After four-year hiatus, Seesaw’s rides again

Johnny Seesaw’s in the 1940s. Courtesy Manchester Historical Society

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2018 Telegraph Publishing LLC

We usually say that it’s easier to tell you what hasn’t been retained than what has,” says Kim Prins as she begins to give a tour of  the new Seesaw’s Lodge in Peru.

As late as 2014, Johnny Seesaw’s Restaurant was a local institution with a storied past and a National Register of Historic Places designation, but after it closed in August of that year, the 1920s building could not meet the health and safety codes to reopen.

Seesaw’s Restaurant in September shortly after opening.

Then along came Ryan and Kim Prins who, with their business partners, bought the property with little knowledge of its history. When people began stopping by to tell stories of their experiences as Seesaw’s employees and guests, underlining the importance of the place to the community, the new owners decided to bring a sense the place back in their new restaurant.

Starting in 2017, the building was painstakingly dismantled with anything that could be reused saved – including some beloved architectural details – for building a new Seesaw’s nearby on the site.

Log siding, beams, tables, chairs and even the radiators were preserved and reused in the new building along with the round center fireplace and the wall mural fondly remembered by visitors. The mural had been painted on beaded board and was taken apart in the old building and reassembled in the new.

And thus the low-slung building that began life as the Wonder View Log Pavilion was the inspiration for a tall new structure atop a nearby hill. Prins is quick to say that the new building is not a replica but an appreciation.

The site plan the newly redeveloped Seesaw’s Lodge. The outline of original restaurant appears in dotted lines.

So what is new in the building? Kim Prins points to the ceiling and the floors, milled from pine trees on property they own in Arlington and many of the lighting fixtures, designed and crafted in Vermont for the new building. The wrap-around porch looks down on a radiant-heated patio and fire pit. In the winter, there will be skating on the adjacent pond and skaters will find hot chocolate in the warming hut.

A 150-year-old sugar shack attached to the warming hut is “new,” having been moved from Weston and reassembled on the site. According to Kim Prins, there are plans to make maple syrup for the restaurant.

The dining room at Seesaw’s as dinner service begins.

Back at the restaurant, chef Tim Cocheo’s menu is eclectic, with dishes from a borscht soup to ceviche to poutine and that’s just for starters.

Entrees on the autumn menu range from $16 to $29 with a hamburger, risotto and a “Classic Bolognese” at one end and a maple brined pork chop, half a chicken, grilled hanger steak and sauteed scallops at the other. And on Thursdays and Saturdays, Seesaw’s serves prime rib with prices varying by weight.

The old Johnny Seesaw’s guest book for both new and returning customers to sign.

Reopening on Aug. 30 – four years to the day since closing – Seesaw’s dining room feels both new and “lived in.”

According to Prins, the feedback from people who were customers in the past has been positive.

“They have all their memories of the special place that Johnny Seesaw’s was for them,” said Prins. “And they say ‘you’ve kept the best parts and made it even better.’ ”

“Mostly they appreciate the care taken with dismantling and saving so much of the old Seesaw’s,” said Prins.

In addition to the restaurant, Seesaw’s has an “event barn” for weddings and other occasions and several lodging options in four of the original buildings that have been substantially updated in the past year.

The mural reassembled in the new restaurant

Plans include a distillery, which would harken back to the Prohibition speakeasy roots of the place, as well as some retail and possibly a coffee roaster.

“We’ll see what the demand is,” said Prins.

Unfortunately, it’s likely that Seesaw’s National Register designation will not survive the work that has been done on the site.

While the district consists of seven historic buildings, the restaurant is considered essential to it, according to State Architectural Historian Devin Coleman. Without the original structure in its original place, the historic and architectural significance of the place may not be sufficient to retain the designation.

Seesaw’s Lodge is located at 3574 Vermont Route 11 in Peru. Dinner is served Thursday through Monday from 5 p.m. For reservations call (802) 824-5533.

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