Autumn in the North Cemetery.

Sixty miles west of Boston, Massachusetts there is the small New England town of Sturbridge. Located at the junction of I-90 (The Mass Pike), and I-84 it has become known as the "Crossroads of New England". The town was first settled over 300 years ago, and like other small New England towns it has grown just enough over the years to be in a difficult place today. How do we embrace the future without forgetting how we got to our present? How do we attract the right kind of growth, and maintain who we are? And, what about our culture out here in Central Massachusetts?

These pages will cause one to think about how to protect what we have, our future direction, and how to move on in the very best way.

Those thoughts, and other ramblings, will hopefully inspire more thought, conversation, action, and occasionally a smile...

...seems to be working so far

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

"Our Old Hotel"

On the evening of November 26, 1900, 108 years ago, Charles V. Corey gave a talk before the Quinabaug Historical Society. Corey's particular subject that evening was, "Old Houses in Sturbridge". His speech was later published in the Quinabaug Historical Society Leaflets Volume 1, No. 5.

During his talk he discussed many of the old homes in town, many have since been lost to fire, moved elsewhere, or have just collapsed under the weight of their age. A few of the homes he describes stand out, and are very familiar. One such place, although not really a permanent home, but more of a temporary one, was as he referred to it as "Our Old Hotel". This hotel, known by several names in the years since it was built, was known mostly as The Elms, and currently is known as The Publick House.

The words below are from Mr. Corey's talk that night.

"We now come to the plain two-story style of houses, without any pretensions to architecture, some long and narrow and some nearly square. One of the most important of this kind is our oldest hotel, and if I will be allowed to use a few words which my muse let loose on another occasion produced, I would say

Our old hotel! for full one hundred years and more,
You have nestled there beneath those trees
An ancient landmark for all the country round.
In thy youth was heard the rattling wheels of many a coach,
And the merry sound of the drivers horn
Echoing o'er hills, gave warning of their approach.
Those were busy days;
Then came the iron horse
But not our way,
And like Othello, you thought,
Your occupation gone,
But you still lived on.
There the gallant Lafayette,
The nations guest and friend,
Did rest awhile
And thereby an interesting bit
Of history did lend
To that old place.
There have youth and beauty met
And chased the glowing hours
With flying feet
And there, alas! that I have to say
Have been scenes of ribald jest
And drunken revelry.
There, perchance, has some bright youth,
Some mothers darling boy
First yielded to the tempters hand,
And taken his first glass, an act, alas!
How full of sorrow, and not of joy,
As the years rolled past,
But that was not thy fault,
Thy mission was and is
Like gentle rain from heaven,
To minister to both the just and unjust.

For several years after the stages were taken away, the hotel had a precarious existence. Finally it was found that no one could afford to keep it as a hotel alone, so by the efforts of Elisha Southwick and B. D. Hyde Esq., a stock company was formed and the hotel was bought for two thousand dollars. A piazza was put on the front, some other repairs were made, and J.B. Griswold. who was engaged in the marble business, was installed as the first landlord under the new management. He kept a good hotel for several years. This was about fifty years ago. Among the former landlords I have often heard mentioned are David K. Porter and Cromwell Bullard, and among the later ones, since my remembrance, were Chester Carder and Freeland Wallis. Mr. and Mrs. Wallis kept a good hotel for nearly twenty years. Mr. Wallis had the post-office there most of the time, and also did a butchering businesss, and was not dependent on hotel custom entirely for a living. Since then, the landlords have been some good, some bad, some indifferent. The present owner has improved the place very much and it bids fair to last another hundred years."

And, it has.

For over 250 years the Publick House has stood vigilant over the Sturbridge Town Common. It has witnessed militia training on the common during the Revolution, freight being shipped from Pennsylvania during the War of 1812 in order to avoid the British blockades along our coast, scrap metal collection drives during World War I, and was taken over by the Army State Guard during World War II, and used to train soldiers, and citizens in guerrilla tactics in case the enemy came to our shores.

Today, it stands proudly as an old relative overseeing their grandchildren at play. It continues to open its doors for revelry, and that "first glass", weddings, and meals. The rooms are still available for travelers. There is a bakery and an tree covered patio to enjoy a scone and tea on a Sundays morning, and a fireplaced pub to wind down after a long day.

The Publick House is a Sturbridge Treasure, and has been thought of as such by many for over 250 years.

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