The Rambler Rose Tea House, a turn-of-the-century tea room and restaurant, provided well-to-do guests with “fancy tea in a country setting” from 1913 to approximately 1927. The tea house was located in the house at what is now 5747 Norton Rd.
The Tea House was started and managed by Florence Tournier in 1913. Prior to Vernon Center, she was at the Little Tea House in Alexandria, VA. In 1928, Florence opened the Robin’s Nest restaurant in Clinton on Utica St., in the former Robbins Home, with her mother Nina Drury. Nina graduated from New York’s Ware School of Tea House Management and for a time, was assistant housekeeper at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington D.C.
In 1923, the Griswold sisters, Jennie and Flora, purchased the house and ran it for several years as an Inn. Miss Jennie served as the matron of the Maple Park Home for Aged Women (as of 2021, the Maple Park Country Store) with her sister Flora as the assistant. They both served there for 8 years until moving into the former tea house.
The following excerpt from Pioneers of Vernon Center includes first-hand accounts from visitors to the shop:
Rambler Rose Tea Room
By Dr. H. Eugene Butler (reprinted with permission)
Dorothy [Chandler] Langford remembers the Griswold sisters running the Rambler Rose Tea Room on Norton Road in the 1913-18 period. It was located where Durrs now live and at the time Dorothy [Chandler] lived next door with her grandparents [Samuel and Elizabeth Law].
She recalled, “There was an open porch where tea and refreshments were served. People, mainly women who owned cars came from Utica and other places. They drove open touring cars with side curtains. I remember Mrs. John Ward coming from Vernon. My grandma used to say, ‘You gotta put on a clean dress if you’re gonna be out there in the front yard.’ I wanted to watch and see what was going on. “Every day they would hang the fresh washed table linen out to dry. These society ladies probably expected to have the finer things in a country atmosphere. You know, this was unique for them. Norton Road was a dirt road then, dusty when dry and muddy when wet.”
Later I asked Viola Wenham if she remembered a Rambler Rose Tea Room. “Oh yes. Two sisters ran it. I believe their name was Griswold. It was in their house and was really a fancy tea room.
“When my folks were up on the farm (on Norton Road) we used to draw our milk down to the Cuomo Cheese Factory in Vernon Center. This was soon after we moved there around 1917. They drew milk with one horse and used what was called a democrat wagon. It had one seat in front and a rack in the back.
“One time my brother, John, and Charlie Burke were drawing the milk down to the cheese factory and they thought they’d stop in for something to eat. So they tied their horse out front and went to the door but the sisters wouldn’t let them come in. They had their barn clothes on and the Griswolds wouldn’t accept that kind of people. It was a fancy place, you know.
“I remember a lady who used to drive up there from Utica. She had an electric car that ran off a battery. And after I went to work at Hamilton College she used to visit the Etheridges where I worked . They ran the Alexander Hamilton Inn in Clinton. She’d stop in Clinton and they sometimes came together to the Tea Room. Some people came there in their chauffeur-driven limousines. And they’d be all prissied up in their gloves and fancy hats. I remember that.
“The Tea Room was in the home that they lived in so it’s real homey where the guests were served. I’ve been there loads of times – not to eat but to visit or be with the family ’cause the sisters were aunts to the people I worked for in Clinton.”
Ruama Noakes also remembers that [Florence] Tournier operated the Rambler Rose Tea House during the 1920s when she lived next door with her aunt and uncle, Myrtle and Ernest Law.
The Rambler Rose Returns for Mother’s Day 2021
In May 2021, Garrett Law and family created a pop-up version of the Rambler Rose Tea Room to help tell its story and raise funds for preserving This Old Church’s stained glass windows. Read about the event.