By Sharon Lakey
“It’s been a labor of love, but I’m not a patient woman,” said Mary Prior, President of the Danville Historical Society.
She’s had to learn to be patient, though, as the charming cape, now known as the Danville Village House, has slowly reappeared in its original form beside the statuesque Danville Congregational church on Hill Street.
The project began in 2006 with a letter sent to various organizations in Danville. In it was a stunning offer from a lawyer, announcing that an anonymous donor wished to gift substantial money to a group who had a good idea about how to use it.
Impatient Mary, never lacking for an idea, jumped at the thought of establishing a restored building dedicated to the collection and sharing of history in the center of Danville Village. Margaret Springer, who had worked for 30-plus years as president and archivist of the Danville Historical Society, was ecstatic about the idea, and the thought began to gather momentum.
Time was of the essence, and Mary immediately contacted Paul Chouinard. “He is an architectural perfectionist by avocation,” said Mary. He’s a real estate agent to boot, and they set out to find a house that would fit the bill. By luck or grace, the little cape by the Congregational church became available.
“I like where it sits,” said Paul. “It is near the center of the village, and it has historical integrity.” Paul describes it as, “a prototypical Cape Cod style home mirroring the austere simplicity of early nineteenth century, rural Vermont homes.”
Oddly enough, Mary found that the lineage of the people connected with the house were among the long-standing families of Danville: Sias, Choate (the builder, a cabinet-maker), Currier, Cahoon, Peck and Gadapee. It was a perfect match. “All the work the historical society had done under Margaret’s direction and tireless efforts made it possible for me to research this house,” said Mary.
With Paul’s knowledge of early construction and Mary’s deed research, a detailed history of the house, proposed budget and projected use of the building was sent to the lawyer of the donor. Imagine the excitement when Mary received a letter that related the donor would pay the purchase price of $198,000 and another $200,000 for restoration. “The donor had some good suggestions as well,” said Mary. “For example: Weren’t the proposed cedar shakes a fire hazard? The donor was also adamant that the house would have a meeting room and parking lot.”
Together, Mary and Paul, conferencing with the Historical Society, worked out the renovation plans. Paul, a real stickler for detail, was chosen as clerk of works. They visited Sturbridge Village. “The buildings there were built in the same time period as the house,” explained Paul. “It helped to visualize what the house looked like back in 1838 when it was built.” In their planning, they designed for historical correctness as well as compliance to the Americans with Disabilities Act..
In keeping with the desire to use as many local artisans and builders as possible, Paul began the painstaking job of putting together contracts. The list of chosen contractors included: Harold Lunnie, foundation; Garren Calkins, driveway excavation, parking area, and seeding; Michael Walsh, garage restoration, single story addition, clapboard siding, flooring, and shed storage room; Joel Currier, wood for flooring and wainscot; Paul Dussault, heating; Hollis Prior, landscaping; Luke Colby, wiring; Sally A. Fishburn, replacement doors and windows; Phil Beattie, stonework; Lucian Avery, blacksmith; Steven Towsley, chimney; and Frank Siebenbrunner, finishing details. (This list doesn’t include the red-hued Mary and her husband, Hollis, who could be watched for weeks as they voluntarily painted the whole building.)
Meanwhile, Mary continued her historical research, this time in a more communal way. Her Grammie Tennie was a social historian. In writings for Vermont Life and the Burlington Free Press, she published stories told by those still living about people and events of the past. “I spent a great deal of time driving her to remote locations throughout Caledonia and Essex Counties,” Mary remembers. “I’d wait, sometimes for hours, while she interviewed someone for an article she was writing.”
In Grammie Tenney’s tradition, Mary searched and wrote some social history of Annie and Sam Currier, who were owners of the house from 1933 to 1960. Sam died in 1943, so for most of that time, it was known as Annie’s house. The interviews include some wonderful stories, two of which follow.
Janette Langmaid Morse, Mary’s second cousin:
“Annie Currier looked like she wouldn’t like children, but that was not the case. She had a sort of scowl for an expression, but she was the nicest woman. My mother and father lived next door. My son Alan used to go visit her often. She would have a nice, sweet pudding for him. One day, she offered him his pudding; he didn’t like it very well, because it wasn’t sweet.
‘Why doesn’t the pudding taste like usual?’ he asked.
‘It’s Indian pudding,” Annie replied.
‘Where did you get the dead Indians to put in the pudding?’”
Winona Gadapee, former owner of the house:
“I loved that house. I would still live there if I could, but my breathing required a brand new house. While we lived there, the key to the Congregational church hung by the kitchen door inside the sun porch. It was available to anyone who needed it. When we sold the house to the Grayecks, the key still hung there for use by all. Once, Mr. Grayek, who was Jewish, laughed in telling me that the key to the church hung right beside the doorpost that they would touch on their way in as a Jewish blessing.
‘Only in Danville,’ he would say.”
In a way, the tradition of the key still exists. But this time, the house itself has become a key. All those who paid with money and time offer the residents of Danville a lovingly restored place to meet, research, chat, and remember their dear ones and the community in which they lived.
Besides the May 2 Grand Opening, programming ideas are starting to stir. Mary plans for the building to be open from 1:00-8:00 on Tuesdays and Thursdays and Saturday mornings. “We need to spread the work into the community, so Danville Village House becomes alive and vibrant,” she said.
To see the picture album related to this article click here
To enjoy a video walk-through of the Danville Village House, hosted by Paul Chouinard, click here
This story was first published in April, 2009 issue of The North Star Monthly