The inn, which has twenty rooms and two restaurants, has been located in the center of Manchester Village at the corner of West Road, Seminary Avenue, and Main Street since the early 1960’s when Wood and Joan Cornell decided to come here from New York State to open a bed and breakfast. Over the next 40+ years, the inn has changed ownership three times, but retained the name The Reluctant Panther Inn & Restaurant.
The Reluctant Panther — it’s not a name that makes a lot of sense to most visitors, but it’s rooted in Vermont history.
Head south to Bennington (about 20 miles down Route 7) where, across from the David Robinson house near the Bennington Monument, depending upon the season of your visit and the fullness of the foliage, you may be able to see a gleam of bronze. It’s a statue of a snarling panther, a Vermont symbol that marks Monument Avenue’s most historic ground. The statue faces west, towards New York State in defiance of the New Yorkers’ vigorous dispute over New Hampshire’s rights over the region—a dispute that was the source of most of Vermont’s early troubles. At the Green Mountain Tavern, which stood on the site until 1897, Ethan Allen’s Green Mountain Boys met and organized their resistance to the hated New Yorkers.
The panther, which had defiantly continued to roam the mountains of the region despite the encroachment of humans—first native and later, European—was an ideal symbol of the attitude of Vermonters who wanted neither the interference of the King or their neighbors to the east and west. In Vermont lore, the panther stood for independence and ferocity in the defense of the home territory.
But why Reluctant? Fast forward almost 200 years to the early part of the 1960’s when the Cornells decided to convert a 100+ year old building to a bed and breakfast. Joan, who was born in England, was curious why the panthers in the mountains were seen only very rarely.
“With all the people around,” her husband said, “they’re reluctant to come down out of the mountains.”
“Hmmm. Reluctant panthers,” replied Joan. And the name of a new Vermont institution was born.
Once the Cornells completed their renovations (about 1964) and got down to the business of running an inn and restaurant, Woody observed that few people traveling along what was then Route 7 (Main Street) were noticing his place. It was all, he decided, a simple matter of attracting their attention—so he set out to do just that by painting the structure a brilliant purple and finishing it off with bright yellow shutters. Needless to say, lots of people took notice—including the village elders, who promptly undertook a new regulation calling for architectural review and approval of all external design changes for buildings within the village limits. But it was too late, of course, for the now-purple Panther was grandfathered, and it remained a remarkable landmark in the village for the next forty years.
In fact, when the reconstruction plan was presented to the Village Elders in 2005, several of them indicated strongly that they would have liked to retain the purple color since it now had sentimental, if not historical, value. While the new Main House structure isn’t painted entirely purple, the color has been retained in numerous aspects of the building—including the shutters, doors, and some interior decorative highlights. At the same time, the out-buildings have been re-painted from their original white with green shutters.