The much-awaited new tea tavern in the oldest home in Salem opened to the public with loud, happy applause on Monday morning,
May 1. Five-year-old Caiden Capito, a grandson of White Oak Tea Tavern owners Kim and Curtis Arney, cut the bright blue ribbon stretched across the front of the house to celebrate the opening day.
Three generations of Dr. Esther Clark Brown’s family watched the official ribbon cutting for the White Oak Tea Tavern at Preston Place. They were joined by members of the Salem Museum and Historical Society, local business and government leaders, and customers anxiously awaiting flavored teas, and croissants stuffed with chicken salad, as well as bagels, scones, and Amaretto cake,.
“Dr. Brown loved tea and loved having tea parties in her home,” explained Ginny Savage, the Salem Historical Society’s Preston Place Committee Chair, in her remarks. Savage coordinated efforts of a slew of volunteers to raise money and redo the house.
The late Dr. Brown was a much-loved family physician who served black and white citizens in the Town of Salem, and was a descendant of Charles Preston. Preston bought the farm and house in 1879 which is said to have been built in 1821. Materials in the home date back to the 1700s. The property was in Botetourt County then – not even in the Town of Salem.
After her death, members of Dr. Brown’s family offered the home to the Salem Museum and Historical Society, which has restored the brick manor house on West Main Street across from WalMart to much of its former comfort and simple beauty.
Former Salem Museum board member Dorothy Dickason had known Dr. Brown all her life. “She delivered me,” explained Dickason, standing with her husband, Jimmy, under the giant Osage orange tree to admire the house.
“Dr. Brown had the vision and determination to place the manor house under a Historic Easement now held by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources,” explained Savage. That means the house cannot be torn down or the property developed.
Savage named the major players in renovating the home into a tea tavern. Among them was former Salem Historical Society President Dave Robbins, who served as the “general contractor” for the project, overseeing the renovations and coordinating with City of Salem officials.
A number of the faithful, such as Salem Museum board member Nancy Wilson and other dedicated volunteers, were down on their hands and knees digging and pulling weeds the week before this week’s opening, to make sure the front and back entrances were as neat as they appeared on Monday.
Major donors recognized at the ribbon-cutting were Bill and Ellen Arnold, whose plaque reads “Preserving Salem’s Past for Salem’s Future;” Luke Waldrop; The Johnson Foundation; and the City of Salem.
“Dr. Brown was my doctor,” Ellen Arnold explained, “and when my children outgrew the pediatrician, she became their doctor.”
The tea tavern features intimate dining rooms on both the first and second floor, each with its own special character. The first floor dining rooms and gift shop are easily accessible through the handicapped entrance in the rear of the house. Upstairs are more dining rooms including a room that can be reserved for small groups, such as bridge clubs, book clubs, Bible studies, bridal luncheons and showers.
Also on the first floor is the tea tavern’s gift shop, which carries an extensive line of gift items for all ages that are unique and not available elsewhere. White Oak also serves and sells its own line of premium teas, many with custom-mixed flavors.
The 60-foot Osage orange tree – believed to be one of the oldest in the state of Virginia – presides over the back patio where outdoor seating overlooks the lush back yard, an oasis on busy West Main Street. Overall, the dining space is triple the space the tea tavern had at its previous location in Troutville.
Three generations of Dr. Brown’s family were at the ribbon cutting. They included son David Brown holding a great-grandson Sylus Chase Brown. Little granddaughter Mazlynn Esther Otey sipped tea in one of the upstairs dining rooms.
Salem Mayor Randy Foley welcomed the White Oak Tea Tavern to Salem, and took part in the ribbon cutting arranged by the Salem-Roanoke County Chamber of Commerce. Jack and Marlene Susser, Historical Society supporters who were customers of the tea place in its previous location, had originally approached the Arneys about moving their business to Salem, Savage said.
The Salem Museum and Historical Society has successfully renovated this historic home and brought it back to life. The organization continues to own the home and is still accepting donations for the last details that need to be completed. The front porch still needs replacing but that’s a project for later.
The White Oak Tea Tavern is located at 1936 West Main Street in Salem, next to the Tokyo Express. The tea tavern is open Mondays through Saturdays from 10 am to 5 pm. The new phone number in Salem is 540-387-3000.