BARKHAMSTED — The Old Riverton Inn has stood the test of time, serving as a landmark in the town for more than 220 years.
And new owners Danamarie and Adam Towers intend to keep it that way.
The couple bought the inn last year and have since renovated the adjoining Royal Coachman Tavern.
About the town’s reaction of support for what the couple is doing, Adam Towers said, “Every day. Every single day. We can’t just go to the post office or to the Riverton General Store… I mean phone calls… people are excited about what we’ve done to restore the building.”
Danamarie Towers grew up in Barkhamsted, and after a long career in the military, said she wanted to return to her home and give back to the community that raised her.
“We were looking for someone who had the desire and the enthusiasm we had when we first took over,” said Mark Telford, who with his wife, Pauline, bought the inn in 1979. “I think we hit the jackpot with these folks. I really couldn’t say enough good things about them.”
Adam Towers said he and Danamarie have a three-pronged approach to the business: renting the inn’s rooms to the guests, the tavern, and then the main dining room area. The dining area will be operated as both a restaurant and to rent out for events such as birthday parties, weddings, anniversaries and holidays.
The couple said their main goal is to partner with other local residents and businesses to rejuvenate the area economically and return it the quaint bustle it had when Danamarie Towers was a child.
Through its history the inn has attracted many looking for a getaway, and famous faces, to this small New England town, known locally as Riverton.
Authors Harper Lee and David Halberstam; journalists Dan Rather and Tom Brokaw; and actors Kim Zimmer, Gary Burghoff, Tom Wopat, and Andre the Giant have all been guests in the past.
Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, founders of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, rode in with a dozen of their friends on motorcycles one afternoon for lunch, according to Mark Telford.
Mark and Pauline Telford also had run the bed and breakfast, operated a restaurant, and had the inn serve as a site for events such as weddings and private parties.
“Not only we’d book the weddings, but I’d officiate them, and then change quick and run in the back and help put the meals up,” said Mark Telford.
However, the Telfords slowly moved away from the tavern and served fewer and fewer meals and by the time of their retirement last summer , the inn had been running as only a bed and breakfast for several years.
For the Tavern’s reopening, the Towers partnered with Little Red Barn Brewers and Litchfield Distillery and will be selling their products in the Royal Coachman.
The renovations thus far have cost the Towers about $225,000, the couple said. In addition to renovating the Royal Coachman Tavern, they replaced the roof, pained the exterior, and set up an “innkeeper suite” for themselves to live on the premises.
Adam Towers said all materials were locally obtained and all contract work is given to local residents. “Because we are going to be just that, a small local business and we wanted to give support the same organizations that are hopefully in turn going to support us,” he said.
“Well, we’ve had delays, obstacles, with trying to regenerate an older building. There are certain things that are required these days [that weren’t] previously,” Danamarie Towers said. “It’s been a learning project for both of us, what to do, what not to do, how to go about it.”
Their plan was to unveil the tavern in early April for guests only, and then to open it fully a short time later, on opening day for fishing. However, as with most businesses, COVID-19 had other plans.
“When we very first got here and we hit the ground running, there would be five, 10 people a day who would stop in, and we’re still hearing it, the locals, the fishing community… They were chomping at the bit for us to open, so they’ve had some frustration as well. And they’re feeling our frustration as to why we can’t open,” said Danamarie Towers.
Now, the Towers plan to have a “soft opening” by opening for takeout during the quarantine, with a target date of May 22. After the state opens up fully once more, they have plans to continue to give back to Riverton.
“One of the things that we’ve talked about is a healthcare appreciation night after all of this is over, because our healthcare workers have been really going above and beyond during this whole pandemic,” said Adam Towers.
“And again, we’ll have other events…to begin being a part of the community. [We are] planning on giving back to local veterans and organizations,” he said. “Also, with my wife being a graduate of Regional (school district 7), we’ll take a look at what’s going on up there and support them in any way that we can.”
Further, the plans include Mark Swenson of UpCountry Sportfishing in Farmington offering fly fishing lessons to Inn guests.
“For years it was come and go,” Swenson said of the inn. “There wasn’t a lot of activity, but it has been a center point on the river for a long time, especially for couples. And those couples want to do something, and that thing can be fly fishing. So, I’m happy to see it revived.”
Mark and Pauline Telford’s son, Erik Telford, noted the local popularity of fishing.
“My dad helped me set up a hot dog stand in front of the inn on opening day of fishing,” Erik Telford recalled, “My friends and I were able to make several hundred dollars that weekend, and it was a tradition we continued for several more years.”
Pauline Telford recalled that, “The secret service came up to go fishing. I started talking to them and they go ‘we’re secret service.’ I go ‘oh, the place is in good hands.’”
Erik Telford next door to inn “was a great place to grow, especially with so many kids my age who lived nearby. I'm sure it caused my parents headaches on occasion, like the time in elementary school when we used the fire escape for flashlight tag — not realizing there were guests.”
The Towers are also partnering with Destination Wildlife, who will bring guests on nature walks to photograph local fauna. “We had a group here from New York before COVID, and they were here to photograph bobcat,” said Mrs. Towers.