RIVERTON - Pauline Telford led us into our room, paused beneath the overhead light fixture, and grabbed the attached chain. "Pull gently to the side," she demonstrated, "never straight down." Dealing with quirky old lights is one of many things that she and husband, Mark, have mastered in 29 years as innkeepers at the Old Riverton Inn.
"Our two sons grew up here," she said, shaking her head over the swift passage of time. "The previous innkeepers were here 35 years." Located on the post road between Hartford and Albany, the handsome old stagecoach inn first opened its doors two centuries ago. Historic accounts indicate that early innkeeper Jesse Ives was a stalwart of the little community, helping to found the Union Church in 1829, and operating the Post Office in what is now a corner of the dining room.
"This is one of the most popular rooms," Telford said of our guest room, No. 2. "People really like the old spinning wheel." The second-floor room is large and square and focuses on the ornate, white-painted mantel over a nonoperational fireplace. Like much of the inn, the walls are covered in wallpaper with elaborate designs, in this case a pattern of birds among trailing pink roses. The embroidered pillows and coverlet of the king-size bed pick up the floral motif. A Victorian fainting couch with a good reading light sits beside a window and the signature spinning wheel sits between another pair of windows.
Those windows offer a view across the road to the Farmington River and the riverbank factory of the Hitchcock Chair Co. Lambert Hitchcock started making furniture here in 1826 and established a reputation for fine craftsmanship and distinctive stenciling before the business closed in 1864. The factory reopened in 1946 during the boom for Colonial Revival furniture, but the final closing in 2006 hit the community hard. Before the village became Riverton in 1866, it had been called Hitchcocksville.
Naturally enough, Hitchcock furniture figures prominently in the inn's decor. Room No. 2 has a lovely chair parked at a matching writing desk that doubles as a night table. All the tables and chairs in the first-floor dining room are Hitchcock. The dining room itself was created in 1940 by joining several smaller spaces to make a large room that seats 90 people. That's a lot of chairs. "See how heavy and wellmade the older ones are," Telford pointed out as she seated us for dinner.
Although there was room to spread out, all the diners had gravitated to the tables nearest the wood-burning fireplace. With a candle flickering on each table, we felt united against the chill on a rainy mid-March night. Telford moved smoothly among the tables, offering soup and hot tea to a regular who was nursing a cold, chatting with another couple about celebrity sightings at nearby Lime Rock Park's auto-racing track. "Paul Newman's really short," said one. "But he's got those blue eyes," countered Telford.
Our lodging and dining package gave us a choice of onion soup or the soup of the day (a surprisingly chunky pea soup), salad, entree, and dessert. We were pleased to find contemporary fare with a little flair: grilled eggplant ravioli dabbed with marinara sauce, roasted salmon encrusted with pistachios and drizzled with balsamic vinegar. Even the standby dessert of crème brûlée got a New England country treatment courtesy of a small pitcher of hot maple syrup. With the careful balance of tradition and innovation in the menu and the Hitchcockian tone of the room, we could see why the Riverton Inn dining room ranks high in readers' polls conducted by the local Register Citizen newspaper.
Once trout season opens Saturday, the Farmington River will swarm with fly fishermen, and all summer long it's a popular destination for canoeing, kayaking, and rafting. Late winter is slower. Before breakfast we strolled through the village of sturdy 19th-century homes, passing the now-empty Hitchcock factory, the general store, the fairgrounds, the glassblower's studio in the historic Union Church, and Still River Antiques, which specializes in Hitchcock furniture. Only the store was stirring, as locals stopped in for coffee.
Back in the dining room, we selected a window table. As we ate bacon and eggs and French toast, the chef appeared with refills of coffee and a fresh pot of tea before our cups were even empty. We lingered and sipped, watched the river flow by, and dreamed of spring.
Patricia Harris and David Lyon, freelance writers based in Cambridge, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.