By Mike Lauterborn
(for Fairfield Citizen News)
Fairfield, CT – The old tavern hadn’t seen this much action since the days when horse drawn coaches deposited their weary travelers at its doorstep, perchance to enjoy some grog, take a meal and bed down for an overnight.
Helping support the final stretch of work needed to complete renovations, a “Tales and Ales” fundraiser was held at the rear of the historic Sun Tavern Saturday evening, on the grounds of the Fairfield Museum & History Center. About 150 people – a mix of town officials, friends of the museum and general public – enjoyed live bluegrass music, a selection of wine, light hors d’oeuvres and a custom Sun Tavern brown ale, the latter courtesy of Southport Brewing Company. Several staff members and a number of attendees appeared in Colonial period costume, adding an authentic air to the gathering.
The “open house” was actually the second time the museum has opened the tavern for such a night. “The last time was two years ago,” said Tim Russell, co-chair, along with Caroline Crawford, of the event. “The occasion then was the 230th anniversary of the Burning of Fairfield,” said Russell.
The original structure was destroyed during the American Revolution and rebuilt in 1780. It may have hosted George Washington in late 1789, as the general passed through on his way from Norwalk to New Haven. It was operated as a tavern by Fairfielder Samuel Penfield until approximately 1815, then sold three years later to Reverend Nathaniel Hewitt and his wife.
With regard to the evening mixer, Russell added, “This is an opportunity to socialize in a really neat spot. A lot of people don’t know about the tavern and should take advantage of it.”
In lieu of providing food samples, nine area restaurants, including Avellinos, Bonda and Fairfield Café, offered event attendees 15% off meals that evening.
Among the guests was First Selectman Michael Tetreau, who offered, “Our history and heritage make Fairfield special. As you walk through this property, you are walking in the footsteps of our ancestors, and rooms in which General Washington may have slept. This is an important local resource.”
Standing nearby, another town official, Probate Judge Dan Caruso, said simply, “The Sun Tavern is a beautiful place to spend a July afternoon.”
Speaking on behalf of the museum, Executive Director Michael Jehle commented on the status of the structure’s upgrade. “Over the last five years, we’ve restored the rooms to their original colors and finish,” he said. “Our hope is to have the tavern open to the public by the summer of 2012.”
As an added highlight of the event, Peter and Carleen Kunkel were recognized for their support of the tavern work and many contributions to the community. “They have never met a fundraiser they didn’t like,” said Jehle, who sparked cheers of “hip hip hooray” from the crowd. Museum Coordinator Walt Matis was also honored for his tireless commitment to facility programming and given a certificate for a weekend stay at Essex Inn.
An 11th generation Jennings in Fairfield, Kevin Jennings, a contractor and descendant of Joshua Jennings, who died in 1675, had a particularly strong connection to the tavern.
Referencing a list of his ancestors, he contemplated, “Joshua Jennings the fourth and his son Aaron probably frequented the tavern,” then, looking at the modest building, added, “They’re here somewhere.”