If Walls Could Talk…The Smoke Rise Village Inn History - Part One: The Cattle Barn.After reading the great review by Ted Whittemore about the Smoke Rise Village Inn on the Smoke Rise and Kinnelon Blog, I decided that my son Chris and I should have a night out. So, a recent Thursday, we headed out to the Inn. As we sat there eating our dinner, which I will elaborate on later, I said to Chris, “If only these walls could talk, for they would reveal thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of happy memories”. Chris was somewhat awestruck at the magnitude of happiness. So I began to elaborate on my years of experiences at the Inn. It was painful for Chris to listen to my ramblings on but he very patiently listened and occasionally asked a question or two for verification. I knew he was taking it all in. Hopefully, someday he will be the next Kinnelon historian. After we finished and arrived back to our home, I began to compose this story, which has taken a couple of months to research and complete.
The Smoke Rise Village Inn, as many of you know is a public restaurant open Wednesdays through Sunday. Of course, proper attire is required, which lead to some heated discussion before we left, but that is a discussion for another day. All you need to know is that I prevailed! Reservations are encouraged but not necessarily required unless it is a big holiday event.
For those of you who are into Kinnelon trivia, The Smoke Rise Village Inn is Kinnelon’s oldest and, more or less, continuously operated restaurant and lounge. Yes, one could point to Piccolos, as perhaps an earlier rival, but that fine establishment has had more names than even I can recall. (Valley House, Kin-Wood Inn, Calamity Jane’s, Hungry Bear, Stone House Inn, Lotsa Pasta…uggh!) I do not mean in any way to disparage Piccolos reputation. I actually go there quite often. It’s just that the Smoke Rise Village Inn has operated under the same name, almost continuously, since 1947, that’s almost 65 years. Of course the building is much older than that. So, let’s take a quick look back at its early history and development.
The Smoke Rise Village Inn is part of a group of farm buildings that were constructed in the 1890s by Francis S. Kinney. The Inn itself was actually four original Kinney structures that were merged together over a period of time. The first part, the cattle barn was built circa 1890. This is the stone part of the Inn (Presently the Ball Room) that you can still see today. The small stone building that presently forms an appendage off the “bar area” was the slaughter house, which was constructed in 1892. You can see the corner stone above its arched doorway. The present day main entrance was the hog pens, which was an open structure with stone and brick walls that separated the animals. The forth structure, now gone, was a tile brick silo that used to occupy an area where the present kitchens are located.
Francis Kinney was vitally interested in breeding Brown Swiss Cows, a breed thought to offer superior milking output. In an article entitled “A Short History of the Brown Swiss Breed in New Jersey” published in the March 1932 issue of the New Jersey Department of Agriculture “Circular”, Warren Kinney, second son of Francis, wrote, in relevant part, “ On October 5, 1890, Francis S. Kinney, who then owned Kinnelon Farms, decided to establish a small herd of Brown Swiss Cattle. He had previously experimented with other dairy breeds but with little success, due largely to the extremely rugged nature of the country and the consequent lack of pasture. The herd started was on a small, conservative basis, the foundation stock representing some of the best breed lines of the breed obtainable in this country at this time. Seven animals, six cows and a bull composed the original group, which included Hebe F., 581; Brunnen 3rd, 580; Brunnen 4th, 667; Hebe, 323; Lola 2nd, 668; Muotto 3rd, 531 and the bull, Imperial, 406. All were purchased of W. R. Fisk of Mystic, Conn., one of the few eastern breeders of the day.
For many years there was no attempt to make production records at Kinnelon Farms, nor to do any showing. The pasture there was very poor, then, and, in spite of the fact that these first Swiss cows were forced to pick up what they could literally from between rocks, they made a very fair showing at the pail. The milk was not weighed in those early days but it is well known that these animals produced much more heavily than any of the local cattle under the same conditions. Fresh blood was introduced into the herd from time to time through the rather frequent purchases of new herd sires, and a general policy of gradual expansion was carried out.
The death of Mr. Kinney in 1908 necessitated a change in ownership of the herd, and the writer, in partnership with his brother, took over both the farm and animals that same year.
In 1916, the cow Eloise C 2d, 5095 was purchased of Walhalla Farms, Middleburg, NY. She had won the grand championship at the New York State Fair the previous year, was a very heavy producer, and soon proved a decided asset. Shortly afterward, new dairy equipment was installed, improvements were made to the barn, and the making of production records were attempted in a conservative manner. Eight records were completed during the years 1916 and 1917, but the cows were not in any way forced and outstanding results were not expected. However, with very moderate feeding and average care, the mature animals tested averaged better than 400 pounds of butterfat. Participation of the United States in the World War (keep in mind this was written in 1932) then caused an interruption of activities on the farm for several years, but, in 1921, advanced registry testing was finally resumed and has continued regularly ever since.
In the fall of 1924 the herd was purchased outright by the writer, moved to its present home at Lee’s Hill Farm, New Vernon and its, name changed accordingly.”
It should be noted that Warren Kinney, Kinnelon’s first Mayor, continued to work with the herd, obtaining many top awards across the country, until his death in 1975.
A little bit of trivia about the weather vane. It is original to the stone barn and was presumably meant to symbolize Francis Kinney’s dedication to animal husbandry.
What a great article that gives some insight into the operations and attitudes of the Kinney Estate! The article also gives some historical perspective to the Inn. In 1912, the original Kinney horse stable and carriage house was destroyed by fire. Shortly thereafter, Warren and Morris Kinney, went on a building spree. The main entrance to the present day Inn was enclosed, the silo was added in the back, along with a new piggery (present maintenance building). Also added, at this time, were a garage in the rear of the building and a smoke house, which, along with the silo, were removed in the 1980 renovation. All of these 1916 vintage buildings were made of a hollow tile brick. All, by the way, have bronze date plaques indicating 1916.
In addition to these buildings, Warren and Morris also constructed, from red brick, a new stable, carriage house and green house, all of which still survive today, on private property. Incidentally, if you ever need to remember who built what, remember that Francis constructed his buildings out of wood and stone, whereas Warren and Morris built out of tile and brick.
After Warren left the estate in 1924, most of the old farm buildings, including the Inn, were essentially vacant. The vast staff that was needed to operate the estate was significantly reduced. Most of the other animals were sold off. At this point, Morris spent a good deal of his time traveling around the world. One such trip lasted from 1926 until 1931. Although vacant, all of the buildings were maintained by a much smaller staff of caretakers.
View of the Inn approximately from where the Smoke Rise Service Station now stands.
Morris Kinney died in October of 1945. He left his estate to his lifelong friend J. Alden Talbot. In trying to determine a way to preserve the natural appearance of the property, Talbot conceived the idea of the Smoke Rise Community. In 1946 the Smoke Rise Company was incorporated.
What a story! Thanks, Tom.
Next, If Walls Could Talk: a History of the Smoke Rise Village Inn - Part II. Stay tuned!
NOTE: Photos courtesy of Tom Kline.