Gaylordsville >> The mission to preserve the historical charm of the former Merwinsville Hotel initially began in 1971, after Gaylordsville resident George Haase drove by on his commute to work and noticed the building was in an extreme state of disrepair.
Since then, Haase’s vision to save the structure has grown into a family affair, which will ensure its longevity for generations to come.
Prior to his passing in 1984, Haase’s efforts led to the founding of the Merwinsville Hotel Restoration, Inc., a non-profit organization dedicated to the reincarnation of the hotel.
The building, situated along the Housatonic Railroad in the Gaylordsville section of New Milford, was originally a meal and rest stop, run by Sylvanus Merwin, that opened for business in 1843, according to the hotel’s website. It is presently one of the last standing trackside station hotels east of the Mississippi River.
Through the years, Haase had instilled an appreciation of all things historical in his two daughters, Jeremy Ruman and Jennifer Haase. So much so that the pair are now proudly carrying on the torch for their father. Ruman is currently president of the non-profit’s Board of Directors, while Haase serves as the Board’s vice president and treasurer.
The two sisters, fueled by their mutual desire to carry on their father’s legacy and supported by the dedication of their fellow board members, have been working diligently to raise the funds needed to preserve the historic structure and share its story with the community.
“My sister and I pretty much grew up with the hotel,” Ruman explained during a recent interview. “You just get bitten by that bug at a very young age and it never goes away.”
Ruman explained that present day visitors to the hotel are able to experience a true sense of what passengers saw as they stepped off the trains on their way from Bridgeport, to their summer homes in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.
The Gaylordsville stop was a midpoint between the two destinations and operated successfully until the railroad began serving meals in its new dining cars in the 1870’s, effectively rendering the meal stop unnecessary. As a result, the hotel’s contract with the railroad was terminated in 1877.
Adding insult to injury, following its heyday as a bustling trackside meal stop, in 1970 the building was ravaged by a fire and became completely vacant for a time.
Ruman went on to explain the story of how her father first “discovered” the Merwinsville Hotel. He frequently took different routes to break up the monotony of his daily commute. On one such trip, Haase passed by and was struck by the beauty and unfortunate state of the building.
Seeing the building, it is not difficult to understand why Haase became so enamored upon his first glimpse. “Merwin’s Hotel was unique for its time — a large and gracious hotel in the foothills of northwest Connecticut,” the website states. “The three-story structure was architecturally interesting with a nine-column Georgian exterior, latticed balconies and ample windows.”
Afterwards, Haase couldn’t quite remember the exact route he had taken in order to find it again, but he frequently thought of the building. He eventually purchased a home in Gaylordsville, and then accidentally stumbled across the former hotel a second time.
“It was a “meant to be” kind of thing,” Ruman said.
From that point, Haase began to actively promote the idea of restoring the hotel to its former glory.
“He was instrumental in gathering the neighborhood together to save it,” Ruman said. “He really loved all things historical and appreciated things with age.”
It was not until the summer of 1971 that Haase was successful in garnering support among the community in order to bring new life to the derelict building. Since that time, efforts to restore and preserve the hotel have been ongoing. +
According to the hotel’s website, the first floor of the building now features a parlor on the north end furnished with period antiques. The station waiting room has been recreated on the south end of the first floor with authentic railroad memorabilia such as a stove used on a railway caboose, freight ledgers and railway documents.
According to Ruman, recent improvements included painting of the building and repair of its porches last year. On this year’s agenda is a major structural project to rehabilitate the hotel’s third floor ballroom. The work is currently underway and will involve stabilization of the structure’s walls.
Ruman explained that the undertaking will address an issue that has caused the roadside facade to bow out because of the weight of the roof.
Ruman was recently honored for her family’s preservation efforts by the Town of New Milford with a 2017 Leonardo DaVinci Award. The honor is bestowed upon individuals who “exemplify the ideals of community service and the arts,” according to a recent press release.
“This was a lovely surprise,” Ruman said. “There are a lot of people that deserve awards, so I’m very flattered.”
Although awards help to gain exposure for the organization, one of the largest challenges is funding the needed improvements to the hotel. “We’ve been trying to keep up with the building structurally and aesthetically,” Ruman said. “There’s a whole lot more we would like to do and it just comes down to money.”
Fortunately, the full roster of fundraising events hosted throughout the year by the Merwinsville Hotel Restoration has been well received by the community.
“Everyone is a huge help and contributes lots of great ideas,” Ruman said of her fellow board members.
The next event will be an arts and fine crafts show hosted at the hotel on Columbus Day weekend. The four-day program will feature hors d’oeuvres, desserts, beverages and live music. Patrons will also have the opportunity to purchase an array of artwork, photography, crafts, jewelry and glassware.
The organization will also host a holiday show in December, a second arts and crafts showcase in the spring and an annual wine tasting event held in June.
The hotel is also sustained by its pool of donors, as well as various grants it has received over the years.
In order to share the building’s unique history with the community, the hotel is offering free tours from 2 to 4 p.m. every Sunday during the summer until August 27.
There will also be a Fall Potluck Dinner held on Sept. 8. Attendees will have the opportunity to hear about the hotel’s ongoing restoration efforts and to connect with other members of the community.
The Merwinsville Hotel is located at 1 Browns Forge Road in Gaylordsville. Additional information with regard to upcoming events can be obtained via www.merwinsvillehotel.org or by calling 860-350-4443.