April 10, 2013

The Sherburne Inn: How One Community is Keeping a Local Landmark Alive

  • By: Kathleen M. Yasas
The Sherburne Inn in 1917. Credit: Sherburne Public Library
The Sherburne Inn in 1917

Written by Kathleen Yasas, President, Save The Sherburne Inn Restoration Project, Inc.

Her lights have been dark for almost a decade now. She has stood vacant and endured rain and snow, falling bricks, and gatherings of not people, but pigeons. Still, when you step inside the Sherburne Inn, you can almost feel the souls who have passed through her doors since she first opened in 1917.

For eighty-plus years, people of this community -- and those from well beyond -- celebrated life's moments within these walls. Sisters and brothers, mothers and fathers, grandparents and children, aunts and uncles and friends crossed the threshold to gather and make merry, whether at dinner or for a glass of wine, or for weddings, reunions, and milestone birthdays.

The Inn's two fireplaces, cold now for years, once warmed the hands of those huddled inside away from our town's legendary snow. And on brilliant summer days in June, when Sherburne's Pageant of Bands brought streets to bursting, glasses were raised from the Inn’s porches to hail a village known for its generosity and love of rural sensibilities.

The Sherburne Inn is located at the only four-corner intersection of Sherburne, a small village nestled in the Chenango Valley of central New York. Settled in 1791, Sherburne was once a key stopping point between Albany and a booming westward industry. Since 1803, a tavern, rooming house, or hotel has stood at what is now the intersection of Routes 12 and 80.

All previous structures burned to the ground, including that which stood on the property until 1915, when village philanthropists joined together and erected a building made of brick and poured concrete. The “new” building, which opened in June 1917, was to be known as the Sherburne Inn, and for the next eighty-four years would be a vital part of the Sherburne community.

Nearly 100 years later, in October 2012, the Inn again became a threatened property, not by fire, but by development.

The Sherburne Inn today. Credit: CoStar Group
The Sherburne Inn today

A chain store proposed to purchase the Inn and an adjacent building (both listed on the National Register of Historic Landmarks as part of Sherburne’s historic district), raze them, and build in their place an all-night convenience store and gas station.

When this plan was revealed to Sherburne’s citizens, a group of residents and preservationists came together and said, "We will not let the bulldozers win."

Following a meeting with the owner and other concerned village residents, during which the owner offered the group a five-month window to raise funds to purchase the building, Save The Sherburne Inn Restoration Project, Inc. (SSIRP) was born. SSIRP recruited a nine-member board of directors, secured legal and financial counsel, incorporated in January 2013, and received 501(c)(3) nonprofit status in February.

SSIRP’s board of directors is, in a word, dynamic. Board members’ skills are vast, including professional fundraising and grant writing, construction trades, business management, event management, hospitality, writing, editing, public relations, publishing, financial planning, and project management.

All are residents of Sherburne, some here all their lives and others who have arrived or returned to embrace rural life. All volunteers, we are gathering, brainstorming, and planning in order to reach a common goal: to stop the bleeding. We will no longer allow our unique and historic buildings to fall without shouting for all to hear that we have had enough.

In March 2013, SSIRP took a giant step in raising the funds to purchase the Sherburne Inn. Once the building is ours, SSIRP will reach out to any and all possible sources to bring our dream to fruition, as we’ve been told we will need $3 million to transform the Inn into a place with a farm-to-table fine-dining restaurant, two bars, Old-World-appointed guest rooms, event space, gift shop, bakery, salon, and fitness center.

Tour of the Sherburne Inn's interior in 2012. Credit: SSIRP
Tour of the Sherburne Inn's interior in 2012

We know the road ahead is a long and winding one. However, just today we received a check in the mail … for five dollars. The lady who contributed wrote this note: “I wish I could do more.” Had she included a telephone number, I might have called and said, “You have done your part. We’ll do the rest.”

So “our” dream is not only that of SSIRP, but of the entire community of people who remember the Inn in her days of glory, when on our corner was fine dining and guest accommodations; a place to wed or meet; a pub where friends talk and laugh and fall in love; a spot for church ladies to lunch, service organizations to plan, and schoolchildren to attend prom.

When the Inn reopens it will welcome seniors, businessmen, out-of-town guests, and all who know that a village is made of -- and thrives because of -- its people. The “memory heart” of a community is not in a place to buy lotto tickets and gas. Our memory heart is in our history, and in the knowledge that above all our job during this brief time on earth is to preserve that history for those who come along after we are gone.

This post was adapted from a post previously published on The Squeaky Pen. Visit SSIRP's website and Facebook page for more information.

By: Kathleen M. Yasas

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