By Peter Rooney
Opening day was fast approaching and General Manager Robert Reeves was a whirling dervish of energy as he led an impromptu tour through the Lord Jeffery Inn, just days before its official opening on Thursday, Jan. 5 and more than three years after it closed for extensive renovations. On today’s to-do list for Reeves and his crew: unload boxes, hang paintings, clean construction dust, arrange restaurant furniture, begin staff training and compile invitation lists for various opening events.
View the gallery of images from the final days of construction and leading up to the ribbon-cutting ceremony.
(Photos by Rob Mattson/Amherst College)
Inside one of the Lord Jeff’s two sparkling kitchens, fresh produce and meats from area farms were already being delivered, along with pots, pans and other equipment. Wearing a starched white chef jacket with his name embroidered in cursive letters on it, Executive Chef Dino Giordano presented, for Reeves' approval, an exquisitely arranged roasted beet salad, one of many menu possibilities under consideration.
Reeves predicts that diners from throughout New England will savor the ambience at 30Boltwood, the new restaurant that will anchor the renovated inn and feature “farm to table” contemporary American fare at reasonable prices.
“Everyone is expecting the Elijah Boltwood Tavern with a facelift,” said Reeves, referring to the New England-themed eatery that formerly occupied the Lord Jeff. “This is not that at all. The dining here will be unique, cutting edge, with an unbelievable décor. We’re trying to elevate the dining experience in Amherst. This will not be another pub or tavern with sandwiches, wraps and French dips.”
As employees carefully removed stacks of gleaming dishware from boxes, Reeves listed some of the distinctive features of the $18 million renovation project that has been eagerly anticipated throughout the Pioneer Valley: 49 guestrooms and suites that have been extensively remodeled, outfitted with new furnishings and high definition televisions; complimentary high speed Internet, with plenty of bandwidth for all guests; a well-equipped exercise room; a garden area, complete with a wedding pavilion that can accommodate a tent as large as 40 by 80 feet; energy-efficient features throughout, including a heating and cooling system powered in part by 50 geothermal wells; a ballroom; and expanded conference facilities.
As initially planned and conceived by a Lord Jeffery Inn Committee, headed by former Amherst College Board of Trustees Chairman Charles Longsworth ’51, the renovation would have added 20 rooms to the Lord Jeff, as well as the features described above. Then, against the backdrop of economic uncertainty, trustees halted the project in Fall 2008, keeping the inn closed while they directed the committee to examine less costly renovation options.
The scaled back project trustees approved about a year later didn’t increase the number of rooms, but it was nevertheless extensive. Although the handsome brick-clad exterior remains, with a fresh coat of whitewash, every interior section of the 46,000-square-foot building was gutted “down to the studs” Reeves said. The building was then refurbished with a careful attention to historical detail that has earned it inclusion in the Amherst Central Historic Business District. Reeves expects that it will also garner recognition as a Historic Hotels of America, an exclusive group of about 200 members.
Longsworth estimates he’s stayed at the Lord Jeff more than 100 times over the decades and counts his engagement to his wife Polly as one of his fondest memories there. Although his inn committee work is finished, he’s volunteering his time to ensure that the interior of the inn will feature photos and other reminders of its historical connection to Amherst College. (The Amherst Inn Co., a subsidiary of Amherst College, owns the inn. College treasurer Peter Shea is the company's president.)
“I’ve taken on that assignment because I think it’s very important that the inn be recognized as part of the college, and that the college’s history and the inn’s history be glorified by evidence on the walls,” Longsworth said. That history, he added, will only serve to burnish the inn’s appeal.
“It’s going to be quickly recognized as the finest inn and hotel in the area,” he predicted. “It’s going to be very popular.”
Other alumni who were anxiously awaiting the Lord Jeff’s reopening included college trustee Cullen Murphy ’74, who chairs the trustees' Building and Grounds Committee.
“As a gateway to the college the inn performs all kinds of useful college functions,” he said. “It’s a place to meet and socialize and when it went offline it became enormously clear what an asset it is to the college and community.”
The Lord Jeff will be managed by the Connecticut-based Waterford Hotel Group, an arrangement that Murphy said will benefit the college as well.
“We expect this to be a viable business,” Murphy said. “It may not generate the profits that a chain innkeeper might want, but we expect that it will be a good investment for the college.”
To Betsy Cannon Smith ’84, P ’15, the Lord Jeff’s absence has made her appreciate its importance to the college even more than before. For all of its admittedly threadbare appeal in recent years, the inn always remained popular with visitors to campus and was an important stop during alumni events, she said.
“The Jeff’s reopening is like the return of a living room for Amherst College,” she said. “It’s a comfortable place and you know that you’ll be welcome there. Even if you don’t know anybody when you stop by, you know there will be people there who you’ll want to get to know.”