Recently, I was reading one of the local newspapers, when a certain photo caught my eye. It was a familiar building, which looked to be damaged. This was around the time of Hurricane Sandy. At first, I thought it had been damaged by the wind and falling trees; but when I read the headline, I realized it was one of the town's historic buildings in the Stanwich Historic District, which had been damaged by fire. It looked familiar because I have historic photos of this building in the Library's John Gotch Collection!
Courtesy of Agnew Fisher.
The building is the well-known Stanwich Inn at 290 Taconic Road, at the intersection of North Stanwich Road and Taconic Road known as Lockwood Corner. (It's also been called the Stanwich Tavern.) Stanwich village used to be a much more prominent population center in the early 1800s. Residents were mainly farmers, and there were local schools, churches, etc. There is some speculation as to the actual date of construction of the Inn. The Greenwich Time indicates that it was built in 1802, while the earlier Greenwich Press (2/25/1937) traced land records as far back as 1737.
One source mentioned a stage coach line from Cos Cob to Ridgefield, which stopped at the Inn. Another source talks about Stanwich Inn being the first stop for a line from Greenwich to Bedford. Allan Kitchell (Greenwich Press; 2/25/1937) mentions a stageline from Horseneck to Ridgefield. This line ran through Stanwich and Bedford. It's well-known that Silas Derby ran the Banksville Stage for almost 40 years from the Greenwich train station to Banksville to carry passengers to Purdy School. Stanwich Inn is located in that same general area, so it's feasible that the Banksville Stage passed there. Since there were stages in existence prior to 1802, it's been suggested that the Inn was built prior to the Revolutionary War. So there's still some mystery as to its actual construction date.
The Inn served as a community center for the village until 1840. Churches held socials there, and it had a great ballroom (with a vaulted ceiling), which provided space for dancing and music. From the outside, one is impressed with the farm architecture reminiscent of the Dutch lowlands. Its has a two-story porch, with a shingled roof, which flares down to the eaves. Shutters accent the windows, and clapboard covers the sides. The huge chimney protruding from the roof indicates a wide fireplace inside, which one imagines warmed cold stage passengers waiting for, or disembarking from, the stagecoach. Incidently, a large rock on the property, close to the road, has old iron rings imbedded in it that once were used to hitch the horses!
One enters the building through a small, enclosed entryway with twin windows. It's basically a small, deserted hallway, which serves as a reception area. This was no doubt designed to keep out the cold air, and served as a "mudroom" to kick dirt off one's boots. There are two large rooms off the hallway that have large, hand-carved fireplace mantels. The rooms have large oak ceiling beams and wide floorboards. A kitchen in the rear used to be warmed by a large fireplace; but the fireplace has been boarded up, and a Franklin Stove installed for heat. The Inn's foundation is constructed of large granite stones, which came out of local quarries. There's a fireplace in the cellar, with a large Dutch oven built into it.
The second floor had partitions hooked to the ceiling to form a large ballroom. Dances - ranging from square dances to minuets - were held here. The ceilings were arched, and a huge chandelier containing candles (with dripping wax) hung from an archway during the Revolutionary War period. There's also eveidence of a second (dropped?) ceiling. The attic contains a small garret room (small, habitable living space). A small door in the rear provides access to the huge central chimney.
Around 1840, the Inn became a residential dwelling. Multiple and single families have lived there. It's changed hands many times over the years.
On Saturday, November 3rd, 2012, at approximately 3:15 pm, a fire broke out in the former Stanwich Inn. It was sparked by a generator-powered heat lamp. Firefighters had to cut a hole in the roof to vent the gas and smoke. The owner lost a 150-pound pet turtle. He also suffered smoke inhalation. Damage was extensive, but the building can be restored.
Today, the Stanwich area is mainly residential with no operating farms. Much of the farmland is now covered by private estates. Automobiles have replaced stagecoaches. Villages like Stanwich and Round Hill are less prominent business centers. Yet, it's still romantic to think of the days when passengers got off the stagecoach at the Stanwich Inn to rest and have a bite to eat. Indeed, it was a much simpler time.
Greenwich Time (Hearst Publications)
The Greenwich Press