Middletown Daily Times–Press, Saturday, August 8, 1925
Yelverton Inn Has History of Old Colonial Gatherings
One hundred and seventy-five years ago, a Welshman named John Yelverton, from Chester, England, built himself and his family house at the crossing of two important Indian trails, at a spot which has since become the heart of the village of Chester.
Various chroniclers of early history have told us that John Yelverton was a carpenter; others that he was a sloop owner; but the old deeds in the possession of the present owners of the house he built describe him as John Yelverton, gentlemen, and from the appearance of the house he built and from his prominence in Colonial and post-Colonial affairs, one is inclined take the last description as the correct one. He may also have been sloop owner and a carpenter. Our early settlers had need to know something of most trades. Then women no matter what their birth knew how to bake bale that as some historians say, bale that as some historians say, he built much of the house with his own hands.
Well Built House
Whoever did the work of building, was very well done, for the house stands today, almost unaltered from its original appearance, the same small paned windows look out on the road that once echoed to the hoof beats of Indian ponies, the rumble of covered wagons, to the thunder of Colonial cavalry horses and the ringing blast of the coachman's horn. This is the road from New York to Albany. The other old trail is the road from Newburgh to Trenton, so often traveled by Washington and his soldiers, and called the Kings Highway.
The history of the house is narrowly the history of a typically fine Colonial family. Broadly it is the history of all Chester, for its low celed, hospitable rooms housed at different times most of the men who influenced the trend of events.
Porch on South
At the south side of the house facing the Trenton road is a wide, pillared porch, and at either side of the doorway are old wooden tiles reminiscent of time when the house was an inn. Inside are the original wide board floors and stone fireplaces, inside doors made of a solid piece of wood.
At the side of the house facing the Albany road is the main entrance, a porticoed doorway through which one enters what is was the "ordinary" of the inn, a large pleasant room with an alcove which in times past held a bar.
Here is another fireplace. There are eight in the house, a ceiling with hand hewn beams. Before the fireplace lies an old hook rug, it's soft colors harmonizing with the polished surfaces of the old tables and chairs. On mantle above ranged pewter plates and mugs. It would be much simpler to enumerate the pieces of modern furniture in the house than the old ones, or it is almost entirely furnished in early American and old English pieces. There are wing chairs and stretcher tables, a rare old Dutch table, any number stenciled backed rush bottomed chairs, old mirrors, topped with the American eagle. In one room hangs a painting by the Bohemian artist Kosa, representing Washington on horseback, visiting the inn.
Naturally all these treasures are not brought to the house by John Yelverton. They are many of them old enough to have been owned by him, but it is doubtful if any man of his time could have shown so finely a furnished house. To the dealer, the furnishings would represent a fortune, but to the collector they represent even more the unfailing taste and very uncommon knowledge of W. Stanford Durland, who now occupies the house. He has spent endless time to gather together for this time, furniture worthy of its age and traditions.
The result is such that one has only to step inside to have the history of the house unroll itself before one's imagination. It is easy in this atmosphere to remember John Yelverton coming to this new country from Long Island and buying the site for the house–42 3/4 acres from James Ensign–the deed of which is still in the possession of Mr. Durland, who has had the frayed parchment framed. This deed is dated 1755 and is signed by Wickham and Isaac Finch. The deed was not recorded until 10 years later.
The house and land passed from John Yelverton to his grandson Adijah, from him to Anthony Yelverton, from him to John Hopper Yelverton from him to Thomas Yelverton, the last of the name to own it. The Yelvertons followed the English rule of primogeniture, so that the property always descended to the oldest son, and while it was diminished by sales of land it was not dissipated by division among large families then common as were so many of the old places.
Thomas Yelverton sold the place to the late Joseph Durland and it has been in our family ever since. This family was among the first to settle in Chester and some of the old furniture came through inheritance, notably the Dutch table and the andirons present living room.
It was Abijah Yelverton, the grandson of John, who first used the house as an inn. Standing as it did at the crossing of two important roads, it was a favorite stopping place for travelers, providing shelter from savage foes, cheerful fires and good food and comfortable beds. All these had been given with lavish hospitality, but now the country was growing more settled, travelers more frequent, and the obligation of the householder to give food and shelter every wanderer was less binding.
Turns Inn Keeper
Abijah Yelverton decided to turn inn keeper. This inn was opened in 1765 and continued as an inn until 1832. From the time it was open as an inn, it was a meeting place for the men whose names have since become history. On September 17, 1774 a large number of dissatisfied colonists from the surrounding country gathered here to discuss their wrongs and choose a man to represent them at the Continental Congress. After a stormy session, Henry Wisner was chosen to go to Philadelphia, with instructions to protest against the unjust taxation the English government.
For four months during the year 1776 the militia of Orange and the other northern counties was encamped at Chester, and the in was the resort of all of the officers when off duty. It is probable that Washington stopped at the inn more than once. There is in his carefully kept expense accounts a record of a full day spent here. He arrived July 27th, 1782, accompanied by his aides Colonel Trumbull, and Major Walker, and the visit cost them four pounds and 11 shillings. He was on his way from Philadelphia join the main army at the Hudson. General Clinton was also a frequent guest of the house.
The signing of the peace with England must have been the occasion of a great celebration at the old inn which had seen enough of fighting. But peace did not bring with it a perfect accord. Among the early settlers there had been more or less vagueness about the boundaries of different patents and there was no little carelessness as well about filing deeds.
Fight Over Boundaries
For some years the holders of the Cheesecocks and Wawayanda patents had been quarreling over their boundaries. While the dispute was still unsettled both parties continued to sell land, so that when the dispute finally reached the courts the homes of dozens of settlers were at stake. The Wawayanda patentees appear as plaintiffs and their attorneys were Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton. It seems strange to readers of today to think that these two, who were later such bitter enemies, that one would kill the other, should have been allied together even professionally. But they did so appear in the barn of the Yelverton Inn, where the suit was heard.
It began May 19th, 1785. So numerous were the persons appearing as witnesses and so wide was the interest in the trial that there is no room in the house large enough to hold them comfortably, which accounts for the use of the barn.
But military and legal battles were by no means the only interests of the inn. John Yelverton was instrumental in building the first Presbyterian church in the district for which he gave an acre of land. Later his grandson, Abijah, was librarian of the first public library in Chester, incorporated Nov. 17, 1797, from which it will be seen that the Yelvertons were first in every enterprise for the public good.
The Yelverton Inn is distinguished from most old houses by having been owned by only two families. W. Sanford Durland who now occupies the house is the sixth generation of the Durlands to live in the Orange County. For some years the house has not been suitable for winter residence but Mr. Durland is now fitting it to be an all year home. The house is being restored to modern comfort without sacrificing any of its historic interest or charm.
The old clapboard outside walls are being shingled. As many of the houses of the same day were shingle houses this will not only add to the appearance of the house but will preserve it true to its period. No architectural changes will be made in the interior.
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