The Village Hotel & Fairbanks Block
Did you know that the Eagle Hotel, on the site of the Woodstock Inn, was not the only major hotel in Woodstock in the 19th century? In fact, a wood-framed hotel dominated the corner of Central and Elm Streets. Elisha Taylor built this hotel in 1796. Taylor named it the Village Hotel. “When the house was ready to be opened, he announced the fact in the following manner:--
The subscriber hereby informs his friends and the public that he has erected a large and convenient House on the east end of Woodstock Green, in the County of Windsor, for the purpose of keeping a
HOUSE OF ENTERTAINMENT,
by the name of VILLAGE HOTEL, at the Sign of the EAGLE, which will be open for the reception of Gentlemen and Ladies of all denominations, on Monday, the 19th day of December instant: Where on account of the largeness of his House, and the strictness of attention that will be paid to all denominations of people (especially travelers) [he] flatters himself that he shall give general satisfaction--- for which Gentlemen and Ladies please to call and see for yourselves. E. TAYLOR.
Woodstock, December 14, 1796”
The History of Woodstock, Henry Swan Dana
Interestingly, the large eagle carved by Moody Taylor associated with Richardson’s Tavern (which became the Eagle Hotel, site of the now Woodstock Inn) was not placed on top of that building until 1830. Therefore, we can assume that the origins of the use of the eagle as a sign for our local lodging establishments started with the Village Hotel.
Taylor also erected a brick block next to his hotel (current TD Bank branch located on Elm Street) in 1807 for selling merchandise. The building was constructed with brick ends, having a storeroom and small office on the lower floor, and in the second story a single apartment fitted for a Masonic Hall. This hall was occupied by Governor Smith and the Council during the session of the Legislature for 1807.
Eliakim Spooner took over management of the Village Hotel in August 1815 until his death in 1820. Spooner supposedly created a water system that served the hotel, which possibly originated from the aqueduct on the Marsh property (now Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park). “Mr. Spooner was among the first inhabitants in Vermont, having settled within the limits of the State prior to the organization of a State government. He was of a very social and companionable disposition, yet withal a man of stern, republican integrity, qualities that furnished him a passport to many of the responsible offices within the gift of the State. He was possessed of an original turn of mind, and it is understood that the aqueduct so much in use sixty years ago along this neighborhood and elsewhere, composed of logs perforated with an auger, was an invention of his. He died in this town, January 3, 1820, in the eightieth year of his age.”
The History of Woodstock, Henry Swan Dana
Spooner sold the Village Hotel in 1819 to Robert Barker. Robert Barker (b. Feb. 1, 1790-d. Jan. 25, 1870) originally came from Bedford, Massachusetts, and moved to Vermont when he was sixteen years old. He came to live with the family of Dudley Chase in Randolph. He found work in 1806 driving the stagecoach which ran from Randolph to Windsor. According to Dana's History of Woodstock, he rose at three in the morning to waken his passengers. While they were readying themselves for the journey, he would harness and hitch up the horses for the trip to Woodstock. Barker stopped at the Village Hotel so that passengers could have breakfast and he could change horses. From there, he drove to Windsor where he met the stages from Boston and New York. He would make his way back to Randolph that night, an eighty-mile roundtrip journey. He supposedly followed this routine twice a week in the summer and winter for more than four years. By 1810, the United States Postal Service awared the government contract to Barker to carry the mail on the coach.
Barker married Eliakim Spooner's granddaughter, Francis Julia Spooner, in March, 1819. It is more than likely that they met at the Village Hotel, and he courted her there as he was traveling through Woodstock. They eventually had four children together: Frances, Olivia, Julia and George.
Barker, who owned and operated the hotel from 1819-1835, made the most changes to the building by adding a second story to the wing on Elm Street, a third story dancing hall (about 1830) to the main building, and double decker porches facing both Elm and Central.
“Everybody knew Barker and everybody drank at his bar, where Rat Spooner shoved the decanter.” The Vermont Standard
Robert Barker became well known in his capacity as landlord of the hotel. His motto was: “Welcome the coming, speed the parting guest.” The hotel must have been quite a hub of activity with Barker’s connections to the stage and local community. Even local doctors could let out a room at the hotel providing “constant and unremitting attention” to their patrons.
There are almost no advertisements in the Woodstock Observer from the 1830s promoting Barker's Hotel. Perhaps he did not need to as it was the central business in the village. He does promote a "Great Natural Curiosity" in the paper with this advertisement (seen below). It is curious how Barker was able to get the elephant to the hotel without it being seen so he could charge the 25 cents- children half price admission.
Barker eventually sold the hotel in 1835 to Samuel Whitney who ran the business until 1856. Whitney added his own touch to the building in 1836, raised the north wing to a third story and built a hall over the woodshed. Whitney sold the hotel to Gilman Henry in 1856. The business was known by then as Henry’s Hotel. In 1861, Henry improved the hall by extending it east on Central Street, with a narrow passageway between the hall and main building. He added about 40 feet of additional building. Four years later, he added 60 feet of building behind the hall and connected it to the barn.
This early photograph shows the heavy traffic outside of Henry's Hotel as farmers came to town to sell their wood in 1859. The hotel is located on the right.
The spot in the middle of the street outside of the hotel became known as the Village Square.
On March 23, 1867, the hotel burned down along with everything on the north side of Central Street from the brook to the corner, as well as the buildings down Elm Street. The list of buildings destroyed were: Henry’s Hotel and Block, Bank Block, Union Hall Building, the County Jail and attached house. The fire started in the second story of the hotel barn among the hay and straw about 8:30. It took only three hours for all of the buildings to lay in ruin. The fire impacted many businesses.
“The jail house was occupied by William R. Hewitt. Henry’s block was occupied by C. M. Baxter & Co., furniture dealers, the Post Office, R.H. Bailey, silversmith, and E.W. Leonard, milliner. In the bank block were O.H. Freeman’s drug store, the bank, and the law office of Andrew Tracy, Julius Converse, and French & Johnson. Union Hall building was occupied by B.S. Thompson, tinsmith, the VERMONT STANDARD, and the Spirit of the Age.”
Vermont Standard, March 28, 1867.
As a side note, the Vermont Standard was only able to print a small bulletin detailing the fire as they lost everything except a portion of their type.
In 1873, M.C. Fairbanks begins to put up "a new and handsome building of brick and iron, two stories with Mansard roof." "In procuring stone for his foundation walls, Fairbanks discovered a quarry from which blocks with natural and perfect faces are obtained with great ease." The quarry was located near A.B. Janquith's nursery on the outskirts of the village (location to be determined).
The building is described in the July 17, 1873 edition of The Vermont Standard: "After some delay M.C. Fairbanks has obtained the iron and brick for his store and work on it is being rapidly pressed forward. The building will be the most centrally located and one of the finest in town, and it merits some description. It is to be built of iron and brick; in height two stories with a Mansard roof, making in reality a three story building, only a foot or two lower than Phoenix Block. On Elm street it has a front of twenty-two feet, on Central Street of seventy-two feet with a depth partly of twenty-two feet and partly of fifty. The basement will be an unusually high and airy one as the ground floor is considerably higher than the sidewalk. The ground floor will be arranged for three stores of which Mr. Fairbanks will occupy the one towards the bridge. Rumor has it that Mrs. White, the milliner, will occupy the corner one. The second and third floors will be divided into offices, ect. It will be furnished in butternut, and let weak eyes rejoice in knowing that it is to have thirty-eight plate glass windows. Mr. Fairbanks expects to have it ready for partial occupancy in six weeks."
M.C. Fairbanks moved his harness business into the basement (and sold Fairbanks scales). The store on the easterly side of Central Street was leased by Mrs. D.S. White, who was a milliner. The second story of rooms were filled by Dr. Baker (dentist) who had a large reception room, a large operating room and a laboratory. The Woodstock Cornet Band negotiated the use of the entire third floor.
Later, Fairbanks harness shop became Wing Sing's Laundry. The first floor was occupied by George W. Marden & Company, selling cloth by the yard. There was also a butcher here at one point. O.G. Kimball, druggist kept a shop on the easterly end of the block on the first floor. Interestingly, the photo below shows H.V. French located on the first floor. Since that time, the block has been referred to as the French Block.
Many, many businesses have come and gone over the years in this 149-year-old block. We are still learning about them.