New England Heritage: Oldest Operating New England Taverns, Part 2

By. Jim Crooks Wilcox Tavern - Charlestown, RI This house, built about 1730, was the birthplace of Gen. Joseph Stanton, who was a member of...

New England Heritage: Oldest Operating New England Taverns, Part 2

By. Jim Crooks

Wilcox Tavern - Charlestown, RI


This house, built about 1730, was the birthplace of Gen. Joseph Stanton, who was a member of the Colonial Congress and later, Senator from Rhode Island to the First Constitutional Congress. He owned a "lordship in Charlestown" and kept forty horses.

Records tell us that this land was acquired from the Indians in 1655. The Manesses Indians from Block Island came to the mainland, attacked the Niantics who occupied Weekapaug, and carried away an Indian princess as hostage. They demanded such a high ransom that the Niantics, unable to gather together sufficient wampum, appealed to Thomas Stanton, celebrated Indian interpreter, who kept a "trading-house" near Westerly on the Pawcatuck River. In return for the help he gave them he was deeded a large tract of land in Charlestown which became the Stanton estate.

At the death of Gen. Joseph Stanton the estate was divided, this part passing into the hands of the Wilcox Family. Here Lieutenant-Governor Edward Wilcox made his home and apparently certain minor changes were made in the house at that time. About 1850 a member of that family established an inn or tavern here which suggests the name "Old Wilcox Tavern". When the former owner purchased the property there was a porch across the front of the house which has been removed revealing the original "drip-stones", and much has been done to restore the house and grounds to their former simplicity and beauty.

One can still enjoy casual fine dining in this historic 1730 tavern with four unique dining areas and a welcoming lounge. Warm and charming, with friendly, courteous service, the Wilcox Tavern has an extensive and varied menu with traditional New England fare as well. Oh yeah, and don’t forget to have a Gansett neighbor.

Bell in Hand - Boston, MA


The Bell in Hand is America’s oldest continuously operating tavern. The establishment got its name from Jimmy Wilson, last known Town Crier and first owner in 1795. The original location of the Bell in Hand was Elm Street, approximately where City Hall is located today. In its early years, the tavern was known to be frequented by such dignitaries of American colonial history as Daniel Webster, Paul Revere, and William McKinley. You can actually find one of the original street signs with the hand holding the bell in Boston’s Old City Hall, which is just a stone’s throw away.

The only drink served at the Bell in Hand pre-Prohibition was Smith’s Phialdelphia Cream Ale, as the original owner was "against all that hard stuff". However, after Prohibition ended in 1933, the new owners relented and started selling popular New England classics of the time such as Narragansett Beer, Pickwick Ale, & Haffenraffer. The Bell in Hand is currently located on Boston’s oldest operating street in the city, Union Street, and is housed in a building that dates back to 1844. So head on over to the Bell in Hand for a lesson in American history and a Gansett, neighbor!

Stone's Public House - Ashland, MA


It's creepy here late at night, when the only light sneaks through the windows from the streetlights outside and the upper floors creak and settle in for the long night. The faces in the paintings on the second floor seem to follow you wherever you walk, and John Stone's scowl can be felt even when you turn your back to his portrait above the tavern fireplace. Doors seem to open and close at times for no reason. Glasses have been known to fly off the shelf or shatter to bits without provocation. Both employees and guests have felt hands on their necks or sensed an unseen presence behind them. But is it really haunted?

Stone's Public House was built in 1834 by John Stone, who called his business the Railroad House. John was a farmer and a captain in the militia, but he was also a savvy businessman, owning most of the land in the center of what was then called Unionville. When he heard that the railroad was to be built through the center of town (on his own land) he decided to build a hotel right alongside the tracks. The Railroad House (the property also included a barn and a cow-yard and later a home for his family) opened on September 20, 1834 , to an enthusiastic crowd of (some say) 300 people.

John operated the Railroad House for less than two years (though he continued to live on the property), then leasing it to a long list of innkeepers. John died in 1858, and W.A. Scott bought the business in 1868.

Over the years the building fell into disrepair and disrepute. The man credited with helping to return the building to its former glory is Leonard "Cappy" Fournier, who bought the building in 1976. Cappy is also the man credited with first exploring the paranormal side of the building.

From a newspaper article in 1984:

Bizarre happenings at John Stone's Inn "began seven years ago when Fournier bought the old inn" with doors that will not remain bolted and lights that turn themselves on. A number of psychics and mystics poured through the 152-year old inn sniffing out spirits after Fournier went public about strange events at the inn five years ago.

While Fournier said the stories of each expert vary wildly, they all detected one thing in common. "When I bought them to the upstairs function room they all felt the strangest feelings in the back half of that room," he said. "Every single one said the same thing in that upstairs room. That's what made a believer out of me."

All the psychics perceived more than one spirit, mostly sullen male phantoms, Fournier said. Last week psychic Lee Sonnenfeld had the same peculiar sensation. A drunkard named Burt Philips may have died at the inn during the 1890s, she said. Now, Philips' spirit refuses to leave the inn because it enjoys the atmosphere there.

Whoever the spirit is, assistant manager Butch Adams said he won't be caught dead at the inn alone at night. One night while finishing floors in the building, Adams said he became scared, very scared. "For no apparent reason" a handful of birdseed fell through holes in the ceiling, rattling to the floor where he was working.

According to Fournier, bartenders are constantly telling of water taps that turn themselves on, and patrons have reported being tapped on the shoulder only to turn around and find no one behind them.

Also from 1984, an article about Ralph Bibbo, a professional hypnotist and founder of ECHO (Education Concerning a Higher Order), who visited the inn:

After several sessions, Bibbo said he has finally been able to unearth the ghastly tale that has kept between six and seven spirits roaming the inn for nearly 140 years.

After speaking to several of the spirits, including a chambermaid named Sadie, Bibbo said he was told that John Stone accidentally killed a New York boarder, Michael, after he accused the visitor of cheating in an upstairs card game that netted him $3,000.

The year was reportedly 1845. Bibbo said six or seven of the persons who witnessed the murder and helped Stone bury the body in the basement were bound together in secrecy to the owner ? even in the spirit world. In one video-taped session in which Stone reluctantly entered the body of ECHO member Terry Pendleton, Stone angrily told the crowd watching the session to "get out of here. I want you off my premises!" Bibbo's theory is so convincing to Fournier that he is allowing Bibbo to dig up the basement in search of the phantom body. "I know we'll find a skeleton," Bibbo said. "It may take a couple more sessions to figure all this out, but we'll find it."

So check out Stone’s in Ashland, get yourself spooked, and then calm down over a Gansett in the tap room.


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