GOVERNOR HUNT HOUSE
The Governor Hunt House was built by Jonathan Hunt (1738-1823), who served as lieutenant governor of Vermont from 1794 to 1796 under the state’s first governor, Thomas Chittenden. (Jonathan Hunt was never actually governor, despite the name acquired by the house.) Born in Northfield, Mass., Hunt inherited extensive acreage in the area of what is now Vernon.
The Hunt family became nationally prominent in several fields. Hunt’s son, Jonathan Hunt Jr., became a lawyer and politician, holding many Vermont offices (including general in the militia) as well as serving as a Representative in the U.S. Congress from 1827 to 1832. Hunt Jr. and his wife Jane Maria Leavitt had five children: artist Jane Maria Hunt, physician Jonathan Hunt, painter William Morris Hunt, architect Richard Morris Hunt and early photographer and New York attorney Leavitt Hunt. Hunt Jr.’s nephew was Chicago architect Jarvis Hunt. The family legacy continued with the sons of William Morris Hunt, Richard Howland Hunt and Joseph Howland Hunt, who designed the 1902 wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and completed their father’s design of the museum’s central block.
A daughter of Jonathan Hunt Sr. was Anna Hunt Marsh, whose bequest of $10,000 led to the establishment, in 1834, of the psychiatric institution that became known as the Brattleboro Retreat.
Upon the death of Jonathan Sr. in 1823, the GHH and associated farmlands passed to his son Arad (1790-1833), whose holdings in an estate inventory amounted to 1,731 acres. After Arad’s death, a portion of the property including the GHH was sold to William Heard, and it remained in the Heard family until 1906, when it was sold to George K. Stebbins.
Clement R. and Bernice B. Jennison purchased it from the estate of Stebbins in 1923, and continued farming there until 1938, when it was sold to Richard W. Steenbruggen. In 1943, Steenbruggen sold to Charles B. Westin, who reportedly planned major renovations and intended to have a resident farmer on the place.
But in 1947, Westin sold the house, not the farmland, to Robert J. Kuhn, author of a history of Northfield, Mass., who had researched the Hunt family. Kuhn may have purchased it simply with the intent to find a historically-sensitive buyer, because only a few months later, he sold the house to Florence Louchheim Stol (1900-1967), a renowned (and eccentric) patron of the arts, who left an important collection of contemporary art to the University of Michigan Museum of Art. She used the house primarily as a summer retreat.
Stol lived in Vernon full time and entertained many prominent people in the arts and sciences there. She died at the Brattleboro hospital in 1967. The house was then acquired from her estate in 1968 by the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Corporation (VYNPC) as part of land acquisition for the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant (VY).
The GHH was used by VYNPC as administrative office space during and after the construction of the nuclear plant, using the fireplaces for warmth as there was no other heating system in place.
In the period 1987-1989, VYNPC undertook an extensive, historically sensitive restoration of the historic portion of the structure, under the direction of Leigh Douglas Johnson (then with 18th Century Design Associates, Hartland, Vermont), preservation architect, and Jonathan Jessup Restorations, contractor. The conference wing was added at this time.
Initially after the restoration, VYNPC maintained a visitors center for the public at the GHH and hosted public events and tours there. However, after Sept. 11, 2001, new security protocols were put in place and access to the property was restricted to VY personnel and authorized guests. VY was sold in 2002 to Entergy Corporation, ceased operations at the end of 2014, and was sold to Northstar Holdings in 2019 for the purpose of decommissioning. However, Entergy Corporation retained ownership of the GHH and offered it as a donation to the Town of Vernon. The Town, through its Selectboard, designated the Friends of Vernon Center, Inc., a Vermont non-profit corporation with 501(c)3 status, to receive the donation. FVC, which is also engaged in the encouraging the development of a new village center in Vernon in a state-designated village center area that includes the GHH, intends to develop the GHH as a community center and an anchor to the planned village area.
* NOTE: This article lists the construction date of the house as 1789; Barbara Moseley has it as 1779, the year of Jonathan Hunt’s marriage to Lavinah/Lavinia Swan. (Various early sources agree on that year.) Barbara’s assumption was that the house was built for the occasion of the wedding. But somehow 1789 has crept into the annals here and there as the construction date of the house, as well. We used that date on the new sign out front, perhaps incorrectly. (The state historical marker near it says 1779.)