Grafton Inn History

Step Back In Time

The Grafton Inn is one of the oldest operating inns in America, having opened its doors in 1801. Discover our path to today with this timeline of the Grafton Inn through the years.

A Brief History of the Grafton Inn

Enos Lovell Converts Home

In 1801, Mr. Enos Lovell, convinced that people were looking for a place that provided good food and lodging, converted his two-story private home to an inn. The building still stands as part of the Grafton Inn. As Grafton prospered so did the Inn. By the time it was taken over by Hyman Burgess in 1823, it had doubled in size (In the process somebody goofed and failed to match the floor levels which accounts for the slope in the second and third floor corridors). By 1841 the Inn had become the center of activity for the town, so much so that even court was held there. In the year 1861, with Lincoln as President, the Inn fell on unstable times. Ownership changed eight times. During the Civil War it was operated by William and Sophia Stratton, but not much is known of what transpired in the Inn during this critical period in American history. Most of the records were lost when the schoolhouse in which they were stored burned down in 1936.

The Phelps Brothers

The most colorful period in the Inn’s history- and certainly the period we know most about – is the 35-year era of the Phelps brothers, Francis and Harlan. Francis bought the Inn in 1865 for $1700 and sold a half interest to his brother Harlan. Harlan caught California gold-rush fever and returned to Grafton with $4,500 – a modest fortune in those days. He invested every penny in the Inn and in the process probably became the Inn’s first true benefactor. He added a third floor and the porches, making the building look much the same as it does today. Harlan was a good businessman and managed the Inn. Brother Francis, aided by his wife, Achsa, did everything else.

Popular Among the Literary Set

While the Inn was popular among the literary set (Kipling was a visitor in 1892) and was the “in” place for local social events, it was still basically a commercial hotel patronized mostly by commercial travelers who knew it as a “good place to stop.” There were notable exceptions. Ulysses S. Grant came to the Inn on December 19, 1867, while campaigning for his first term as President. the Inn has played host to other famous guests: Daniel Webster, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson and Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Grafton and the Tavern Begin to Decline

By 1903 the Phelps brothers had died and their widows sold the Inn to Norman Blodgett who ran it for 27 years. Not much is known of the Inn’s history during these a years, but we know they were not good years for Grafton. By 1920 the population had shrunk to 476, 1,000 fewer people than had been living in the town a hundred years before. Come 1929 and the crash that ushered in the Great Depression, Innkeeper Blodgett, probably anticipating what lay ahead, sold out. Harry and Cecelia Dutton who took over were able to keep the Inn open through the worst of the thirties – no mean feat. Not much happened at the Inn during these bad times – as not much happened anywhere else. People “hung in there” and waited for a prosperity that was “just around the corner.”

By 1937 the Duttons didn’t feel like hanging in there any longer. Neither did a lot of innkeepers who followed them. Ownership passed to the Perrys, the Dettmers, the Wristons, and the Walkers. The Dettmers acquired the Homestead property and added it to the Inn’s facilities. And the Wristons built the pool area. But they were all fighting a losing battle. The slick new motels and the chains were taking over. The small old-fashioned independent hotel just couldn’t compete. Times were changing and the Inn – along with hundreds of other small inns – had had their day. Another era was coming to an end.

The End Was in Sight

In “the good old days” people put up with the most primitive facilities-there was no choice. Suddenly they demanded-and received-modern plumbing, private bathrooms, hot and cold running water and central heating. the Inn, sadly lacking in most of these amenities, went into decline. It could stay open only during the summer months. Revenues dried up. The cost of “modernizing” was prohibitive. By 1964 the Inn was in a sad state of repair and dire financial straights. The end was in sight. Then the Windham Foundation came along. A new age for the Inn – and Grafton – was to begin.

Influenced Life in Grafton

As creator of the Windham Foundation, Dean Mathey has influenced life in Grafton more than any other individual throughout the town’s history. A man of many talents – financier, philanthropist and super-star athlete, he gave of himself generously in expressing his love for this tiny community. His vision, along with the drive of the Windham Foundation’s first president, Mathew Hall, accomplished a great deal.

Dean Mathey’s Involvement

Dean’s involvement with the town began just like that of many present day visitors . Essentially, he came to savor the peace, quiet and rural beauty – the very things that had attracted some of his family members to purchase summer homes here. But having had a longstanding appreciation of historic architecture, he was distressed to see that several fine buildings, (the Inn included), were falling into disrepair.

Eventually, he began contributing to certain projects that interested him. Never slow to develop a good idea, it was shortly thereafter, in 1963, that the Windham Foundation came to be. And what good fortune for the Grafton Inn! About a year after it had been purchased by the Foundation in 1965, a major renovation had been completed, and no expense was spared in giving it the finest modern conveniences while preserving meticulously its country-inn character. Elizabeth and Mathew Hall – 1st cousin to Dean, were largely responsible for purchasing everything from the antiques to the linens, and their tasteful choices still dominate the decor of the inn today.

True to Vermont

As an historic building, the Grafton Inn is truly part of the Windham Foundation philosophy. And what we do every day supports the Foundation – and our goal – of giving back to Vermont. Under the leadership of the Foundation president and CEO Liz Bankowski, we work to provide services and programs that benefit both our guests and Vermont.

We are the host to Grafton Conferences. Our restaurant is part of the Vermont Fresh Network and dedicated to using as many local products as possible. We are working on making our inn fully green. We’re constantly evolving and growing to provide our guests with the best service possible, while keeping true to our roots and to Vermont.