Doug Coxson dcoxson@newhamburg independent.ca
It was 63 years ago last month that John and Doris Belland gathered with friends and family to celebrate their marriage within the cozy walls of Fryfogel’s Tavern.
Back then the former stagecoach stop near Shakespeare was known as The Old Homestead Restaurant. It was a popular country venue for wedding receptions when it wasn’t filled with locals looking for a good meal at a fair price.
The reception room rental at The Old Homestead was $10, and the fee for feeding 20 guests was a modest $52.
In recent years the 1844 homestead of Perth County’s first settler, Sebastian Fryfogel, has been the focus of restoration efforts by the Perth County Historical Foundation.
That will soon change, says chair of the organization, Roger Hilderly.
A recent shift in philosophy around what to do with the historic tavern means the non-profit foundation will work towards bringing the building back to life as a social hub rather than restoring it to a time-period museum.
Hilderly says the foundation is working with the support of the Ontario Heritage Trust and is in the early stages of getting an architect and engineer on board to work on its plan.
Knowing it takes millions to restore something to a time period and in an era of dwindling government resources, the foundation’s goal now is to generate revenue to keep the tavern alive for future generations to enjoy.
“Properties have to be revenue generating in order to survive,” Hilderly says.
To fit that mandate, the committee wants to renew the interior of the space to accommodate wedding receptions and other events that provide rental revenue. Building washrooms into the main-floor space will be the first step.
“You’d be surprised how few people want to use outhouses anymore,” Hilderly says.
The second step is to create the ambience people will be looking for when they rent a historic tavern.
Hilderly notes the committee is hoping to recreate the look of the first-floor interior from photographs of the space taken during the time it was a restaurant from 1938 to 1963. Unfortunately, only a few photos of the interior are available. The historical foundation is appealing to anyone who might have old wedding photos showing the wallpaper, fixtures and window treatments from that time period.
Exterior shots of the old tavern are also welcome.
The Bellands’ wedding photo, provided by 85-year-old Doris, is one of the few the foundation has to go on so far.
“The more we can get the better,” Hilderly says. “There’s no fixed time period. It’s a story that goes on forever.”
Anyone with photos is asked to forward them electronically or in hard copy to the Perth County Historical Foundation at 196 Ontario St., Stratford, N5A 3H4, or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hilderly says the project to renew the interior will be respectful of the original walls and floors.
“We want to protect it historically,” he adds.
To duplicate the look of The Old Homestead while keeping the historic elements of the Fryfogel intact, walls will be built within the walls to accommodate heating and electrical connections.
“It’s got to be doable, affordable and reversible,” Hilderly says.