On Sunday Cory Ritterbusch of the Friends of Berry Tavern gave a presentation on the history of Berry Tavern and how they were able preserve this historic landmark (and are in the process of preserving) to the Lafayette County Genealogical Society meeting. We enjoyed the interaction with Cory and hearing his story on how he discovered the Berry Tavern and the history they have uncovered.
The Berry Tavern is one of the earliest taverns or inns in the state and is the last remnant of the once thriving lead mining community of Gratiot’s Grove. In the summer of 1827 Fortunatus Berry moved his family from Springfield, Illinois to the Gratiot’s Grove settlement. In 1829 he opened a log roadhouse taking in travelers, offering salt pork, straw pillow, hard cider and corn whiskey. When the Chicago to Galena stage line extended service to Gratiot’s Grove about 1839, Berry built a new wood frame hotel. This is the building that stands today.
Cory shared with us the story of the murder at the “Birth-Night Ball”. In 1842 a young tough man from Kentucky, drunk and upset that he was not invited upstairs to the ball to dance with the young bachelor women of the community, began brandishing a knife. He was taken outside by a cousin of the host to try to calm him down and when threatened he pulled his pistol and shot the man through the heart. He escaped, but was captured, tried and condemned to death. He was hanged before a crowd of five thousand at Mineral Point.
A decade later in 1854, the cholera epidemic came to the Berry Tavern, now called the Lamar Hotel. While Mr. Lamar was away cholera killed eleven guests and family members within days. When the doctor and coffin builder came to the tavern they also died. Six additional travelers and stage drivers died following stops at the hotel. A stage coach came through and seeing bodies in front of the tavern kept on going. The tavern was quarantined until the danger passed. The bodies were wrapped in gunny sacks and stacked in the still-standing stone root cellar awaiting burial. On the property today is a cholera victims cemetery.
With the passing of the rail lines and the closing of the lead mines, the Berry Tavern became a farmhouse. It retains its original white oak beams, pine floors and stone walls. In 1914 a monument was placed there by the Daughters of the American Revolution to honor its place in history.
Bill Breihan, of Milwaukee, who is a distant relative of Fortunatus Berry, began the journey that led to the revitalization of interest in Berry Tavern when he inherited his family’s historical papers from his mother about 25 years ago. About 15 years ago he started looking to find out if the building was still there and at that time the house was occupied by renters. Breihan met Cory Ritterbusch and Chris Price, who were also interested in the local history of Berry Tavern. In 2011 the house was abandoned and they inquired about buying the house. The house was purchased and The Friends of Berry Tavern were established in 2013 to preserve this historical treasure for future generations. Their long term goal is to restore the tavern and open it to the public so they can learn about the history of the building and Gratiot’s Grove. You can follow the Friends of Berry Tavern on Facebook at www.facebook.com/BerryTavern.