Sunday, April 15, 2018

Lafayette On The Stafford Turnpike

I am involved in the planning for an event this coming Labor Day weekend.  It is the beginning of a long term project to celebrate the bicentennial of Lafayette's Farewell Tour 1824-1825.  I don't intend to make WFG all Lafayette all the time, but you will be seeing quite a bit more about him.  I wrote this for the American Friends of Lafayette who will be in Central Mass this Labor Day weekend.


                September 1 to 2 Save the Dates

Join us this Labor Day weekend in historic Sturbridge Massachusetts where we will party like it is 1824 again including dinner at the Publick House Historic Inn where Lafayette stopped as he made his way from Boston to New York in 1824.  The dinner will cap the festivities as we welcome the Nation’s Guest in the authentic setting of Old Sturbridge Village.

When Lafayette began his visit to the United States in 1824, he was not quite certain how long he was going to stay.  His epic reception in New York and the cheering crowds as he went through various towns on the way to Boston and his reception in Boston, where he was invited to be present at the laying of the cornerstone of the Bunker Hill Monument nearly a year later probably made him realize that it would be a while.

There has been no celebratory event that has so brought Americans together on such a grand scale as Lafayette’s visit.  It gave them the opportunity to celebrate a nation founded on ideas.  There was an extremely divisive election going on as for the first time the Presidency would not be held by one of the Founding Fathers.  For the first time the Constitution would be tested as the election went to the House of Representatives with the office going to John Quincy Adams in what opponents called a corrupt bargain. But there was no controversy about Lafayette.  Just a competition for every place he visited to greet him in a grander manner. Although the story of Lafayette’s visit is enshrined in national history, the real magnitude is buried in local history. Here is Levauseur’s account of the beginning of his trip from Boston back to New York

“September 2 – Upon leaving the ball, we boarded the carriage to return to Boston, where we awaited our companions for the trip to New York. Having arrived at two o’clock, we set out again at four, making our way by Lexington, Lancaster, Worcester, Tolland and Hartford. In each of these places, General Lafayette received displays of affection from all the citizens, which touched him deeply, but to which he had hardly the time to reply, so swiftly did we travel.”

Despite all that swift traversing, there are detailed accounts of Lafayette’s stops however as he proceeded on the Worcester-Stafford Turnpike – Opened in 1810, the Worcester-Stafford Turnpike was one of a number of toll roads built by private investors with the purpose of broadening business opportunities.Used primarily for commercial travel, passengers along the turnpike were charged 25 cents per coach and 4 cents for each man and horse at tollhouses built approximately 10 miles apart where horses would have to be changed during the 12-hour ride from Worcester to Hartford.

    One such tollhouse was an inn that stood adjacent to the Sturbridge Town Common that has long outlived the very road it was built to serve. That tollhouse, now known as the Publick House, is still a favored destination for travelers and diners alike.

So join us this Llbor Day weekend as we follow Lafayette and cheer him as he goes from Worcester to Connecticut.

Lafayette reenactor Ben Goldman will portray the elder Lafayette as he is greeted at in Charlton at the still extant Rider Tavern, which has a collection of Lafayette memorabilia that will be open by special arrangement with the Charlton Historical Society

Ryder Tavern (Julie Icher in the foreground)

Julien Icher at Rider Tavern

            The high point of the weekend will be Sunday afternoon when Lafayette is greeted at Old Sturbridge Village.  There is probably not a better venue anywhere than OSV for capturing the look and feel of a small town greeting the Nations Guest. Old Sturbridge Village is the largest living museum in New England covering over 200 acres and including 59 antique buildings, three water-powered mills and a working farm.  It recreates life in rural New England from 1790-1840.  We have been working with the OSV staff to make the reception of Lafayette a memorable event.  Our members will be mingling with the general visitors and militia contingents welcoming Lafayette.

Accommodations will be at the Sturbridge Host Hotel & Conference Center a short distance from both OSV and the Publick House.  We have obtained a favorable group rate at the hotel

Sturbridge Mass is extremely easy to reach.  At the junction of I-84 and I-90 (Mass Turnpike), it is an hour or less from airports serving Boston MA, Worcester MA, Providence RI and Hartford CT .

This Labor Day special is a wonderful opportunity to spend quality time with Lafayette and to get a real sense of how he was received in small town America.  Look for details and registration materials soon.

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