“Whoe’er has traveled life’s dull round,
Where’er his stages may have been,
May sigh to think he still has found
Thee warmest welcome at an inn.”
Many are the years that have passed since the poet wrote these lines and the inn that he knew has long since vanished from the American landscape. Time and progress have produced a vastly different sort of hostelry, in keeping with the demand of a traveling public which has outgrown the ancient inn or tavern, or which thinks it has, anyhow.
But the spirit of hospitality of which the poet has written still lives, a bright and beautiful thing, and more appreciated than ever because of its increasing rarity.

Quaint Custom Survives

The arrival of a casual guest at a hotel, inn or private dwelling no longer signifies the completion of an arduous journey and the host no longer takes it for granted that food and drink are required at once, as in the old tavern days of slow coaches and muddy roads or wind-baffled sailing packets. But here on the Vineyard there is still a survival of the quaint and homelike custom which never fails to impress the stranger and makes him feel that his company is not only acceptable but that the family circle is incomplete without his presence.
When this happy faculty of making a guest comfortable in mind and body is possessed by the keeper of a public house, the combination presents the finest example of old-fashioned New England hospitality. This is the secret of the popularity of the Kelley House.
Since 1700 the house has been a tavern or inn, being operated under many different names, but always enjoying a popularity beyond that of many other Island hotels. Little enough of its early history is known, but there is every reason for believing that the great fireplace, which has now disappeared from the basement room, once warmed the taproom where the travelers from up-Island or from the mainland sat and warmed themselves inside and out, while discussing current events of the reign of King George the Third.

Had Many Owners

Passing through the hands of many different owners, but always as an inn, the house came into the possession of the Kelley family and was operated by the parents of William Kelley for many years. Thirty-five years have passed since the present Mrs. Kelley came to the house with William, her husband.
Mrs. Kelley was born in New Brunswick, Canada. Coming to Massachusetts at the age of eighteen, she met and married her husband in Falmouth and two years later came to Edgartown, where they took charge of the inn, now known as the Sea View House.
It was a very small place, having but fifteen rooms, and the couple did all the work connected with the running of the establishment. For five years Mrs. Kelley did all of the cooking and then the business began to grow. More and more people were attracted to the place where “it seemed like visiting relatives,” and the house was enlarged to provide room for them, once and then again.
It is now twenty years since Mr. Kelley died and his wife took entire charge of the house, which has lost none of its popularity under her management.

Perfect New England Hostess

Though only open about six months in the year, the managing of the hotel present a responsibility which few would care to assume. Yet, being as she is, it comes as second nature to Mrs. Kelley to maintain the orderly and homelike comfort for which her house is famed.
Old-fashioned home cooking is one of the great attractions of her place. As Mrs. Kelley says, the loss of one of her three cooks would be a calamity. One of these has been in her employ for twenty-four years another nearly as long. During this period, one has married and is now a grandmother, but her pies are even better for that, Mrs. Kelley says with a smile.
There is no man in the house except as a guest, but Mrs. Kelley states that she has never experienced any uneasiness whatever. Everyone who has stopped there has always conducted himself properly and there has never been any trouble of any kind.

Popular with Lawyers

This may be due in part to the type of guests that the house attracts. It has always been the headquarters for the judges and attorneys who come to the Island to attend the Superior Court sittings and many famous men of the legal profession have eaten at Mrs. Kelley’s table.
Mrs. Kelley says that between seventy-five and eighty persons take their meals at the inn each day in summer, yet it is a popular saying that “there is no chance for accommodations at the Kelley House unless someone dies.”
“I like to run the hotel,” says Mrs. Kelley. “I don’t know what I shall do if my cooks leave me. Perhaps I would have to give up the business, but as long as we can work together, I shall carry it on...It may be my good fortune, but I have never found any undesirable people. In thirty-four years of business I have never lost a cent through failure of a guest to pay his bill.”

In the Days of Dame Sarson

Such an observation is worthy of the lady’s ancient predecessors, perhaps the good Dame Sarson who ran the famous tavern of early Edgartown days, when each man’s score was chalked upon the wall behind the taproom bar among smoke-blackened swordfish swords, whale’ teeth and shark fins, when the low beamed ceiling was hung with strings of sausage and sticks of smoked herring and great straight-backed settles stood on either side of the fireplace where farmers, fishermen and sailors sat, smoking their long church-wardens and drinking home-brewed ale or Jamaica rum from pewter mugs.
Different times produce different people, but the tavern still stands a welcome and home-like retreat for its guests. And as of old the welcome they receive is of the whole-souled and heartfelt New England variety, unspoiled by the trend of modern times, and if the pewter mugs no longer pass, the trenchers are laden with the good things of land and sea, and good cheer as always is synonymous with the name of Mrs. Kelley and the Kelley House.