New England's Best Historic Inns
What you don’t expect to find in 1760s New England is an inn that looks as though it could be in London. The Francis Malbone House, in Newport, Rhode Island, is a three-story brick Georgian mansion, said to be designed by famed Colonial architect Peter Harrison. Colonel Malbone was a shipping merchant during Newport’s heyday of seafaring glory, an era in which its gentry wore powdered wigs and high-heeled, gold-buckled shoes. During the Revolution, the British occupied Newport, and, so the story goes, an English officer fell in love with Colonel Malbone’s daughter Peggy, risking capture to visit her. After the war they married and returned to England. Newport, however, never regained its prominence, luckily for the preservation of its old port area. Meticulously restored in the 1960s, the original mansion has acquired additions and an adjacent property in the years since, and is now a 20-room inn.
Entry is through this addition, and from there guests step back in time, into the broad central hall with its high dividing arch and four flanking parlors, each with intricately detailed original paneling. In one of these rooms, said to be the former kitchen, a table is piled high with an extravagant afternoon “tea,” substantial enough to preclude any need for dinner.
We settled into a third-floor room but were lured from our crackling hearth by the bright lights below us, along Thames Street and the neighboring wharves–and into a Newport that turns December into a monthlong celebration filled with glimmer and greenery (details at christmasinnewport.org).
THE DORSET INN
Set above marble steps, the three-story, pillared Dorset Inn anchors the village green. Opened in 1796, this is Vermont’s oldest continuously operating inn. The low-ceilinged lobby and parlors have slightly slanted, wide-planked floors, and there’s a cheery tavern and a graceful, deep-rose-colored dining room. The 25 recently renovated guestrooms wander off in several directions.
In 1785, the country’s first commercial marble quarry opened in Dorset, source of its marble sidewalks, conferring on the village a touch of class that’s also evident in its handsome homes. The inn grew when Dorset became a summer destination, and summer and fall rates are still higher than at other times of the year. At holiday time, guests can find shopping bargains at the designer outlets in neighboring Manchester, or ski at nearby Stratton and Bromley.
We visited on a gloomy midweek day, grateful for the gas fire in our rear-wing suite; also for the tea, coffee, and cookies by the parlor hearth. Past guests will be pleased to know that the inn still serves its iconic turkey croquettes and that its beloved waitress of 25 years, Nuni, still presides in the Tavern. (Ask her about the ghost.)
THE INN AT WEATHERSFIELD
Built as a private house in the 1790s, The Inn at Weathersfield, in Perkinsville, Vermont, is a rambling, luxuriously relaxing place to stay and one of the best places to dine in the Green Mountain State.
Chef Jason Tostrup is recognized as one of Vermont’s foremost locally grounded chefs, no small feat in a state where the “locavore” esthetic enjoys near-religious status. He begins his workday by visiting farms, collecting eggs and produce. He enthuses about the quality of locally raised meat and waxes lyrical about the variety of farmstead cheeses available on his circuit–which guests are invited to tour themselves, using innkeepers Jane and David Sandelman’s map and guide to local farms.