by Kathe Molloy for the Valley Business Journal

The 214-year-old Hanover Inn is the oldest continuously operated business in New Hampshire. Owned by Dartmouth College since the late 19th century, the Inn is a landmark in Hanover and a premier lodging and dining facility.
In 1778 General Ebernezer Brewster came to Hanover from Connecticut to serve as the college steward. As an inducement he was given a parcel of land facing the college green. In 1780, seeing an opportunity to make some money, Brewster converted his home to a tavern, much to the chagrin of the college authorities who viewed it as a danger to the students. He successfully operated the tavern until 1802 when he leased it to Deacon Benoni Dewey and it became known as Dewey’s Coffee House.
In 1813 Brewster’s son, Amos, moved the wooden tavern into the northeast corner of the lot and built a larger inn that became known as the Dartmouth Hotel. It opened in September 1814 with Robert Dyde and Company as landlords. After a dispute in 1816 the house was closed. Open again in 1817 as the Curtis Hotel, it was run by Captain E.D. Curtis. In 1821 the daughter of Deacon Caleb Fuller, Rosina Fuller, took over, married Elam Markham the bookkeeper and they successfully operated the hotel until 1838 when Jonathan Currier rented it for himself and then opened it to tenants in 1857.
In 1858 Currier sold the hotel to Horace Frary who renamed it the Hanover Inn and invested $40,000 over the next 20 years to enlarge and improve the hotel. During a two-year period from 1878 to 1880 Professor Edwin J. Bartlett and his wife lived at the hotel, at a cost of $12 a week. That included two rooms, light, heat, food, and service. Here is Bartlett’s description of the hotel: “A building consisting of two great barracks joined in the middle and deeply recessed in between. The dining room is long, narrow, and dark with two windows opening onto the alley in the rear and two on the bleak recess between the two buildings.” Bartlett went on to say that although the rooms were spacious, “there was no plumbing in the house.” Once, a stranger to the area was heard to ask Mrs. Frary for a bath, to which she replied, “Didn’t you see the river on your way up from the depot?” One can only guess at what the Professor and his wife did for two years when they needed a bath.
The dining room was furnished with three-legged tables and kitchen chairs which stood on a blue painted floor. An account book of 1847 reveals that a pint of rum could be purchased for 15 cents and two meals with two drinks cost 62 cents. Because Dartmouth students used to dance clogs on the porch and made so much noise that Frary couldn’t sleep, he tore down the porch on the Main Street side.
Bartlett’s impression of the Dartmouth Hotel was in no way softened by the passage of time. In 1921 he remarked, “It is difficult now to find a country hotel so free from the tasteful, the dainty, and the homelike. One would almost conclude that it was planned, furnished, and managed so as to drive guests to homes of their own.” Following the Frary’s 20-year ownership of the Hotel, it suffered a period of neglect and disrepair until the college purchased it to use as a dormitory, a use that proved highly un- popular with the students who were assigned to it. During this period it was subjected to numerous additions and alterations. It became a mixture of Classic, Georgian and Doric architecture. At 2:00 a.m. on January 4, 1887, it was destroyed by a fire. One settler remarked, “God finally visited His wrath upon this architectural conglomeration by burning it down.”
In March of 1888 the college trustees voted to build a hotel with accommodations for a hundred guests at a cost of not more than $25,000, thought the cost ultimately rose to nearly $42,000. The entire undertaking was not successful from any point of view. Townspeople stole lumber during the night, the fireplaces would not draw, the center section sagged badly, the flues were faulty, and unseasoned wood caused the walls to crack. The contractor sued Samuel Gilman Tucker for nonpayment and the trustees sued the contractor. However, the hotel, now named The Wheelock, opened in time to receive the commencement guests of 1889.
Over the next 12 years the hotel deteriorated and was run by many different managers. It was sometimes run by a lessee, other times by a college appointed manager. In 1892 Kimball Morse leased Wheelock Hotel for the sum of one dollar plus half of the net profits. In 1893 Lucy A. Lawrence leased and managed the Wheelock. In 1898 Hamilton T. Howe of Hanover leased the Wheelock Hotel for five years. Paying one dollar rental for each of the first three years, $100 the fourth year and $200 the fifth year, he agreed to repair the roof, paint, furnish awnings, pay for water and heat, proscribe the sale of intoxicating liquor, gambling, or any other immoralities on or about the premises. In 1901 the lease was terminated by the lessors and the building completely reconstructed and remodeled at a cost of more than the original construction. After reconstruction it became The Hanover Inn.
Dartmouth graduate Perry Fairfield became the hotel manager in 1905 and continued in this position until his retirement in 1936. Fairfield never encouraged student patronage, preferring instead widows and spinsters as his hotel guests. Notable guests have included Presidents Monroe, Wilson, F.D.R., Eisenhower, Nixon, and Reagan. George Washington did not sleep at the inn but Booker T. Washington did. Entertainers have included Kirk Douglas, Ella Fitzgerald, Joan Baez, Art Linkletter, Mary Tyler Moore, Burt Bacharach, Duke Ellington, Lillian Gish and B.B. King. The list of writers includes F. Scott Fitzgerald, J.D. Salinger, Sinclair Lewis, Carl Sandburg, Robert Frost, and Dr. Seuss.
In 1924 the east wing was added to the original building: forty-eight additional rooms, each with a private bath. (One wonders what Mrs. Frary would think of such frivolities.) The size of the inn was increased to 100 rooms. The addition provided a large, pleasant dining room that seated three hundred people. Rates were between $6 and $10 a day, depending on whether or not meals were included.
In 1936 Ford and Peggy Sayre became the managers. They built a reputation for the inn with their warmth, charm, and famous Sayre buffet suppers. An Army Air Force Captain, Ford Sayre was killed in a plane crash near Spokane, WA. His name is remembered in the Ford K. Sayre Memorial Fund benefiting young Hanover skiers. Peggy Sayre remained as manager until 1946.
In 1937 the college began redecorating the inn. An outdoor dining terrace, lawn and flower garden, new paint, furniture and curtains were added. In 1939 a four-story brick colonial employee dormitory was built and named Brewster House after the original innkeeper. In 1942 the garden, where the Hopkins Center now stands, was used in summer as a nursery school for Hanover children and children of the inn’s guests. The cost for the children’s play group was $1 a day. In winter it was flooded and diners could enjoy their meals on ice, served by skating waiters.
From 1946 to 1948 Dave Heald, class of 1942, managed the inn and from 1948 to 1951 Chester Wescott, class of 1914, managed it. In 1961 a supplement to the Hanover Inn, the Hanover Motor Lodge, was in operation until 1974 when the college began using it as a dormitory. James McFate was the manager of the inn from 1953 to 1972 and in 1968 the most recent addition to the inn, the west wing, was completed.
From 1972 to 1984 Robert Merrow managed the inn and during this time, over a period of five years, the inn was once again renovated and restored to its present neo-Georgian charm and refurbished with antiques and quality replicas.
Since 1780 an inn has been welcoming travelers to Hanover. Sometimes not quite adequately, as Professor Bartlettwould say, other times extraordinarily well, but always on the same site, overlooking Dartmouth Green. Current manager Matt Marshall, who came to the Hanover Inn in 1984 says, “When you realize the Inn was established 25 years before George Washington took office that really puts it into perspective.”

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