Litchfield County: Happening in the Hills
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elyse harney
Anne Day

Elyse Harney Shares Holiday Memories

Elyse Harney moved to Salisbury over 60 years ago when her husband took on the position of managing partner at the White Hart Inn. The couple raised five children who have continued to grow the successful family businesses—Harney & Sons Tea and Elyse Harney and Elyse Harney Morris Real Estate. Harney shares some of her favorite holiday memories with us.

My husband, John Harney, graduated as a veteran from the Hotel School at Cornell in February of 1956. We had looked at the Covered Bridge Inn in West Cornwall right after the floods of 1956 while John was still in school but we did not have the finances for leasing a country inn. However, two years later, one of John’s Aunts had the good grace to leave us a little packet after her death. We immediately called George Denny of “America’s Town Meeting of the Air” Fame in West Cornwall to see if his little dream village was still in operation and the Inn available. 

In 1960 Donald Warner and Reese Harris decided to save the local Inn—White Hart Inn in Salisbury. My husband John signed on as the Managing Partner and Salisbury became the place we could never leave. 

So many of our memories of the holidays centered around the Inn which became a focal point of the community. The town green had a large pine and John, who was still fit from his Marine Corps days and inspired by the Christmas Tree at Rockefeller Center, would climb the tree to decorate it with lights. The Lighting of the Christmas Tree at the White Hart is still the official beginning of the Christmas season in Salisbury. Christmas carols are sung by the Salisbury Hotshot Band, candles are lit to read the words of the carols, and hot chocolate and cookies are served to all. The joy of the feeling of warmth and friendship when we are singing cannot be adequately described. Everyone is full of love and the joy of sharing that with others.

Photo Credit: Anne Day

Olive Dubois, who ran the front desk at the White Hart, was famous for her gingerbread village which she baked fresh every year. She had a marvelous china collection of homes, villagers, the ski jump, the churches, and school all on display in the lobby of the Inn including lights and music.

The Feast of St. Nicholas on December 6 was our family’s start to Christmas; with socks filled with oranges and nuts, the threat of coal for the naughty, as well as candles on the Advent Wreath announcing the days getting closer. The chapel services at both Hotchkiss and Salisbury are so beautifully filled with readings and music—the only challenge is to get there in time to have seats. 

The ceiling in our historic Colonial’s living room is peaked so we fill it with a big tree next to the Steinway. I mention the Steinway because that was the occasion of several beautiful afternoons when Joel Revzen—a conductor at the Metropolitan opera and his wife, an opera singer—joined us for Christmas carols. Dinner on Christmas Eve was formal depending on the time of Mass but Christmas dinner was always roast beef with mashed potatoes and gravy which my husband could do to perfection (mostly). The Christmas dinner has to be late afternoon to allow for some outdoor enjoyment depending on the weather but absolutely mandatory are the Christmas crackers at each place. First comes a prayer of grace traditionally from the youngest and then snapping the crackers with everyone looking foolish in their paper hats. 

I cannot think of a more perfect spot in the world to raise a family and to celebrate the wonders of Christmas. We are so blessed with all the natural beauty here as well a climate which is changing, but still a healthy one. This Christmas we will all have to count our blessings—and try to figure out safe ways to continue sharing this joy. 

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