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The Elms to be torn down

The Elms has a long history as a Governor's home, bar and local eatery. Jeff Woodburn. (click for larger version)
September 29, 2010
LANCASTER — The former Elms Hotel, a Lancaster fixture for generations, known for its good food, cheap drinks, bar-room camaraderie and even the occasional drunken brawl, is coming down. The owners of the Elm Street property, David and Linda Rexford, have confirmed they intend to raze the property because of the cost to bring the structure to code.

"It's in rough shape," Mr. Rexford said, and fixing it to meet the current standards would cost "too much money." When the Elms opened as a public restaurant and bar decades ago, there were few, if any, government regulations pertaining to buildings safety and usage, but over the time that of course changed, and many of these new requirements did not fall on the Elms. It was protected by the "Grandfather Clause," which shields existing and operating properties from certain new regulations.

Essentially, Mr. Rexford said, the building would need to meet the same standards as a newly constructed building. He also indicated that the building had structural issues and very little insulation. He expects to have the asbestos removed and all the necessary approvals to take the building down by late fall.

The Elms fell into foreclosure and closed in the fall of 2009 and the mortgage-holder Woodsville Guaranty Saving Bank auctioned off the property in January, 2010. Mr. Rexford was the successful bidder at that auction. Mr. Rexford, who owns three properties in the immediate area of the Elms, said he purchased it primarily to protect his investments in the neighborhood.

The main building itself is quite historic dating back to the early 19th century. It was once the home of a prominent politician. Jared Williams, who served as New Hampshire's governor, U.S. Congressman and U.S. Senator in the years prior to the Civil War, lived in the house until his death in 1864. He is buried in the Summer Street Cemetery.

Sometime later, the building became a hotel and Ralph Doolan, of Bethlehem, who grew up nearby during World War Two, remembers it more as a boarding house than a restaurant or bar. As a boy, he used to play at a make-shift sports field beside it. In 1964, Edward Beloin, purchased the Elms and moved his children (he was a widower) to Lancaster from Colebrook. Maggie Tenney, one of Mr. Beloin's daughters, remembers her father "working very long hours and taking care of (his) 10 kids. He worked around the clock. We had to work cleaning and helping in the kitchen." They lived upstairs above the restaurant.

For six to eight weeks in the fall, during hunting season, Mrs. Tenney recalled, the place would be packed with people. There were even people sleeping in the attic, she said. Her father would provide the men with an early breakfast, a lunch to-go and a big supper when they returned. "Some of the hunters came year after year," Mrs. Tenney said. The name "The Elms" came from the trees that once lined the street. So, she added, the name didn't need an apostrophe because it wasn't indicating possession. It was Elms, she said, as "in trees plural."

The property changed hands in the 1970s and end up being purchased by Edward Samson. It was under his ownership that the Elms was revived into a popular hang-out, where prime rib was served every Friday night and drinks into the early morning. Mr. Samson sold the business several years ago.

On Saturday morning, Mr. and Mrs. Rexford held a yard sale emptying the building of its incidental remains. Several former patrons took a final nostalgic tour of the place. Mr. Rexford acknowledged the momentary somberness of it all. "It will be missed," he said.

Tiffany Eddy
Martin Lord Osman
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