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Friendly Crossways, a place to be thankful for

Friendly Crossways, a place to be thankful for

Published in the Harvard Press

The town of Harvard is home to many things. In fact Harvard Massachusetts houses so many interesting people, facilities, and businesses that it shouldn’t be a surprise that a sleepy little town like Harvard is also the birthplace of Friendly Crossways, the longest operating privately owned hostel in the United States. 

Now, run by husband and wife duo Mary and Keith Turner it is one of the 54 privately owned hostels left in America, thus making Friendly Crossways a place worth remembering. 

A brief history

The facility was a working farm until 1947, at that time it was pretty run down when a Quaker minister and his wife, Leslie and Winnifred Barrett found it and they had a vision. With lots and lots of volunteer help the farm was turned into a hostel and a retreat center for non-profit groups. 

Friendly Crossways was originally only open from the late spring to the early fall. It wasn’t heated, it wasn’t insulated, and they had dormitory style rooms only. In fact the dining room where the interview was conducted according to Mary used to be where the turkeys lived and up above our heads was where the chickens resided.

A love affair

Mary’s parents came to the hostel on different occasions, “my dad came here as a hosteller, and my mother came attending a retreat here.” It wasn’t until later that Mary’s parents met at a Quaker work camp in Mexico and found that they had Friendly Crossways in common. “So when they got married…he was a teacher, they (my parents) would come here to help the Barretts run the place in the summer in between my father’s school” reminisced Mary.  

Even back then it was a special place. One of the first things that they had in 1947, was a bi-racial wedding on the front lawn. “So when my parents retired and my husband and I moved here in 1997 that couple celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary here, which was pretty darn special.”

Through generations

Then in 1963 when Mary and her parents lived in Indonesia her parents communicated with the Barretts who wanted to go for a year or two in Africa but they needed someone to tend to the hostel. Mary’s parents agreed to the task and it was during that period that her parents purchased the place. 

Mary grew up in Friendly Crossways, which has been a hostel/retreat center for almost 70 years. The facility was still only open part of the year, but in 1967 that changed after the Federal Government provided enough money to the hostel after it was used as a training center for the very first Peace Corps group which was headed to Ethiopia. Insulation and heat were added throughout the hostel allowing it to be open and running all year round. 

For the past 20 years Mary and Keith have been the next generation running the business, making repairs and improvements to their country haven along the way. 

What business is like

There are three separate businesses under Friendly Crossway’s roof. There is the hostel, the retreat center, and the wedding venue. The success of all three businesses combined is what allows Friendly Crossways to keep running and also what makes it so unique. According to Keith and Mary the retreat center has always been the main stay. Hosteling is less so, for private owners like them. “It’s a labor of love for sure, but we certainly enjoy meeting the very interesting people that come through here.” Said Mary. 

The wedding season goes from mid-May to mid-October, the bride and groom are here for the whole weekend with their friends and family making it a destination country wedding. “It’s much more relaxed.” Added Keith. Both Keith and Mary believe their weddings are a unique experience. “When people come in on a Friday afternoon you can see that they are stressed, uptight and by the time they leave on Sunday they are just really relaxed. And we’re like yay we did it right.” Keith prides their business on being a place where people can decompress and just relax, giving them a taste of the country life. Watching as new relationships and bonds form before their eyes is part of the joy of running such a business. 

Misconceptions of Hostels

In Europe staying in hostels is a culture in and of itself. It’s not uncommon for families to utilize such facilities as a means of travel. In America it’s very different, people don’t take advantage of hostels because they don’t know about them and it’s making it harder and harder for them to survive. Keith equates the problem to the higher levels of support of hostels in Europe as opposed to America. In Europe you find both a community and governmental support and knowledge of hostels, you don’t find that in the United States making Friendly Crossways and other American Hostels, “the best kept traveling secret in the U.S” in Keith’s eyes.

 Mary thinks that part of the problem is that people think of it as being something exclusively for a younger generation, which it’s not. There used to be age constraints, you couldn’t be older than 25 to stay at a hostel, but none of the hostels internationally have age constraints anymore. “It’s not just for the young it’s for the young at heart.” 

At Friendly Crossways, Keith and Mary get national travelers coming to see New England, sometimes they get people who come up here because they are looking at colleges in the area. And then of course they get international travelers who are almost always here because of tourism and to visit sites. However, the greatest feature and appeal of staying in hostels is that when you travel to them you never know who you are going to meet. You don’t know if it will be someone from a foreign country, or someone right from home. “All kinds of cultures mix here, and with the piano, and the fireplace, and the kitchen there’s all kinds of community.” Said Keith. The people who stay in hostels have an adventurous attitude, and they’re open to meeting new people, and sharing new cultures and ideas. 

Friendly Crossway’s Mission

Keith and Mary Turner run their business with love, they do so selflessly, for other people, whether it’s for their guests, their town, or their families they provide a warm and safe environment. For Keith the appeal of Friendly Crossways was for his family. “We wanted to have a place in the country where our children could run around, and we wanted to have a small, tight, safe community that they could grow up in.” What they wanted was Friendly Crossways.

Mary claimed their core mission and the reason why she is passionate about this work is to provide a safe, comfortable, unique, homelike environment for retreat groups to do their work, for individual travelers to stay, or for weddings and family reunions to really have the time to concentrate on being with each other, and not have to worry about anything.

Harvard Hidden Gems

According to Mary there are a lot of hidden gems in Harvard that even Harvard residents may not know about. She wants the town to know that Friendly Crossways is more of a do-it-yourself B&B. “So if people do have friends or family coming midweek, then we’re right here.” 

Keith added that even though the hostel may not have an immediate relevance to Harvard in terms of Harvard residents using it, it’s still a valuable place for the town. Keith said that the chance to use Friendly Crossways locally comes if, “you are going to have a family reunion or if you have a quilting group or a knitting group.” They have the garden club come here and do lectures about flower arranging, they’ve had a storytelling festival. Mary and Keith love to be a part of the community, and to share with the community that they can be of help to a worthy organization that has a worthy cause. “We like to give back to this community as much as we can.”  Said Mary. 

The Turners also wanted to emphasize that they can be used for the town in case of an emergency such as, power outages. They have a backup emergency generator there, solar power, and their own well. In the event of an emergency Friendly Crossways could provide that service to the town. Mary claimed that part of the specialness about being in this town is that when there is a need people will show up, “it’s been a blessing. The community effort is what I am thankful for. And sometimes help literally walks right up to the door.” 

A special place for years to come

Arguable, what makes this place even more special is the fact that Mary and Keith feel that they are able to make a positive difference in people’s lives. It’s not just for the groups that come here that arrive on Friday all strung out and leave on Sunday all happy and joyful. According to Keith it’s the fact that they hire locally, it’s what they’re able to give back. “We’ve been very, very blessed with this business and sometimes I turn around and realize wow this is great.” Grateful that the business has grown successfully and puts money in local people’s pockets Keith feels lucky to be a part of something so wonderful.

There’s a continuity to the business, as if it is separate from time, existing to be a home for wanderlust travelers, a place of celebration, and a meeting spot for the formation of ideas. Mary loves this place, she loves that her parents did it together and that now her and Keith are doing it together. Because we are busy most of the time, so often we forget to stop for a moment and look around at the beautiful world we live in, Mary and Keith Turners home is a place amidst the chaos where a little reprieve can have positive impacts on anyone’s life. 

The magic of Friendly Crossways comes from within. It’s Mary and Keith running a place that allows for endless possibilities of friendships, family, reflection, community, and love, the things that truly matter in our lives. 

Mary would very much like to see the business move on to another generation. She feels her kids are still too inexperienced, but she hopes that someone else will come along see the endless possibilities and keep it going.  “It’s truly one of a kind, there are not a lot of places like this.” 

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