The Coon Tavern was built around 1795 when Haverhill Corner was the Grafton County seat. The need for accommodations when the circuit court was in session led to the establishment of many inns and taverns. Built by Ross Coon, a physician as well as a tavern-keeper, this two-story hip-roofed Federal structure was originally sited on Dartmouth College Highway and moved to its present location on the village green around 1821.
Writing of Ross Coon, historian William F. Whitcher (History of the Town of Haverhill New Hampshire, 1919) observed:
There are doctors and doctors, and Haverhill has had some of the latter class who have borne the self-given title without bothering medical schools to confer degrees or state examining boards to grant licenses. The earliest of these was Ross Coon who in the early part of the last century was the landlord of the Coon tavern at the Corner. He kept a fine bar and is said to have been a most generous patron of the same. One of his favorite remedies for bilious troubles was a compound for clearing out as he said the "bilery dux." He sometimes preached though without ordination as a minister. Weighing upwards of four hundred pounds, he was in the constant "enjoyment of poor health" and in his later years he was confined for most of his time to a large armchair, where he prescribed for both soul and body and regaled his visitors with mirth-producing stories. He averred that "a thousand lies are told every day and not half of them are true." (pg. 316)
Of tavern keeping and of Haverhill Corner in general, Whitcher wrote:
The most notable of the taverns or hotels, as in the later stage days they were called, were at the Corner. One of the first that was built and which is still standing was the famous "Bliss tavern." It was built by Joseph Bliss who came to Haverhill about 1790, and who took a leading part in the early history of the town. He was one of the number that built the first Academy building. He was the first postmaster of Haverhill appointed under Washington in 1792 or 1793. He kept this tavern until his death in 1819, and in its day it was the aristocratic headquarters for the judges and lawyers during the sessions of the court. It is still standing, a dignified and comfortable mansion, at the corner of Court and Academy streets. (pg. 338)
An early view Bliss's Tavern, probably from the 1920s. It is now a private residence.
The golden age of Haverhill Corner as a stage centre, and as centre for trade and manufacturing industries is found in the three decades between 1820 and 1850. During this time the waterpower at the [Oliverian] Brook had been used to its fullest capacity, while at the Corner hatters, cabinetmakers, printers, clock makers and silversmiths plied their trade. The rooms at Towles' Tavern, the Columbian, Coon's, Bliss's and the Grafton were filled every night, and on extra occasions like court weeks the homes of large numbers of residents were opened for the accommodation of boarders. The Superior Court was holden annually in May, and the event was one of deeper and more pervading impression than can easily be described. The best parlor and the best bedroom, closed and secluded through the rest of the year, were opened in every house. The paper curtains were rolled up, the fireboards were removed from the fireplace they had kept sealed, the year's gathering of dust removed, and all things put into working order; so that what seemed sacred and sepulchral before took on light and cheerfulness. Such were the preparations of almost any house for the reception of boarders for "court week." A dollar a day was paid by the judge and lawyers for the most sumptuous accommodations provided, and for jurors, witnesses, and others the scale was adjusted in a reasonable manner. It was usual for two gentlemen to occupy one bed, and the pairing was a permanent arrangement extending over a succession of years. The court, and many of the bar and the sheriff were commonly lodged at Mrs. Bliss's who sent for Mrs. Fifield to come in and do the cooking. (pg. 371)
An early view (probably from the 1880s) of the Coon Tavern. The front porch was probably added in the mid 19th century and removed early in the 20th century.
At the time there were formal ceremonies in connection with the court which have been ignored in these later days. In the twenties of the [19th] century, Chief Justice Richardson and his associates, Green and Woodbury of the Superior Court, were attended in going and coming from the court house by Colonel Brewster of Hanover, the sheriff for the county wearing a coat with brass buttons and red collar and bearing a fine dress sword. Two deputies bearing maces also attended the judges. The maces, the sword, the red collar and brass buttons were impressive. (pg. 373)
Some of the older residents of Haverhill Corner still remember Annie Tilton, who owned the Coon Tavern for most of the first half of the Twentieth Century:
Annie May (Guthrie) Tilton, and a song she published while living here.
Also among former owners of the Coon Tavern was the Reverend James Good Brown, who passed away in 2008 at the age of 107. He and his wife Valerie Wentworth Brown were responsible for much of the original restoration of the structure.
Rev. James Good Brown
For more information, the magazine ANTIQUES featured an article about the village of Haverhill Corner and its history (December 2004, pp. 72-81). Photographs of many of its historic structures, including The Coon Tavern, appear in this article. Reprints are available from the Haverhill Historical Society. Historian William Nathaniel Banks concluded his article by observing: “Today residents and visitors alike cherish this placid village, an enchanted relic of a glamorous past.”