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Guest Historian Series: Stanley Turkel, CMHS
Nobody Asked Me, But... No. 148;
Hotel History: Basin Harbor Club (1886), Vergennes, Vermont*
By Stanley Turkel, CMHS
Following the end of the War of Independence, soldiers were granted large plots of land as partial pay. Platt Rogers bought ten acres from some veterans on the north point of Basin Harbor in 1790 and set up a shipyard and residence. After the war of 1812, a ferry service to New York was commenced. Roger's daughter and son-in-law continued to operate the inn built by Rogers. In 1823, the Champlain Canal opened to connect Lake Champlain with the Hudson River, creating new opportunities for trade on the lake.
In 1882, Ardelia Beach purchased the inn and surrounding land and, in 1886, transformed the historic inn into a more modern and expanded facility. Since then four generations of the Beach family have owned and managed the Basin Harbor Club.
In a New York Times column on May 18, 1986, author Grace Hechinger captured the unique qualities of the Basin Harbor Club:
The scenic 700-acre resort on the shore of Lake Champlain, about 25 miles south of Burlington, Vt., and about 30 miles north of Fort Ticonderoga in New York, is secluded at the end of a long flat road....
Like us, most guests look forward to having the things they like remain unchanged year after year: home baked pastries, Lake Champlain sunsets, the snug privacy of separate cabins, Grandma Beach's apple crisp on the dessert menu every Saturday night. The Basin Harbor Club keeps its old-fashioned charm and adds modern comfort; it's the family estate you would buy if you could afford it....
Basin Harbor is a family resort, where parents, children and the senior generation finds activities and companions. Last summer there were about 25 family reunions and more than 30 are planned this season. Basin Harbor has been owned and operated by the Beach family for more than a century, ever since Ardelia Beach took in guests on her farm in 1882. The Beaches are wonderful hotelkeepers with an instinctive capability to make guests feel at home: "We make sure there is no waiting in line for dinner or to tee off," says Bob Beach. The Basin Harbor Club consists of more than 700 acres with 77 separate cabins, each of which is different in location, size, amenities, design and name: Sunset, Sundial, Halcycon Whitecaps, etc. All cabins have bathrooms, refrigerators, phones, electric heat, (about half have fireplaces) built-in shelves, porches (some screened in), phones but no television sets.
At Basin Harbor those who want to be busy can play golf or tennis, sail, swim, bike ride, hike, take boat rides of all kinds, water ski, wind surf or go fishing. Every morning at breakfast, a copy of The Basin Harbor Breeze, a one-page newsletter written by Bob's wife, Jane, is on the table. It lists that day's activities and the winners of golf, swimming or tennis matches or a game of bingo.
The surrounding area offers a rich variety of places to visit: Fort Ticonderoga, the Shelburne Museum, Middlebury College, Ausable Chasm, and Stowe as well as the nearby town of Vergennes, the self-proclaimed "smallest city in the U.S.," known during the 19th century as a provider of horse-shoe nails. The Basin Harbor Club operates on the American Plan which includes breakfast, lunch and dinner with comfort food, hot and cold, from crabmeat salad to hot dogs. Desserts, homemade by the pastry chef, are displayed on a separate table: fruit pies, key lime pie, cheesecake, as well as cookies and French pastries.
*excerpted from my book Built To Last: 100+ Year-Old Hotels East of the Mississippi (AuthorHouse 2013)
About Stanley Turkel, CMHS
Stanley Turkel was designated as the 2014 and 2015 Historian of the Year by Historic Hotels of America, the official program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. This award is presented to an individual for making a unique contribution in the research and presentation of history and whose work has encouraged a wide discussion, greater understanding and enthusiasm for American History.
Stanley Turkel is one of the most widely-published authors in the hospitality field. Two of his hotel books have been promoted, distributed and sold by the American Hotel & Lodging Educational Institute (Great American Hoteliers: Pioneers of the Hotel Industry and Built To Last: 100+ Year-Old Hotels East of the Mississippi). A third hotel book (Built To Last: 100+ Year-Old Hotels in New York) was called "passionate and informative" by The New York Times. His fourth hotel book was described by The New York Times: "Nostalgia for the City's caravansaries will be kindled by Stanley Turkel's...fact-filled...Hotel Mavens: Lucius M. Boomer, George C. Boldt and Oscar of the Waldorf."
Built to Last: 100+ Year-Old Hotels East of the Mississippi is available for purchase from the publisher by visiting bookstore.authorhouse.com.