Escape to a distant time at one of these New England historic inns, where 18th century ambience is preserved with style and comfort.
By Christina Tree
Oct 12 2011
Candlebury Inn on Cape CodPhoto Credit : Bidwell, Julie
We traveled many hundreds of miles in our search for the best of New England historic inns and B&Bs—those that still evoke the 1700s but are cushioned in contemporary comforts. The following historic and restful places emerged as our favorites.
These are the moody weeks between foliage color and holiday glitz, a lull best captured with a night or two away. An old inn, one with the patina and the stories that come with age, seems particularly suited to this reflective time. We traveled many hundreds of miles in our search for the best of New England’s oldest inns and B&Bs–those that still evoke the 18th century but are cushioned in contemporary comforts. The following historic and restful places emerged as our favorites.
New Marlborough, Massachusetts
Late one afternoon we arrived at The Old Inn on the Green in New Marlborough, Massachusetts. This classic 1760s stagecoach inn stands in the southern Berkshires on the far side of a green along Route 57, now a quiet byway but once a bustling road heading west toward New York State. It’s a long, low-slung building faced with columned first- and second-story porches; it’s flanked by a gold-domed meetinghouse and a sprinkling of early homes in matching white clapboard.
We were greeted by delicious aromas and a cheerful staffer who ushered us out the door and across the green to a ground-floor room, furnished with antiques, in the nearby Thayer House, a vintage 1820s home. Would we like our hearth lit? Of course.
We sank into the wing chairs on either side of the shallow Rumford fireplace. The logs blazed, then settled into shifting patterns. Finally we stirred as far as the sitting room across the hall and checked out our bathroom with its full-headed shower and a separate Jacuzzi; also robes and bath salts. Ah yes …
By 6:30, one of the inn’s three dining rooms had already filled; patrons were taking advantage of acclaimed chef/owner Peter Platt’s reasonably priced midweek menu. The low-ceilinged dining rooms were lit by candles that blazed in iron chandeliers as well as on tables. Roasted-red-pepper soup came studded with tempura shrimp and a tender veal scaloppine, with seasonal veggies polenta. A series of amuse-bouches included risotto with onions and mushrooms and a lobster pate.
“It’s like unpacking a Christmas stocking,” my companion observed. “You have no idea what will come next, even with what’s on the menu.”
Next morning, after a breakfast of French-press coffee, juice, and the flakiest, most buttery of fresh croissants, we looked into the five light-filled upstairs rooms, all successfully preserving a 1700s feel—with style and comfort.
134 Hartsville-New Marlborough Rd., New Marlborough, Massachusetts. 413-229-7924; oldinn.com
Newport, Rhode Island
What you don’t expect to find in 1760s New England is an inn that looks as though it could be in London. The Francis Malbone House, in Newport, Rhode Island, is a three-story brick Georgian mansion, said to be designed by famed Colonial architect Peter Harrison. Colonel Malbone was a shipping merchant during Newport’s heyday of seafaring glory, an era in which its gentry wore powdered wigs and high-heeled, gold-buckled shoes. During the Revolution, the British occupied Newport, and, so the story goes, an English officer fell in love with Colonel Malbone’s daughter Peggy, risking capture to visit her. After the war they married and returned to England. Newport, however, never regained its prominence, luckily for the preservation of its old port area. Meticulously restored in the 1960s, the original mansion has acquired additions and an adjacent property in the years since, and is now a 20-room inn.
Entry is through this addition, and from there guests step back in time, into the broad central hall with its high dividing arch and four flanking parlors, each with intricately detailed original paneling. In one of these rooms, said to be the former kitchen, a table is piled high with an extravagant afternoon “tea,” substantial enough to preclude any need for dinner.
We settled into a third-floor room but were lured from our crackling hearth by the bright lights below us, along Thames Street and the neighboring wharves–and into a Newport that turns December into a monthlong celebration filled with glimmer and greenery (details at christmasinnewport.org).
392 Thames St., Newport, Rhode Island. 401-846-0392; malbone.com
Set above marble steps, the three-story, pillared Dorset Inn anchors the village green. Opened in 1796, this is Vermont’s oldest continuously operating inn. The low-ceilinged lobby and parlors have slightly slanted, wide-planked floors, and there’s a cheery tavern and a graceful, deep-rose-colored dining room. The 25 recently renovated guest rooms wander off in several directions.
In 1785, the country’s first commercial marble quarry opened in Dorset, source of its marble sidewalks, conferring on the village a touch of class that’s also evident in its handsome homes. The inn grew when Dorset became a summer destination, and summer and fall rates are still higher than at other times of the year. At holiday time, guests can find shopping bargains at the designer outlets in neighboring Manchester, or ski at nearby Stratton and Bromley.
We visited on a gloomy midweek day, grateful for the gas fire in our rear-wing suite; also for the tea, coffee, and cookies by the parlor hearth. Past guests will be pleased to know that the inn still serves its iconic turkey croquettes and that its beloved waitress of 25 years, Nuni, still presides in the Tavern. (Ask her about the ghost.)
8 Church St., Dorset, Vermont. 802-867-5500; dorsetinn.com
Built as a private house in the 1790s, The Inn at Weathersfield, in Perkinsville, Vermont, is a rambling, luxuriously relaxing place to stay and one of the best places to dine in the Green Mountain State.
Chef Jason Tostrup is recognized as one of Vermont’s foremost locally grounded chefs, no small feat in a state where the “locavore” esthetic enjoys near-religious status. He begins his workday by visiting farms, collecting eggs and produce. He enthuses about the quality of locally raised meat and waxes lyrical about the variety of farmstead cheeses available on his circuit–which guests are invited to tour themselves, using innkeepers Jane and David Sandelman’s map and guide to local farms.
Today the house is a far cry from the boarded-up property the Sandelmans bought from the bank a decade ago. From original rooms in the front of the house to suites squirreled away up multiple staircases and tucked under the eaves, the dozen guestrooms are furnished with comfortable antiques and fitted with every conceivable amenity, many with gas fireplaces and Jacuzzis.
The inn’s Restaurant Verterra is warmed by a blazing fire in a fieldstone hearth. Patrons may choose from several menus, but we went for Tostrup’s unwritten specials. We lost count of the number of small, artistically arranged plates we admired and consumed, savoring every crumb. Again, it was like unpacking a Christmas stocking. Who knew that crispy veal belly could taste so good?
1342 VT-Rte. 106, Perkinsville, Vermont. 802-263-9217; weathersfieldinn.com
Hancock, New Hampshire
The Hancock Inn opened in 1789 at the heart of a classically New England village in New Hampshire’s Monadnock region. It’s the state’s oldest continuously operating inn and remains an authentically historic, friendly, and comfortable place to stay.
Innkeepers Jarvis and Marcia Coffin and Potter the golden retriever greet guests at the door. It’s easy to visualize past patrons gathering in the tavern around the big old bar and fireplace. The 1860s ledger here records hundreds of guests, including Franklin Pierce, recently retired from the U.S. presidency at the time. The inn is still known for good food, especially its signature Shaker cranberry pot roast.
The 14 guestrooms are all attractively furnished, and many have gas or electric hearths. One guestroom wall features a mural of trees and hills created in the 1820s by itinerant painter Rufus Porter. In another guestroom, stencils replicate patterns by famed 19th-century artist Moses Eaton, a Hancock resident. Eaton himself decorated several rooms, but the only sample of his original work that has survived here is in a closet.
When you venture outside the inn, the nearby Harris Center offers hiking and cross-country skiing; there’s also skating on Norway Pond, just a quick stroll away, and downhill skiing at Crotched Mountain in the neighboring town of Bennington.
33 Main St., Hancock, New Hampshire. 603-525-3318; hancockinn.com
“All the stones from the White Mountains were dropped right here in Stonington,” Mary Wilska says, pointing to small boulders piled into walls dividing the fields around her Inn at Lower Farm. She tells us that this coastal corner of Connecticut once marked the southern reach of New England’s glacier. Inside her 1740s post-and-beam farmhouse, a mammoth stone lintel above the kitchen hearth seems further proof.
Thanks to a massive central chimney, three guestrooms retain working Rumford fireplaces, also an uncluttered grace. All are bright and spacious, with white, stencil-trimmed walls, pleasingly painted 18th-century woodwork, comfortable seating, and good-size bathrooms.
A decade ago this was known as “Falling-Down Farm,” and it lacked electricity, but Mary and Jon Wilska bought it the day they saw it. Their restoration included adding five baths and reverently restoring paneling, wide-planked flooring, and variously shaped posts and beams. To the three original guestrooms, they added a fourth (with jetted tub) and also created private quarters for themselves. For guests, they reserved the comfortable front parlor with its working hearth, now fitted with wing chairs and a wall of books. Guests awaken to a candlelight breakfast served in the keeping room.
Though there’s the lure of nearby casinos or Mystic Seaport, many guests stray only as far as the neighboring conservation land. “What they want is to get away from busyness,” Mary says. “They like the quietness here.”
119 Mystic Rd., North Stonington, Connecticut.
Step into the dining room at The Candleberry Inn in Brewster, Massachusetts, and you’re in a 1790s two-story “sea farm” with wide-board pine floors and “bubble and wave” glass windows. Early in the 19th century, front rooms and a “square-rigger” facade were added.
B&B host Charlotte Fyfe is a fifth-generation Cape Codder and a locally acclaimed baker, whose skills are displayed in the shortbreads and scones set out for afternoon tea. A quarterboard from her great-great-grandfather’s schooner, the Jessie Matheson, hangs in the living room above the glowing woodstove; the captain’s sextant is here, too, along with photos of his Provincetown-based fleet.
Charlotte’s husband, Stuart Fyfe, a retired high-school teacher and coach, is an avid carpenter with a lot of respect for the original woodwork throughout the house. Five of the inn’s eight inviting guestrooms are open in winter, four with fireplaces. Like most old Brewster homes, it’s had its share of paying guests. Author Horatio Alger came in 1864 and stayed for two years. A centerpiece of the village, the Candleberry is a favorite stop for visitors during Brewster’s holiday celebration (December 2-4 this year; brewsterfortheholidays.org). For many guests, the off-season appeal here is walking the vast sand flats that appear with every low tide.
1882 Main St., Brewster, Massachusetts. 508-896-3300; candleberryinn.com
Walpole, New Hampshire
Little is known about the early history of The Inn at Valley Farms in Walpole, New Hampshire. What counts is the way this 1774 dual-chimney Colonial looks, inside and out. Jacqueline Caserta grew up down the road and bought the 105-acre property when it was threatened by development. She’s furnished its handsome formal parlor, library, and dining rooms with appropriate antiques and created three comfortable upstairs guestrooms, including a two-bedroom suite. Families may also choose between two neighboring cottages, each with three bedrooms, a kitchen, and a living room.
Guests are invited to walk or snowshoe up the hill behind the inn–past the cows, cashmere goats, pigs, and four-story red barn–up to the hilltop meadow, with its view down the valley. Breakfast features eggs from the farm’s chickens.
Thanksgiving weekend is a big event here, with open studios on both sides of the Connecticut River, sponsored by the Walpole Artisans Cooperative (details at woodcollection.com/WalpoleArtisansCooperativeTour). The village also offers destination dining at L. A. Burdick’s bistro and chocolate shop.
633 Wentworth Rd., Walpole, New Hampshire. 603-756-2855; innatvalleyfarms.com
Standing as it does on Route 30 in the middle of Jamaica, Vermont, it’s likely that the Three Mountain Inn has taken in travelers since the 1790s. Certainly the inn’s Old Keeping Room looks the part. There’s a large continuously lit hearth, deeply hued 22-inch wide-pine paneling, and a cozy corner bar. There’s also pottery, multicolored glass, and rustic furniture, all made by craftspeople working within steps of the inn. Many of the striking paintings throughout the common rooms are from the Elaine Beckwith Gallery on the northern edge of the village.
Two small, elegant dining rooms with working fireplaces are the setting for innkeeper Ed Dorta-Duque’s four-course prix-fixe dinners and sumptuous breakfasts. Guestrooms, many with gas fireplaces, are divided between the original inn and neighboring Robinson House. In the garden there’s also luxurious Sage Cottage.
From the highway, Jamaica flies by in an instant–yet it lingers as you browse its shops or follow the road from the back door down across the West River to the hiking and cross-country ski trails in Jamaica State Park. On Thanksgiving weekend, nearby Putney hosts one of New England’s standout open-studio tours (details at putneycrafts.com), and in December ski trails open up on Stratton Mountain, just 10 miles distant.
30 Depot St., Jamaica, Vermont. 802-874-4140; innatvalleyfarms.com
There’s an out-in-the-country feel to the Henry Farm Inn in Chester, Vermont. Now a B&B, it was built in the late 1700s as a stagecoach stop on the Green Mountain Turnpike, today a quiet road on the edge of town. Inside there’s a warm welcome from hosts Patricia and Paul Dexter and a fire in the guest parlor.
This is a central-hall Federal home with a spacious feel throughout. It retains its wide-pine floorboards and original paneling. The nine sunny guestrooms include two on the first floor plus second-floor suites with kitchen/sitting rooms, good for families. All rooms are furnished tastefully with historic wallpapers and comfortable antiques. What you notice are the quilts and the views. After a full breakfast in the fireplaced dining room, guests may work it off skiing or snowshoeing out the back door and up around through the woods and meadow. And for old-time holiday revelry, Chester’s “Overture to Christmas” (December 10 this year) can’t be beat (details at yourplaceinvermont.com).
2206 Green Mountain Turnpike, Chester, Vermont. 802-875-2674; henryfarminn.com