The history of the Thompson Inn
A unique insight into our past.
Formally known as the Highland House, the original Thompson Inn and Cyderhouse buildings may date as far back as 1779, when a 60 acre plot of land where the Thompson Inn and Cyderhouse currently stand was conveyed to Captain Joseph Chesley. At that time, there were already mills located in the Lamprey River at Packers and Sullivan Falls nearby. This part of Durham was know for excellent apple orchards, and sometime before 1806 the “cyderhouse” was built.
The property was owned by descendents of Captain Chesley, including the Wiggin Family until 1863 when William Woodman purchased the property. By the late 1860s, the Woodman cider mill became the hub of local cider and apple vinegar making.
An Early Expanding Enterprise
It was his son, Daniel and his wife, Sarah who added the second story to the kitchen wing and the extensive veranda that wrapped around three sides of the house to accommodate guests. They operated the guest house together until Daniel’s death in 1898. Sarah continued running the Highland House for another 15 years until she was unable to continue.
Up for Lease
In 1920, she placed an ad in the Boston Globe offering to lease the property and business. The ad caught the eye of Amanda and Elmer Thompson of California and they came east with their daughters, Ina and Ethel to try their hand at reviving the Highland House guest business. They clearly had found their calling, because over the next two decades they converted the cider mill into a dance hall and dormitory, built a gazebo in the middle of the Lamprey River, and purchased and refurbished two neighboring houses into the upscale Colonial Mansion and Tea Room/Gift Shop called the Lodge. Room rates ranged from $15-$25 a week!
Business as Usual
They raised chickens, pigs and cows and had an extensive garden to supply guests with farm fresh food. They frequently served meals for 40-50 people at a time. They advertised extensively and drew guests from all over New England and the New York area. Many of their loyal guests returned each summer and their children and grandchildren continued to return as adults for many decades.
In the early 30s, Ethel married the mailman and moved out and Elmer passed away, leaving Amanda and daughter, Ina to run the business themselves. Ina never married and continued to run the farm and guest business for forty years . Business dwindled over time and by 1970 there were only a few regular guests.
An Uncertain Future
In 1971, Ina, now 77, gave the farm and guesthouse to the UNH Thompson School of Agricultural Sciences providing she could continue to live there, which she did until 1990 when her health declined. UNH had an onsite agricultural program at the farm using the cider mill as a dormitory until the early 1980s. Over the years, the house and cider mill deteriorated as UNH’s funds to maintain the property were inadequate.
The Latest Chapter
As neighbors, we were heartbroken to see this once glorious guest house fall to ruin. After many years of discussion with UNH, it was decided that it would be put out to bid and sold. We put our bid in with our fingers crossed and fortunately were selected to purchase the property. That was in 2006! For the next decade, we have been lovingly working to restore the grounds, inn and cyderhouse so that we can carry on the tradition started by the Thompson Family at the Highland House.