Tavern, nestled at a quiet crossroads near the boundaries
of New Canaan and Wilton, dates back over 200 years. It
has been a community center since its beginnings. Farmers
settled along the winding river bank where they worked the
flat land of the valley. Among the earliest settlers were
the St. John family who arrived from England in 1757.
Their 200-acre homestead (on Silvermine Road, half way to
New Canaan) was later owned by Faith Baldwin, the noted
buildings comprise the Tavern group. There is the Tavern
itself with its classic style, ample porches and tall
columns. The Old Mill, by the waterfall, dates back to the
17th Century and is the oldest building on the property.
Between the Tavern and the Old Mill, the Coach House was
said to be used as a "still" during Prohibition.
A former Gatehouse has been consolidated into the main
building to create the dining room entrance. Early
settlers once gathered at the Country Store (directly
across the street from the Tavern) spinning tales about
the "great wealth" to be obtained from a nearby
silver mine. Unfortunately, the tales existed primarily in
the minds of the hopeful settlers. It is from this
"mini silver rush" that the beautiful area with
its peaceful river received its unique name - "Silvermine."
oldest Tavern buildings were once owned by Henry Guthrie,
an Englishman who arrived in Silvermine in 1846. He
operated a shipyard and three water-powered mills along
local rivers. One was the Old Mill, a wood turning and peg
making factory, which overlooked the falls. Heavy mahogany
planks shipped from Cuba were hauled to the Mill by oxen.
The yard between the Mill and the main building was always
piled high with wood left to season. Knobs for doors and
furniture and dowels for post and beam construction were
manufactured here. Neighborhood
girls sanded, varnished and packed the knobs for shipping
in the living room of today's Tavern. The post and beam
construction of the Tavern and the rippled window glass
date from this period.
Some say that Guthrie lived in what is now
Silvermine Tavern's main building. Others believe this
structure always housed a "taproom" for the
workmen at the mills.
Country Store sat at the edge of the road and was later
moved back to
its present position.
In the 1880's, the store was operated by Henry and
Aiken Hyatt. Many owners followed using the site for
different and multiple purposes - a general store, church
hall, blacksmith shop, and dance hall. A traditional
pot-belly stove supplied heat for the families living
1908, when Ike and Anna Helfant bought the store, the
living quarters were being used as a Temperance Hall.
(Allegedly, the Tavern buildings housed a speakeasy, still
and bootleg liquor sales location during Prohibition.) The
Helfant's raised six children here and provided a cozy,
friendly country store for the neighborhood.
Area children came to buy penny candies and
hour-long jaw breakers. It was a thrill for them to find a
nickel deposit bottle, then they were wealthy enough to
buy a Hershey Bar! Johnny
Gruelle, originator and creator of Ragged Ann and Andy was
known to visit the store on a Saturday evening
the turn-of-the-century, the first telephone had been
installed by Henry Guthrie's nephew.
Steam replaced the water powered mills, and timber
for ship building was no longer in demand. New activities
bustled. Where the Tavern's flagpole now stands, there was
a combined Post Office and grocery. Among its stock was a
keg of gunpowder, used to fire the cannon (at the
crossroads) on special occasions. A member of the St. John
family, intoxicated and impatient for the Fourth of July
cannon firing, took matters into his own hands. He entered
the store, struck a match to the powder keg and blew the
the road and across the river, Solon Borglum, a young
sculptor, built a hillside studio. The newly married
Borglum was one of the leading figures in the emerging
community of artists. With others, he founded the
"Knockers Club" that later developed into the
Silvermine Guild, one of the largest and oldest art
centers in New England. Addison Miller, Howard Hildebrandt,
Bernard Gutman, Putnam Brinley, R.B. Gruelle, Carl
Schmitt, Frank Townsend Hutchens, Richard Daggy, Hamilton
Hamilton, Murray McKay, Sam Otis, Leo Dorn, John Cassell,
Clifton Meek and Adele Klaer made up some of this talented
1902, Sammy Ryder, an eccentric, snowy-white haired and
bearded villager, purchased the Old Mill. Seven years
later a major flood washed out the dam which supplied the
essential water power for the Mill. Desperate and
unsuccessful, Ryder worked frantically to replace the
rocks. He meet his death in 1924 when one of the rocks,
tethered on a crane, swung the wrong way.
Old Mill was auctioned off to Silvermine artist Frank
Townsend Hutchens for $12,500 the same year. Hutchens
restored the property and named it "The Old Red
Mill." The Red Mill's "house warming" was
held on a Saturday evening in November from 8 to 12.
Guests were invited to share in "Candle Light - Open
Fire - Old Fashioned Cheer - MUSIC AND DANCING - Country
1906, Otto Goldstein purchased the Tavern as his home.
Goldstein had a taproom here selling beer and other
drinks. Times were changing. Now, not only artists, but
musicians, actors and writers crowded into the Silvermine
area and the taproom became a favorite Saturday night
prohibition was repealed, J. Kenneth Byard, a lawyer and
one of the country's foremost antiquarians, bought the
property from Goldstein renaming the complex "Silvermine
was served in the afternoons and a special buffet supper
was available on Thursday evening at the cost of one
dollar. He expanded the facility to its present size
adding the kitchen, dining rooms and porches. He offered
good food and overnight accommodations. The antique
furnishings, farm implements and primitive paintings
evident in the dining and guest rooms today were part of
his collection. The Tavern shared the success of the
growing artist's community and provided hospitality to
many well-known personalities.
Whitman family bought Silvermine Tavern in 1955 and
carried on the tradition. Both Francis C. Whitman, Sr. and
his son Frank, Jr. are graduates of Cornell University's
School of Hotel Administration. Today, Silvermine Tavern
continues to be a notable year-round gathering place for
those who enjoy secluded interludes amid gracious