Today we turn take a look at town that was just added to the town picture gallery–Littleton, New Hampshire. Conveniently, for us that is, researching building history in Littleton is as easy as looking at the plaques they have mounted to the walls of the building. Something more towns should definitely copy.
More specifically, we will take a look at the historical Thayers Inn. This will be a rather long post as the inn has 3 separate and lengthy plagues chronicling its very rich history.
“Thayer’s White Mountain Hotel”
“In 1843, Henry Lowell Thayer (1817-1892) owner of an adjacent general store secured this lot for a hotel. By 1850, local builders Andrew Scott and Jonathan Nurs had created an eclectic masterpiece that set a standard of scale and style for 19th century Main Street architecture. The entry portico has Italian-style balconies braced by scroll consoles. A fluted Doric colonnade supports a Greek Revival pediment with a Gothic Revival window. The roof, topped by a lantern-style, Italian cupola is punctuated by formal dormers that echo the Classical facade. With running water and a spiral staircase, Thayer’s was both modern and elegant. It typified the transitional hostelries that displaced rustic taverns and presaged the region’s Grand Hotels. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.”
“A Legendary Landmark”
When “Daddy” Thayer’s Hotel opened on January 14, 1850, its intended patrons were rail-borne travelers. In 1853, train service began, and Thayer’s ornate coach met this new breed of guests at the station. When tourism boomed, the Hotel was hub to many coach lines and a vaunted landmark for visiting dignitaries. Thayer’s White Mountain Hotel passed through the Grand Hotel era, became Thayer’s Hotel by 1900 and entered the automobile age. New trends in leisure and the onset of prohibition called for ingenuity and in 1928, motion picture impresario John B. “Jack” Eames (1891-1951) acquired sole ownership of Thayer’s updated its amenities and preserved its historic charm. The elegance of the hand carved scroll work on the front of Thayers and the spiral staircase so impressed Henry Ford that he tried, without success, to buy them for his Dearborn Museum. An interesting note is that General Sylvanus Thayer “The Father of West Point” was related to “Daddy” Thayer. Their forefathers arrived in Massachusetts from England c. 1635. Thayer’s apostrophe was dropped in the 1930s. The property was sold in 1969. After a succession of owners, the Hotel was repurchased in 1984 by the Eames Family and renamed Thayers Inn in 1985. Don and Carolyn Lambert were appointed as Innkeepers and the partnership between the Lamberts and the Eames family has sustained the legacy of Thayers as a respected hostelry and architectural treasure.
“Host to History”
Thayers Inn has welcomed countless guests over the years. Among them have been the famous (and the infamous). A brief listing includes visiting Presidents Ulysses S. Grant, Franklin Pierce, Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter. Also stopping here were presidential aspirants General George B. McClellan, Governor Nelson Rockefeller, Governor Estes Ketauver, Governor George Romney, Senator Barry Goldwater, Senator Harold Stassen, Senate Majority Leader Robert Dole, author and political commentator Patrick Buchanan, and Senator Bill Bradley. New Hampshire Governors Sherman Adams and Hugh Gallen frequented Thayers as did Littleton native Robert C. Hill who served as the United States ambassador to five different countries (Costa Rica, El Salvador, Mexico, Spain and Argentina). Other guests include P.T. Barnum accompanied by “General” Tom Thumb, Publisher Horace Greely, Henry Ford, the notorious millionaire playboy Harry K. Thaw, arctic explorer Commander Robert E. Peary, WWII General Tomoyuki Yamashita, “The Tiger of Manila” who lived at Thayers for the three months in 1940 while on a spy mission in the White Mountains on behalf of Japanese Intelligence, movie star Bette Davis, song writer Ed Bruce (Mama. Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys) and author Michael Blake (Dances with Wolves).
Here is some additional history (note that Thayer’s Inn was originally called “St. Andrews Inn”):
St. Andrews Inn is significant as an outstanding example of mid-nineteenth century small town hotel, and as one of the earliest of the great resort hotels for which this part of the White Mountains became famous.
The original plan, drawn in 1843 by an unknown architect, builds on the basic Greek temple form employed in nearly all public buildings of the Greek Revival period. Although this motif, characterized here by a monumental Doric portico and absolute bilateral symmetry, provided the appearance of grandeur sought in hotels of that era, the architect tempered the classical formalism with elements of the anti-Greek Picturesque movement.
These included arches, peaked window heads, and a steeply-pitched roof with dormers and a large cupola. The elaborately decorative front balconies combine with the portico to effect the traditional hotel piazza. The resulting transitional style, one of the earliest of its kind in northern New England, reflected a growing dissatisfaction with the starkness and inflexible proportions of Greek forms, and foreshadowed the trend toward anti-form eclecticism in the second half of he century.
The inn was first opened in 1850, as Thayer’s Hotel, in anticipation of the coming of the railroad to Littleton. It has since played an important role in the town’s social life, providing a popular public house for receptions, political gatherings, and daily tavern-goers.
It achieved a national reputation after the Civil War, when the surrounding White Mountains became a resort forAmerica’s upper classes. During New Hampshire’s long history as the first stop on the national presidential campaigns, politicians from U.S. Grant and Horace Greely to Nelson Rockefeller, Richard Nixon, and Jimmy Carter visited the hotel and made speeches from the front balconies.
In 1906 Harry K. Thaw, the jealous murderer of architect Stanford White, and thus the center of a sensational national scandal, was held in custody here for a month after his arrest in Littleton.
In the 1930’s Henry Ford attempted to buy the hotel’s portico, balconies, and grand staircase to use in his museum of Americana at Dearborn, Michigan.
Today, the hotel remains a key visual focal point in the downtown Littleton streetscape, and continues to serve as an important public gathering place.
Source: National Register of Historic Places – Nomination Form (pdf)