THE SILVERMINE TAVERN BED & BREAKFAST
   
  194 Perry Avenue Norwalk, Connecticut 06850 (203) 847-4558 E-Mail: SilvermineTavernInn@gmail.com  

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The Silvermine Tavern - Norwalk, CT


 

Silvermine Tavern History

Silvermine 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 writer.

Five 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."  

The 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.

The 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 upstairs.

In 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

By 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 place up!

Up 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 group.

In 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.

The 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 Togs".

In 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 gathering place.

After 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 Tavern".  Tea 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.

The 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 surroundings.

Luxurious Guest Accomodations - Silvermine Tavern, Norwalk, CT
 

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