The colorful Roycefield Inn made a final appearance in the news, and in the consciousness of Hillsborough residents, fifty-eight years ago when the two-story barn and tenant house on the property were destroyed in a spectacular fire.
|12 March 1960 Courier News|
At the time of the fire on March 11, 1960, the 200-year-old, 95-acre farmstead north of Triangle and west of Farm Road (at that time still called Roycefield Road) was owned by Somerville Poultry Farms - one of the largest producers of eggs in the northeast. An eight-year-old boy lit a match in the darkened barn filled with hay in an attempt to find his friend.
|12 March 1960 Home News|
A refugee family of seven from Yugoslavia, who were living in the house and working on the farm, were displaced as the roof of the house, just five feet from the barn, came crashing down. Newspapers noted that the Roycefield Inn, closed since late in the previous year, was undamaged. Nevertheless, the storied tavern never reopened.
|Detail from 1945 Hagstrom Somerset County Map|
Around 1933, as Prohibition was ending, Mrs. Mary Merusi opened a tavern on the property that in the previous century was the Pierce farm. The widowed Italian immigrant's farm became a popular location for civic groups to have their picnics in the summer, and clubs to hold their dinners in the winter. In 1937 Merusi's Tavern was the site of the first meeting of the newly-formed Innkeeper's Protective Association of Hillsborough Township - essentially a lobbying body for the rights of innkeepers. By the end of the decade, Mrs. Merusi had remarried and within a few years sold the tavern to Charles and Mary Krassy of Manville who incorporated the business in 1941 as The Roycefield Inn.
|28 July 1944 Home News|
The Krassys did not own the tavern for long as 1943 news articles show the Roycefield Inn as being owned by Michael Mesko and family. Each of the Mesko's four sons was in service to America at this time - the elder three in military service and the youngest - just sixteen - working at the South Somerville Quartermaster Sub-Depot. Because he was unable to find any other labor to work the farm, Mesko sold the tavern to William Von Spreckelson and Otto Schreiver in May 1944. He got out just in time.
|29 July 1944 Courier News|
On July 27, 1944, forty-six-year-old Robert Westover - a Somerville resident employed at The Belle Mead Army service Forces Depot in Hillsborough - was spending the night out with the thirty-nine-year-old Anna Legedza - a married woman from Manville. They went first to the Amwell Farms Inn on Route 206, and then to the Roycefield Inn. It was there that they ran into Vincent Mullane, 50, also of Manville. Mullane resented the attention being paid to Mrs. Legedza from Westover and asked him to step outside where at least one punch was thrown. Mullane hit the ground and suffered a cerebral hemorrhage.
The couple picked up Mullane and put him in the passenger seat of his car while Westover got into the driver's seat and drove to Manville, Mrs. Legadza following in her own car. Police stopped Westover for speeding on Camplain Road and discovered Mullane, who was already dead, slumped in the front seat. Westover was charged with murder, but in a plea deal three months later received five years probation and a $500 fine on an assault charge.
|11 April 1955 Courier News|
In the 1950s the Roycefield Inn was owned by Mr. and Mrs. John Askane. It was during this time that the establishment was cited on numerous occasions by the Alcohol Beverage Commission for allowing underage drinking, allowing altercations to take place, and allowing foul language to be used. It was that kind of place - full of payday rowdiness.
The tavern next made the headlines in April 1955 when a hooded gunman showed up at the door of the tavern after closing at 2am telling Mrs. Askane that he forgot his keys. When she opened the door, he stepped forward into the light and revealed the hood covering his entire head and a shotgun in his hand. Mrs. Askane slammed the door - the muzzle of the gun shattering a glass pane - and the bandit ran off towards his car pursued by Mr. Askane. Near his car, he fired once at the proprietor, before speeding away towards Duke's Farm.
|22 November 1958 Courier News|
After what The Courier News described as a "payday brawl" knife fight in November 1958, the Alchohol Beverage Commission warned the Askanes to stop the use of "foul, filthy and obscene" language by customers.
That February 1959 warning letter likely lead the Askanes to close the Inn for good. In May 1960 the Roycefield Inn liquor license was transferred to Lucille Petrock who, according to the Home News, "plans to open a tavern on Amwell Road west of Route 206." I wonder how that worked out.