By Skip Moskey
The Ben Grosvenor Inn, Pomfret, Conn. (Undated, but likely prior to 1894; author’s collection)
One of the most enjoyable aspects of writing a biography of Larz and Isabel Anderson was discovering what their childhoods and young adult years were like. Whatever had been written about them before my book’s publication in 2016, little was known about the juvenile period of their lives.
In reading Larz’s journals, I found many references to “Pomfret” and “Mrs. Grosvenor.” With those clues in hand, I quickly discovered the existence of The Ben Grosvenor Inn in Pomfret, Connecticut, a popular destination for vacations in the late 19th century. At the time that the Andersons were spending summers in Pomfret, the inn had already been in business since 1765, when it was known a Caleb Grosvenor’s Inn.
Sign for Caleb Grosvenor’s Inn, Pomfret, Connecticut, ca. 1772–1786.
This sign was repainted by illustrator Augustus Hoppin in 1894 for the Ben Grosvenor, a popular Colonial revival country inn in Pomfret. (Connecticut Historical Society)
During the Gilded Age, the town promoted itself as a place where a quiet and cool vacation could be had, away from the heat and grime of east coast cities. According to The Connecticut Quarterly of 1896, the town offered several amenities to vacationers, including The Pomfret Club. The club house, designed by architect George Keller of Hartford, was set on six acres of “valuable land” and offered tennis, croquet, bowling, and archery. The club house also was home to the Pomfret Library Association and to Pomfret Hall, the setting for “numerous dances, musicales, lectures, fairs, plays, and operettas.”
During Larz Anderson’s childhood and college years, his parents brought him and his sister Elsie on vacation to The Ben Grosvenor Inn, where they would spend several weeks each summer enjoying the clean, cool air of the eastern hills of the Nutmeg State. The old, rambling Dutch Colonial-style house was the perfect setting for a restful family vacation. Its two-story wrap-around front porch with rocking chairs was a place where guests could sit in the shade and talk on a warm summer day. There was also at least one cottage for guests. The Connecticut Quarterly proclaimed the inn “accessible, commodious, and popular [and] furnishes a large and select coterie with what they want.”
The “East Cottage” at The Ben Grosvenor Inn, Pomfret (1929; author’s collection).
During the time that the Nicholas Longworth Andersons stayed there in the 1880s, Mr. and Mrs. Ben Grosvenor themselves were in command of the establishment. Larz had lifelong and very fond memories of the table Mrs. Grosvenor laid for her guests at every meal. Throughout his life, he often longed for what he called “the Pomfret cookbook” – a reference to her hearty and wholesome cooking.
The Inn building remained standing until 1960 and was then demolished. The outline of its foundation is still visible on Google Earth satellite imagery of Pomfret, which you can see by clicking here, or in the 2016 site photograph below. The inn was located on the large expanse of lawn just south of the former First Congregational Church of Pomfret built in 1860.
In late summer 1889, when Larz returned from his year-long round-the-word trip, he went straight to Pomfret to see his family:
On landing in New York I took the first train through the familiar landscape to Pomfret, where the dearest of families gave me the most welcome of welcomes, and I was home again!
The author, Skip Moskey, on the site of The Ben Grosvenor Inn, Pomfret, CT (June 2016). Note that outlines of the Inn’s foundations are still visible in the ground.
Originally published August 16, 2015; revised and updated, July 30, 2017.
To view the book trailer for Larz and Isabel Anderson: Wealth and Celebrity in the Gilded Age, please Click Here: Book Trailer.