walloomsac inn one

The family that owns the Walloomsac Inn in Old Bennington have begun clearing overgrown vegetation from around the historic structure.

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OLD BENNINGTON — In a message to the community, the owners of the historic Walloomsac Inn said this week they are working with people and organizations to determine “the best possible outcome for the inn.”

Speculation about the future of what is believed to be Vermont’s oldest hostelry intensified this year after the death of Arlene Berry, who with her late sister, Donna Berry Maroney, had overseen the landmark structure across from Old First Church for several decades. Both women died in 2021.

COLONIAL ERA

Built in the 1770s by early Bennington settler Elijah Dewey, who fought in the Battle of Bennington, the building hadn’t been operated as an inn since 1984 and had served as a private residence.

“We are determined to make good choices,” said Bill Kaiser, who is helping with the decision on the building. “Our family is trying to figure out, what’s the best thing for the inn? Also, as it is a private place, it is a good choice for us?”

The California resident is the son of Kathleen (Berry) Kaiser, who in June was named administrator of the estate of her sisters.

“The passing of Arlene and Donna in 2021 left the care of their estates and the inn to their remaining sister, Kathy Kaiser and her family,” Bill Kaiser wrote. “The Kaiser family found themselves having to deal with the grief of losing their loved ones, the process of dealing with cleaning up and closing estates, and in the spotlight of a community keenly interested in the fate of this unique building.”

He added, “Arlene and Donna were good people who we love dearly and miss very much. We know the community is curious. We ask for time for our family to do our due diligence to find the best possible outcome for the inn.”

HISTORIC STRUCTURE

The historic importance of the inn is at the forefront of the family’s thinking, Kaiser said, adding that “steps are being taken to understand the status of the building’s structure and stabilize as necessary.”

One project expected to begin soon will trim back some of the vegetation around the building, he said.

The family also is exploring possible uses for the building in the future.

“We are doing the leg work, talking with people and organizations in the community to learn about historic preservation and possible uses for the building,” he said. “We will rely on the advice of the experts to help us make the best decisions moving forward.”

MUSEUM EXHIBIT

In addition, some documents related to the inn are being evaluated, and the Kaiser family is working with the Bennington Museum with the goal of preserving, interpreting and ultimately displaying these artifacts at the museum.

Museum Executive Director Martin Mahoney said Thursday the staff is working with the family and is planning a small exhibit of items related to the inn in the fall.

“The museum is planning on launching a small pocket exhibit on the first of October,” he said, “capitalizing on the interest in the inn, which has been sustained for decades.”

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The goal will be to “highlight some of the museum’s collection and some of the objects that the family has lent to the museum,” Mahoney said. “A small show, but hopefully it will help satisfy the public’s appetite for information.”

He added, “We are so pleased to be working with the family, and we are offering them assistance, any way we can.”

Items associated with the inn include liquor licenses from the 1700s, Kaiser said.

“When we happened upon a couple of really interesting documents, Martin [Mahoney] was the first person I called,” he said.

STORIED INN

“Needless to say, the work of fully assessing the immediate needs and future possibilities of the inn is complicated,” Kaiser said. “It’s the amazing story of one of the oldest inns in the U.S., the story of Vermont, the story of Bennington and the story of a family all rolled into one.”

He added, “The Kaiser family is working hard to honor this legacy, and to do its part in setting the stage for the next chapter in history for this one-of-a kind historic building.”

While no building in Bennington is likely more storied or famous than the Walloomsac Inn, “The inn was also a home, and is full of the memories of four generations of the family,” Kaiser said. “Gatherings for holidays, birthdays and weddings were special moments cherished by the family, filled with the wonderful noise and excitement of a gathered family.”

The family “also helped out with the chores of the business, from minding the office and cleaning rooms to bringing out the flags and hanging storm doors,” he said. “And there were the quiet times with hard fought games of Scrabble, art projects, baking and slides down the banister when the adults weren’t watching.”

HOSTED PRESIDENTS

The Walloomsac also is famous for having hosted future Presidents Thomas Jefferson and James Madison in 1791. They were in town to help mark acceptance of the independent Republic of Vermont into the union.

President Rutherford B. Hayes stayed there and attended an event during the dedication of the Battle Monument in 1877. And President Benjamin Harrison held a reception at the inn in 1891 to celebrate the state’s centennial.

Elijah Dewey built a tavern on the site in 1771, according to information on the Bennington Museum website, compiled by historian Tyler Resch. Dewey’s tavern was among locations used by the Legislature of the Republic of Vermont, which lasted from 1777 until statehood was achieved in 1791.

After Dewey’s death in 1818, the tavern was acquired by James and Maria Hicks. In 1823, a third story and two-story porch were added, and Hicks added a ballroom on the second floor.

Hicks sold the building to George Wadsworth Robinson in 1848, and Robinson changed the name from Hick’s Tavern to the Walloomsac House.

He sold the inn to Mary Sanford Robinson and her brother, Samuel Sanford. In 1891, Sanford hired a new proprietor, Walter Berry Sr., who later purchased and enlarged the inn further in 1903.

Berry was the grandfather of the sisters who died last year and Kathleen Kaiser.

Jim Therrien writes for Vermont News and Media, including the Bennington Banner, Manchester Journal and Brattleboro Reformer. Email jtherrien@benningtonbanner.com

Reporter/editor

Jim Therrien reports for the three Vermont News and Media newspapers in Southern Vermont. He previously worked as a reporter and editor at the Berkshire Eagle, the Bennington Banner, the Springfield Republican, and the former North Adams Transcript.


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