Historic Tavern Featured on 2020 Suncatcher
BY KATRINA HOLMAN
AMHERST – The tradition continues! The debut of this unique
and popular collectible was merely delayed by a few
months – like so much else in this novel pandemic
season. But in compensation, this year’s glass
collectible – 32nd in the Historic Amherst series –
is especially pretty with purple color and fine
detail. The motif for the 2020 suncatcher is the
old tavern, with stage coach, at 244 Boston
Post Road, where now is Karen’s Cleaning.
This original design was commissioned by
Nipmugs, a local chapter of The Questers,
from a New Hampshire craftsman, Old
Hancock Glass works of Antrim, who hand-
presses each piece, giving the suncatchers
their special character. Proceeds from suncatcher
sales go to the preservation and restoration of
historic artifacts and buildings. The new suncatcher
costs $12 and can be bought at Mike’s Auto in Amherst
Village; or call Anne Krantz at 673-9684.
There were four inns operating in Amherst in 1820, when John Farmer published his history of Amherst – and this must have been one of them. It is one of the oldest houses in Amherst, but when-exactly in the 18th century it was built is lost in the fog of the past. Its two-decades-plus span as a tavern can be documented from 1813 to 1836, split among five tavernkeepers aka innkeepers. Lying about one mile south of the Village Common on the old post road to Boston, it was close-enough lodging for those attending court sessions and it was an ideal spot for drovers traveling from Vermont or the towns along the 2nd N.H Turnpike to Boston market, who wanted to park their livestock nearby while they availed themselves of the multiple stores in this shire town. Edward D. Boylston (1814-1895), publisher of the Farmers’ Cabinet newspaper, in his memoir Sketch of a Busy Life (1892) recalled the great droves of cattle and sheep of his childhood: “[The droves] afforded fine sport for the boys, and some benefit, for every lad had his whip, and was on the lookout for their coming, ready to aid in hurrying them down to French’s [226 BPR which was a tavern from 1801 until about 1807] or Rhodes’s [244 BPR], and always returning with a few coppers in their pockets.”
With “about 80 acres of good wood-land, pasturing [and] a small orchard,” there was plenty of land for that peculiar early 19th-century fall and winter entertainment, the turkey (and sometimes goose or chicken) shoot of farm-raised birds. There was also a “brick yard” on the property, which explains the attraction of this particular property for a couple of the innkeepers here. They all had the dual occupations of innkeeping and farming – but some even had treble occupations.
Jonathan Foster (probably c. 1773-1849) kept this tavern-inn, possibly as early as 1811, but definitely 1813-1817 and again 1818-1820. Foster organized “Turkey Shooting” for “sportsmen” held on 3 January 1814, with “thirty or forty turkies”. Foster was an experienced taverner, but bounced around. Foster resided in Milford Feb. 1806 before moving to Amherst to keep the inn of lately deceased Levi Adams in Danforth’s Corner at 107 Ponemah Road near the Hollis line, obtaining his first tavern-keeping license from Amherst Selectmen in Sep. 1806, until March 1809; occupied a tavern in Milford in 1810. Foster obtained another tavern license for Amherst in September 1811 – perhaps newly arrived at 244 BPR? – and was still innkeeper in Amherst until 1817. He resided for a year, 1817/8, in Hollis (where he was paid by Hollis selectmen to board a pauper). Foster returned to Amherst and again kept this tavern from April 1818 until 1820. Foster stayed in Amherst for only a few more years; he offered more turkey shoots somewhere in Amherst, on New Year’s 1821 and in Dec. 1823 and in Jan. 1824.
Eber Lawrence (1771-1855) kept this tavern for one year, 1817/8 (while he still owned homestead farm a couple miles down the road at 377 BPR and on Souhegan River). His stint here seems to have been his trial run at inn-keeping. In January 1823 he purchased the older tavern (now gone) on the south side of the Village Common and the store next-door, right next to the Means store, but within three years had run into such financial difficulties that he fled town to avoid the deputy sheriff and jailer.
Eleazer Rhoads (Jr., c. 1771-1855) first obtained a tavern license in April 1820 and kept this tavern until 1830 during which time he also was a brickmaker & potter (e.g., making pots for baked beans) utilizing the clay pit on the property. Eleazer Rhoads in 1823 offered “sportsmen” the opportunity to shoot 50 turkeys, commencing at 9:00 a.m. on Nov. 21. Afterward he continued with the clay-based occupations, buying the old Robert Read-Joshua Atherton House next-door north at 232 BPR on 24 acres in 1828, where he remained for the rest of his life.
Stowell Bancroft (1799-1883), a brick mason before & after at Mont Vernon, kept this tavern from April 1830 to March 1832.
Charles Eastman (1782-1836) kept the inn from April 1832-April 1836 and had sheds to keep teams of carriage- and wagon-pulling horses. During his tenure, there were only two other inns/hotels in Amherst: the one on the south side of the Common (where now is empty green space) and Fletcher’s in the south part of town at 382 BPR. Eastman had been a blacksmith in Hollis before moving to Amherst, where he had a farm. Before making the career change to publican, he sold his Amherst farm and auctioned off his livestock including 2 horses, a variety of bovines and ten sheep, various farm wagons and sleds, as well as a complete set of blacksmith’s tools. Eastman died in Lowell, shortly after quitting this house.
Surely it was the Temperance movement that brought an end to this house’s use as a tavern – together with the recent establishment of a rail line with station in the SW corner of Amherst, eliminating the need for teamsters to spend the night in Amherst.
It just so happens that none of these tavern-/innkeepers owned the property. Guess who the landlord was? Hint: the richest man in Amherst. Yep, Robert Means (Sr., 1742-1823), the merchant who resided at
1 Pierce Lane since 1774, where he had enlarged his house into
a mansion in 1785 and where he also had his store next door.
Means bought the house and farm at 244 Boston Post Road in
1803 for $1000 (deed 57:394). In 1815, he sold it to his son,
Robert Means Jr. (1786-1842), an attorney at law, for
$3000 (deed 103:541). Hmmm … triple – that’s quite a
jump in value. It’s a good guess that enlargement of the
house was the primary if not sole reason. The
downstairs has a spacious central hallway and the
upstairs rooms have higher ceilings than downstairs,
suggesting that the upper floor was a later addition.
Means Junior built the lovely brick house up the road at
201 Boston Post Road for his bride in 1825 but, his wife
having died young, he sold that house in 1831 and moved
out of town. He sold the tavern in Dec. 1835 for $1650, while
Charles Eastman was still living there and reserved the right of
one Levi Joslin to finish out his lease of the property until 1 April 1836.
20th C. Boys Camp
This house has further interesting history regarding lodging. For 25 years, starting in 1920, Ernest H. Kirby (1881-1974) & his wife Daisy nee Collyer (1879-1943), both Brits, opened the place as a fresh-air summer camp for city boys from Boston and vicinity (later also from cities of other New England states). During the first summer they hosted three batches of 40 boys, each group for two weeks. In 1925 the Kirbys renovated the place “till it holds 100 boys besides the family.” The boys, largely from needy families, would arrive by train, disembarking from the rail line behind the house. Some boys returned for multiple summers in a row. Mr. K. sold out in 1943 after the death of his wife, and despite the careful choice of successor, Camp Collyer survived for only a few more years.
Nipmugs Questers extend a huge Thank You to Mickey Larivee of Mike’s Auto who graciously resolved our dilemma of how/ where to sell the 2020 suncatcher. (Avid collectors will recall that Mike’s Auto was featured on 2018 suncatcher, only the third motif from the 20th century and definitely a fan fave.) Nipmugs member Anne Krantz as project chair has shepherded each year’s collectible from inspiration for new motifs, through design collaboration with the craftsman, to sales organization for nearly two decades! Katrina Holman, Amherst’s independent historical researcher and Nipmugs member, uncovered the tavern’s history. And, of course, Nipmugs are grateful to all of you, from near and far, who support this charitable fundraiser and thus enable more preservation of our tangible history.
Past Preservation & Restoration projects funded by the sale of Amherst suncatchers include: contribution to restoration of Amherst Town Library’s 1910 canopy (in 2002); restoration and framing of 19th-century crayon enlargements of Judge & Mrs. Edmund Parker, now showcased on wall of Amherst Town Library (2012); restoration of old oil portrait of B. B. David, local buggy whip manufacturer, in Amherst Historical Society’s Chapel Museum (funded in part by a grant from The Questers International, 2014);
conservation/ restoration of unique hand-drawn map of 1881 school districts of Amherst (funded in part by another grant from Questers, 2018); half the cost of conservation of Amherst Library Society record book 1792-1832 (2018); framed enlarged historic photographs, from digital images supplied by the Historical Society, hung in Amherst Town Hall and Town Library (2006, 2014); contributions to restoration of 1858 wall map of Hillsborough County, N.H. at Mont Vernon Historical Society museum (2016) and Lamson Farm hen coop (2017); and educational signage for 300-year-old Lawrence Barn which serves as Hollis Community Center (2016). Nipmugs welcome suggestions for future projects.
For a history of this section of town, see “Historic Amherst: Early Industry One Mile Below the Common” by Katrina Holman in The Amherst Citizen, 25 Oct. 2011, pages 4 and 5. For the lore that this is the oldest house in Amherst, see “Historic Amherst: The Oldest Houses in Amherst” by Katrina Holman in this newspaper, Part 1 in March 2020 issue pages 4 and 5; Part 2 in April 2020 digital issue.
This 18th-century house at 244 Boston Post Road served as a tavern-inn from 1813 to 1836. This antique photo dates from well after the tavern years, probably from end of 19th century (or around 1910 when it was used in publications about Amherst’s 150th anniversary, entitled “Old Turnpike Inn”). The coach is likely the one that ferried passengers between Amherst Village and Ponemah train station (near present intersection of Route 122 and Route 101A) at the turn of the century.