Food & Drink Bond Us Together
The two buildings that comprise The Inn at Montpelier have a rich and varied history intimately related to the development of Vermont’s Capitol city.
Both buildings were originally constructed as residences during the town’s early settlement. They became connected through ownership at an early date and, with the exception of the years 1924 to 1940, have remained together throughout their history. The Inn at Montpelier in its current form as an hotel with 19 rooms opened in 1988. It is locally owned and operated, serving both residents of Vermont as well as many travelers coming from other states and abroad.
A Deeper Background
The Early Years
Chester W. Houghton (1779-1826) built the white Federal style house located at 145 Main Street probably about 1807-08, twenty years after Montpelier’s first settlers had arrived.
After the town became the state Capitol in 1805, it grew rapidly as a commercial and banking center. Main Street was soon lined with stately houses occupied by Montpelier’s prominent merchants, doctors and lawyers. Houghton and his wife, Hetty, were born in Keene, New Hampshire. Their families must have migrated to Peacham, as they were married there in 1802. Houghton operated a store briefly in Peacham but soon migrated to Danville and then to Montpelier in 1807.
The house he built on Main Street, with hip-roof and large central chimney, is one of the oldest frame houses in Montpelier. Four lovely Doric pilasters and a decorated frieze grace the facade, evidence of a fine craftsman at work. The front portico with Ionic columns was added later. During renovation work in the 1940s, the large kitchen fireplace was uncovered, revealing a collection of early nineteenth-century cooking utensils.
Houghton invested heavily in Montpelier property and eventually operated a store, tavern and tin business in town. After leasing a distillery in 1809, he advertised in the local paper for a few thousand bushels of potatoes to be delivered to his distillery, for which he would exchange one quart of gin or twenty cents in English goods per bushel. Houghton may have initially traded out of his house, but later he became well known as the proprietor of the Union House Tavern, located at the corner of School and Main Streets. He also invested in a store, mills and potash works in Northfield. By 1812 Houghton was overextended and he lost his house in Montpelier to Edward Blake and Samuel May of Boston, to whom he was in debt for over $3,200.00. Houghton and his wife and their three children moved across the street. He stayed active as a Montpelier businessman until his death in 1826.
The stately house at 145 Main Street remained in Edward Blake’s possession until 1822 when William Upham (1792-1853) purchased the residence from Blake’s estate. A prominent lawyer and legislator, Upham had come to Montpelier in 1803 from Leicester, Massachusetts. While still a youth, he had lost his hand in a cider mill accident and was therefore unfit for manual labor. He studied law in Montpelier and was admitted to the bar in 1812. His wife, Sarah Keyes, from Ashford, Connecticut, was known as a gracious politician’s wife who extended her hospitality to Montpelier’s young people. She had five children, one of whom died in infancy. William Upham became a United States Senator in 1842, and served until his death in 1853. Sarah remained at the house in Montpelier during congressional sessions, but traveled to her husband’s bedside in Washington just before his death. Sarah died in 1856, and the Upham children sold the house to their neighbor, James R. Langdon, in 1866.
Building the Brick House
When William Upham and his family moved into their house on Main Street the lot next door was empty. Six years later, however, in 1828, Dr. Edward Lamb (1771-1845) bought the property and built the brick house that is the central building of The Inn at Montpelier. The brick was probably made at a local brickyard and laid in Flemish Bond. Built in Federal style, the house resembles several brick buildings located on State Street and also constructed in the 1820s. Lamb’s house, however, has the distinctive Greek Revival decoration, ( for example the frieze and the triangular design in the gable that mark the transition to this later architectural period.) The gracious and imposing front porch was added much later in the 1880s, in response to a renewed focus on classical detail and to the interest in outdoor leisure.
Dr. Lamb, the Revered Physician
Dr. Lamb, who came to Montpelier in 1796 from Charlton, Massachusetts, was a revered physician in the early settlement. D.P. Thompson, one of Montpelier’s earliest historians described Lamb as “medium height, rather stocky…slightly limping in gate…very neglectful in all matters of dress and outward appearance.” Yet, Dr. Lamb was devoted to medicine, extremely well liked by all his patients and full of humorous anecdotes and stories to help relieve pain. He treated numerous epidemics of dysentery, spotted fever and typhus in Montpelier. He became famous in the medical community for his cure of fever. Favoring emetics, especially a combination of ipecac and sulphate of zinc, Dr. Lamb hoped to purge the body with evacuants.
Dr. Lamb lived alone in the brick house on Main Street though he may have had a hired hand or two. He married Polly Witherall in 1803, but she died before he built his new house. By all accounts Dr. Lamb lived in near poverty as he failed to bill his patients regularly and cash was scarce in the new community. Thompson claims he was very careless in financial affairs and lived an unusually plain and cheap existence. Nonetheless, this substantial brick house and barn added significantly to Montpelier’s landscape. His tight financial circumstances forced him to mortgage his house several times to James R. Langdon, a wealthy businessman. When Lamb died of fever in 1846, Langdon took possession of the house.
The Langdon Era
For nearly a century, from 1846 until 1924, the brick house on Main Street remained in the Langdon family. James R. Langdon (1813-1895) was one of the most prominent merchants in Montpelier during the latter half of the nineteenth century. Building on his father’s successful career as a storekeeper, Langdon operated the grist mill at the falls on the Winooski and later became president of Montpelier National Bank. He was instrumental in the extension of the Central Vermont Railroad through Montpelier and invested in the rapidly expanding granite business. At the end of his career he designed a new shopping district in Montpelier on Langdon Street, which was completed after his death.
Langdon and his wife, Lucy Pomeroy of Middlebury, had four children. Two died in infancy, leaving only Lucy R. and Elizabeth (Lizzie) living with their parents on Main Street. The household, however, was rarely that empty, as the family employed several hired hands and Irish domestic servants. The barn behind the house sheltered horses and probably a cow, pigs and chickens. There were large gardens to maintain, as well. A carriage house and woodshed were attached to the back of the house and a small icehouse stood nearby, storing ice cut from Langdon Pond, near National Life Drive. The Langdons may not have lived on Main Street continuously. The 1860 Census placed them on the Langdon farm on the banks of the Winooski.
After 1870 the city census listed James Langdon as a retired merchant. However, he continued to remain active in Montpelier business life for nearly twenty-five years. Lucy Langdon died in 1873 and their daughter, Lucy R., married and moved to New York City. Lizzie stayed with her father in the house on Main Street.
During the 1880s and 1890s Langdon modernized the house by adding the large front porch and installing gas lights. Steam heating, electricity and plumbing were probably added before 1900. Langdon died in his room at the age of eighty-two, leaving his enormous estate solely to his family. Lizzie Langdon’s history is both intriguing and obscure. Nineteenth- century historians claim that she “suffered a calamity” or “received a shock”, a surprisingly common predicament for women of the Victorian era. We will probably never know the nature of her psychological problems, but we do know that she needed constant care and attention. In the early 1890s the household included her companion, Maria White, three nurses, two domestic servants and a coachman. The income from her father’s estate and from the many properties he owned in Montpelier provided a leisurely existence for this unusual household. A small remnant of their life remained in the kitchen: an electric intercom device wired to other rooms in the house. If she ever needed help, Lizzie could summon servants from various locations. Montpelier residents remember seeing her on the front porch waving to passersby, but she spent most of her time in the right front bedroom upstairs. Although Lizzie died in 1923, her spirit lingered in the house for subsequent residents who could sense her presence, accompanied by a familiar smell of Lily-of-the Valley, a favorite flower found in beds near the front porch.
The White House
While the Langdons occupied the large brick house, they also owned the older white house next door, which they rented to various tenants until Lizzie’s death. In the late 1880s and 1890s Levi Boutwell and his wife, Jennie, lived in the house. Boutwell was an engineer with the Montpelier and Wells River Railroad and later operated a granite cutting business. By 1905 he had relocated and Henry Farwell, a cashier at Montpelier National Bank, leased the property. He and his wife, Lillian, and their son were tenants until Lizzie Langdon’s death, when the Farwells bought the property.
Alton and Bertha Baird
In 1924, at the settling of Lizzie Langdon’s estate, the two adjoining properties on Main Street were separated. Alton and Bertha Baird, from Orleans, Vermont, bought the yellow house, and Henry Farwell remained in the white house next door. Alton G. Baird, (1883-1951) was a skilled carpenter, who originally came to Montpelier to work on the construction of a nurses’ home near Heaton House. Bertha Baird had run a small boarding-house in Orleans. When the Bairds purchased the Langdon house, it had nineteen rooms and six baths. This was certainly more space than they could use. Bertha rented the four front rooms, upstairs and down, for $5.00 each a week, giving the family a steady income until Alton developed his construction business. Bertha worked tirelessly to keep the large house running and feed and clothe their five children, while Alton worked on distant construction jobs.
Three years after the Bairds bought the house, in November of 1927, Montpelier experienced the worst flood in the town’s history. Bertha Baird and her children watched nervously as the water rose halfway up the stairwell in their brick house. Rescue workers arrived in boats to take the family to high ground, but Bertha refused to budge! She sheltered her family upstairs while she waded in water up to her waist in order to grab bedding and food. The high water mark reached within two feet of the first floor ceiling. Alton Baird was stranded in northern Vermont on a construction job and finally arrived back to direct the clean-up a few days after the flood.
From the late 1920s until the 1970s Alton Baird and his sons ran a successful construction business that significantly altered the Montpelier landscape. Baird built numerous commercial buildings downtown, additions to the Bethany Church, Christ Church and many new residences. He was the first developer in Montpelier to recognize the need for apartment buildings to house the many clerical workers employed by the state and local insurance companies. In 1926 he renovated the barn behind his residence as his first experiment in apartments. Several years later, Baird used the open meadow behind the Farwell house, which had been flooded for use as a skating rink in winter, for Montpelier’s first brick apartment building.
During the 1930s Baird ran a construction crew of about sixty-five to seventy men. Many of the skilled carpenters were farmers who worked only part of the year. They assembled at the Baird headquarters, dressed in white shirts and black bow ties, and pulled on their overalls for the day’s carpentry. Common laborers, mostly from the city, did the heavy work. In winter, after big snowstorms, their first job was shoveling Baird Street by hand.
Baird’s construction crew did relatively little work on his residence on Main Street. He installed a new heating system in 1926, and repainted the house in classic yellow every five years.
During the 1930s his eldest son, Kenneth, directed a renovation in the back of the house that converted the carriage house and woodshed to an apartment for himself. The Bairds also built the corner cabinets in their dining room, now the entrance hall from the side porch. The cellar of the house became a treasure trove of materials salvaged from various construction sites and reused whenever Baird needed a special door or piece of trim.
The Tulip Feud
During this period Henry and Lillian Farwell remained in the house next door. They tried to live in the grand style of the late nineteenth century, but found it increasingly difficult to get sufficient help. Henry, an avid tulip grower, laid out a neat garden of tulip beds bordered with grass paths behind his house. Displeased when the Bairds’ dog traveled through his paths, Henry tried to frighten the animal with a BB gun. In revenge, young Howard Baird, who was a terrific shot, began popping the heads off Henry’s tulips with a .22 caliber rifle, much to the old man’s dismay. Despite his consultation with a horticulturalist, Henry never figured out what had caused the “blight on his tulips”. Toward the end of his life Henry’s health failed and he spent most of his time as an invalid in one of the front rooms. The Bairds finally bought the house in 1940 and converted it into apartments.
The Opening of the Inn
The Baird family owned the complex of buildings, including the two houses on Main Street, the converted barn and the brick apartment house, until 1985, when Ashtek Properties purchased the properties from the estate of Edith Baird, Alton Baird’s second wife. The company, managed by Maureen Russell, kept the buildings as rental properties until the 1988 renovation plan was conceived. With the creation of THE INN AT MONTPELIER, two historic buildings in the Capitol city are now opened to the public. They provide needed hotel space and enrich the community in Montpelier by reminding us of its past.