Merwinsville Hotel: One man's dream lives on
Gaylordsville restoration marks 40th anniversary
A nearly 170-year-old historic edifice stands hard by the railroad tracks in the Gaylordsville district of New Miford.
Thanks to the efforts of a dedicated corps of volunteers, the Merwinsville Hotel again stands with pride.
Their father, George Haase, was the first Gaylordsville resident to see the value in restoring the circa 1843 structure to its original glory.
Now, some restoration officials are even dreaming of the day in the not to distant future when the hotel could again be a stop along a passenger rail line northbound to Massachusetts.
This year marks the 40th anniversary of the restoration efforts.
Joined by fellow residents Gerry and Rosemary Nahley and Barbara Thorland, Mr. Haase recruited townspeople to join in the project starting in 1971.
The hotel, once a meal stop and station for the Housatonic Railroad line linking the steamship ports on Long Island Sound with the Berkshire hills, was brought back to life.
"My dad had gone by the building several times over a five-year period while looking for a house to buy in Gaylordsville," said Mrs. Ruman, the board's vice president. "When we moved into our house on Stationhouse Road, he found the old building again and his love of history was piqued."
In the summer of 1971, Mr. Haase got the new owner of Honan's Market, Mr. Nahley, to listen to his plans.
The rest, as they say, is history.
"We got together one afternoon on George's porch with Barbara (Thorland) and she agreed to talk to her father, who owned the old hotel," Mr. Nahley recalled.
Mrs. Thorland's father, Edward Dolan, agreed to give the hotel to the newly formed restoration group for $1. Though dilapidated and not much to look at, the building was found to be structurally sound.
The nonprofit organization Merwinsville Hotel Restoration was formed in August 1971 with Mr. Haase serving as the president for seven years.
"Morris House Movers were moving the old station next door to its new owner's property and we asked them to jack up the hotel so we could take the old lathe and plaster off," Mr. Nahley recalled. "We got it done for $50."
Then Bob Kallenbach, owner of C & K Construction in New Milford, agreed to have his workers pour and float a cement floor in the hotel's dirt floor basement. The restoration group paid some $200, the cost of the cement, Mr. Nahley noted.
The rest of the restoration was accomplished with the help of volunteers and one hired carpenter from Roxbury, Gary Iscell, who did structural work on the building, Mrs. Ruman said.
In 1977, the hotel was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Over the years, the first and second floors were completely restored and furnished with donated antiques. The wine cellar in the basement and a station waiting room on the south end of the first floor were recreated.
Fundraising efforts are now in place to restore the 20- by 60-foot ballroom on the third floor and install a kitchenette in the basement.
Gaylordsville resident Margaret Trika Smith Burke has pledged a $4,000 donation if matching funds can be raised. That campaign kicks off this week.
"We're the closest now that we have ever been to getting the ballroom done," said board President Jeff Edelstein. "People should not let another 40 years go by before they step into the hotel."
"It's terrific being a part of all this," Mrs. Ruman said. "It's been a labor of love for many people. Dad would be thrilled to know people are still involved and interested."
Bequests have been left over the years to help with restoration costs. Frances Romaine left $5,000 in her will; Bob Sterling, a past president of the restoration board, left a "substantial" bequest on his death, said Mr. Nahley, also a past president.
The building is rented for functions and the spring wine tasting, Columbus weekend arts and crafts show, and Christmas open house are now calendar staples.
"That was part of my father's interest in the building -- to have it used as a community center. He wanted it to be a site of activity and enjoyed by all," Mrs. Ruman said.
The Columbus weekend Merwinsville Hotel Arts & Fine Crafts Show will be this Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday. The "Meet the Artist" gala preview will be Friday from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Cost will be a $25 donation. The exhibit will be open Saturday, Sunday and Monday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Cost will be $1 per person; children will be admitted free of charge. The Merwinsville Hotel is at 1 Brown's Forge Road in Gaylordsville. For more information, visit www.Merwinsvillehotel.org.