The fate of a rare piece of Schoharie County history rests in the hands of the real estate market as the two longtime caretakers of the George Mann Tory Tavern prepare to retire.
Irmgard and Ralph Buess rescued the 18th-century brick building at the edge of Schoharie more than 35 years ago. The historic icon on Vrooman Cross Road has been the site of fine dining ever since, with the added flare of history.
George Mann, the grandson of settlers, is said to have changed his allegiance from supporting the Patriots during the American Revolution, instead siding with the British. It was in his tavern that meetings were held among Tories, also called Loyalists, as they plotted wartime raids against the Patriots, who had declared their independence from the British crown.
Today, the old tavern on the lower level of the building, where the Tories and Indians plotted their deeds, remains intact and is used as one of four dining rooms.
The Buesses, now in their 70s, turned the upper floor into their home. During a recent visit, Irmgard did all the talking — her husband was busy preparing fresh whole chickens for an upcoming entree.
Buess recalled driving by the Colonial-style building in the 1970s, when it served as a retirement home, and she and Ralph decided to buy it. Initially they thought they would use it as a residence, but then decided to turn it into a restaurant — Ralph Buess is a culinary arts-educated chef who taught at SUNY Cobleskill for five years and cooked professionally throughout the eastern U.S.
They had a quite a project. The front porch was falling off, the foundation was slipping and repairing years of modifications kept them busy.
‘Dump on the corner’
“It was called the dump on the corner,” Irmgard Buess said as she cut peonies lining the entrance to the place she’s called home since 1977.
It’s uncertain precisely when Mann’s tavern was built. Daniel Beams, museum curator at the Schoharie County Historical Society’s Old Stone Fort, said it probably was built in 1772, but few records were left in the wake of the Revolutionary War-era raids in the valley.
“A lot of things didn’t make it beyond 1780, that’s for sure,” Beams said.
Few structures survived the Burning of the Valleys that year — aside from some owned by the Tories doing the burning. Records, if they were kept, likely also were burned.
The building’s location, right off Route 443 overlooking the Fox Creek, is a likely spot for a tavern. The roadway is believed to have begun as a Native American footpath, which Palatine settlers used when traveling to make a home of Schoharie County, Beams said.
When the Buess family took over the building, porous, old-style bricks were painted with a thick coat of not-too-pretty red paint, she said. The couple had it sandblasted and they’ve been sealing it for protection periodically ever since.
Buess said her husband did most of the work, replicating wooden moldings or refinishing usable ones and digging up the foundation to add two feet of concrete, among other time-consuming — and costly — repairs .
“Back then, you were do-it-your-selfers,” said Irmgard Buess, who was born in Austria, came to the U.S. with her parents at age 7 and grew up on a farm.
A bittersweet transition
She said retirement plans are bittersweet, but 36 years of landscaping, cooking, repairing and serving is enough for both of them. Their devotion to their work meant they missed many weddings, funerals and other events over the years .
“This business is seven days a week, hands-on, around the clock. If I’m not here, I worry about it,” she said.
The couple built a new home not far from the tavern, expecting to have sold it by now to pay for the home. It’s been on the market for months.
Irmgard Buess’ years of landscaping work show as much as her husband’s work on the interior. In a style typical of Colonial days, a massive herb garden sits not far from the kitchen. It contains dill, chives, sage, thyme and, as she describes it, any herb that might be used in the kitchen.
The herbs grow under the watch of a Bartlett pear tree planted decades ago. Buess said that during the spring of this final year of the restaurant’s operation, the forsythia, lilacs, creeping phlox and other blooms displayed some of the most brilliant colors she can recall.
Early on, the couple gutted the interior down to the original bricks — plaster wasn’t replaced in the old tavern downstairs because the bricks give it an historic look.
Still operating in the tavern is one of the building’s four fireplaces. The Buesses found evidence of a wood stove attached to the fireplace and removed at some point, so they had a mason build a new one there.
Buess said since she and her husband announced plans to retire Aug. 31, it’s been difficult for regulars.
“It’s a cry-fest for some of them when they come in,” she said.
Buess said interest in the leisurely, fine-dining experience offered at the George Mann Tory Tavern has been waning, and she’s unsure if a restaurant will be right for the icon’s future. The 5,241 square-foot building could also be used as a home or professional offices, she said.
It’s on the market with an asking price of $599,000.