Photo courtesy of St. Albans Historical Museum
ST. ALBANS CITY — There was a time in St. Albans City when wealthy industrialists lived in large mansions, complete with an on-site staff of servants.
Seven Acres, the home of Vermont Gov. Edward Curtis Smith, was just such a home. Located on Congress Street to the east of what today is Gov. Smith Drive, the house was originally built in the 1890s. Smith, the son of another Vermont governor, John Gregory Smith, was elected governor in 1898.
The Smith family, best known for its role in the founding of multiple U.S. railroads, was deeply involved in nearly every industry in St. Albans from farming to iron works, to the town’s daily newspaper, the St. Albans Messenger.
Seven Acres was built on 28 acres. It burned on Nov. 4, 1924 and was replaced with a new home. The second home was alternatively referred to as Seven Acres and “the Governor Smith mansion.”
The insurance claim for the first house estimated the cost to replace the house at $217,666, but the final claim filed by E.C. Smith was for $120,000 for the house and its contents, according to documents at the St. Albans Historical Museum.
The lost contents included much of E.C. Smith’s wardrobe and his 20 pairs of shoes, and dozens of bottles of wine, several of which were decades old, and 3,400 pounds of coffee beans valued at $1,500.
In 1970, longtime St. Albans resident Raymond Wood related to the Messenger how he and other students at the Barlow Street School had watched the smoke rise up from the burning mansion. The fire, he said, had led the city to modernize its firefighting equipment, after a motorized fire truck from Burlington was brought in to help fight the fire. There had been difficult getting water to the fire scene with local equipment.
The Smiths went to Europe while the new house was being built.
The new house had 28 rooms and eight baths, according to a description at the museum. Wide teak planks made up the floor of the dining room.
The foyer, library, drawing room and other rooms had doweled oak planking.
There were four fireplaces and seven master bedrooms, six of which had private baths.
Servants occupied three rooms, with a bath, on both the second and third floors. Other servants, including the laundress, lived in separate quarters on the grounds.
The kitchen overlooked the spacious back lawn and gardens. A seven-foot brick wall separated the vegetable garden from the flower garden. In addition to the kitchen itself, there was a kitchen pantry, a butler’s pantry, a kitchen dining room, and laundry room.
The house had a brick and stone foundation, and the basement housed two coal furnaces, a 350-gallon hot water heater, a wine cellar and an elevator that went to the third floor.
A 400-square-foot observatory housed a nine-foot long telescope weighing 1,110 pounds that was donated to the University of Vermont.
Jim Willis moved to St. Albans in 1906 and lived in a tenant house owned by the Smiths. His father was their coachman. In 1966, he described Seven Acres for the Messenger as a home with “flowers all over, a real showplace.”
Although the Messenger archive contains numerous stories of parties and visitors to Seven Acres, local stories have it the most famous visitor was then former President Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt visited the city in August 1912, while campaigning for a return to the White House. According to local historian Jim Murphy a former servant of the Smith’s related a story in which Roosevelt was questioned by a groundskeeper wanting to know who he was while Roosevelt was walking the grounds.
Seven Acres eventually left the hands of the Smith family. For a time, it was known as the Governor Smith Inn. However, it was eventually left empty. The home deteriorated and eventually caught fire. After the fire, it was demolished.
Murphy visited the home after the fire. He said water from efforts to extinguish the fire had caused the books to swell, so even though the shelves were gone, the books themselves remained lodged in place, Murphy said.
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The E.C. Smith home is one of three palatial Smith family houses that no longer exist. The Messenger will look at the other homes and the family itself in upcoming reports.