The Ferry Tavern – Memories

There once was a time when people from elsewhere associated the Town of Old Lyme with Artists, the Congregational Church, Duck Hunting, Barbizon Oak, Sound View Beach, and of course the old inn, the Ferry Tavern. The river ferry was supplanted by a bridge but the old tavern building still served townspeople and nostalgics who remembered. Ferry Tavern boasted a bar, a restaurant and a hotel mostly for newlyweds and other romantics. I can remember the ceiling of one room plastered with dollar bills.

My family had been living in Westchester County, New York, about 100 miles to the west. I needed a place to stay when I was duck hunting and certainly the Ferry Tavern was close to Great Island on the Connecticut River and nearby the protected Lieutenant River meadows were perfect when the weather was really bad. Accommodation for my big Labrador Retriever was easily resolved by the Ferry Tavern room clerk who simply said, “Once you register for your room, we don’t care who you sleep with.” And this is how I first became acquainted with the culture of Old Lyme. Hunting was good.

The dog and I were comfortable with the room and within a few years my wife Edith and our four daughters all moved to Old Lyme, having bought the home of Anstruther Clifford from his son Arthur. This house on Whippoorwill Road had been the home of Arthur for the previous twenty-five years, but everyone in these parts called it, still called it, “Anstruther’s house.” Later we moved to Duck River Lane off McCurdy Road. I bought that house from Mrs. Blanche Craven but neighbors told me that is properly known to be Mrs. Shartell’s place. When I inquired if it would ever be my house the answer was, “Never.”

Well, anyway our eldest child eventually came home from college with a degree and an engagement ring. Her name is Edith Ann, daughter of Edith May, who was the daughter of Edith Haradon. So we had a church wedding and a reception party – dinner – at the Ferry Tavern on December 27, 1970. A good time was had by all and then on January 23, 1971, the Ferry Tavern burned to the ground. There was plenty of nearby water, water wasn’t the problem, the problem was communication. No guests or employees were staying at the Inn that night of the fire and there were no nearby occupied homes to sound an alarm.

The first to report the fire was the Connecticut River railroad bridge tender, I believe his name was Schmittberger. He called using his railroad telephone reporting to his rail boss, located, I believe in Clinton. The bridge tender identified himself and said, so I’m told, “Structure fire. Foot of Ferry Road.” Certainly cryptic but remember, this was not strictly railroad business. The railroad dispatcher then on the Bell System Telephone called the Saybrook Fire Department and reported the message. Probably ten minutes elapsed before the first responder called back that the fire was on the east side of the river, Lyme. So Saybrook called Lyme and the Lyme dispatcher inquired, “Elys Ferry Road or Brockways Ferry Road?” and Saybrook replied, “No, that’s Old Lyme, do you need their number?”

Well, by the time Old Lyme finally arrived at the scene the old building was fully involved. We put some water on it, but the building was past saving.
After the embers had cooled, who shows up at our house but one of the owners of the Ferry Tavern, he was relatively new in town. New in Town means that he had no ancestor living here 300 years ago. He presented me with a very detailed bill and I remarked that he could be so precise. He said that fortunately he took all those records to his home, hence they didn’t burn. I paid him in full. He then remarked that this was the third time that he lost his business in a fire.

Now the property is part of a State Marine Fisheries facility.

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