Inns With History

Aside from their idyllic charm and alluring ghost stories, the Winsor House Inn in Duxbury and the Red Lion Inn in Cohasset have something else in common – at the helm are proprietors with vision.

By Noelle Barbosa

390 Washington St., Duxbury

The Winsor House Inn is nestled along a winding, tree-lined road in pictorial Duxbury. The colonial antique has a storied past that dates back to the early 19th century, when Nathaniel Winsor Sr. gave his daughter, Nancy “Ann,” and son-in-law, John Howland, land to build a home. The young couple built what eventually became a historic jewel.

Photo courtesy of Winsor House Inn

Today, the sprawling 8,000-square-foot manse is owned by Chuck Weilbrenner; his wife, Holly Safford; and their sons, Alex and Andrew Marconi. The home first opened its doors as a restaurant and inn in 1932, when Daniel and Marie Winsor inherited the forlorn manor with its overgrown landscape, sealed shutters and ominous fables (children called it a ghost house, according to legend). The couple restored the residence to its former glory, and it quickly became an entertainment hub for the township.

“There’s a lot of history here,” says Weilbrenner. “We have hosted many special events over the years. People have held rehearsal dinners, celebrated milestone birthdays and been married here.”

In the past 85 years, ownership has only changed hands five times. Weilbrenner, who is retired from the industrial automation industry, and Safford, who owns the famed catering and events company The Catered Affair, are the sixth owners. In partnership with their sons, the couple purchased the Winsor House Inn in 2013 as a means of preserving an antiquity in the community, and also upholding a legacy within their own family (coincidentally, Safford shares a common ancestor with the original heirs).

Safford developed the Winsor House Preservation Society after neighbors began asking how they could aid in the rehabilitation efforts. Individuals and families who made a donation would receive a gift card in the amount they contributed.

Photo courtesy of Winsor House Inn

“In about 10 days, we raised $240,000 towards the preservation,” says Weilbrenner. The inn exhibits a blackboard that lists the names of the nearly 500 individuals who financed the property’s revival.

The family managed to keep much of the home’s old-world influence alive despite a costly facelift. A blend of modern and medieval style can be found throughout the first level.  The British-inspired pub and main dining room flaunt bucolic finishes and impressive wood details, while the spacious carriage house (also used for dining) offers a bank of large window and rustic French doors that fill the room with natural light. For private affairs, the Salt Meadow and Blue Fish rooms break from tradition and offer an avant-garde setting with cream walls, gray accents and contemporary furnishings.

“People are drawn to the inviting atmosphere where the staff understands the meaning of hospitality,” explains Weilbrenner. “The décor, with its wood beams, fireplaces and wide pine floors, is historical and warm.”

Historic Winsor House: Duxbury Rural & Historical Society

Overnight guests can choose from four bedrooms–three are located on the second floor of the main building and named after local shipbuilding families (Drew, Sprague and Weston). The adjacent carriage house features an expansive suite honoring the Winsor family. The owners hope to add 10 guest rooms with the construction of a new building later this year and the remodeling of an existing structure by 2018.

The pub and restaurant menus offer American fare with a hint of Italian cuisine (like
Chef Franco’s Bolognese made with organic chicken, pork and veal) and a seasonal herb garden offers an array of farm-to-table favorites. A comprehensive wine list includes a selection of European and American wines from vintners such as Caymus Vineyards and Heitz Cellars.

“I love seeing our guests enjoy the food, wine and atmosphere we have created,” says Weilbrenner. “It’s rewarding to hear from people who have visited us for the first time. Everyone has a story about the Winsor House Inn.”

71 South Main St., Cohasset

Known for its elegant wedding receptions, The Red Lion Inn is a landmark property located at the center of Cohasset Village that is steeped in history.

In 1704, Thomas James Sr. began clearing land to build a modest home on South Main Street in Cohasset. James’ grandson, Christopher, inherited the property in 1772 and converted the Colonial-era farmhouse into The Red Lion Inn and a general store.

Eleazar, Christopher’s son, inherited the property in 1810, and it’s believed that he used the inn as a refuge for fugitive slaves. The home remained in the James family until 1879.

Photo by Kjeld Mahoney

Through the turn of the century, the inn underwent several name and ownership changes. In 1943, Murray Cone and his wife, Grace, leased the property and restored the original name. The couple purchased the inn in 1949 and their family owned the venue for 45 years before selling it to investors. In 1997, the current owner, Cohasset denizen Gerd Ordelheide, acquired the property.

“I would go to The Red Lion after work. The bar was crooked, and if you could roll a penny to the end, you would get a free beer,” says Ordelheide, recalling one of his fondest memories as a guest.

Ordelheide was born in Bielefeld, Germany and his ancestry dates to 1270 in the region. He was educated in Germany and moved to Canada in 1969 with $500 in his pocket. He worked for tech conglomerate IBM in Montreal, but returned to Europe in 1983. Ordelheide relocated to the United States in 1987 to work as an executive for Siemens Nixdorf Information Systems, settling in Cohasset with his two sons, Robin and Sasha, because they loved the ocean. Eventually, the brood purchased a boat and became avid fishermen and lobstermen.

After purchasing The Red Lion Inn, the computer executive turned hospitality business owner spent nearly $10 million transforming the 18th-century structure into a world-class resort brimming with modern amenities and a Mediterranean aesthetic. “I sold my equity in BMC Software,” says Ordelheide, explaining how he funded the costly construction.

Photo by Jack Foley | The Red Lion Inn owner Gerd Ordelheide relaxes onsite at Brasserie Zapp.

The original building was razed and a larger structure was built. Longing to preserve pieces of the property’s past, Ordelheide salvaged four authentic fireplaces and placed them in the new inn. He also repurposed original roofing in the restaurant and bar area. The new architecture housed an inviting lobby; a French-American restaurant, Brasserie Zapp; a private dance club, Cave du Roi; three private dining rooms and 15 well-appointed guest rooms. Doors opened to the public in April of 2000.

“We incorporated European influences,” says Ordelheide about the colors (deep reds, bright yellows and soft lavenders) and ornate furnishings found throughout the inn, which he carefully selected to mimic the warmth found along the French countryside.

Photo by Jean Spencer Photography | Established as an inn in 1772, the reconstructed and expanded establishment now serves primarily as a wedding venue.

The multimillion dollar venture also encompassed two new event spaces–the stately Lion’s Hall lavished with two Parisian chandeliers suspended from a hip ceiling and the Salon du Soleil flaunting radiant yellow walls. The exterior showcases covered walkways, providing a cohesive path from building to building, while a swimming pool and stone patio offer an alfresco respite. Ordelheide admits that the ghosts returned following the construction because they felt at home again.

In August of 2016, Ordelheide acquired several landmark businesses along Cohasset Harbor, including Atlantica, the Olde Salt House, Brisa and the Cohasset Harbor Inn. If all goes to plan, these well-loved entertaining venues will expand the reach of The Red Lion Inn’s wedding and event business in the years to come.

Kjeld Mahoney

Jean Spencer Photography

Jean Spencer Photography

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