When you travel many hundreds of miles in search of the best old inns in New England, it’s hard to narrow the list down to only ten. Here’s our list of the seven runners-up.
Blue Skye Farm
In this gem of a house, the two-story central stairwell is patterned in a green-and-red pineapple design, said to be stenciled in the early 1800s by Moses Eaton. The entire remaining interior is painted white, unexpectedly highlighting the 18th-century paneling.
“We had the luxury of living in empty rooms for four months, waiting for our furniture to come from England,” Jan Davidson explains. “I loved the glow of the light on walls and realized that I didn’t want these rooms to be busy. I wanted to create a restful, peaceful place in which people would look out the window and see the marsh.” Small-paned windows are thinly veiled in European-style lace café curtains.
Peter and Jan Davidson spent a year restoring the house, which dates from 1775 and is set in 100 acres of marshland, meadows, and woods. Original detailing includes Indian shutters and a scalloped cupboard as well as paneling and mantels. Rooms (including five guestrooms) are tastefully, comfortably furnished in antiques, and tempting, well-thumbed books line the walls in between.
On an unseasonably cold September night, my room quickly warmed when I raised the thermostat; there was no need to light the hearth, one of the house’s four working fireplaces. It was one of the inn’s three large, square guestrooms; a smaller downstairs guestroom overlooks the marsh, and a room tucked under the eaves includes a child’s sleeping loft as well as two double beds.
Guests have access to the inn’s kitchen, except in the morning, when Jan arrives early to create a full breakfast. She can also prepare a candlelight lobster dinner, especially popular when the house is reserved by a group of friends — a frequent occurrence in winter, when guests tend to come from nearby Portland or Boston for a weekend of hiking or cross-country skiing. “This house hums in winter, when all the fireplaces are lit,” Jan notes.
1708 Friendship Road, Waldoboro, ME; 207-832-0300; blueskyefarm.com
$95-$165, including full breakfast
Deer Isle, Maine
Maine’s only full-service inn to retain its 18th-century detailing and character also happens to be one of the state’s most pleasant three-season places to stay and to dine (closed November through April). Four floors high, hip-roofed and painted oxblood red, Pilgrim’s Inn is on the water, both front and back.
No longer technically an island, Deer Isle is linked to the Blue Hill peninsula by a half-mile-long vintage suspension bridge and to Little Deer Isle by a winding causeway. Deer Isle Village is a 40-minute ride south of Route 1. The local landscape features an intermingling of land and water that is heart-stoppingly beautiful in spring, summer, and fall.
Late in the 18th century, Ignatius Haskell sailed to Deer Isle from Newburyport to take advantage of the island’s ready supply of lumber; there he built a sawmill and a gristmill. According to innkeeper Tina Oddleifson, by 1793 he was wealthy enough to build this expansive home to house his wife and nine children. In 1889, another Haskell (“Lizzie”) turned the house into an inn named “The Ark.” It accommodated summer guests who had begun arriving by steamer from Boston, Portland, and Rockland.
Pilgrim’s Inn has been lucky in its subsequent owners. Its wide pumpkin-pine floorboards and eight-foot-wide original fireplaces in the common and tap rooms survive, along with original hardware in most guestrooms and working hearths and paneling in the game room and library. In our room (#4), tasteful but unfussy furnishings, and a view of the millpond, underscored the 18th-century feel of the space. On the other hand, after a long day’s drive, the 21st-century jetted tub was terrific — likewise the bracing shower next morning.
Co-owner Tony Lawless, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, maintains a reliable quality of dining at the Whale’s Rib Tavern, the inn’s restaurant. Guests must reserve in advance for dinner, given its popularity among local residents. We feasted with friends on Deer Isle clams steamed in beer and on locally raised mussels in a butter-and-cream sauce with roasted garlic and fried leeks, mopped up with freshly baked breads; a seafood stew of mahogany clams and calamari, plus a half lobster, followed. The restaurant, also the scene of made-to-order breakfast, is housed in a many-windowed old barn with nicely spaced white-clothed tables. Along with a small bar and the original kitchen — now an inviting common room — the restaurant is on the garden level, below the inn proper.
20 Main St., Deer Isle, ME; 888-778-7505, 207-348-6615; pilgrimsinn.com
$109-$259, including full breakfast
The Englishman’s Bed & Breakfast
Cherryfield is way Down East, an hour’s drive beyond the Route 1 turn-off for Bar Harbor, best known for wild blueberries. It’s not a place you’d expect to find either an Englishman or a four-square, cream-colored, olive-trimmed mansion built in 1793. Happily, however, Peter and Kathy Winham welcome guests year-round to their handsome home by the Narraguagus River. The hearths are no longer used, but Peter assures us that “fake flames keep the guestrooms cozy.” No ghosts here, but you’ll find plenty of books and DVDs.
The home’s living room once served as the town’s courtroom, and one back room used to be the town post office. There are now two guestrooms in the main house; a self-contained carriage house unit features a fridge and microwave. A full breakfast is served in the fully restored 18th-century kitchen.
122 Main St., Cherryfield, ME; 207-546-2337; englishmansbandb.com
$70-$155, including full breakfast
The 1774 Inn
In 1775 the British burned most of Falmouth (now Portland), so it’s a bit ironic that today both Maine B&Bs dating from this period (see Blue Skye Farm) are owned by Brits. Jacqueline Hogg and John Atkinson have thoroughly and deftly restored this imposing, cupola-topped Georgian mansion, built in 1774 and home to Maine’s first congressman. It’s still one the most beautiful houses in the state. Grounds sweep down to the Kennebec River; the massive front door and paneling throughout are original. Common rooms are a mix of elegance and comfort; hearths are frequently lit in the sitting room and breakfast room (the original kitchen). We wish that the inn didn’t close November through April, especially given its convenient location on the Phippsburg Peninsula, south of Bath.
Guests may choose from eight antiques-furnished rooms: Four are spacious and classically proportioned; three are smaller but thoughtfully decorated; and then there’s also the rustic but luxurious “Woodshed Room,” with doors opening onto the lawn.
44 Parker Head Road, Phippsburg, Maine; 207-389-1774; 1774inn.com
$150-$230, including full breakfast
Historic Merrell Inn
South Lee, Massachusetts
A double-porched inn built in 1794, with a third-floor ballroom added in 1837, this was one of the first sites in Berkshire County to be placed on the National Register of Historic Places. A stagecoach stop for much of the 19th century, it stood vacant for many years before previous owners restored and furnished it appropriately.
Current owners George and Joanne Crockett appreciate what they have and maintain the place lovingly. All guestrooms features private baths and TVs and have been carefully decorated with an eye to comfort as well as style. The Riverview Suite, in a separate wing at the back, offers a king-size bed, a wood-burning fireplace, and a private balcony overlooking the grounds and the Housatonic River. Wood fires glow in the old keeping room, where guests breakfast each morning (choosing from a full menu), and in the tavern room, with its original birdcage bar in the corner, now a cozy sitting room.
1565 Pleasant St.; South Lee, Massachusetts; 413-243-1794; merrell-inn.com
$100-$215, including full breakfast
River Bend Farm
There’s authentic, and then there’s museum-quality authentic. At River Bend Farm, a fire frequently glows in the parlor — the original taproom of this former 1770 tavern, where, hosts David and Judy Loomis will tell you, town founders planned the Battle of Bennington. A musket hangs above the hearth, and furnishings are so true to period that you expect a thirsty colonist to arrive any minute.
Dedicated, scholarly restorers, David and Judy recognized the significance of this house built by Benjamin Simonds on Simonds Road, now Route 7. When they arrived back in 1977, the house, David notes, “was pretty well used.” The couple uncovered the original paneling, wide floorboards, and massive central chimney, serving five working fireplaces. The restoration took 15 years. River Bend Farm is now on the National Register of Historic Places.
Period lighting fixtures, latch doors, and appropriate furnishings heighten a sense of the colonial era, but the house is as comfortable as it is historic. The four guestrooms share two baths, but, judging from the raves on Trip Advisor, guests don’t mind. David and Judy are warm hosts who serve “a healthy, homemade breakfast” and delight in sharing their knowledge of this richly rewarding town, home to two outstanding art museums, a summer theater, and a wealth of hiking, as well as Williams College. River Bend Farm is open April through October.
643 Simonds Road (U.S. Route 7), Williamstown, Massachusetts; 413-458-3121; riverbendfarmbb.com
$120, including continental breakfast
Old Tavern Farm
This rambling white house stands at a bend in a byway so quiet that it’s difficult to believe it could ever have been a main route northwest (and later, part of the post road to Bennington, Vermont) in Colonial days, yet historical accounts assure us that such was the case when the core building here was licensed as a tavern in 1748.
Gary and Joanne Sanderson are devoted to preserving the feel of this old hostelry, which expanded steadily in the 1800s to include a spring-floored ballroom. The former “ladies’ parlor” and taproom with working Rumford fireplaces and authentic 18th- and early-19th-century antiques, some quite valuable, have also been preserved. There are three rooms with private baths, but more guestrooms are available if you rent the whole place. Special occasions may feature music and dancing in the ballroom, whose vaulted ceiling is graced by a French chandelier.
Gary is a local sports columnist and licensed fishing and hunting guide. Guests may include Deerfield Academy parents as well as bird hunters and history buffs. A full breakfast is served.
817 Colrain Road, Greenfield, Massachusetts; 413-772-0474; oldtavernfarm.com
$150-$225, including full breakfast