CHESHIRE - A backhoe rolled on the Cheshire Inn at roughly 7 a.m. on Monday, leveling the 18th century building by 10 a.m. and ending a story that started just after the American Revolution.
A handful of locals and onlookers joined employees of contractor D. Condron Construction and a member of the Cheshire Police Department keeping an eye out for safety concerns.
"It's tough to see [the inn] go down," said Peter Krutiak, who previously owned the building for more than a quarter-century, as the bulldozer did its work.
In 1985, Krutiak bought the building for $85,000. Along with many others in town, Krutiak wanted to see the historic building restored.
And so had the town Historical Commission.
"We reached out to everyone we could think of," said Diane Hitter, a member, on Monday. "Unfortunately, no one stepped in."
As late as seven years ago Town Hall was still receiving developers with designs to "bring [the inn] up to code," according to Transcript files.
According to some accounts, the building was built by a Capt. Daniel Brown in 1797 but Hitter and Berkshire Historical and Scientific Society agree that the builder was innkeeper Moses Wolcott, in the year 1795.
A former symbol of opulence during the town's youth, a perennial social center, a gambling hall and much later a bar that remained open until 2006, the inn languished because the price tag for a historical renovation proved too costly. Estimates reached well over $1 million.
"I love old buildings," Krutiak said. "But this one has just been too far gone for a decade."
For the demolition, Condron intended to soak the building in order to limit dust, but Monday morning's frigid, 20-degree conditions got in the way.
A nearby fire hydrant wouldn't work and a garden hose lent by a neighbor quickly froze.
Onlookers talked of how a raccoon who'd been making its home on the third floor scrambled down the side of the building as the machine tore through the roof.
"That was the best part," a woman waiting on Route 8 to catch the bus said. "When the raccoon got evicted."
The town assumed ownership of the inn in 2011, taking it by tax title from Krutiak.
Officials voted in favor of demolition and awarded the project to Condron this year for $47,870. Just over $15,000 of that sum represents the cost of safely disposing of asbestos in the inn's floors and ceilings. So begins a new discussion about what's to be done with the one-acre lot along the highway.
Selectmen recently suggested that the property, once cleared, could be turned into a park or place to host farmers markets. But these are only thoughts, and options remain open.
In the end, officials say they'll wait and see what this central space - soon to be freed up and planted over for the first time in centuries - comes to mean to the town.