Katherine Olmsted was born between 1886 – 1888 and brought up in Des Moines, Iowa. She graduated from Johns Hopkins Hospital Training School for Nurses in 1912. After her graduation from Johns Hopkins, she remained in Baltimore, first with the Baltimore Instructive Visiting Nurse Association, where she made a special survey on causes of blindness and the care of the blind. She then served in the Social Services Department at Johns Hopkins Hospital. In the spring of 1914, she resigned her position at Hopkins to organize public health work in Jacksonville, Ill. working with newly enfranchised women in the Anti-Tuberculosis League. In 1916 Olmsted’s public health work moved to the Wisconsin Anti-Tuberculosis Association, where she was the State Supervising Nurse and organized and directed the state’s first course in public health work for registered nurses given at the University of Wisconsin through its extension division.
During World War I, Olmsted began work with the Red Cross. She was part of a commission of doctors and nurses sent in August, 1917 to Romania to fight typhus and study health conditions. Olmsted’s public health nursing included conducting clinics and an outpatient department for women and children from a military hospital along the eastern front. This group was trapped between the German Army and the Russian Revolution with no outside contact. After escaping from Russia by train through Siberia and Lapland, Olmsted returned to the United States in the summer of 1918 to become the assistant secretary of the National Organization for Public Health Nursing. She served in Chicago as the Western Secretary where she demonstrated public health nursing in rural counties for the Federal Children’s Bureau. In 1921, Olmsted became the Associate Chief of the Department of Nursing and Director of Public Health Nursing with the League of Red Cross Societies in Geneva, Switzerland, and in 1922 Director of the Department of Nursing, where she worked to form public health nursing organizations worldwide. She organized a course in public health nursing at Bedford College, University of London, and Kings College in London for public health nurses from all over the world.
At the end of her time in Europe, Olmsted took the Cordon Bleu cooking course at the University of the Sorbonne in Paris, France. She returned to the United States in 1927 to open her French restaurant, Normandy Inn, next to her brother’s farm near Wallington. She ran the restaurant until her death in 1964. The Restaurant was made to look like a Normandy restaurant and the staff dressed in traditional Normandy costumes.
The story of the Normandy Inn as told in the November 2001 issue of the Sodus Bay Historical Society Newsletter
Travelers in rural upstate New York were frequently amazed and delighted to find in the small community of Wallington, New York an authentic bit of the Old World standing out against the background of a familiar New World setting. For in Wallington, New York, between Sodus village and Alton, before the new state route 104 cut off many of the small villages, there was the Normandy Inn. This unique restaurant / inn I country store was situated in the midst of apple and cherry orchards and was the subject of much pride and widespread fame.
The story of the Normandy Inn is also the story of Miss Katherine Olmsted, founder and proprietor. Miss Olmsted, after spending over 12 years in the “real” Normandy, in France, brought many souvenirs and lasting impressions of her experiences, as well as an enthusiasm for the Old World atmosphere.
Olmsted served in World War I as a nurse, remaining after the war to work as head of the nursing division of the League of Red Cross Societies for over 12 years. Burnout set in and she left the society. While living in an apartment in Paris with her mother, who had joined her, Katherine heard of the University of Sorbonne cooking school. She attended the famous school, taking the much renowned Cordon Bleu cooking course.
Miss Olmsted’s brother, Harry, had inherited her grandparents’ home in Wallington and invited Katherine and her mother join him there when they arrived “home” from Europe. She and her mother had been discussing the possibility of starting an inn all the way back from Paris, and the decision was made to start such a venture in a former apple dry house on the farm property on the edge of a stream.
The first Inn (1927) was more like a cafe, as it accommodated only 12 patrons. In 1932 with Katherine feet wet in the culinary business, things started to happen. The business opened into a larger building – a 100-year-old barn with roughhewn timbers, artistically converted to its Old World look. Soon after, a dining room was added.
Stories tell of an abandoned nearby trolley bridge that Miss Olmstead got “stuck” with for $12. The timbers, trusses and beams were used in the construction of a new party room. Katherine finished the season having taken in $32,000!
Partly because the new party room was offered to Wallington residents during the off season as a community center, a strong bond developed with area residents. This was demonstrated when one evening, after the restaurant had closed and all the help had left, two large busses carrying about a hundred college fraternity students pulled up in front of the Inn. They were sure that they had made reservations, but actually had not so and were very disappointed. Having plenty of food on hand, Olmstead said “come on in.” She then telephoned a neighbor who blew the fire siren. “There isn’t a fire,” she said, “but this is an S.O.S. call” and enough help arrived to cook and serve dinner. Katherine’s help was just that loyal and was made up of local women who returned every season to serve as cooks, and attractive young girls of the area. charming in their Normandy peasant costumes, serving as waitresses.
A 1959 review by Bob Elwood of the Syracuse Herald-American, described the decor as ancient Normandy and French Provincial. “The fine collection of brass, copper, and pewter utensils, obtained from ancient Normandy kitchens, and antique French Provincial furniture add to the enchanting atmosphere of the place – the former so excellent that it has been exhibited in the Rochester Museum of Arts and Sciences.” The restaurant critic went on to praise the decor: “if it is cold, crackling logs in the fireplace will greet you. In warm weather gay garden umbrellas shield you as you sip your cocktails outdoors.” The gourmet food was served at moderate prices with specialties being French Onion soup, Duck Supreme, Coquille St. Jacques, and imported coffees.
Music set the tone, provided by the famous Harpist Alice Boume, who spent summers on Sodus Bay, wintering at the Garden Seat lnn in Cleaiwater, Florida.
No one could leave without visiting the country store, located on the second floor, offering imported gift wares, antiques, and consignments of handmade articles such as needlework.
“So after you’ve eaten at the Normandy Inn, to leave without browsing upstairs were a sin For you’ll ﬁnd gifts galore in the lnn’s Country Store – Such lovely handmade things to suit kith and kin”
The typical meal served at the Normandy may have consisted of the following:
White Wine, chilled fruit or juice, a fruit or seafood cocktail, and a canapé
Katherine’s famous French Onion Soup
One-half fried spring chicken (and it, along with roast turkey, steak, fish, or other meats made the lnn distinctive)
Along with the main course were served the freshest of local vegetables separately seasoned. The salad was offered in the true French style, consisting of fresh greens, passed around the table.
Katherine Olmsted died in 1964 at the age of 77, having returned from her annual winter sojourn in Florida. Ready to start her 37th season, she was preparing the inn when she suffered a heart attack. She died at the Myers Hospital, one of many organizations that she supported, and was buried in Brick Church Cemetery, Sodus Center.
According to a review written on 8/10/2017: The place had a glorious past as Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Jayne Mansfield, and President Eisenhower have all eaten here.
Normandy Inn Owners:
Katherine Olmsted —1927’s until her death in 1964
Dominick D’Ercole—1967 – 1999
Michael Wasson and Rita Kilpatrick—1999 – 2020