Shelburne Falls B&B a den of ursine ubiquity

By Kathleen Litchfield

Sunday Republican (Springfield)
Sunday, 05/13/2001
Edition: Franklin, Section: FRANKLIN MAGAZINE, Page 04

2000 Springfield Union-News. All rights reserved.
Used with permission of the Springfield Union-News and Sunday Republican.


"Cats and Bears" by Bob Perkins, Editor

"Bearadise Found" by Kathleen Litchfield

Photographs by Matthew Cavanaugh

Bear Haven B&B Web Page


By Bob Perkins, Editor

I admit I'm a cat person and I often judge people by whether they like cats. So I was pleased this week when I discovered that in addition to an estimated 1,000 teddy bears, Bear Haven Bed and Breakfast in Shelburne Falls has cats.

Writer Kathleen E. Litchfield visited Bear Haven and her cover story this week tells the story of Chris Morben and Deane Merrill and how they came to be owners of a bed and breakfast.

I'll start with the three cats, Puzzle, Koshka ("cat" in Russian) and 26, named by the 4-year-old girl who lives across the street from the bed and breakfast. The youngster, who is fascinated by the alphabet, recently gave the 8-month-old kitten to Morben's mother, Laura Walker. The felines lounge throughout the house, particularly on the sun porch where a small fountain flows gently, surrounded by leafy green plants cared for by Walker.

Cats and teddy bears aren't the only things lurking around the corner at Bear Haven Bed & Breakfast. While Merrill does not believe in ghosts, Morben said she feels the presence of one of her husband's ancestor's throughout the house. "She's still here. She makes her presence known," said Morben, who has misplaced papers, lost small items and found teddy bears in different rooms than she remembered placing them - acts she attributes to Almina Howard.

When Morben began decorating the bed and breakfast in 1997, she had trouble hanging a historic portrait on the stairway wall. The marks she made to drive nails to hang the large photograph disappeared four times before she finally fastened it to the wall, she said. A few days later, Morben was outside, talking to a neighbor across Mechanic Street, and happened to glance over at her house.

"Almina's face was peering right out the round window at me," said Morben, standing in front of the oval-shaped stained-glass window on the stairway's landing. "It was really weird."

"I really love it here. I love it for my family's history and how we've restored the place," Merrill said, and his wife grinned. "Truthfully I'd like to take a nice long cruise to the Bahamas but that'll never happen," Morben laughed. "I can see myself . . . working in the garden and doing my little things around the house. I'm a real homebody."

For more about Bear Haven Bed and Breakfast and its 1,000 teddy bears, turn to Litchfield's story which begins on Page 4.

I hope you enjoy the issue.

Bob Perkins



Shelburne Falls B&B a den of ursine ubiquity

By Kathleen Litchfield


Chris Morben has collected teddy bears since she was a little girl, following in the footsteps of her mother, now 92.

And once, Morben discovered that the stuffed plush toys would qualify as tax-deductible business expenses, she said she got "just a little bit crazier."

"We have between 800 and 1,000 teddy bears now and I know where I got every single one," said the four-year owner of Bear Haven Bed & Breakfast in the village of Shelburne Falls.

To say Morben, who owns the historic B&B with her husband, Deane Merrill, has a fondness for the furry-eared creatures would be a "beary" big understatement.

Teddy bears of all shapes, sizes, colors and textures are tucked into every nook and cranny of their three-floor, 15-room home. Guests are greeted on the Victorian-style front porch with a wooden sign that reads, "Welcome to Bearadise."

Each of the light-switch panels and vanity items in the guest bedrooms and bathrooms depict teddy bears. Teddy bears lie on bed pillows, stand on parlor chairs, seem to banter beneath the banisters, hang out in country baskets and sit prettily along windowsills and mantels.

Housed in the 1852 Moses W. Merrill Homestead on Mechanic Street, the bed and breakfast is termed, "A rest home for teddy bears," and Morben said guests from around the globe do not find the ubiquitous bears the least bit daunting.

"The people who come here love our teddy bears and they love our cats. And if they don't, they stay someplace else," laughed Morben, a former home health care nurse who met her husband while caring for his ailing parents in Hendersonville, N.C.

"My father (Deane Whitney Merrill Sr.) remarried in 1979, his second wife, named Nebs Sipe, and moved to North Carolina," said Merrill, a native of South Orange, N.J. who attended Deerfield Academy, Williams College in Williamstown and then the University of California at Berkeley, where he earned two doctorates.

"Nebs had a stroke and Chris was called in to take care of her. One year later, my father had a stroke and Chris was his full-time nurse. She got to know my father and then she got to know me," said Merrill, smiling across the kitchen table at his wife of six years.

From 1987 to 1991, Merrill and Morben fueled a long-distance relationship between Berkeley and Hendersonville, N.C. In 1991, Morben joined Merrill in Berkeley with Morben's mother, Laura Walker, and Laura's cat, Pookie. Chris Morben and Deane Merrill were married in 1995. They tired of city life and, in searching for a town in which to retire, discovered that Merrill's family's home in Shelburne Falls was for sale.

"I had never been to Shelburne Falls," said Merrill, who earned a doctorate in physics in 1967 and another in public health in 1998. "My brother (Jonathan Merrill) had visited this house around 1995. We knew it was a family house but the family had lost ownership of it in 1940."

The homestead on Mechanic Street was constructed by Deane Merrill's great-great-grandfather, Moses Whitney Merrill, in 1852.

"Merrills have resided in the town of Shelburne since the 1770s," Deane Merrill said, "when brothers Daniel and Nathaniel arrived from Haverhill. By 1850, there were dozens of Merrills in Shelburne Falls.

Daniel's descendants included three generations of Shelburne Falls hotel keepers, beginning with Joseph Merrill around1820. . . . Now, 100 years later, Chris and I are proud to revive the family tradition of hotel keeping."

After Moses Merrill died in 1859, his widow, Abbie Coleman Merrill, continued to live here until her death in 1892. Moses Merrill's son, hotel keeper Cordeanio Merrill, who was Deane Merrill's great-grandfather, grew up in the house and lived in it with his first wife, Helen Howard Merrill (who died in 1893) with whom he had five children, and then with his second wife, Jennie Audinwood Merrill.

In 1897, Cordeanio Merrill remodeled the house, adding most of the decorative architectural features that remain today, including colorful stained-glass windows, an antique Baltimore stove and the living room's grand fireplace.

Cordeanio Merrill died in 1908 but Jennie continued to live in the house with her deceased husband's first mother-in-law, Almina Barnard Howard, for whom she cared until Almina's death in 1924.

Almina lived to be 101 and, at the time of her death, was the oldest resident of Shelburne Falls, Merrill said. When Jennie died in 1940, the house passed out of the Merrill family. Deane Merrill's grandfather (Cordeanio's son), Charles Arthur Merrill, graduated from Arms Academy in Shelburne Falls in 1893, from Amherst College in 1897 and then left the area.

Around 1905, he settled in Northern New Jersey. His son, Deane Whitney Merrill Sr., also raised his family in New Jersey before retiring to Vermont and later to North Carolina.

The Moses W. Merrill Homestead had been converted into two apartments and rented to numerous tenants when Merrill and Morben purchased it in 1997. Because of ancient wiring, the house was practically condemned and had fallen into a terrible state of disrepair, Merrill said.

"We knew it was going to be pretty bad and it was scary," said Merrill, who arrived at his new home during the April Fool's Day blizzard of 1997 and saw it for the first time. The paint was peeling, the front porch was dilapidated, the stairways lacked banisters and an oddly-placed upstairs toilet was in danger of falling through the floorboards. The walls were "horrible looking," said Morben, and the wiring, extremely dangerous.

"It was a nightmare," she said. "So we started renovating right away."

Within a year, Merrill and Morben completed renovations that they said could have taken five years or more, with Morben pushing the building contractors along while Merrill continued "turning the money crank in Berkeley."

Morben, a native of San Francisco who lived most of her life in North Carolina, had dreamed of owning a big house and running a small bed and breakfast, although she had never stayed in one when she decided to fulfill her vision.

"My mom has always had a very good business head on her shoulders. She had owned restaurants and a motel . . . and she gave us lots of good ideas," said Morben.

Open year-round, the busiest months at Bear Haven Bed & Breakfast are July, August and October, she said, when guests retreat to Franklin County for outdoor activities and leaf-peeping. All three guest rooms are normally full on weekends during these months and at least one is normally occupied on weekends the rest of the year, she said.

Guests are welcome to relax in the elegant living room, cozy sitting room, formal dining room and spacious front porch. The second floor holds three guest rooms, called "dens" in keeping with the bear motif. One room features a double bed and private bath down the hall; the other two offer queen-sized beds with toilet and sink suites hidden behind utilitarian wooden screens showcasing 100-year-old postcards of Shelburne Falls. These two rooms share a full bath across the hall.

Most of Merrill and Morben's guests hail from the Boston and New York City areas but others have traveled from Australia, Argentina, England, Greece, Germany, France, Japan, Israel and the Netherlands, where Merrill's daughter from his first marriage, Eleanore Merrill, and granddaughter, Chilen Merrill, live.

Morben has two children from a previous marriage as well; her son, David Woods, is temporarily living at the house in Shelburne Falls. Morben's daughter, Jeannie Woods, lives in North Carolina. Morben's mother, Laura Walker, lives in a private room on the first floor of the homestead.

"We really like having people here," said Merrill, who held a 16-person family Christmas in the house last year. "Meeting the guests is the best part of running the bed and breakfast. . . . Ninety-nine percent (of our guests) are just wonderful, fascinating people. It's nice getting to know them."

"We haven't had any real duds," agreed Morben. "Most people that stay in a bed and breakfast want that home, family closeness."

Merrill and Morben hope to see one of their children or a niece or nephew assume ownership of the house upon their passing, but feel it's way too early to think about all that.

"We're here to stay for as long as we can," said Merrill. "If we were just making beds and putting on breakfast, that would get boring. But you meet these people and it's totally rewarding."


By Matthew Cavanaugh

(click on thumbnail icon to see larger picture)



Deane Merrill and Chris Morben, owners of Bear Haven Bed & Breakfast in Shelburne Falls, show some of the estimated 1,000 teddy bears that give the bed and breakfast its character and name. Bears of all shapes, sizes, colors and textures are tucked into every nook and cranny of their three-floor, 15-room home.

Owners Chris Morben and Deane Merrill stand on the front porch of Bear Haven Bed & Breakfast in Shelburne Falls. The homestead on Mechanic Street was constructed by Deane Merrill's great-great-grandfather, Moses Whitney Merrill, in 1852.

Owners Chris Morben and Deane Merrill hold a few of their estimated 1,000 teddy bears in the living room of Bear Haven Bed & Breakfast in Shelburne Falls. Morben and Merrill, married in 1995, were searching for a town in which to retire whey they found out that Merrill's family's home in Shelburne was for sale.

Housed in the 1852 Moses W. Merrill Homestead on Mechanic Street, Shelburne Falls, Bear Haven Bed & Breakfast is billed as "a rest home for teddy bears." The owners say guests from around the globe do not find the ubiquitous bears the least bit daunting.

An assortment of teddy bears and decorations with a teddy bear theme are scattered around one of the guest rooms at Bear Haven Bed & Breakfast in Shelburne Falls.

A bear quintet is positioned on the pillows of a bed in another guest room.

Teddy bears are displayed on furniture and a piano in the living room at Bear Haven Bed & Breakfast in Shelburne Falls. Owners Chris Morben and Deane Merrill estimate they have between 800 and 1,000 teddy bears in the house.

back to Bear Haven Web page

bearadise2.html 6/3/01 0650 EDT in:
Deane Merrill, merrill@crocker.com

Deane Merrill, merrill@crocker.com