The Old Constitution House is the birthplace of Vermont. On July 8, 1777, the first Constitution of the “Free and Independent State of Vermont” was adopted here in what was then Elijah West’s tavern. The noteworthy constitution was the first in America to prohibit slavery and the first to establish universal suffrage for men without the requirements of property ownership or specific income for voting rights. The Vermont Constitution was also the first to establish a system of public schools.
The West tavern was constructed pre-1777 and originally stood on Main Street in the center of Windsor village. The building functioned as a tavern until 1848, when it was rehabilitated for retail merchandising. About 1870, the building was moved to a side street and converted into tenement housing. The former tavern served as a warehouse during the last decade of the 19th century. Preservation efforts to save the former tavern began in 1901, with the Old Constitution House Association formed in 1911. The association received title to only the building from the Fay family and land for the third location was donated by the family of William M. Evarts. By 1914, sufficient funds had been raised for the building’s relocation and restoration. Lewis Sheldon Newton of Hartford was appointed architect for the project. The Old Constitution House Association maintained the building as a museum and public tea room until 1961, when ownership of the house and its collections were granted to the State of Vermont.
The Old Constitution House features period rooms that reflect the building’s significant history as an early tavern, complete with the tap room where men gathered to drink, socialize, and discuss issues and events – it is said that more politics occurred in the tap room than at town meetings. A large interpretive area in the early-20th-century tea room examines the events surrounding the 1777 signing of the constitution. Vermont existed as a Republic for fourteen years until 1791, when it was admitted to the Union as the 14th state, the first after the original 13 states. Amended over the years, the Vermont Constitution continues to provide the framework of modern state government.