Immortalized in Longfellow's popular verse “Tales of the Wayside Inn” (1863, 1872, and 1873), this Colonial Revival icon became the centerpiece for one of the first re-created colonial villages in New England. Long imagined to date from 1689, the core of the much enlarged tavern (NRD), run for generations by the Howe family, dates perhaps to 1706. Forty years later it was known as The Red Horse Tavern and had been enlarged and was covered by the huge gambrel roof before the Revolution. As late as about 1800, separate
Restoration efforts began in 1897 when antiquarian and lawyer Edward R. Leamon purchased the property and opened it to the public. Industrialist Henry Ford acquired the estate in 1923. By 1926 his architect, Charles Loring, had restored the inn to an eighteenth-century appearance and opened it to much publicity as a colonial showpiece. The Ford Foundation restored the main structure after a serious fire in 1955.
Meanwhile Ford developed plans to recreate a colonial New England village, presaging his creation of Greenfield Village at Dearborn, Michigan. In 1926 J. B. Campbell designed a carding mill complex, complete with millpond and a romantic fieldstone gristmill (NRD) with large overshot wheel. Typical of Ford's interest in popular culture icons, he also moved to the site a purported 1798 schoolhouse from nearby Sterling, Massachusetts, that had some association with the “Mary Had a Little Lamb” nursery rhyme. In 1928 Ford paid to relocate Route 20 around the growing complex, transforming it into a model auto highway to bring tourists to the site, with a concrete bridge over an early colonial road. The next year he built a large chapel in the mode of an early-nineteenth-century New England meetinghouse, but the Wayside Inn project faded during the Depression as Ford's interests turned elsewhere.