13 May 2014
May 2, 2014
Jay has been talking about The Griswold Inn for years. Opened in 1776 it is one of the oldest, if not the oldest inn in America. 1776, the year The Declaration of Independence was signed. The history this building must hold. Imagine the people who have stayed in these rooms, walked through these halls, ate in these dining rooms. The wood floors creak with the echos of their footsteps.
There are so few places left like this in our country. We are so quick to tear down and replace with everything new and modern. And there is something to be said for that. But to restore and care for an aging building is to show respect for our roots, for whence we came, once upon a time. This old building, nestled in the town of Essex, Connecticut, is one clue into our past.
All over town were signs, "The British are Coming!" We had arrived only days before the community of Essex would be commemorating a most important event, not only in their history but the history of our country.
It was the war of 1812, only this happened in April of 1814. The Battle of Essex was a tremendous loss of maritime ships, so much so, it has been referred to as the "Pearl Harbor" of this war. In just two days the British traveled up the Connecticut River, seized the village of Pettipaug (now known as Essex), and while occupying the Bushnell Tavern (The Griswold), stole all their ropes and rum, and then retreated back down the river, having burned over 25 privateer shipping vessels. The river, once a vital source of commerce, was now shut down.
The Connecticut River extends for over 400 miles, from Long Island Sound to the Canadian border. Its vast history is preserved by the The Connecticut River Museum located in Essex. The museum documents its importance from the days of the war, to the steamship era, to the present time where conservation and ecological care of its water and shoreline has become a priority.
Two hundred years later, Jay and I walk through the doors of the Griswold Inn. The world outside has changed quite dramatically but inside the past comes alive. The walls are filled with old books, photos and remnants from the sea. There are stories to be told here. Years and years of visitors. In fact, just thirty years ago Jay was one of them.
Always the sailor, Jay was on his third boat, "Ragtime," a brand new 30' Catalina. It was 1984 and he was living in Westin, Connecticut and working in New York. He kept his boat in Milford. Passionate about sailing he became the commodore of the Catalina 30' Association. Not an official yacht club but a sailing association, there was no clubhouse. So it was at The Griswold Inn they held their annual meetings. It wasn't long before the memories came flooding back.
"I think it was that room." Jay said pointing to a private dining area. "Yeah, that's where we held our meetings." He was reminiscing, lost in a world before me. I was getting my bearings, straddling the many eras represented in these walls.
The bottom floor of The Griswold Inn has a multitude of rooms. The dining room blends into the bar that blends into the breakfast area that blends into the private room that blends into the Wine Bar. The Wine Bar is the newest addition and a good one at that. After all, Jay and I love wine. And we loved the setting, not to mention the hospitality. Our bartender was a sommelier as well as a lovely hostess. She shared her knowledge while we sampled new wines and tasted culinary presentations like roasted chic peas. A delightful combination.
Our bedroom, located on the second floor, was quaint and comfortable with a four poster bed, area rugs and a private bath. The windows opened to neighborhood streets lined with trees. All was quiet but for the constant rhythm of the rain falling effortlessly on the street corner. A woman passed my view, holding tightly to her man, looking into his face, laughing. I wondered at her life.
East coast versus west coast. Old versus new. So many choices in how we live our lives, where we live our lives, who we live our lives with. Today we are in Essex. Yesterday we were in Illinois. And tomorrow? I think we shall be in Rhode Island.
What story will unfold there?