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Still Standing After Nearly 200 Years: Fox Stand Inn, a Royalton Landmark, to Reopen in 2014

The Foxstand Inn stands on Route 14 in Royalton, Vt., on  Oct. 22, 2013. The building has been renovated this year with plans for a restaurant to open in 2014. 
(Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

The Foxstand Inn stands on Route 14 in Royalton, Vt., on Oct. 22, 2013. The building has been renovated this year with plans for a restaurant to open in 2014. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

North Royalton — After being shuttered for nine years, the Fox Stand Inn, a favored restaurant and watering hole for area residents and law students for almost three decades, is on track to reopen.

An extensive restoration of the 196-year-old building, where Marquis de Lafayette, the French noble who served in the Continental Army during the American Revolution, is said to have been a guest in 1825, is nearing completion. Kitchen equipment and furnishings will fill the first-floor restaurant and tavern areas soon, business owner and chef Jed Cohan said last week, and he hopes to open after the first of the year.

“When we open, I want to do it right. I want a staff in place that’s ready, and that’s going to take a little time,” said Cohan, who also plans to move his catering business, Delicata Catering, from Wilder to the Route 14 building’s lower floor. Cohan will live in the largest of two apartments on the second floor.

The building itself is owned by Alcami Venture Holdings of South Royalton. Boston attorney Matt Matule, the principal of Alcami, has been restoring the building. Cohan has leased the space in the basement and first floor areas for the restaurant and catering business from Alcami.

Once opened, the inn will have a seating capacity of 60 and will offer a menu with locally sourced food. The restaurant will have a casual atmosphere with outdoor dining during the warmer months on a deck overlooking the White River, Cohan said.

Construction of the building was completed in 1818 by builder Amasa Dutton. In addition to the inn, Dutton built the Fox Brick House and Fox Brick Store across Route 14 for Jacob Fox, who wanted the inn to serve as a stagecoach stop, said John Dumville, a Royalton native and the historic site operation chief for the Vermont Division for Historic Preservation.

“It’s a marvelous building that served the stagecoaches for many years until the railroad came in” during the early 1850s, he said.

Fox, who was born in Connecticut in 1773 and came to Royalton in 1800, was a shrewd entrepreneur, amassing a great fortune from the businesses along the Royalton-Woodstock Turnpike and from the acquisition of the land in the surrounding North Royalton area, known locally as Foxville.

“As an inn, it played an important role as an overnight stop for the increasing amount of travelers along the turnpikes that crisscrossed New England during the early 19th century. … The massing and design of the Adam-style structure reflect the conscious decisions of the owner, Jacob Fox, and the builder, Amasa Dutton, to attract and impress travelers,” according to a draft application for a National Registry of Historic Places designation being prepared by Liisa Reimann of the Burlington firm, Blue Brick Preservation Inc.

The building has always had a mysterious appeal for him, Dumville said. He first saw the inside when he was in the sixth grade, during a private tour arranged by his father with the owner at the time, Natalie Mickelson, who lived in a few rooms on the first floor and ran an antiques business there until she died in the 1970s. “It was fascinating,” Dumville said.

Although the historical record is sketchy, Fox, who became one of the wealthiest men in the community, is reported to have died a poor man, and the building became a private home and the property a farm. It was abandoned and derelict for a time in the early 1900s, and the 12-over-12 windows were broken out. It had various uses during the 20th century, including a failed effort to make it a dorm for law school students, before becoming an inn and restaurant in 1978, Dumville said.

“Throughout its varied uses, the Fox Stand Inn has remained an icon for the town of Royalton in its location at the top of a hill and easily recognizable architecture. It also has been the subject of local folklore, including a case involving the supposed murder of a traveling peddler and stories of a swindle involving false bottom grain boxes,” the application says.

Lafayette’s June 1825 visit to the Upper Valley, part of his two-year tour of America, may have included a stop at the Fox Stand Inn’s predecessor. According to A Day with Lafayette in Vermont, by Jay Read Pember, published in 1912 by The Elm Tree Press of Woodstock, Lafayette was met on June 28 by the 103 members of the Tunbridge cavalry company, who escorted him to Royalton. There, the Revolutionary War hero was greeted with an exuberant welcoming address. “The tradition is that after this (address),” Pember wrote, “the General required a trifle of refreshment at the end of the next mile, the old Fox Stand, the old road-house still standing at North Royalton, but this may be uncertain.”

The 21/2-story red brick building with two large central chimneys presiding over its high-pitched roof also held an attraction for Matule, who was drawn to the building and convivial neighborhood bar and restaurant while he was attending classes at Vermont Law School in the early 1990s.

That’s the Fox Stand Inn that many of today’s Royalton residents remember. It was operated by Jean and Gary Curly, who ran the restaurant and bed and breakfast for 16 years after they bought the building in 1988. The food was good, the prices reasonable and times there were fun, former customers say.

When the Fox Stand Inn went up for sale in 2008, Matule, who has family ties in Royalton, bought the building, started the restoration effort and made the building meet state codes and regulations required for a restaurant and tavern.

“I viewed it as an opportunity not just to own a relatively significant piece of Royalton history, but also to bring back a restaurant and tavern that had been lost for people who want a local place to go for an evening when they want to get out of the house,” Matule said last week. “It has been a restaurant and tavern since the ’70s, and when it closed in October 2004, it was a loss.”

Bringing the building up to modern fire and accessibility codes without compromising its character was challenging, he said. And buying the building at the beginning of the economic downturn, along with meeting regulatory requirements, delayed the construction, Matule said.

He hired architects and planned the restoration carefully, Matule said, but while those plans were in the works, someone broke in, stole all of the copper pipes and left the building without heat.

“But at the end of the day, I think we made the right choices and did the right thing,” he said. “I know what we’ve been doing is a point of curiosity for people in Royalton because it’s taken so long, and people want it to be opened.”

Among those choices was the decision to remove the partitioned rooms on the second floor, in the old ballroom that runs the length of the building. The area is now an apartment, like a loft, where Cohan is living. Matule also decided to leave the third floor unrestored for the time being.

“Once inside the inn, Fox’s desire to impress his customers is reflected in the unusually wide central hall, 10 fireplaces and second-floor ballroom,” the draft application for historic designation says. “Local soapstone from Broad Brook Mountain (quarry), which is located just over a mile to the south of the Fox Stand Inn, was used in the construction of the fireplaces and the workmanship. Additionally, the inn’s construction and finishes echo the technology of early 19th century construction through the retention of its original plaster, hand-planed wood doors and moldings.”

After more than three years of work, the building looks much as it did when Jacob Fox was the proprietor.

“It was the largest building in town and the center of community activity,” Dumville said, noting that the ballroom was the site of regular dances and gatherings, and it housed a singing school.

Inside the front door, the two rooms on the left of the center hall will be used for dining and private parties. The first room on the right will be the bar with a door into the kitchen in the room behind, Cohan said.

“I suspect most people will want to sit in the bar,” but the other rooms have fireplaces, a pleasant atmosphere and offer a quieter dining experience, he said.

The colors, chosen by Matule, on the newly repaired plastered walls and the original wide-planked pine floors add a 19th century feel to the restaurant and tavern areas. Plans also are to restore the grounds of the building with the same attention to detail that was used on the interior renovations, Matule said.

“From the beginning, we wanted a place that is approachable by the community, where people will want to go with regularity — not just special occasions,” Matule said.

“Mostly what we had in mind was providing the public with a place to go for the foreseeable future that is in a building with an incredible history.”

Warren Johnston can be reached at wjohnston@vnews.com or 603-727-3216.