‘The Jewel of the Green’: Newly Renovated, Centuries-Old Lyme Inn Is for Sale
Lyme Inn bartender Amanda McLain gets ready for diners in the inn's tavern by lighting candles on Sept. 27, 2013, in Lyme N.H. Valley News - Jennifer Hauck Purchase photo reprints »
At the Lyme Inn, in Lyme, N.H. on Sept. 27, 2013, Jonathan Greenberg, of Coopererstown, N.Y., graps his bags before heading up to his room. Greenberg was in the area for his medical school reunion, and had stayed at the inn years ago. Valley News - Jennifer Hauck Purchase photo reprints »
In the Lyme Inn tavern in Lyme, N.H. on Sept. 27, 2013, hangs an image of the 1936 Bugatti 57C Atlantic, that was owned by the late Peter Williamson. News - Jennifer Hauck Purchase photo reprints »
Lyme — Shortly after they moved to the Upper Valley in 1991, Peter and Susan Williamson became regular patrons of the restaurant at The Alden Inn.
It was a place that Peter Williamson remembered fondly from his undergraduate days at Dartmouth College in the mid-1950s, and it was just a few doors away from their new home. And the food was good and the company convivial.
The inn was a significant part of the community. It had been one of the pillars on the green since 1809 and a gathering spot for locals as well as visitors.
When the business fell on hard times in 2006 and went into foreclosure, Peter Williamson, a world-renowned neurologist and epilepsy expert at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and Dartmouth Medical School, quietly bought the property.
Williamson’s dream was not so much to become a maven of food and accommodations, but to renovate and restore the building to keep it as a social focal point in the town, said Chuck Goss, the regional director of the commercial real estate firm Norwood Group in Bedford, N.H.
Goss is offering the inn, restaurant and tavern and its 1.5 acres for sale at the assessed value of $1.75 million, and considerably below the amount spent on renovations.
“(Williamson) was trying to be a good steward and wanted it to be the jewel of the green, and he renovated everything. He wanted it to be a gift to the town that they loved,” Goss said earlier this month.
Giving back to the community was nothing new for Williamson who contributed time and resources to Upper Valley causes, and whose work was based on a belief that epilepsy surgery should be available to anyone in the world.
Not too long after the renovation work began, Peter Williamson got cancer. He fought the disease for a couple of years, but in June 2008, he died. He was 71.
But his dream lived on, and despite costly miscues, mistakes and unanticipated problems, Susan Williamson and their four children kept the renovation work going at the Alden Inn, which they renamed The Lyme Inn.
“The family decided to complete the renovation as legacy to him and to the town,” said Thomas C. Csatari, an attorney for the Williamsons with Downs Rachlin Martin in Lebanon.
The exterior structure of the four-story inn hasn’t changed much in the last 100 or so years, except the front porch was closed in and it no longer looks tired and sad. New bright white paint covers the cleaned and scraped wood siding, freshly repaired and painted dark green shutters border efficient new windows and building’s four defining chimneys have been straightened to stand as sentinels at the north end of the town green.
Salmon Washburn, a grandson of one of the town’s first settlers, built the inn at the turn of 19th century as a hotel to serve passengers arriving by stagecoach on the Dorchester Road, according to Lyme , a pictorial account of the history of the town by Jane Fant, Sallie Ramsden and Judy Russell.
Erastus Grant bought the building in 1839, enlarged it and called it the Grant Hotel, and during the 1800s, the hotel accommodated visitors and locals, hosted grange meetings, social functions and regular community dances in the third-floor ballroom. Toward the end of the century, it was used as an apartment house, before the Aldens bought it in 1918 and turned it back into an inn bearing their name.
Now, after millions of dollars in renovations, the 13-room inn has a comfortable but elegant look and feel with leather and cloth furnishings, warm earth colored walls with wood trim and refinished wide board original floors topped with Oriental rugs throughout.
The lobby seating area has leather chairs to relax in around the gas-log fireplace, a computer desk and chair, book shelves with leather-bound volumes of National Geographic and a wide leather covered coffee table that earlier this month sported copies of Richard Overly’s pictorial History of the World, The Times of London’s Classic Yachts and European Art at Dartmouth.
The restaurant’s 88-seat dining area covers the front of the first floor — in what was the old front porch — with additional patio seating overlooking the green and a smaller private dining room to the rear, giving the inn the ability to hold events with 200 to 300 persons.
The tavern, with exposed rough-hewn beams and wide-board wainscot and trim, is well-lighted with windows facing out on the rear gardens and croquet lawn. There’s an additional private conference room with a patio on the ground floor.
An elevator serves the top three floors for access to the spacious, individually decorated guest rooms that have high-top, inviting beds and tiled baths. Two corner suites have gas-log fireplaces, dressing and seating areas.
A new management team, headed by former Kedron Valley Inn owner Max Comins, has been in place since this summer, and efforts are underway to refine the inn’s operations and build the business, which is currently operating at a loss, Csatari said,
“We’re very happy with what they’re doing to make it profitable and build a solid repeat clientele,” he said, noting that now the restaurant and tavern are bringing about 60 percent of the inn’s revenue and the rooms account for the rest.
“We’re hoping for the right type of owner, someone who will appreciate what the Williamsons want, someone who will operate this as part of the community,” Goss said. “We’d love to find a steward buyer.”
When the renovated Lyme Inn initially opened, the direction of the previous management team was to be very high-end and exclusive, a strategy that left some town residents feeling unwelcome, Comins said last week.
“We’ve made efforts to get out into the community to invite people to give us another try, and I’ve lowered the room rates and made the inn dog-friendly to build a repeat businesses,” he said.
“You’ve got to make the community welcome — there had been some strained relationships — and we want to make them totally comfortable in coming here again to eat and to come back regularly.”
Tony Rivella, who was the chef at Cafe Tasca in Hingham, Mass., is heading up the inn’s kitchen, and Dan Wilson, who worked with Comins at the Kedron Valley Inn, is the assistant inn manager and restaurant manager.
“We’ve also brought in Cindy Camron, who is one of the top 20 pastry chefs in the U.S. for her award-winning food,” Csatari said.
In addition to rebuilding the inn’s local and guest business, efforts are being made to attract corporations and such institutions as Dartmouth College to use the inn and its facilities for conferences and boards of director’s retreats, Comins said.
The restaurant at present is only opened for dinner Thursday through Sunday, but those hours will eventually expand.
“It’s really important right now for us to build and train our staff and have them able to handle more business. We want to do it right. I think we’ll have one of the best restaurants in the Upper Valley,” Comins said.
Peter Williamson was a meticulous man, not only in his work, but also with his hobbies. He believed in doing things correctly. In addition to being a skilled surgeon, he was a pilot, skier, sailor and a collector and restorer of vintage Bugatti automobiles, all avocations that require an attention to detail.
Bugatti Review reported that Williamson had “not the largest, but the finest” collection Bugattis in the world, all kept in special buildings at his Lyme home, where he would frequently bring them out for parades, civic events and to let friends drive them.
His prized metallic baby blue Bugatti Atlantic was one of four made and two still in existence. He restored it to the condition of the day it was delivered new to Victor de Rothschild in 1936. The car won the coveted the best in show prize at the 2003 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in California. His estate sold the Atlantic for an undisclosed amount that was said to be between $30 million and $40 million, easily eclipsing previous record sales. Williamson had paid $59,000 for the unrestored automobile in 1971, a world-record price at the time.
So, it’s not surprising that he wanted to do a proper job restoring The Lyme Inn and applying the highest standards, the ones he had used on his prize-winning Bugattis.
Although he never saw it finished, Williamson would have been proud of the project he started, Csatari said.
Warren Johnston can be reached at email@example.com or 603-727-3216.