HENRY FORD & THE PRESERVATION OF LONGFELLOW'S WAYSIDE INN
Originally known as How’s Tavern, The Wayside Inn was situated along one of the first mail routes in the country and began operation in 1716. Four generations of How’s operated the Inn, with each generation expanding the Inn’s main building as business grew. In 1862 Henry Wadsworth Longfellow visited the Inn and, being inspired by it, wrote a series of poems about fictitious characters that frequented the Sudbury, Massachusetts tavern. This brought the Inn a level of national significance, and when purchased by Edward Rivers Lemon in 1892, it was renamed Longfellow’s Wayside Inn.
In 1923 automobile manufacturer Henry Ford purchased Longfellow’s Wayside Inn from Cora Lemon, following his vision of transforming the old Colonial Inn into a living museum of Americana. Using his considerable resources, Ford purchased 3,000 acres of property surrounding the Inn in Sudbury and Marlborough. He added new buildings to the site, including a fully functioning Grist Mill completed in 1929, and collected antiquities. In 1925 Ford added the Redstone School, a one-room schoolhouse moved there from Sterling, Massachusetts. From 1928-1947 the Wayside Inn School for Boys educated indigent boys in various trades for possible employment in his Michigan factories. The boys from the school built the Martha-Mary Chapel in 1941 with trees damaged by the Hurricane of 1938.
Under Ford’s ownership the Inn continued operating as a hotel and restaurant. His stature brought an increased attention, drawing prominent visitors including Charles Lindbergh and Calvin Coolidge. John D. Rockefeller visited to learn about managing a historic site, having just purchased the Raleigh Tavern in Williamsburg. The inn also provided Ford a rustic location for his annual “Vagabond” trip with friends, as well as a convenient stopping point for the family as they traveled by train from Michigan to Maine every summer. The Hostess Diaries, kept at his insistence, chronicle the comings and goings of family and friends.
While Ford’s financial investment in the Inn was important, in 1944 Henry and Clara Ford placed the Inn into a nonprofit trust to preserve its historic legacy for the benefit of the public. Upon his death in 1947 the Ford family served on the board, supervised the selling of much of the acreage he had purchased surrounding the Inn and engaged historic preservationist Ralph Carpenter, Jr. to supervise the restoration of the Inn after a devastating fire in 1955.
For the Ford representatives the time had come to end their involvement. In 1957 the Inn transitioned from the Ford family Trustees to the National Trust for Historic Preservation. In 1960 and the Boston Trustees assumed responsibility for the Inn, with no further outside support from the National Trust. Committed to the historic preservation of the buildings and property, visitors continue to enjoy the historic hotel and restaurant. The Martha-Mary Chapel is a popular wedding venue.
Learn more about Longfellow’s Wayside Inn, a Massachusetts Historic Landmark and the oldest continuously operating inn in the country.