Renovated home of Salmon Chase opens as inn
CORNISH — The discordant noise of passing cars became a quiet lull after
taking the turn off busy Route 12A to the boyhood home of Salmon Chase.
Even as dark clouds swirled overhead on Tuesday afternoon, the white
exterior seemed almost to glow in the scattered sunlight.
Upon stepping across the threshold into the old home, now renovated as the Chase House Inn, a mixture of past and present emerges, blending Cornish’s storied history with the entrepreneurial spirit the town enjoys today.
Even after hiking the peaks of Nepal and crossing the plains of the African Serengeti, the roots of Cornish still capture owner Darrell Atwater’s imagination. And after working for close to a year to breathe new life into the historic building, on Monday, Aug. 7, Atwater opened the Chase House Inn for business.
While work isn’t complete yet at the property, guests can now enjoy the two open rooms in the building. Seven more rooms are being restored, bringing the eventual number of rooms available for use to nine. Even still, the Inn provides guests with the charming comforts of a home-cooked continental breakfast and the opportunity for some peaceful reflection on the grounds outside.
Historic wooden beams cross the ceiling of the common room, perched by the warm glow of metal light fixtures and a looming stone fireplace. But in the rooms just down the hall, brand new granite countertops in the bathrooms add a touch of modern comfort to the historic property.
“It’s not meant to be a flashy, splashy sort of thing. It’s meant to be a warm, welcoming New England style with little accents of color,” Atwater said of the decorations throughout the house.
But perhaps most importantly, embedded within the home is a constant reminder of the country’s early history — the birthplace of one of America’s most important figures.
Salmon Portland Chase was born on Jan. 13, 1808 to Janet Ralston and Ithamore Chase in the quaint Cornish property. As one of 11 children, his childhood was spent at the home and his personal history connects with other area institutions, such as the common school in Windsor, Royalton Academy and even Dartmouth College. But his public endeavors are known even in the books of American history.
Chase was a senator and eventually became governor of Ohio. He served as Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, and he even pushed against slavery as one of the founders of the Free Soil Party.
But he made his greatest contribution during the Civil War as Secretary of the Treasury under President Abraham Lincoln. In fact, much of the federal banking system and the system of uniform paper currency owes a debt to Chase. His face adorned the first iteration of the $1 note, and he was the only person to have his face featured on the $10,000 note.
The original home was built across the street from its current location in 1766, with a federal-style front added in 1795. The site is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places for its significance as Chase’s only well-documented home. He lived in the building until he was 8 years old — about 1817 — when his father died, spurring his mother to move the remaining family to Ohio.
In 1848, a rail line was planned to cut through the property, and the house was relocated across the street from its original site. According to the application for the house’s listing as a historic site, the building retained much of the same character as its Victorian iteration until as recently as the 1940s.
Former owner Peter Burling renovated the property in 1986 before selling it to Bill and Barbara Lewis in 1991. In 1992, the Lewis’ had a 19th century structure brought over from Corinth, Vermont and added to the building. Their addition gave the property a vaulted ceiling, common room and large stone fireplace, along with additional rooms and living spaces.
Barbara Lewis, who Atwater described as a lover of music, intended the common room to be used for music. A piano pressed against one of the walls hearkens to her legacy.
“Inn guests will have a nice space to gather,” Atwater said of the common room, which doubles as a function space. “This is where events would be when we do them indoors.”
Paul and Teresa Toms later purchased the building. But Atwater had his sights on the building for several years, and in 2014, after bidding on the property at an on-site auction, the historic home came into his hands.
In the vacancy period between owners, much of the property fell into a state of relative disrepair, or as Atwater says, “nature took over.” Other than a few fallen trees near the pond at the edge of the property, little inclination remains that the building was ever in trouble.
Still, work has yet to be done. As guests fill the rooms ahead of the busy foliage season, Atwater plans to finish the remaining rooms, thereby opening the street-facing portion of the building and making full use of the federal-style farmhouse.