All photos/art by The Moseyer
We arrived in South Sudbury, Massachusetts, about an hour before our appointment with Bill and Dottie Schirmer, current owners of the Hager House, as it’s known historically, on what was once part of Henry Ford’s huge (2,900 acres at one time) Wayside Inn estate.
So, we thought to ourselves, why not have lunch at that Wayside Inn? Good idea. You don’t know about Longfellow’s Wayside Inn? Well, what about “Listen, my children, and you shall hear / Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere …”? Everyone knows those lines. And most everyone knows they’re the first two lines of the first poem in the collection called Tales of a Wayside Inn by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow–a poem and a book that made him world-famous in the 1860s.
They were inspired by his visit to the Wayside Inn, then called the Red Horse Tavern, established as an inn in 1716, and Longfellow’s words rescued the inn from the hard times it was experiencing during those Civil War years. Interestingly enough, it was another Henry, Henry Ford, who rescued it again, in 1923, when he acquired it and all the surrounding land and buildings.
Today, as a nonprofit educational and charitable trust administered by a nonpaid board of trustees, it’s the oldest operating inn in America. If you haven’t been there, well, you must go. Stop by the old-fashioned grist mill across the road, too. It still grinds wheat, corn, and rye for the inn’s restaurant and gift shop. If you’re looking for a place to get married, you’ll follow hundreds who have done the same in the chapel that Henry Ford built on the property. And you can even see the Redstone School, where “Mary” brought her “little lamb.” Truly, the entire estate, now about 125 acres, is a New England icon not to be missed.
For lunch, the lobster macaroni and cheese was tempting, but we settled for clam chowder and cornbread made from wheat and corn ground at the grist mill. Another temptation was to sample some of the Revolutionary War drinks offered–such as, for instance, “Coow Woow,” made with rum, ginger brandy, and who knows what else. We resisted that.
At one point during lunch, we asked our waitress whether it was still a tradition for a group of Sudbury men to dress as Revolutionary War soldiers and during the wee, dark hours of April 19th, Patriots’ Day, march the 12 miles from Sudbury to Concord to join others from neighboring towns in the re-enactment of “the shot heard ’round the world” on Concord’s “rude bridge.” Yes, she replied: Every April 19th, rain or shine, and no, they don’t hitch rides. (Well, maybe on the way back.)
After lunch we drove out the long Wayside Inn driveway onto Route 20, the old Boston Post Road, and there on our left, while still within the Wayside Inn Historic District, behind a white picket fence, was the Hager House, built in 1730.
Henry Ford owned this property and lived here for a while after he’d purchased and developed the Wayside Inn estate. Before that, it was known for seven years as Nobscot Mountain Farm and Tea House. (It had been relocated to this spot from Marlborough in 1916.) Believe it or not, the sign that hung outside this place during its teahouse years, made of picture tiles created by Boston’s Grueby Faience Company, sold at Sotheby’s for $92,500 in 2008!
After Ford’s death in 1947, the Hager property became privately owned again, with its 5.6 acres abutting conservation land. Then, in 1989, the people we’d come to visit, Bill and Dottie Schirmer, bought it and ran a successful antiques shop in the spacious carriage house on the property from 1993 until 2005.
“Paid for our taxes and then some,” Bill told us as we strolled through the landscaped grounds, featuring a beautiful in-ground swimming pool surrounded by old stone walls that, Bill pointed out proudly, remained undisturbed during the pool construction process. We also peeked into the carriage house, now empty of antiques, and admired the bell tower with antique bell atop the three-car garage.
We met Dottie, confined to a wheelchair some of the time of late, in the “great room,” as they call it, featuring four magnificent old fireplaces, each facing one of the four corners of the room. As you might guess, this one room was once four rooms, a fireplace in each. Off the great room, where tea and sandwiches were served back in the olden days, is a modern kitchen (with those popular granite counters), a dining room, and a comfortable family room with another fireplace. The master bedroom, with a large modern bathroom, is on the other side of the first floor, along with still another sitting room. On the second floor are three bedrooms, a full bathroom, and a half bath.
What particularly struck us as we walked through these various rooms was the exquisite condition of, well, everything. The floors are shiny, there’s been repainting throughout, no scratches on the ceilings …
Also, Bill told us, they’ve recently installed a new furnace, a new septic system, a new pool liner, and on and on. Let’s just say the whole place is in pristine condition. Plus, a spacious screened-in porch extends along the back of the house facing the pool.
“We sit out here or on our patio in the evening,” Bill said, “and enjoy hearing from a distance the fife and drum corps entertaining the guests at the Wayside Inn.”
Of course, we wanted to know why the Schirmers have decided to sell. (Their asking price: $880,000.) It was pretty much the usual reasons. Although Bill continues teaching at The Cambridge School of Weston, Dottie has, at least temporarily, halted her nursing career. The couple’s two children have now flown the nest, they’re no longer in the antiques business, a first grandchild is on the way, and so, all in all, they’ve decided “it’s time” to move on–perhaps to a nearby retirement community.
After saying our goodbyes, we decided on the spur of the moment to stay over that night at the Wayside Inn, listen to the fife and drum corps, and enjoy that lobster macaroni and cheese we’d passed on at lunch. Maybe even sample the “Coow Woow.”
Alas, it was not to be–the inn was filled. Popular place. Well, maybe next time …