Waybury Inn marks two centuries of food, lodging

MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury residents on Saturday, Oct. 30, will have an opportunity to celebrate the birth of a new downtown bridge as well as the 200th birthday of an iconic local inn.
From 1 to 3 p.m., the East Middlebury Historical Society will help Waybury Inn owners Joe and Tracy Sutton showcase the historic lodging establishment, erected in 1810 by John Foot. With the benefit of pictures, written histories and guided tours, area residents will gain a better understanding of the 9,000-square-foot inn that has been a focal point of East Middlebury’s history, entertainment and dining scene for the past two centuries.
“I don’t often think about the inn in terms of its historical importance,” Joe Sutton said on Thursday, as he and Tracy took a brief pause during what has been a busy foliage season. “But then I think about 200 years — that’s quite a run.”
Foot erected the “large tavern house” as a boarding house to accommodate workers from what was a budding mill industry and ironworks along the Middlebury River, as well as serve travelers on the east-west stagecoach service across the Middlebury Gap.
Unfortunately, Foot’s vision of East Middlebury as a thriving industrial hub never materialized. The turnpike, now known as Route 125, deteriorated and became virtually impassable in the spring, noted Christine Beacham in her book, “If Walls Could Talk: A History of the Waybury Inn.” Various glass and textile factories in the area eventually closed down, leaving East Middlebury a largely residential village.
Foot put the tavern up for sale in 1843, setting the stage for more than 20 changes in ownership, plenty of renovations and at least one substantial expansion project. It would also undergo a few name changes — including the “Green Mountain House” and the “Glen House,” before being assigned the Waybury Inn moniker that exists today.
The inn was a community hub for entertainment during the years before movies and television, the Suttons noted. The second floor of the inn included a ballroom.
“There were some festive Saturday night gatherings, dinners and dances,” Joe Sutton said.
Poet Robert Frost, a Ripton resident, was a frequent guest at the inn, where he would hold court with other local luminaries. Tracy Sutton noted the inn still receives visits from Middlebury College graduates who used to bus tables at the inn and recall interacting with Frost. The inn has a highly requested room named in Frost’s honor, a room in which visitors have left remembrance letters commenting on such subjects as their stays, their impressions of Vermont, their hopes for their new lives as wedded couples, and even their inner-most thoughts while struggling with terminal illnesses. The letters are contained in a big box in the room and are available for perusal.
“We have people who book that room because of that (letter box),” Tracy Sutton said, noting the television crews and journalists have chronicled the special letter writing tradition.
Also giving the property considerable exposure over the years has been the “Newhart” television sitcom (1982-1990), which used images of the Waybury Inn as the backdrop for the popular CBS show that starred comedian Bob Newhart.
“We still have people who come because of the Newhart show,” Joe Sutton said, though the star has yet to book a room.
John Flowers is at [email protected].

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