Owners of Petersburg's Dodson's Tavern get a second spread in national magazine

PETERSBURG – Dodson’s Tavern, one of Petersburg’s historic homes, was featured in the Spring 2019 edition of A Primitive Place & Country Journal, a nationally distributed magazine with more than 280,000 followers on Facebook. The magazine, centered on Primitive- and Colonial-inspired homes, recognized Dodson Tavern as one of its five springtime historic properties.

Dodson’s Tavern served as a high-end tavern for distinguished guests. The likes of Marquis de Lafayette, Aaron Burr and Robert E. Lee passed through the front threshold to dine at the Tavern, which has stood since 1789.

Owners Bob and Bobbi Kennedy were previously featured in A Primitive Place in 2015, when they lived at the Joseph Carr House on West Washington Street. When they started pondering retirement, it was time to find a new home. Bob Kennedy knew Dodson’s previous owner through his work with the Historic Petersburg Foundation, and got in touch.

“That’s when we decided to send an email,” Bob Kennedy said. “He got back to us right away and said, ‘When do you want to come see it?' We had a price settled out in about two minutes.”

The Kennedys became the home’s fourth owners since 1975, when it was bought for $25,000. It only had two owners before that, being originally owned by the Dodson family and the family of Confederate Col. William Pegram.

Bobbi Kennedy’s favorite piece from the home lies in the “Winter Kitchen,” the downstairs kitchen that was originally used in winter to simultaneously heat the house.

When the tavern was first purchased by modern owners in the 70s, they pulled back plywood by the old cooking fireplace to reveal the wrought iron cranes, which used to hold cooking instruments over the fire.

“Those arms, there were two with pots still hanging after decades of being covered up by the plywood,” Bobbi Kennedy said. “I think that’s kind of hilarious really. I’m sure they were thrilled and excited to find those there. Normally cranes are gone, or they come out, but these are all original.”

Bob Kennedy said he loves the house for many of its other original features, like the woodworking that adorns the fireplaces in all of its rooms and the moldings along all of the ceilings.

The Kennedys reminisced about how lucky they were that previous owners took good care of the house before them.

“They had done so much of the hard work, the air conditioning, the kitchen the bathrooms, everything that you don’t see,” Bobbi Kennedy said. “The plumbing was completely updated, so we walked into something that was practically done.”

What they’ve instead been able to focus on is being true homeowners for a primitively Colonial-style house where they can showcase the style that they’ve curated over the years since marrying and raising three children.

“The weirder some of these things are, it just brings personality to a room,” Bobbi Kennedy said. “I’ve found that if you buy exactly what you really, really love, it all comes together.”

All of those weird, yet historically functional walnut and darker wooded pieces are placed purposefully throughout the house, embracing a bygone era. The bench chair in their living room has a wood back that extends six feet in the air. That Early Colonial bench would have been placed in front of the fireplace to capture its heat in the dead of winter.

Bobbi Kennedy knows what she likes, and has kept that theme since her early days on antiquing that carry over into Dodson’s modern décor.

“It was one piece at a time for us,” Bobbi Kennedy said. “Since antiquing was our thing, and we had a chance to go, what little money we had at the time, we put it towards things. Just one piece at a time. And, I stuck with what I loved. If you changed with every fad that came, you’d have a very eclectic house. That wasn’t my goal.”

Living in a historic home has far transcended a hobby for the Kennedys. Their everyday lives embrace the historic value of Dodson’s. Their television is hidden inside an old wooden cabinet, kitchen appliances are hidden beneath wood, bathrooms keep their old tub-like sinks while most of their furniture are time period originals.

“It feels comfortable. You don’t have to worry about a bump or a scratch. It already is bumped and scratched and used,” Bobbi Kennedy said. “I’d much rather have a junky old piece than a new piece that probably isn’t as well made as some of these older pieces. It’s warm. Its’s ‘come have a seat and not worry about having to put your feet up.’”

They said preventing wear and tear is important for anyone who owns an older home. Little bits of maintenance at the outset of any problem, prevents it from becoming a critical issue with any old house.

This lifestyle they’ve come to embrace has also helped them become part of a larger community, with Petersburg’s numerous historic homes and holiday homes tours, they’ve connected with other historic buffs around them.

“When you’re in an old house, you share a bond with people. We share the same issues, and we share our plumbers and we share our electricians,” Bobbi Kennedy said. “We share the love we have for these places and the problems we have with the places and the histories of them.”

Sean Jones can be reached at sjones@progress-index.com or 804-722-5172.