Traveling west along Amherst Street toward the town line, there is an aging red brick Victorian that has a curious history. Once the home of George Sears, in the 1960s and ‘70s, the house hosted the Sugar 'N’ Spice eatery, the Towne House Restaurant and the somewhat notorious Red Eye Tavern – none of them particularly good uses for an out of the way dwelling in a residential area.
In the summer of 1961, two friends, Persis Kempton and Claire Himebough, moved up from Natick, redecorated the old place and opened for business. Sugar ‘N' Spice was a combination gift shop, bed & breakfast, and restaurant, serving “old-fashioned” fare such as hot popovers, Yorkshire pudding and roast beef. Known for its “fine foods and hospitality,” the restaurant served luncheon from 11:30-2:30 daily and a “Yankee Buffet” on Saturday evenings. As the eatery was a bit off the beaten path, it struggled, and by 1964 there was new ownership. Bill and Mary Coles and were now offering a “Businessman’s Luncheon” as well as a sandwich menu. But apparently businessmen were scarce because by 1966, the restaurant had become the Towne House and again changed hands. Margaret Merts completely renovated the downstairs for the new restaurant and used the upstairs as a residence for herself and her three sons. The barn was christened a “teenage center.”
After a spell as a “civic center for seniors,” by the 1970s, it had become the Red Eye’s Tavern –never a very good fit for the quiet neighborhood. Tipsy customers exiting the bar were infamously rowdy, often requiring one of Milford’s finest to head up to the tavern to monitor the exodus. Selectman Joe Hogan told owner Robert Blake in 1977 that, “I think the only way you could eliminate the image Red Eye’s has now is to make a family restaurant out of it. The image it has now is not good.”
Blake told the Selectmen he would “push the food end” and again the establishment was known as the Towne House. But in 1978, the accompanying barn burned down in a major fire that required assistance from Wilton and Amherst. Water was pumped from local hydrants and the nearby river to save the house, but afterwards, neighbors took the opportunity to force a change. Fourteen North Street residents appealed to the Board of Selectmen to deny a commercial license for the property. Rezoned residential, its days as the rowdy Red Eye were over.
The house on Amherst Street today.