A brief telling of the beginnings of the Essex Community Heritage Organization (ECHO, now Historic Essex) and the subsequent placing of the entire hamlet of Essex on the National Register as told by a survivor.
Expo 67 in Montreal
In the summer of 1967, the Northway being incomplete, my family and I drove through the village of Essex on our way to Expo 67 in Montreal. The detour took us past Rosslyn and I immediately fell in love not only with the house but with the entire village. On the way back we stopped at a local real estate office and inquired as to what was for sale. As it turned out, the yellow brick house was among the numerous properties available. The primary reason that so many properties were available was the dwindling population. Once a bustling community, the commercial life of the village now had been reduced to little more than a store too small to be considered a grocery and a small marina. Tourism consisted of people driving non-stop through the village on their way to the ferry landing. With no large cities within easy commuting range the existing housing stock served only to meet the needs of an increasingly elderly and less affluent population. In short, the village residents could not afford to modernize, much less replace, the early 19th century stock. Love and appreciation were in constant battle with leaky plumbing and roofs.
In 1968 we finalized our purchase of the house and moved to Essex. In the early winter I decided that I should go introduce myself to the Town Board which held their meetings in what was commonly called the Adirondack Hotel – a dilapidated structure surrounded by a seriously deteriorated late 19th century piazza situated on a corner in the center of town. If you looked past the peeling paint and rotten boards though you could still see the 18th century tavern house. The principal item on the night’s agenda turn out to be the destruction and replacement of the tavern house by a more modern structure. So far as the Town Board was concerned the sole holdup was financial. Old houses weren’t producing much in the way of tax revenue so the Town needed to find a way to do it on the cheap.
Essex Community Heritage Organization
The Essex Community Heritage Organization (ECHO) was born at that meeting when I suggested that the building was an important component of local history, should be saved, and could probably serve for many years as the Town’s offices. I pointed to the good Town fathers that tourism was an important source of revenue and, in addition, that the buildings in Essex were all important. I probably continued in this vein for a while and concluded with a statement that I would take care of the problem. In any event, I do remember walking home wondering just how I was going to accomplish all this. It turned out to be less difficult than I expected. A press release brought a surprising number of people to my home the following January. An impassioned appeal on behalf – not just of the tavern but on behalf of all the houses and other structures – combined with a roaring fire and strong drink served to get the ball rolling.