Photo Credit : Courtesy of the Hancock Inn & Fox Tavern
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For all its quiet charms, the largely rural Monadnock Region in southwest New Hampshire doesn’t attract only visitors looking to escape the bustle of modern life. Hikers come for its namesake peak, Mount Monadnock, the second-most-climbed mountain in the world. History buffs revel in places like Harrisville, the nation’s best-preserved 19th-century mill town, while culture fans make pilgrimages to Peterborough, the inspiration for Thornton Wilder’s Our Town. All told, there’s more than enough in the Monadnock Region to fill a weekend getaway — and fortunately, there’s also an array of lodging options that reflect the region’s appeal.
One of the most distinctive overnights can be found in the hamlet of Hancock, where an entrepreneur named Noah Wheeler built an inn and tavern in 1789. Though its name would change a few times over the next two-plus centuries, the inn always remained open. Today, the Hancock Inn & Fox Tavern is New Hampshire’s oldest continuously operating lodging establishment.
Marcia and Jarvis Coffin have owned the 14-room inn since 2011. “We just fell in love with the quintessential New England village of Hancock and its small-town-Americana rituals of parades and barbecues and events like Old Home Day,” Marcia says.
Of course, operating an inn in a rural New Hampshire town — Hancock has a population of about 1,600 — does carry its challenges. To adjust to the slow winter season, the Coffins adopted a chef-owner model early last year, with Jarvis taking on cooking chores for the tavern (which is open only on Sundays and holidays from January 1 to May 1).
As it turned out, that move paid off in an unexpected way when the pandemic hit last March. Though they had to furlough their staff, they began offering take-out meals — a first for the tavern — in May. Plus, state liquor officials helped the inn to “flex” its operations by permitting new dining and drinking locations, such as the front porch, and allowing the sale of bottled alcohol.
More important, though, the Hancock Inn has benefited from the generous support of its clientele. Many guests applied deposits toward future visits or events or agreed to delayed refunds. As with other small inns and B&Bs across the state, Jarvis says, the Hancock Inn relied on that capital to stay afloat. “We’re talking tens of thousands of dollars,” he says. “That speaks to the personal relationship that people have with small country inns.”
In return, the Coffins have made changes to their operations to make pandemic-era visits as stress-free as possible.
“We realize that with Covid, people’s plans could change really quickly,” Jarvis says, “so we are not requiring a deposit for overnights between now and the end of April.” Instead, the couple is taking guests’ credit card information at the time of reservation but not charging them until 48 hours before arrival.
A variety of safety precautions have been implemented as well, including contact-free payment, hand sanitizer stations, guest temperature checks, and mask and glove requirements for employees. Toiletries in each room are sanitized and individually bagged. In the tavern, seating is by reservation only, and at tables set six feet apart.
“We’re thinking of our guests and our staff,” Jarvis says. “We want everyone to feel safe.”
An unexpected asset in the Covid era? The inn’s age. “We’re fortunate that there’s sort of a natural air exchange,” Marcia says with a laugh. “It’s not what you would call a ‘tight’ building.”
And even in the face of several more weeks of winter (“It’s always the most challenging period for everyone,” Marcia says), the Coffins take heart in the number of visitors they’ve been seeing from around the region and across the state.
“People appreciate the rural environment as well as the small, at-home hospitality that an inn of our size can offer,” says Marcia. “This part of the world is a very restorative place to come to. People love nature and history, and that’s what we have.
“We have a very bullish outlook on the vaccines coming into play and people returning to travel,” she adds. “We have a very hopeful outlook for 2021.”
Thinking of planning an overnight stay in the Monadnock Region? Here is a sampling of locally owned businesses that are open and ready to take your reservation! Find more options at visitnh.gov/places-to-stay.Bellows Walpole Inn, WalpoleThe Inn at Valley Farms, Walpole
Benjamin Prescott Inn, JaffreyMonadnock Inn, Jaffrey
Jack Daniels Motor Inn, Peterborough