Readmore, the “William A. Hall House” also known as the “Babbitt House” at 1 Hapgood Street, Bellows Falls, Vermont, has been entered into the National Register of Historic Places. The Colonial revival house on the corner of Hapgood and Westminster Street was built by William Augustus Hall in 1892. It replaced the family homestead of Solomon Hapgood (1766-1856), a blacksmith and prosperous farmer who farmed over 250 acres comprising most of the south end of the present village of Bellows Falls, VT.
Solomon Hapgood was the first resident to bring running water to his dwelling using an aqueduct made of pine “pump-logs” from a spring on Oak Hill. William Augustus Hall (1866-1938) a one time member of the MIT class of 1888, was a nephew and ward of William A. Russell (1831-1899) who was the developer of wood pulp for the manufacture of paper and established the extensive Fall Mountain Paper Co. mills after he acquired control of the Bellows Falls Canal Company in 1870. In 1898, William A. Russell merged Fall Mountain Paper Co. into the International Paper Co. of which he served as its first president.
William A. Hall was a superintendent and later General Manager (1890-1898) of Fall Mountain Paper Co. who experimented as a chemical engineer (1888-1901), with dividing milk into its constituent parts and using each for specific purposes. The most important constituent being casein, the basis for red “casein paint” used widely on barns, houses, and furniture. He covered his processes by patents and in 1893 organized the Casein Company of America in New York with a large capitalization. A large plant was built in Bellows Falls in 1896 and over 200 workers were employed.
William was a great friend of his neighbor Hetty Green (1834-1916), the “Witch of Wall Street” and kept his horses in her carriage barn, and was also a close friend of Rudyard Kipling, who lived a couple of towns south of Bellows Falls. William A. Hall is credited with the first commercial production of adhesives. It is said that he made a handsome fortune and retired from the business after selling out to the Borden Company in 1903. He also developed the casein business in America and Europe; developed the Milk Sugar business in America; and developed the transformed wood business. He later traveled widely settling in France and died outside Paris in August of 1938.
According to his son Melvin Adams Hall’s memoirs, he purchased the second automobile sold in America manufactured by Alexander Winton, and in 1898 drove the first motorcar into the state of Vermont as well as New Hampshire and Maine. (He also received the first traffic tickets!) Also according to son, “he worked hard and made a substantial amount of money through his restless inventive genius. He developed several highly successful processes and formed companies to exploit them, including the Casein Company of America, and pulled out from these as soon as they were firmly established. He was very generous, spent his money freely and enjoyed himself in doing so, which perhaps was for the best, as in the end he lost everything he had.” Melvin A. Hall (1895-1972) left his family papers to Princeton University’s Seely G. Mudd Manuscript Library
According to town land records, William A. Hall acquired the corner lot at 79 Westminster and 1 Hapgood Street from his uncle, William A. Russell in April of 1893 although the Bellows Falls Times reported July 2, 1891 that “workmen were engaged on the lot at the corner of Westminster and Hapgood streets recently bought by William A. Hall, laying the foundations for a new house”.
The three storied clapboard house was built in the colonial revival style featuring exaggerated broken pediments on the dormers, a large stain glass Paladin window in the front hall, hipped roof with a full-width porch, bowed windows on the front of the first and second floor incorporating curved glass, hardwood floors and extensive rare wood paneling, a three story atrium with skylight, eight mantel fireplaces, a foyer, front hall, parlor, library, study, dining room, kitchen, pantries, servants hall, seven bedrooms and four baths on the second floor and three bedrooms and two box rooms on the third floor as well as a full stone basement. When built the house also featured a widow’s walk railing on the roof and an elaborate railing on the second story of the porch as well as front steps facing both Westminster and Hapgood Streets.
The house appeared in an article in the March 1899 issue of the Ladies’ Home Journal (page 10) as one of the prettiest country homes in America. “This house at Bellows Falls, Vermont, has the advantage of a charming location, and makes a beautiful picture with its vine-covered porch and attractive entrance stoop. The attractive bowed windows in the second story are features common in New England.”
When William A. Hall retired from Bellows Falls, he sold the house to Francis Gardiner Flint on October 3, 1903 and moved to New York City. Francis G. Flint (1860-1924) was the son of Wyman Flint (1824-1906).
Wyman Flint started a store and grist mill business in Bellows Falls in 1853, being so successful in a variety of businesses as to have the largest taxable income ($5,000.00) in Bellows Falls under the federal “Special Income Tax” of 1863. Later he became involved with paper making and in 1883 organized Wyman Flint & Sons with his sons John as vice president and Francis as treasurer. The company was later incorporated in 1896, producing 14 tons of manila a day with 40 employees. After Wyman Flint’s death in 1906, his sons continued to operate the mill until 1916 when Francis sold his interest to his brother John and soon retired.
The mill was later consolidated into Claremont Paper Company but was washed out by the flood of 1927 and not rebuilt. After he retired, Francis G. Flint sold the house to John E. Babbitt on June 30, 1918 and moved to Walpole, New Hampshire. John Edward Babbitt (1872-1936) was born in Bellows Falls and attended Bellows Falls High School and the Bryant & Stratton Business School. He then went to work for his father George Hewes Babbitt, Sr. (1828-1898) at the American Express Company in town. Latter wanting a college education, he went to Brown University and graduated in the class of 1899. After college he bought out the Bellows Falls Machine Company, successor to Osgood & Barker Co. with the help of his two brothers, Frederick Herbert (1859-1931) and George Hewes Babbitt Jr. (1861-1914) Acquiring a patent license from Thomas A. Edison for his new invention “waxed paper,” they were able to develop the then largest waxed paper plant in America. He also joined with his brothers in purchasing and expanding the Howland Pulp and Paper Co. in Howland, Maine.
The Bellows Falls Machine Co. was later merged with the Robertson Paper Company, Frederick H. Babbitt taking over the manila end and John E. Babbitt maintaining the wax end of the business. George H. Babbitt Jr. had married Jennie Robertson of Robertson Paper Co. family in 1887. John was treasurer and his brother Frederick, president until 1921 when Frederick left to form the Babbitt & Kelley Paper Co., and John became president. In June 1915, John E. Babbitt married Marion Barney and latter had three daughters, Sara, Constance and Elizabeth.
Sara, now Mrs. John Stamm remembers her fathers having the garage built and her mother redesigning the gardens in the 1920’s. She did not remember there being any widows walk railing on the roof or as fussy detailing on the third floor windows, also the railings in the second floor porch was of a simpler design. These changes appear to have been made during Francis Flint’s tenure. She recalls the house painted a pale yellow, more of a cream white, though early photographs and paint layers suggest the house was a gray color at one time. Also the north bathroom on the second floor was a child’s bedroom and there was a doorway (now sealed) in the second floor hall to the bathroom that serves the guestroom for the use of the children. John Babbitt’s health began failing in the early 1930’s and he died of heart failure in March of 1936 during the Great Flood. His wife sold the house to Harry E. Shroyer on August 1, 1939 and moved to Walpole, New Hampshire. Harry Earl Shroyer (1874-1965) was an executive with the E.R. Squibb & Co., Pharmaceuticals, serving as corporate secretary before retiring at age 65 and settling in Bellows Falls with his long time friend and companion, Richard Sherman (1884-1976) who retired as a credit manager for Squibb & Co. Upon his death in 1965, Harry Shroyer left the house and lot together with all household effects, furniture and other personal property, his automobile and $10,000.00 to his friend, Richard Sherman.
During the occupancy of Shroyer and Sherman, the house was redecorated, one of the small bedrooms on the second floor was converted into a bathroom, a doorway from the second floor hall to the guest bathroom was walled over, and the kitchen was remodeled with the oak cabinets being replaced with white enamel metal ones. When Richard Sherman died in 1976, he left his estate to the benefit of the Rockingham Memorial Hospital. His executor sold the house, lot and furnishings to Eric and Gundela Weindl of Newfane, Vermont on December 20, 1976. The Weindls had the thought of converting the house into a restaurant and started doing a little work with that thought in mind. One of the things they did was to seal up the opening of the atrium in the second floor due to fire code issues. The restaurant idea did not work out and the Weindls removed the furnishings and sold the property to Nathan and Evan Darrow on April 10, 1981. The Darrows later sold an interest to William O’Brien on October 14, 1981. During this time the heating system was redone as well as some plumbing and electrical work, and the atrium was reopened.
During the mid 1980’s, property values rose and the Darrows decided to sell the house and it ended up being sold to Dr. Laura Chalfin and John Heinegg on July 15, 1986. Dr. Chalfin had been recruited to Bellow Falls to work at the Rockingham Memorial Hospital. During the late 1980’s the hospital ran into financial trouble and closed. Dr. Chalfin and Heinegg then relocated to the New York City area for employment and leased out the house to a number of people over the years until they sold the property to the Reads on May 5, 1997.
The Reads then spent the next five years on a major restoration of all the building systems, reconstruction of lost details and installation of a full fire sprinkler system. The house was added to the National Register of Historic Places, and later became part of a historic district.
Dorothy, a state certified professional horticulturist and garden writer, also planned and began installing the rose garden and various other borders and gardens on the property.
Readmore operated as a popular five-star Bed and Breakfast inn until December 2016.
The work continues. There remains ornamentation to replace on the exterior as well as finding and replacing shutters and awnings on the south side of the house. With only one old photograph to work from, it has taken quite a bit of detective work to reconstruct what was probably there, at a price that could be reasonably considered in this day and age.