LEE — A 163-year anchor of Lee's downtown business community is under new management.
The Morgan House Restaurant & Inn at 33 Main St. has been sold to Vern Kennedy, of Canaan, N.Y., on May 10, according to Richard Aldrich, manager of Stone House Properties commercial-industrial real estate division.
Kennedy has invested in fine dining and other businesses throughout the country, but says The Morgan House is something he will nurture for years to come.
"I get a thrill out of growing things and there will be only one Morgan House," he said in a phone interview with The Eagle.
His company, Berkshire Restaurant Property, paid former owners Pamela and James Loring of Lee $478,500 for The Morgan House, according to the Middle Berkshire Registry of Deeds in Pittsfield. The Southern Berkshire realty firm, Stone House Properties, had originally listed the site for $699,000.
The Morgan House has 11 rooms and the restaurant, currently open Thursday through Monday for lunch and dinner, offers American fare in the main dining room with a separate tavern menu.
Aside from a new menu that Kennedy plans to roll out for the summer, the operation will remain unchanged in terms of staffing, hours of operation and other aspects the restaurant and lodging. He wants to understand what The Morgan House means to the community and role it plays in Lee before launching any long-range plans for the establishment.
Kennedy recognizes the dual dining personality of the eatery.
"I like the casual tavern and the formal dining we have here," he said. "I want to make the tavern more comfortable, like you're in your own living room."
The sale of the Morgan House comes eight years ago to the month from when the Lorings bought it for $485,000 from a New York couple, Sean and Emlyn Diggins, who were among a series of out-of-towners to take a crack at operating it. The most noted was probably Maria Cole Devore, the widow of singer Nat King Cole and mother of entertainer Natalie Cole. She owned it from 1974 to 1981.
The last Lee residents to own the Morgan House prior to the Lorings were Margaret and Earle Pero, from 1933 to 1970, according to Town hall records.
The Lorings had previously owned a gift shop and the Devonshire bed-and-breakfast in Lee.
The new owners inherit a well-kept eatery and lodging, as the Lorings initially invested $100,000 to overhaul the interior. They either bought new or repaired just about every piece of equipment in the kitchen. The dining room was repainted and the ceiling replaced.
James Loring, a retired Lee police officer, has a contractor's license and did much of the repair work himself and continued to oversee the upkeep until the sale.
Among the interior aesthetic improvements eight years ago was Canaan, N.Y., artist Susan Leal's hand-painted scenes of 15 town landmarks and Mount Greylock Reservation on the upper walls of the main dining area.
Built in 1817, The Morgan House was a private residence for esquire William Porter and his family. Edwin Morgan, the first settler of the city of Springfield, purchased and enlarged this home in 1853 and opened its doors to visitors arriving on incoming stagecoaches.
The Morgan House has entertained such famous visitors as presidents Ulysses S. Grant and Grover Cleveland, future president and U.S. Sen. John F. Kennedy and writer George Bernard Shaw.
Contact Dick Lindsay at 413-496-6233.