Historical Society acquires 1755 Burnham Tavern

By Janice Steinhagen - Staff Writer
Lisbon - posted Tue., Feb. 18, 2014
Local history buffs hope to restore the 1750-era Burnham Tavern on Route 169, which the town has leased to the Lisbon Historical Society. Photo by Janice Steinhagen.
Local history buffs hope to restore the 1750-era Burnham Tavern on Route 169, which the town has leased to the Lisbon Historical Society. Photo by Janice Steinhagen.

A nearly-untouched slice of Lisbon’s early Colonial history is now under the wing of the Lisbon Historical Society, as town officials agreed to lease the former Burnham Tavern building to the society for 99 years. The agreement means that the historical society can pursue grant money toward preserving and restoring the 1755 structure to its original appearance.

“It does need work, but oh, it’s amazing inside,” said LHS President Paula Adams. “It’s got so many original features. [The previous owners] didn’t do anything, they didn’t change anything. All they did was to add a layer.”

While the building, located on Route 169 (North Burnham Highway), is currently boarded up to prevent vandalism and burglary, society members have been inside to document the interior. Their photos show recent wallpaper peeled back to reveal original stenciled borders around door frames and along ceilings. “It looks like all that wallpaper, which is now peeling off, helped preserve the details,” Adams said. The tavern house also features carved fluted paneling in “a very unusual design. Whoever made it was someone special,” she said.

In the 18th century, taverns served as erstwhile community centers, hosting town meetings as well as travelers in need of food and rest. To that end, the structure’s top floor features a ballroom with a barrel-vaulted ceiling that runs the entire length of the house. “It’s in incredible condition,” said Adams of the ballroom. The room could have hosted dances, political debates, and other town-wide events. “In its heyday, this house had three stage [coach] stops a day. It was a hoppin’ place,” she said.

According to the LHS’s research, the tavern was a rendezvous point for Continental forces and local militia troops fighting in the Revolutionary War, on the route between Boston and New London.

Adams said that with the lease in place, the society plans to pursue both State and National Historic Landmark status for the tavern. It also plans to continue research into the structure’s history, attempting to identify the joiner who created the paneling and learning more about those who owned and operated the structure during its long, storied past.

“There is so much we do not know, but as we start peeling back the layers, the house’s history will start to emerge,” she said.
Adams said that the town acquired the house, which had been a private residence, and an adjoining lot of about 100 acres from the family of the previous owner after his death. The house has stood empty for two years since the last owner died. A security system now protects the house, she said.

The LHS arrangement with the town is similar to that for the Bishop House at the town center, said Adams. That structure has been restored since its 1987 acquisition and the historical society conducts hearth-cooking classes and other historical programs in the building. The Burnham Tavern, she said, “is not as bad as the condition of the Bishop House when we acquired it.”

Adams said that the historical society welcomes new members and others who are willing to volunteer time or talent toward the tavern’s preservation and restoration, as well as help with fundraising. Adams can be reached at 860-887-8052.


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