Deerfield resident Samuel Hinsdale was in his early 30s when he moved from "The Street" to the Green River section of town around 1740. The fourth-generation Deerfield resident chose the lush upper meadows for his new home lot.
The site rested on a fertile plain along the northern border of the 8,000-acre Dedham grant, which became Pocumtuck then Deerfield during the late 17th century. And in this prime location hardy early settlers found themselves isolated on the northern outskirts of the New England frontier and vulnerable to sneak-attack by native tribesmen.
But the Hinsdale family had never been faint of heart. Samuel was the son of the first white child born in Deerfield, grandson of the town's first permanent settler, and great-grandson of Robert Hinsdale, an original proprietor of Pocumtuck. Robert died alongside three of his five sons at the famous Bloody Brook Massacre - an Indian ambush that occurred during King Philip's War (Sept. 18, 1675) on a site that is today marked by a monument in South Deerfield.
The first structure located on Hinsdale's upper meadows homelot, built around 1740, was probably a crude, two-room dwelling that was either swallowed up by two subsequent expansions or torn down for a circa 1760 upgrade. But that structure served as a tavern in 1747-8, according to Hampshire County Court of Common Pleas records. It is likely that Samuel, a strong Whig, ran an unlicensed tavern along the road from Greenfield to Colrain and beyond for several years leading up to the American Revolution.
Over time, Green River became Greenfield (1753), the path to Colrain became the post road to Bennington, Vt., and Hinsdale Tavern evolved from a small local tavern to the 16-room, five-fireplaced structure that stands today as a well-preserved tribute to stage-coach travel.
After 90 years of ownership, the Hinsdale family sold its tavern in 1836 to Charlemont tavernkeeper Ebenezer Thayer, who sold the Charlemont Inn and moved his business interests 20 miles east due to temperance concerns. Ebenezer kept his Greenfield meadows tavern until 1840, when he sold it to son Hollister B. Thayer, who either added or expanded the ballroom and ran Thayer Tavern through 1849. The property was then bought by Henry E. Ewers, the Thayers' enterprising blacksmith. Ewers, who built the Cape Cod style home behind the tavern around 1850, was the innkeeper until 1856, by which time the mode of travel had changed from stage to steel rail and travelers had been directed away from Ewers Tavern, not to mention the other six taverns within a mile radius.
In 1858, the old tavern stand was sold to a Greenfield man named Elijah Worthington Smith, who transformed it into a private residence and painted the words Old Tavern Farm across the carriage shed. Smith's descendants maintained ownership and protected the integrity of their landmark home until 1997, when a grandson sold it to current owners Gary and Joanne Sanderson. In 1998, the Sandersons decided to reopen the old tavern to the public, and today guests can enjoy the ambience of an historic tavern while lodging at their B&B.
Reminders of a bygone era can be found throughout the stately, center-chimneyed, Georgian colonial home. In the kitchen stands the set kettle, 12 feet to its left a cistern that kept it filled with water for tavern chores. Accompanying the dirt-floor woodshed in a small ell protruding from the rear of the wing is a pantry and four-holer privy. Upstairs, spanning the length of the wing, is a spring-floor ballroom with its primitive French candle chandeliers suspended from the vaulted ceiling.
The Hinsdale Tavern bar cupboard, made of mellow hand-planed butternut, is now the focal point of a newer bar (circa 1920) off the dining room. The toddy iron that once heated drinks to soothe the weary traveler's aching bones still dangles from a jam beside the craned ladies' parlor fireplace.
Rare grain-painted doors in the large upstairs bedrooms simulate tiger, birdseye and burl maple. Those and other grained doors in the home offer guests exquisite examples of this folk-art form. The work has been attributed to George Washington Mark, an eccentric 19th-century Greenfield sign, house and furniture painter who came to town in 1817 and stayed until his death in 1879. Examples of Mark's grain-painted doors are on display at the Henry Ford Museum in Michigan.
In the cellar, the base of the eight-foot-square chimney is divided into two compartments - one a wine and preserve closet, the other a smoker. Hanging from hand-forged chains on the south wall, facing the faded, whitewashed wine-cellar door are the wooden skids used two centuries ago to roll wooden kegs of liquor down the impressive stone cellar stairs.
In the backyard along Hinsdale Brook stands a private residence and small barn that once served as the blacksmith's quarters, first operated by Samuel Hinsdale's brother, Darius, according to tradition. Across Brook Road stands the old Bass blacksmith shop, now a horse stall in the neighbor's barn. The large horizontal bellows from one of those blacksmith shops now stokes the coals in Old Tavern Farm's chimneyed, brookside cookhouse.
Many other surprises await Old Tavern Farm guests, who are granted temporary license to explore a rare treasure trove of tavern life and Americana.
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