Welcome to The Squeaky Pen

...where life is slow, and ripe with rural treasures

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Sherburne Inn: Where We Are

One of my favorite movie lines, from "A League of Their Own," is when Tom Hanks is talking to Geena Davis about baseball:

"It's supposed to be hard. If it wasn't hard, everybody would do it; it's the hard that makes it great."

But sometimes things just seem too hard. Things. Like moving forward, or believing in a cause, or doing what we feel is right even when others shout we're not. We contend with the naysayers, codgers who sit around and throw rocks at any idea because...well, truthfully I don't know why the rock-throwers throw. Is it because they really feel a project will be a failure, or is it because they want to see the project fail? Because, for some unfathomable reason, they enjoy watching other people do poorly since they themselves have accomplished so little?

I've said the following to many people in the last two weeks: My nickname, as a kid, was Stick-In-The-Mud, coined by my dad. Even as a child, when I was told I couldn't do something, I dug in. I said, "Oh really?" and forged ahead. Many times I succeeded, and sometimes I failed because, of course, everybody does. But what I never did was stop trying.

As reported on this blog last week, word came out recently that two historic buildings in my town were under threat of destruction, to be replaced by a convenience store and gas station. One of the buildings, the former Sherburne Inn, was causing most of the controversy. There were many sides to this issue. Some people said, "Good, that building is a mess and should be torn down." Others waffled: "Well, it's too bad, would be nice if the building could be brought back, but maybe progress is better." Still others, a group of which I was a part, said "No. Let's not knock down yet another historic building. Let's see what we, as a community, can do."

The owner of the building, Jim Webb of Sherburne, bought the Inn some years ago with the idea to renovate and reopen. And then, like so many of us, Jim felt the pinch of the economy. In the opinion of many, Jim has thus far saved the building from another person or corporation coming along and tearing it down. He was unable to bring to fruition his original plan and so the buliding has sat idle and dark, a sad reminder on the anchor corner of this village of just how hard times have been. Everyone on all sides of this issue agrees on one point: the Inn, in its current condition, is an eyesore.

Last week a group of concerned citizens -- preservationists all -- met with Jim to discuss the prospect of the Inn and its adjacent building being torn down. The meeting was civilized and productive. Each person present understood the perspective of others: Jim's financial interest coupled with his resistance to razing the Inn; and our interest in preserving, if possible, this historical though (at the moment) not terribly attractive structure. Thanks to our concern, Jim cracked open the door: he gave us a week to raise a substantial down payment, and until the end of the year to raise the rest to purchase both buildings. We tried to raise the down payment. Thanks to people in this village and those who don't live here but who still have a connection to Sherburne, we got close as the deadline arrived. But we failed.

On Saturday I met with Jim, a "hometown boy" who has, over the years, done much for this small village, both publicly and behind the scenes. He toured me through the Inn, which is indeed begging for restoration. It is not, however (as many claim), falling down. The building is made of poured concrete and brick, built nearly 100 years ago by men who tired of fires that claimed its earlier incarnations, beautiful wooden structures that in archival photographs show ladies and gentlemen in Victorian garb waving from gabled balconies. The Inn boasts 21,000 square feet, space for dining and guest rooms, a gift shop, a bakery, conferences and parties. It is a grand old building -- which as we confirmed days ago is listed on the National Historic Register -- that is sleeping, its transoms and antique doors and wood banisters and silent fireplaces waiting for the right hands to come along and breathe in new life.

Jim Webb is a fine man. He has considered the concerns of citizens this week, considered the importance of Sherburne's past, and in fact does not want to see the Inn demolished. On Saturday Jim made our group another offer, to buy the Inn for $165,000, which we have accepted. Jim also gave us first right of refusal on the adjacent former Big M property. Our citizens' group, with a $10,000 down payment, has until April 1 to raise the balance of $155,000 to purchase the Sherburne Inn. We feel this task can be accomplished, and as of spring 2013, if not sooner, the Inn will be ours. We are forming a consortium of investors and will operate the Inn under a board of directors. Our next task, a daunting one, will be to raise money to repair, restore, and reopen a thriving business on our four corners. The amount of money needed to restore has varied between experts: $1.5 million, $2 million, maybe more. The details of how we raise this funding is under discussion. The details of what the Inn will be like in the new millennium are being formulated, as is a date for the grand opening. There is much to do and much money to raise. We are launching a community project that will change Sherburne forever, and we in the citizens' group know we can count on our local leaders to assist us as much as they can. Downtown Sherburne's historic district, which includes beautiful old homes, significant buildings, and, in particular, the Pillow and Pantry Bed and Breakfast tenderly and inspiringly restored by Jim and Peggy Jeffrey, will come alive. I am not the only stick-in-the-mud who believes in the future of the Sherburne Inn. Other citizens of this community, and those of you who have pledged money and time and services to help us with this project, are all sticks-in-the-mud. We are digging in our heels. We will make this happen.

Thank you, Jim, for having your heart in the right place. And everyone who is reading this who cares about not just the Inn, but about history and about the future of our community, we need your ideas, your help, your time as volunteers, your fundraising efforts. To those of you who have so generously pledged funds, we will soon call on you to fulfill that pledge. More information on how you can contribute to this historic project will be forthcoming in the days ahead, so stay tuned. We have taken a giant step in the right direction. Now it's time to get to work.

And to the others, those who will tell us this project is too hard, try to remember this: it's the hard that makes it great.


Patty said...

Let's do it!!!

Anonymous said...

Great news! That is what call community! Jim Webb has done so much for our cummunity and God Bless him for that!

krazed kat said...

OMG - good work by all! The most adored building in Sherburne. I'm a designer if I can help in anyway when that time comes - I'm willing. I grew up in the Inn during the 70's as I was best friends w/ the Huffnagles! Some great stories ;-)

Bill Hufnagle said...

I'm in with you Kat!
I hate driving by every day looking at it and knowing what it was and can be again!!
Whatever help is needed by the community, I will be there!!

Kathleen Yasas said...

Thank you everyone! We will certainly call on all of you for your input and help, from raising money to pushing a broom. It's so gratifying to know that our citizens' group is on the right track. Please share this project with as many people as possible, letting everyone know that a few voices can translate into hundreds, and thousands. We cannot let small villages fall to blighted gas station crossroads. Keep checking back with this blog to monitor our progress as we move forward. There is much to do. But together, anything is possible.

Anonymous said...

Can't wait to get in there and help! Thank you so much to everyone involved, and already giving so much in their efforts.

Tom Mody said...


I've been on the fence either way with a preference that the Inn be saved. Now that some progress has been made towards that end I'd be willing to make my novel The Dogs of Sherburne available to you at cost to help the Inn. Sell the book and keep the profits for the Inn. The back cover of the book features the dogs in front of the Inn. Maybe I could design a special poster as well. The book made it's run locally last year so I'm not sure how much selling power it has at this time but it's an idea we can discuss. If you're not familiar with the book go to www.dogsofsherburne.com and you can contact me there.

Kathleen Yasas said...

That's so generous, Tom. I'll be in touch to discuss details. Please email me at kyasas@aol.com with your contact info.

Unknown said...

ok kat get the ball ,demo big m ~PARKING!BUT FIRST AND FOR MOST IS SUPPORT FROM ALL!$$$$ avenues to govt, private,town,county and citizens!!find someone to open bar and serve food to get money rolling for hotel restavation ill give hand with hammer!!! ive helped restored old buildings and hotels so i know a little :)

About Me

Newspaper columnist; blogger; author of Delta Dead; author of 101 Tip$ From My Depression-Era Parents; author of Australian Fly; editor: ...And I Breathed (author, Jason Garner, former CEO of Global Music at Live Nation), "A History of the Lawrence S. Donaldson Residence"; "The Port Washington Yacht Club: A Centennial Perspective"; "The Northeastern Society of Periodontists: The First Fifty Years"; editor: NESP Bulletin; editor: PWYC Mainsail; past editorial director: The International Journal of Fertility & Women's Medicine; past editor of: Long Island Power & Sail, Respiratory Review; Medical Travelers' Advisory; School Nurse News; Clear Images; Periodontal Clinical Investigations; Community Nurse Forum