Two early inns from the glory days of Essex still stand… Wright’s Inn is one of the town’s oldest buildings, its southern portion having been built about 1790 as a tavern and inn. A long, rambling wooden structure at Main Street and Boquet Road (Route 22), it houses Town of Essex offices. (“The Essex Inn Homey Lodge”. Albany Times Union. October 1, 1989)
Wright’s Inn was one of many inns that once accommodated travelers in Essex, New York in the late 1700s and early 1800s. Now it is only one of two inns that are still standing in Essex centuries later. The building today serves as the Essex Town Hall, but it is the shell of Essex’s earliest surviving tavern.
“A classic example of the commercial inn of its period, the window division, roof pitch, cladding technique, and architectural style elements are the same used elsewhere in the village in more modest structures, and relate it harmoniously to them.” (Living Places)
American Federal Style
This building was constructed in two phases. Daniel Ross was the original owner of the building who had built the southern portion of the inn circa 1790 (“Essex: An Architectural Guide.” Essex Community Heritage Organization, 1986. 11). Ross already owned a ferry that operated across Lake Champlain, and creating a tavern across the street would increase his profits from those who traveled on the ferry (“Essex: An Architectural Guide.” 11).
This southern part of the building had a “small portico (covered porch) and pairs of windows on either side, forming the typical symmetrical five-bay facade popular of the Federal style” (“Essex: An Architectural Guide.” 11). Federal foundations were usually of “dressed of semi-dressed stone, sometimes laid dry as in the early part of Wright’s Inn” (McNulty, George F. & Margaret Scheinin. Essex: The Architectural Heritage. Burlington: Queen City Printers, 1971. 22).
The principal building material in the American Federal style was wood. (Essex: The Architectural Heritage.16). Looking at the horizontal board over the windows, one can see that the wood had been “chiseled to imitate the stones of an arch,” a stylistic touch which may indicate the workers past familiarity working in stone (“Essex: An Architectural Guide.” 11).
Becoming Wright’s Inn
Daniel Wright purchased the tavern from Ross in 1799, and he was responsible for having the northern portion of the building created possibly as late as the 1820’s, which was when Essex began to experience a maritime boom (“Essex: An Architectural Guide.” 11).
Wright’s Inn, “originally a five-bay center-hall clapboarded structure, subsequently doubled in size by extending it to the north. While the interior has been extensively altered, the facade with its portico has been carefully restored to its appearance in the opening years of the 19th century.” (Living Places)
Sometime in the 19th century a “two-storey veranda was added to the front–a favorite feature of Essex hotels that still survives, in a much earlier version, down the street on the Essex Inn.” (“Essex: An Architectural Guide.” 11). Many have owned the inn throughout the years. Some of the previous owners of the building included:
“Some years before the beginning of the Civil War, Charles G. Fancher came into possession, and was followed successively by William Brainard, who left in 1861, Martin Eggleston, Edward Burt, Webster W. Royce, Parker Torrance, Sidney Carr, Eli Farnsworth and J. C. Baldwin.” (History of Essex, New York)
The building’s name has changed over the years as well. For some years it was called the Adirondack Hotel and/or Adirondack House (Everest, Allan S. Our North Country Heritage: Architecture Worth Saving in Clinton and Essex Counties. Plattsburgh: Tundra Books of Northern New York, 1972. 132), and more recently the Wright’s Inn was renovated and repurposed into the Essex Town Hall.
Wright’s Inn Becomes Essex Town Hall
In 1969 Christian Heurich Jr. (“Essex: An Architectural Guide.” 11), donated the Wright’s Inn building to the Town of Essex.
At the time, the building… was in “very rough” condition. “There was quite a bit of talk about demolishing it and putting in a park,” [Robert ] Hammerslag said. (Press Republican)
Renovating the Wright’s Inn into Essex Town Hall occurred gradually over the next three decades under the direction of Robert Hammerslag, executive director of the Essex Community Heritage Organization (ECHO). In 1986 the New York State Council on the Arts funded an historic and structural report, and four years later ECHO received a a $200,000 matching grant to move the renovation project forward.
“We had a very strict ground rule going into this project — that it could only proceed without money raised from taxes,” Hammerslag said. (Press Republican)
Although it took several years to raise $200,000 from community members and reallocation of unused funds from from other projects, by 1997 the bidding process began. A second round of bidding followed curtailing of the scope of work, and Rabideau Bros. Construction Co. ultimately won the contract and undertook the ambitious but well executed renovation.
By the turn of the century the Wright’s Inn was successfully repurposed as Essex Town Hall, bringing to a close a lengthy but important chapter in the Essex Renaissance. Until renovation of the second floor! Perhaps one day the old ball room will be renovated and open for events once again…
Additional Resources for the Wright’s Inn
Although it is no longer in print, you may be able to locate a copy of Wright’s Inn: A Historic Structure Report (Google Books) published by ECHO in 1989.
This map (with satellite image overlay) will help you locate the Wright’s Inn and see how its location relates to other historic buildings in the historic district.
View Flaneur’s Guide to Essex, New York in a larger map