Family-owned businesses are becoming a thing of the past as Amazon and Walmart gobble up everything in sight. But the independent business still exists in New England. The oldest business in your state could be a farm that survived real estate development and competition from agribusiness. Or it could be a tavern that made it through more than a dozen wars. Perhaps it’s a ferry that’s been running since Nathaniel Hawthorne took notes.
Here, then, is the oldest business in each New England state.
Field View Farm, Connecticut’s Oldest Business
The Griswold Inn in Essex, Conn., and the Hartford Courant are two of Connecticut’s oldest businesses, having opened in 1776 and 1764, respectively. But neither is as old as Field View Farm, which has been in continuous operation in Orange since 1639.
Thomas Hine established the farm in 1639, and his descendants have run the farm for 12 generations. Today it’s a dairy farm that sells eggs, milk and ice cream (and lets you pet the cows). It’s the last remaining farm between New Haven and New York City, and it has stayed alive by diversifying. The farm is also a trucking business, with tractor trucks and trailers that haul goods throughout the Northeast.
A fire burned down the main barn in 1996, and since then the Hine family has sold agricultural equipment and rented vehicles to stay in business.
707 Derby Ave., Orange, Conn.
The town of Kennebunk, Maine, bustles in the summer with tourists seeking lobster, whale watching, shopping and the summer home of President George H.W. Bush. Tourists have stayed in Kennebunk since 1667 at the Seaside Inn, Maine’s oldest business.
Innkeeping dates to 1660 on Kennebunk Beach, when ferrymen stayed on the oceanfront peninsula at the mouth of the Kennebunk River in case travelers needed to be ferried across the river.
John Gooch was the first member of the family to settle in Kennebunk. He arrived in 1637 as an agent of Ferdinando Gorges, who ordered Gooch to run the ferry. He began running an inn in 1667. The current inn has been in the Gooch family since 1756, when Jedidiah Gooch bought the business.
It is the fifth oldest family business in the United States. Maine also boasts the ninth oldest family business, Smiling Hill Farm, in operation in Westbrook since 1720.
For generations, the business was passed down to the first-born son. Four generations ago, it was passed down to a daughter and today the Seaside Inn and Cottages is run by a ninth-generation member of the family, Trish Mason, and her husband Ken.
Trish Mason has written a book, Seaside House: Maine Innkeepers. You can buy it here.
80 Beach Avenue, Kennebunk, Maine
Barker’s Farm in North Andover, Mass., is still growing corn, strawberries and apples since it started in 1642. It has been in the same family since 1642, and is now run by Dianne Barker, the 11th generation owner.
When the first Mr. Barker came to America, another old Massachusetts business was up and running – only in Constantinople. Zildjian didn’t move its cymbal company to Quincy until 1928 (it’s now in Norwell).
Today the Barker farm has 70 acres and a farmstand that sells corn, fruit, butter and vegetables. Customers can pick their own apples and flowers.
1267 Osgood St North Andover, Mass.
Tuttle’s Red Barn
John Tuttle almost didn’t make it when he left England for the New World in 1632. His ship sank. But his wife and four-year-old daughter survived and found their way to what is now New Hampshire.
Now New Hampshire’s oldest business, The Tuttle Farm has been operating without pause in Dover, since 1632. It’s almost as old as the Shirley Plantation in Charles City, Va., which has been around since 1613.
The farm expanded to 240 acres in the 20th century, but now is down to 134. It’s been passed down through 11 generations of Tuttles. In the 1870s, Joseph Edward Tuttle died when his only son was still a baby. His brother ran the farm for 40 years until he died, when the farm went to the grown-up George Tuttle.
The Tuttle Farm today includes a 12-room house built around 1780, greenhouses, barns and a farmstand, which sells produce, groceries, plants and gift items. Its biggest crop is corn, followed by vegetables and berries.
Will and Lucy Tuttle sold the farm in 2013 for about $1 million to Matt Kozazcki, who also owns a farm in Newbury, Mass. It is now doing business as Tendercrop Farm.
123 Dover Point Rd., Dover, N.H.
White Horse Tavern
Newport, R.I., is home to three very old American businesses: John Stevens Stonecutter, Caswell-Massey and the White Horse Tavern.
The White Horse Tavern, Rhode Island’s oldest business, was built by Frances Brinley in 1652. It didn’t sell food and drink until 1683 when William Mayes bought the property and enlarged it into a tavern. And it wasn’t named White Horse until 1730.
The tavern was a hangout for Tories in the early days of the Revolution and housed British soldiers leading up to the Battle of Rhode Island. Among its more colorful owners was William Mayes Jr., a Rhode Island pirate.
Today you can not only visit the White Horse, you can still get a meal and a drink there. For more information, visit the Tavern’s website here.
26 Marlborough St., Newport, R.I.
Fort Ticonderoga Ferry
The trip between Larrabee’s Point in Shoreham, Vt., and Ticonderoga, N.Y., takes seven-and-a-half minutes, just as it has for more than 100 years.
The Fort Ticonderoga Ferry makes its way across Lake Champlain guided by a set of cables that rest on the lake’s bottom.
There has been a ferry running from Ticonderoga to ports on the Connecticut River since at least the 1759 when Lord Jeffery Amherst, governor general of British North America, ordered the establishment of ferry service to assist in moving armies and supplies in the Seven Years’ War.
Since 1799, there has been a ferry service between New York and Larrabee’s Point, making it Vermont’s oldest business. In the early days it was essential to trade.
Operating from late spring through early fall, the ferry is less important as a vehicle for trade today than it used to be. But it still delights travelers as it did more than 100 years ago when Nathaniel Hawthorne noted its peculiar charms. He wrote of: “the continual succession of travelers who spent an idle quarter of an hour in waiting for the ferry boat, affording me just enough time to make their acquaintance, penetrate their mysteries and be rid of them without the risk of tediousness on either side.”
Images: White Horse Tavern By Kenneth C. Zirkel – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=58527439.