Southern Vermont College History
Southern Vermont College has its roots in Saint Joseph College which was established in downtown Bennington by the Sisters of Saint Joseph in 1926. In 1974, the Sisters of Saint Joseph turned the College over to an independent board of trustees and the College moved to its current location on the Everett Estate. Within a few months the name of the College was changed to Southern Vermont College and it became a private, independent college no longer having a religious affiliation. Southern Vermont College is a career-enhanced, liberal arts college with a number of majors from within our five academic divisions. The College is accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges.
The College’s Location
In 1910, Edward Everett bought 500 acres of farm land from the John S. Holden Estate. Work began on the Estate in 1911 and was completed in 1914. The Estate served as his summer residence. Mr. Everett died in 1929 at the age of 77. However, a few months after his death the stock market crashed, depleting much of his fortune. Everett’s second wife, Grace, used the mansion as her primary residence until 1952 when she sold the Estate to the Congregation of the Holy Cross for use as a novitiate. Novices lived on the estate and were responsible for the entire upkeep of the home, apple orchard and dairy farm. The Novitiate sold for the remarkably low price of $65,000. In 1974, Holy Cross exchanged properties with St. Joseph College in downtown Bennington.
Edward Everett began his career as a bottle salesman for his stepfather, the inventor of the Lightning fruit jar (a predecessor to the Ball and Mason jar). Everett proved to be a gifted businessman. His innovations in the manufacturing of glass and his discovery of large deposits of gas and oil required to fuel these glass factories fostered huge success and great wealth. He is considered the glass and bottle magnate of the American Industrial Revolution. Prior to the stock market crash, Everett’s estimated wealth was between $40-50 million. He was the first to discover oil and natural gas in Ohio and drilled over 400 wells. In addition to glass, gas, and oil, his interests and investments extended to cattle, real estate, orchids and apple orchards. Success followed each of his undertakings. His company, The American Bottle Company, later merged with Corning to become the Owens-Corning Fiberglass Company.
Everett constructed two impressive mansions: one in Washington, DC, which later became the Turkish Embassy, and one in Bennington, VT, which later became Southern Vermont College. He also owned the Chateau Couvreu de l’Aile in Vevey, Switzerland, near Lake Geneva. Everett was instrumental in creating the Bennington Museum and personally donated $1 million to the project. The Museum was opened to the public in 1928, just months before his death. The Museum was, and still is, viewed locally as one of the finest buildings in the State of Vermont.
Everett had three daughters with his first wife, Amy, and two daughters with his second wife, Grace, who was 30 years his junior. The fact that Grace was not liked by his first three daughters led to “The Battle of Bennington Millions” at his death. The battle over his estate catapulted their lawyer, Warren Austin, to fame, and he became the first U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.
The estimated cost of developing the original Estate was $2 million. The Estate is located on the eastern slope of Mt. Anthony in the Green Mountains and covers an estimated 500 acres. In Everett’s day, it boasted a two-acre, spring-fed pond; competition-sized tennis courts; and a lovely stone cascade. Walkways and gardens were once accented with over 100 statues.
The Estate itself was comprised of a large gate house, mansion, barn and stable, carriage house, two greenhouses and various other buildings.
The main estate building was referred to as “The Orchard House” as it was surrounded by 75,000 apple, 3,000 plum and 2,000 quince trees planted by Mr. Everett. The orchards covered the surrounding hillsides and extended southward for ten miles. The apple orchard was one of the largest in the country at that time. Much of it remains and can be seen from Carpenter Hill Road.
The Main House
Construction was begun on the main house, now the Everett Mansion, in 1911 and was completed in 1914. The Mansion was patterned after the English/Norman feudal mansions of the 14th century and was designed by an internationally known architect, George Totten, of Washington, DC.
The exterior was built of blue limestone quarried on the estate property and in the neighboring town of Pownal. Thirty stonemasons from Italy worked seven days per week, ten hours per day, to complete the exterior of the Mansion within a six-month period.
For the interior 27 rooms, materials were imported. The red roof tiles and the marble for the fireplaces and staircases came from Italy; the sterling silver door handles, lamps and crystal chandeliers came from England; and the mahogany paneling in the dining room came from Cuba.
Originally the interior of the house was lavishly furnished in the latest Victorian style. Some walls were covered with tapestries. Fine original oil paintings hung in the larger rooms. The most notable painting was The Abduction of Proserpina by Allori (a 16th century French artist). The John Paul Getty Foundation purchased this painting in 1974 for $75,000.
Most of the floors are “parqueted” with various and intricate designs. The first floor of the Mansion was framed and paneled in oak, the second floor in maple and the third floor in fir.
The Orchards, as the house was known, is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The first-floor hall is the grandest, featuring an impressive circular oak staircase to the second floor. The main entrance to the Mansion is off the cobblestone courtyard through the “porte cochere,” or the covered porch, where carriages drove up to drop off passengers. This entrance leads to the family living room, now used as the Burgdorff Gallery. The octagonal room off this room is now used as the President’s Meeting Room. At the end of the main entry hall is a large room used by the Everetts as a lounge, game room and dance floor for parties. This room has had various uses over time: first as a dance floor, later as a chapel and the stage for the Oldcastle Theatre, and currently as the College’s Everett Theatre. Off the secondary hall were the dining room, sun room and breakfast room, now the College’s library.
The second floor housed the family bedrooms along with several guest rooms. Mr. Everett’s study, now the Office of Student Financial Services, and a nursery were also on the second floor. The third floor consisted of seven servants’ rooms, a gymnasium/playroom and four attics.
The third floor currently is used for faculty and administrative offices, and the octagonal playroom serves as a classroom, the Abbey.
Other Buildings on Campus
The carriage house and workshop housed three Rolls Royces (at one time) then valued at $17,000 each. The first floor houses the Campus Store, Office of Career Development and Internships, and Mountaineer Scholars Program. The second story was used as accommodations for the coachmen, now used as the Office of Development and Communications.
The gate house at the entrance of the estate housed guests’ vehicles, their servants and other workers on the Estate. This building is now called Wagner House where the Office of Admissions is located.
There were two greenhouses which provided the house with cut flowers and fresh fruit year round. The greenhouses were attached to the gardener’s house. The greenhouses no longer exist, but the gardener’s house remains there–behind the gate house and now privately owned.
The former Estate’s laundry facility still remains–near the gate house area, now known as Wagner House where the Office of Admissions is located.
The service entrance led to the farm, stables (located below the pond), and continued up the mountain past the caretaker’s house, past the tennis courts and then to the “Orchard House”–now the main parking lot.
The two barns stabled the horses and animals that provided an ample supply of food for the family table. They were located below the College Residence Hall complex and were destroyed by a fire in 1985.
A series of logging roads were behind the “Orchard House,” which went all the way to the top of the mountain. The roads were used to gather wood for Mr. Everett’s wood-burning furnaces.
Chessman, Wallace G. and Curtis W. Abbott. Edward Hamlin Everett: The Bottle King. Grandville, OH: The Robbins Hunter Museum, John David Jones Educational Fund, 1991.
Resch, Tyler. Deed of Gift – The Putnum Hospital Story. Burlington, VT: Paradigm Press, 1991.