Leahy helps open Bentley Hall in Poultney

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Leahy helps open Bentley Hall in Poultney

Tue, 05/20/2014 - 3:45am -- tim

Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy formally opened the renovated Bentley Hall today following Green Mountain College’s 177th commencement ceremony last Saturday. The Queen Anne-Colonial Revival house, built in 1900 and historically known as the CW Humphrey House, recently underwent substantive renovations. The college-owned building will serve as a join community center for the town of Poultney and the college. The project recently won a 2014 Preservation Trust of Vermont award for creative repurposing of a historic building.

The grand house at the northeast corner of Bentley and College Street in Poultney is remembered variously as a private home, a residence for women faculty, a college dormitory and a dean’s residence.

Green Mountain College president Paul Fonteyn recognized the historical significance of the building when became GMC’s president in 2008. He also saw Bentley’s potential as a center for community meetings, retreats, seminars and college alumni events. At the time, Bentley was mothballed and used primarily as storage space.

“One other significant factor in moving ahead with the project was the urgent need for immediate repairs,” said President Fonteyn. “The building’s deterioration was nearing a tipping point when it could no longer be preserved.”

The idea of a multi-purpose meeting and event facility open to the community drew support from local leaders including Poultney town manager Jonas Rosenthal, who wrote letters of support for grant proposals to raise funds for renovations.

“There is no place in the Poultney village or town to serve as a community venue for meetings and events,” he said. “This project gives a main corner of the town a much needed facelift. I think it will be a big asset to local organizations and the College.”

Phase I of the renovations began with site improvements, removal of furniture and equipment that had been stored in the building, repair and restoration of the slate roof, reconstruction of the marble block foundation and engineered reinforcement of the structure. Phase II included an exterior paint job, restoration of the first floor rooms, reconstruction of porches and a new heating system. Phase III renovations included restoration of the second floor rooms.

To bring the building into compliance with Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards, a two-story lift was added to the rear of the building, allowing easy access from the basement to the first floor. A catering kitchen on the first floor is equipped for serving food for functions and two parlors and the dining room have been converted to meeting spaces. The largest parlor is equipped with wireless access, a projector and a dropdown screen. The beautiful woodwork, pocket doors and parquet floors were refinished and interior paint colors are true to the Colonial Revival period.  

History

After merchant William W. Broughton married Jane Edwards of Port Salem, NY, he built his bride the Queen-Anne style house that still stands on the corner of Bentley and College Streets in 1895. Today the building functions as the Bentley House Bed and Breakfast. 

Charles Humphrey, son of one of Poultney’s most prominent citizens Robert Humphrey, married Jane’s sister Ellen. Not to be outdone by his brother-in-law, Charles constructed a new home in 1900 on the opposite corner of Bentley and College. The building, which became GMC’s Bentley Hall, is described by the Vermont State Register of Historic Places as “impressively ornate.”

Bentley is also considered historically significant because it straddles the intersection of the Queen Anne and the English Colonial periods, and borrows characteristics from each of these architectural styles. This transitional Victorian style became very popular in America at the turn of the 20th century.

The house was acquired by the College in 1945 from Jennie E. Humphrey for “one dollar and other valuable considerations.” The donation may have been for tax purposes—College records show that the GMC board of trustees purchased the property that year for $7750. It was decided that the “Humphrey House would serve as excellent quarters for unmarried women faculty who at the time were lodged in rented rooms around town. Renovations cost the school $8316, according to the College history in loco parentis.

By 1961 the name of the house had changed to Bentley Hall, when it was converted for use as an honors dorm from 1961-1963. But with newer residence halls springing up on the north side of campus in the mid-1960’s, Bentley became the private residence of longtime dean of students Francis Bozen and the building was referred to as the “dean’s house.” When Bozen retired in 1990 the house was mothballed.  

Now the house, perhaps at the brink of being lost to history, has a new lease on life. 

“Sometimes building new facilities is easier and less expensive than restoring existing architecture,” said GMC Development Director Mary Lou Willits, who together with President Fonteyn raised about $750,000 in grants and donations to fund the house’s restoration. “Community members and alumni really showed an interest in returning Bentley to its former glory. The whole project aligns with our mission of sustainability by making existing buildings functional instead of tearing them down and discarding valuable material.”

Funding for the Bentley House project comes from a Village Revitalization Facilities Initiative Grant, a partnership of Sen. Patrick Leahy the Preservation Trust of Vermont ($100,000); a United States Department of Agriculture Rural Development Community Facility Grant ($50,000) and anonymous donations from alumni and private individuals ($600,000).

PHOTO: Sen. Patrick Leahy (holding scissors) and his wife Marcel (to the Senator's left) cut the ribbon in front of Bentley Hall. Photo: Kathleen Chappelear/GMC.