Once upon a time…
…in a tiny, magical place barely touched by time, there lived a clever man by the name of Samuel Hodby. It was the late 1700’s and hundreds of travelers passed through this very spot. Their journey carried them between the distant North of Montreal, Canada and the bustling American harbors of Portland, Maine and Boston, Massachusetts. Samuel knew that his land in Lower Waterford, Vermont was the mid-way point on this major trade route. And being a clever entrepreneur, he recognized that the weary tradesmen as well as loggers on the Connecticut River below needed a place to buy provisions, enjoy a bit of ale, and rest bodies tired by the 18 day round trip. And thus began the tradition of hospitality in what was to become RABBIT HILL INN, and in what was then called the Samuel Hodby Tavern — an actual tavern, general store and provider of overnight lodging.
Noticing such activity in the area, Jonathan Cummings erected his home and workshop right next door to the inn. This structure consisted of 6 rooms — 2 per floor. The shop was located in what is today part of the foyer and all of the front dining room. The year was 1825 and the shop produced wagon wheels and sleigh parts (no surprise) as well as winnowing machines. (These were a wind-driven mechanism for separating the grain from the chaff. Previously, this was accomplished only by muscle power, as the men flailed wheat on their barn floors.)
Because it became obvious by the early 1830’s that innkeeping was the truly profitable venture, Cummings sold his building to Fred Cross and a Mr. Hale, who had by now purchased the Samuel Hodby Tavern as well. From that day forward, these buildings have remained joined as one property. It has run as an inn except for the years between 1912 and 1957 when the inn and town buildings underwent restoration and this property was held as a private residence. What follows is a brief chronology of ownership of this property as best we can determine:
- 1795 Hodby Tavern & General Store is built.
- 1825 Jonathan Cummings builds the Main House as his shop and home.
- 1832 Nathan Bishop purchases the Cummings home as his private residence.
- 1834 Fred Cross & O.G. Hale purchase the two houses and open Fred Cross’s Churn, a travelers’ and traders’ inn.
- 1840 Cross and Hale enlarge the main portion of the house by adding the area that is currently the Federal Parlor and Sitting Room.
- 1844-55 During this period, several innkeepers operate the property as Travellers’ Home.
- 1855 O.D. Hurlburt bought the property and renamed it Valley House. It is believed the ballroom and carriage wing were added at this time.
- 1870 H.A. Bowman purchased the inn. Guests would “summer” here while ferries shuttled guests up and down the Connecticut River.
- 1873 Bowman sold the inn to his son (or nephew), Edwin, who ran the inn until 1912 before making it his private home. By this time, the railroad industry was growing and much of the commerce was moving towards St. Johnsbury because no rail lines came through Waterford.
- 1919 The property is sold to Mr. & Mrs. J.W. Davies. Mrs. Davies names her home Rabbit Hill. Mr. Davies, a philanthropist businessman from St. Johnsbury is thought to have brought the process of milk homogenization from Europe to the United States. He operated a creamery in St. Johnsbury. The Davies actually purchased the entire village of Lower Waterford and refurbished all the homes painting them white with green shutters. Hence, the “White Village of Vermont” becomes the town’s moniker.
- 1957 St. Johnsbury House Hotel acquires the property for use as a summer hotel operating as Rabbit Hill Motor Inn. It was then that the ballroom and carriage house were converted to guestrooms. A neon “MOTEL” sign graced the roof and a sign by the parking lot read: “Good Vermont Food”.
- 1968 John & Ruth Carroll purchase the inn and operate it until the late 1970’s. A series of innkeepers own the property for short periods of time.
- 1980 Eric & Beryl Charlton acquire Rabbit Hill Inn and add a new level of charm and hospitality.
- 1987 John & Maureen Magee purchase the inn. Major structural restorations and presentation upgrades are undertaken to bring the inn to another level of sophistication that inn travelers are seeking.
- 1994 Brian & Leslie Mulcahy, former inn guests, join the Magees as Assistant Innkeepers to help manage the property.
- 1997 Brian & Leslie Mulcahy become the owners of Rabbit Hill Inn and continue to undertake major renovations and systems upgrades. The work in an old house is never done! But through all of its changes, one thing remains… warm, sincere, personal hospitality is the hallmark of Rabbit Hill Inn and its innkeepers!