OLD BENNINGTON — Authority to sell or transfer ownership of the historic Walloomsac Inn has been approved in Probate Court, and the owners are considering how to proceed.
The landmark inn — located across from Old First Church and considered the oldest hostelry in Vermont — was established as a tavern during the 1770s by Elijah Dewey, who later served as a captain in the local militia in the Battle of Bennington.
Kathleen Kaiser was approved in January to serve as administrator of the estate that includes the inn and its contents, following the deaths of two of her sisters last year. She was reached Thursday by phone.
Asked whether she could comment on plans in light of the court’s authorization, Kaiser said, “Not at this time. We’re working on a number of different things.”
The Walloomsac Inn building has not been operated as an inn since the 1990s, serving instead as a private residence. Kaiser’s sisters had overseen the rambling structure for many years before Arlene E. Berry, died on Aug. 18, 2021, and Donna Berry Maroney died on Nov. 24.
According to documents in the Probate Court proceeding, Kaiser, who resides elsewhere in Bennington, was granted approval to sell or transfer ownership — called convey or conveyance — of the real estate in March by Judge D. Justine Scanlon.
In filing a motion in the probate case seeking approval, Kaiser stated that the sale or conveyance of the property is necessary and beneficial because “this is a historic property in need of maintenance to preserve it for future generations.”
Bennington Historical Society members and other enthusiasts told the Banner in December that they were willing to assist in any way to ensure the structure and historic features are preserved.
One local source said this week that the family has been approached by numerous parties about the inn, but right now they are requesting some space and time to consider what to do next.
The assessed value of the property on 1.1 acres was listed in court papers as $344,600.
The property was deeded solely to Arlene Berry by their mother’s estate in 2006, according to Bennington assessor records, and Arlene had declared the property as her homestead each year, including 2021.
Scanlon also authorized the sale or conveyance of furnishings, which were listed in an appraisal report from Seifert Auction Service.
The company in Hoosick, N.Y., could not be reached Thursday on whether any of the items would or have been sold through auction or individual sale.
The items listed include a frosted-glass hanging kerosene lamp; vintage Christmas ball decorations; Victorian marble top stand, carved wooden clock with birds; four horsehair rockers; brass candlesticks, cast iron ashtrays, metal hat tree; a 1766 sign; tall Gold Pier mirrors; curved-glass China closet; mahogany sideboards; a stenciled Boston rocker; cedar chest, large indoor lanterns, Adirondack chair; Victorian hall stand with mirror, three-piece oak bedroom set; a large wooden Walloomsac Inn sign, numerous other pieces of furniture, lamps and accessories; and numerous prints and artwork.
THE BERRY FAMILY
Members of the Berry family have owned the inn since it was acquired by Walter Berry Sr. in the early 1900s. The deaths last year of Arlene Berry and Donna Berry Maroney – two of his granddaughters, whose father was the late Walter Berry Jr. – prompted concern among local historic preservationists about the future of the structure.
They also saw an opportunity for the property to be restored and preserved. Renovating and reopening the building as an inn was considered by many as unlikely, or at least extremely costly, given the deteriorated condition and the fact zoning approvals that would allow an inn in the village have lapsed.
However, a historic site operated by a nonprofit group was mentioned as a more feasible alternative, which could allow for restoration of all or most of the building – likely with the help of fund-raising efforts and historic preservation grants.
PRESIDENTS AND MORE
In addition to being possibly Vermont’s first inn, the Walloomsac hosted future presidents Thomas Jefferson and James Madison in 1791. They were in town to help mark acceptance of the independent Republic of Vermont into the union.
President Rutherford B. Hayes stayed at the inn and attended an event there during the dedication of the Battle Monument in 1877. And President Benjamin Harrison held a reception at the Walloomsac Inn in 1891 to celebrate the state’s centennial.
According to information on the Bennington Museum website and compiled by historian Tyler Resch, Elijah Dewey built a tavern on the site in 1771. His tavern was among locations used by the legislature of the Republic of Vermont, which lasted from 1777 until statehood in 1791.
After Dewey’s death in 1818, the tavern was acquired by James and Maria Hicks. James Hicks had been employed as a driver in the family stagecoach business. In 1823, a third story and two-story porch were added, and Hicks added a ballroom on the second floor.
Hicks sold the building to George Wadsworth Robinson in 1848, and Robinson changed the name from Hick’s Tavern to the Walloomsac House.
Experiencing financial troubles, he sold the inn to Mary Sanford Robinson and her brother Samuel Sanford. In 1891, Sanford hired a new proprietor, Walter Berry Sr., who later purchased and enlarged the inn once more in 1903.
Berry was the grandfather of the sisters who died last year and Kaiser.