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September 28, 2013

Preserving history

Volunteers bring Major's Inn back to life

By Cathy B. Koplen Contributing Writer
The Daily Star

---- — The Major’s Inn in Gilbertsville represents an opulent time in the history of upstate New York, when the area’s natural resources were used to secure several family fortunes. And thanks to a group of dedicated volunteers, its opulence is being preserved for generations to come. 

The Tudor-style 55-room hotel was the center of commerce and hospitality in the early Industrial Era of American history. And it was in good company. 

“The entire village of Gilbertsville is on the National Registry of Historic Places,” said Gilbertsville historian Leigh Eckmair. “The architectural history of Gilbertsville includes almost every period from 1790 to current styles, most of which are in fairly pristine condition.”

The main floor of the Inn is used by area groups such as the quilters who will have a quilt show Oct. 4 to 6 at the Major’s Inn, as well as individuals who have booked private parties and weddings at the Inn. It is overseen by the Major’s Inn Foundation Inc., whose work to keep the inn preserved is ongoing. 

“We are restoring the Inn,” said foundation Executive Director Cece Rowe. “We are so thankful to Sen. (James) Seward for the help he has given us in finding funding for this project. It is a monumental project, and a lot of what we have been able to do has come from individual donors.”

The inn was built by Maj. James L. Gilbert, the eighth son of a village merchant. Gilbert began the building as a replacement of his childhood home, which had been destroyed by fire. He decided to design the house as a complement to the rebuilt merchant’s block, which had been done in the Tudor style.

After construction on the building began, according to Eckmair’s history of the inn, Gilbert decided to expand the site to accommodate a larger number of guests and turned the whole idea into an inn of distinction.

The ballroom, the last of the rooms constructed, was completed in 1916. In the mid-1920, the inn was no longer in the Gilbert family and by the 1930s the building began a steady decline. It sat empty, or almost empty, until 1980, when the Major’s Inn Foundation was created to restore the inn and preserve its history.

The ballroom, with its ornate fireplaces and hanging chandeliers, is a cavernous area that could accommodate a tremendous party of people. The kitchen has been modernized and is efficient for catering. 

The original American chestnut wood paneling is opulent in the foyer. At the turn of the stairs on the landing, the wall curves outward and a bench seat in chestnut wood nestles under double-stacked, picture windows.

The second floor is being restored, with individuals and families adopting various rooms to help defray the cost of restoration. Several of the second floor bedrooms are decorated in vibrant colors.

A museum with artifacts from the the inn and village is housed in a room on the second floor. The third floor is not open to the public as it needs structural work before it can accommodate visitors. In addition, there is a gift shop in the front room on the main floor.

“What we really need to do is finish the lower floor,” Rowe said. “I have a vision, I know what it will look like when it is done. We will have each room with its own thermostat so we can use these rooms. On the main floor we can’t use some of the rooms in the winter because we can’t heat them. My goal is to get the lower floor useable so we can rent the space year-round.”

The lower floor has the billiard room and gentlemen’s bar used in the early days of occupancy by men who would retire away from the ladies for a cigar after dinner. There is a veranda off of the billiards room, that leads to the gardens and former golf course, both of which used to be a part of the Inn.

According to the mission statement in the historical brochure, the historic building is on its way to becoming a fully functioning inn that will once again offer hospitality to travelers to the heart of the Butternut Valley.