trace their Morristown roots.
They also stopped by the Morristown National Historical Park’s Ford Mansion — where Mackenzie is scheduled to give another public performance at 3 pm on Thursday, Sept. 14, 2017.
Under drizzly skies on Wednesday, Mackenzie played the Thanksgiving Hymn, Blue Moon of Kentucky, My Old Kentucky Home, Pig Ankle Rag and Yankee Doodle, on a century-old instrument nicknamed “Gen. Beauregard,” using a bow given to her by country music Hall of Famer Charlie Daniels.
Mackenzie’s audience included Mayor Tim Dougherty, Superintendent Tom Ross of the historical park, Washington Association of New Jersey President Eileen Cameron, James Lewis from the library’s history center, and the president of the Trustees of the Green, Alice Cutler, who gave the young fiddler a local history book.
“I’m speechless, which is kind of a rarity for me,” the Mayor said afterward. “It gave me chills listening to descendants of Jacob Arnold playing the fiddle here on the Green.”
The Kentucky connection stems from Ziba Arnold, a relative of Jacob Arnold who settled there with a land grant from Gen. Washington as payment for his Revolutionary War service, according to the Fleners and Marcus Arnold.
Washington wintered at Arnold’s Tavern in 1777 after the battles at Trenton and Princeton, said John Hazel of the National Park Service.
The tavern operated into the first half of the 19th century, when it became a clothing store and then the Adams and Fairchild grocery store, according to In Lights and Shadows by Cam Cavanaugh.
In 1886, the building was moved to Mount Kemble Avenue and converted to a boarding house, and then to All Souls Hospital. It burned down in 1918. A plaque outside the Charles Schwab office on Park Place commemorates the tavern’s original location.
Slideshow: Arnold’s Tavern, then and now:
Mackenzie said she enjoyed her first visit to the Green.
“It’s beautiful. And I like the statues,” she said. Mackenzie, who is home-schooled, took up the fiddle three years ago and has performed at the Rosine Barn Jamboree, in the Kentucky hometown of the late bluegrass legend Bill Monroe.
Who knows where her fiddle may take her next? She still remembers Charlie Daniels’ words:
“When you go to the Grand Ol’ Opry,” he told her, “use this bow.”