Robert J. Carroll and former state Sen. Allen F. Jones, co-owners and stock holders of the Harbor View Hotel have signed an agreement to purchase Edgartown’s 200-year old Great Harbour Inn on Kelley street from Richard I. Colter. According to Mr. Carrol, their plans are to open the inn on a year-round basis “with deluxe accommodations and a dining room.”
“We think there’s a market for people who might want to live in a centrally located hotel year-round and have things done for them,” Mr. Carroll said.
The structure will remain largely as it is now, although the two cottages that have provided additional room space on the lawn are to be removed. Winthrop Norton has been hired as the architect for a new building to replace them.
“We are hoping to offer our patrons a comfortable, gracious colonial setting,” Mr. Carroll commented, emphasizing that it is his belief that “what happens to the center of Edgartown is extremely important. If you can keep the center of town as it is, the rest will follow suit.”
At Monday night’s Edgartown selectmen’s meeting, Mr. Carroll’s and Mr. Jones’ request for a liquor license for the hotel’s restaurant was presented. Plans are to have the renovated inn with 50 rooms instead of the present 34, ready to receive visitors by summer.
All old time Edgartonians and those versed in annals of the town have continued to refer to the Great Harbour Inn by its ancient naame, Kelley House. Capt. Valentine Pease, Melville’s captain, who was born in 1764, recalled, “When I can first remember and for years afterward there was a swamp near the shore” with “but two ways through it to the shore; one, now the termination of Main street; the other leading from the old Tavern kept by Kelley and others to the wharf...”
History of Tavern
The tavern was first opened in 1748 by John Harper who was succeeded in 1772 by his son in law, Lamuel Kelley. Lamuel’s widow, the former Bathsheba Harper, took over in 1798, and her son William Kelley followed in 1801.
In 1850 the name was changed to Marcy House by a “Mr. L. Marcy” as the Banks history has it. The famous Bill Kelley of modern times, great-grandson of the first William, and his wife, the former Elizabeth A. Johnson acquired the hotel when it was called the Sea View House, and restored the Kelley name. Bill Kelley died in 1907, and Mrs. Kelley continued to operate the inn until her death in 1935.
After a short period, her nephew, the late Richard L. Colter, assumed ownership and management, changing the name to Great Harbour and making improvements from year to year. The original building was said to be 200 year old in 1935. Two of the posts supporting the lofty piazza are tree trunks showing their natural contours.
For many years the Kelley House opened invariably for the spring term of Superior Court in April and remained open at least through the fall term, often through Thanksgiving. Bill Kelley’s fame as a host was illustrated by his repute with the many judges who, with the court officers and lawyers, were guests at the house.
Cooper Gaw, New Bedford newspaperman, write in 1935: “I have always had pleasant memories of this hotel since the time when as a not too experienced reporter I drew an assignment to cover the spring term of court. All the off-Island people concerned, including the judge, stayed at the Kelley House; and while Mrs. Kelley fed and housed them well - I can still recall the delectableness of cod steak fried in deep fat - Bill Kelley was the old fashioned host to his distinguished guests.
“How many of the honorable justices of the Superior Court he had entertained! What anecdotes he could tell about them - and did tell! Bill Kelley liked to talk and direct the conversation but he met his match with Judge Akin who was of the inquisitorial type. Kelley told him, among other things, he had some cows on Chappaquiddick and was going over the next afternoon to move them.
“At noon the next day lawyers were surprised when the judge said there would be no afternoon sitting. Later it turned out he had gone with Kelley over to Chappaquiddick to help drive the cows.
“There was something homey, something very comfortable about the Kelley House in those days. The Edgartown court assignment was prized chiefly because of the pleasant evenings in the hotel sitting room with Bill Kelley holding the floor and telling stories of Judges I Have Met.”
Mr. and Mrs. Kelley ran the hotel for 43 years.
It was Lee Colter who, in 1945, moved the two houses on the lower part of the lot, one a former boathouse, the other a former hotel pavilion. The two buildings were remodeled to contain 12 large rooms with baths. In 1947 Mr. Colter converted the hotel coal bun into the present corner parlor of the hotel.
In modern times, at least, the Kelley House steadfastly refused to apply for a liquor license or to serve liquor. When a Boston Newspaper during World War II inadvertently referred to “the Kelley House bar,” a retraction was quickly demanded and made.