The Hermitage Tea Room
Bess and Mary Elizabeth Rosencrantz opened the Hermitage Tea Room in May 1917. It served guests from 3 to 6 pm each day from May to October and gained a reputation as a pleasant way to spend an afternoon for people who increasingly had cars in the growing suburbs of Bergen County. Guests were served at tables and chairs set on the veranda and in the drawing room; the dining room was gated so visitors could peer in and view antiques and Native American items on exhibit there.
By the end of the first season, the women had earned $470 in profits. Some summers, three Rosencrantz women worked at the Tea Room: Bess, Mary Elizabeth, and Bessie, who came up from Virginia. Bessie, who had always been neat, cleaned while Mary Elizabeth and Bess cooked.
Bess also regaled customers with stories about the Revolution and romance, secret rooms and tunnels, patriot soldiers and hidden Hessians, secret meetings of the Freemasons, and the history of each antique. In later years, Mary Elizabeth told visitors that many of Bess’s stories were fabrications. [Tell me more about these legends and myths.]
The Tea Room gained popularity through the 1920s. The women’s homemade cakes and cinnamon toast were favorites. Newspapers published favorable articles about the venture. However, by the end of the 1920s—a decade of prosperity for many—Americans had to face the onset of the Great Depression. The number of customers at the Hermitage Tea Room fell off. Bess and Mary Elizabeth worked to keep it going as long as they could. They tried adding sandwiches the menu and expanding to a dinner service, but these efforts could not keep the Tea Room profitable. They were forced to close in 1931.Return to Bess and Mary Elizabeth Struggle Alone