The Ivoryton Inn, like the village in which it is located, has had its share of peaks and valleys, its times of prosperity and austerity. And like its namesake village, the Ivoryton Inn is experiencing a revival.
Historically, for better or for worse, Ivoryton, is, indeed, “the Town that Elephants Built.” A true factory town (although it is a village of Essex), Ivoryton was built around the ivory trade, primarily by Comstock, Cheney and Co. Until World War II, Ivoryton, along with its next door neighbor of Deep River, was a dominant economic power in the Lower Connecticut River Valley. Comstock, Cheney & Co. was responsible for the construction of many buildings in the village, most of which stand to this day.
The Ivoryton Store, known previously as the Rose Brothers Store and most recently as the home of Gather of Ivoryton, was built by Samuel Comstock to be a store, post office and recreation hall (upstairs) for the village. In 1904, the Post Office was moved to a new building west of the library, now home to Hammered Edge and the Ivoryton Studio. The recreation hall was no longer needed when Comstock Cheney Hall was built in 1910. This building is now known, of course, as the Ivoryton Playhouse. Even the Ivoryton Library Building Committee, formed in 1988, consisted of people all directly connected to Comstock, Cheney & Co. Several of the houses in the village were built by or mortgaged through the company for employees’ residences. On Main Street is the largest residence of all, the Ivoryton Inn.
In 1865, the Ivoryton Inn was built on property owned by Samuel Comstock, the president of Comstock, Cheney & Co. and expanded by the addition of a section of the Reverend Denison School, a girls’ boarding school in the Winthrop section of Deep River. As was common at the time, this dormitory was brought down by rollers and affixed to the new structure. The Inn served as a boarding house for male workers at the Comstock, Cheney & Co. factory. In 1866, Samuel Comstock transferred ownership to Comstock, Cheney & Co.
Additions in 1901 and 1923 brought the building to the structure we see today. There is no record of when the Ivoryton Inn, variously known as the Hotel de Ivory, Hotel d’ Ivory and the Ivoryton Hotel, ceased to be a factory boarding house. In 1936, the property was transferred to the Ivoryton Realty Company, newly formed to sell off non-factory assets of Comstock, Cheney and Co.
In 1937, the Inn was purchased by Charles and Anita Stannard, who continued to operate the Inn by renting rooms. Blanche Weber purchased the property in 1945, and for a few years operated it as a home for the aged. Foreclosure brought on the sale of the Inn to George and Theresa Maynard in 1954.
When Milton Stiefel brought actors from New York, his “New York Players,” to the Ivoryton Playhouse, the Inn provided housing for many of them. Actors said to have stayed at the Ivoryton Inn included Myrna Loy, Marlon Brando, Helen Hayes, Shelley Winters, Steve Cochran, Mickey Rooney and Tab Hunter. During the summer of 1990, Annie 2 played at the Norma Terris Theater in Chester. The cast and crew, including lead actor Harve Presnell, stayed at the Ivoryton Inn.
In 1956, the Inn was purchased by James Donovan, who ran a nightclub with the help of partners Ed Savoy and Willie Pep, former featherweight boxing champion. Finding that their vision of the Inn as a swinging hotspot proved too costly, their involvement only lasted a year. Later the Inn changed hands and for a time did become a popular nightclub and lounge, attracting musical acts such as Rudy Vallee, The Inkspots, Bob Eberly, Al Gentile and the Jimmy Dorsey Band. A young local Walt Budney played clarinet at the lounge with accordion player Sis Saunders, among others. Christine Jorgenson was also said to have performed.
The Ivoryton Inn has also been home to several restaurants including an Indonesian restaurant in 1963, a French restaurant called the Moulin Rouge in 1965, as well as Cugino’s, Tavern at the Inn and the very popular Daniel’s Table, a fixture in Ivoryton in the late 1980s.
The last nightclub incarnation was under owner George Bant, a jazz musician who played under the name Ed Bant, who bought the Inn in 1990 at a market peak price of $640,000. Once again the business failed, and the Inn sat vacant for many years and was foreclosed upon in 1996.
According to extensive research by the late Donald Malcarne, town historian for Essex from 1992– 2009, the Ivoryton Inn property has in total changed hands 14 times, until last purchased by Mark Yellin in 1999. Currently, the Inn provides rooms, rents out the Tea Room for parties and other events and recently leased the kitchen and bar room to Porky Pete’s BBQ and Brew who have now opened a satellite restaurant with plans for a beer garden in the spring of 2016.
Like the Village of Ivoryton, recently renovated with new sidewalks, crosswalks and lighting, so, too, the Ivoryton Inn celebrates its return to prosperity with newly renovated rooms and a new restaurant. Let’s hope this peak plateaus for a long time to come.
The Ivoryton Library presents the next in its series, An Intimate History of Ivoryton: The Colorful History of the Ivoryton Inn, Sunday, Oct. 4 from 3-5 p.m. This free event will be held at the Ivoryton Inn, 115 Main St., Ivoryton. Please call the library for more information at 860-767-1252 or visit www.ivoryton.com.
Elizabeth Alvord is the director of the Ivoryton Library, which holds an extensive collection on the history of Ivoryton.