Burklyn Hall (Manor) in Burke, Vermont is currently for sale as of August 26, 2017—for $3.5 million. Or, if you prefer, airbnb has Burklyn Hall listed for rent at 2,000 per night with a 3 night minimum stay.
When we wrote our recent post about the Charles N. Vilas estate in Alstead, New Hampshire, we had no idea about the connection with Burklyn Hall—it is now referred to as Burklyn Manor, but we will use the more historical Burklyn Hall. It turns out that, that Burklyn Hall is a part of the Elmer A. Darling Estate which was built from the fortunes he made operating the Fifth Avenue Hotel in New York City. If you recall from the history we found, Charles Vilas became a co-owner of the Hotel with Elmer Darling after the death of his Uncle Hiram Hitchcock.
What a coincidence that their respective estates are both up for sale at the same time 100+ years later!
Both Vilas and Darling were very generous to their home-towns. However, unlike Vilas, we have been able to find a huge treasure trove of material about Darling’s estate. Let’s look first at Burklyn Hall which was nominated to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973 (pdf):
Burklyn Hall was built by famed hotel executive Elmer Darling. Darling was originally from East Burke and went on to become a prosperous hotel magnate associated with New York’s Fifth Avenue Hotel. The firm of Jardine, Kent & Jardine were the architects of the structure.
The immensity of the house and rich detailing, coupled with the presence of unusual domestic amenities such as elevators and a central vacuum system, reflect how a man who thought in hotel scale viewed residential architecture.
The structure is one of the few large scale mansions representative of the nation’s “age of opulence” remaining intact in Vermont.
Burklyn suffered unsympathetic use as a dormitory for Lyndon College and is currently being used as a summer music school. If local efforts to save the structure are successful, the mansion will be stabilized and used as regional community and cultural center for the “Northeast Kingdom.”
So, apparently those local plans never came to fruition, but a private owner must have stepped up and restored it back to its former glory. That particular description was rather brief and unsatisfying, but more recently (2011) the entire Darling Estate Historic District was entered into the National Register of Historic Places (pdf). We are only going to touch on the highlights relating directly to Burklyn Hall and Elmer Darling, but the nomination form runs for 211 pages so you can really dig into the history if you want.
The Darling Estate Historic District is significant as a very well-preserved rural historic landscape that incorporates a series of early 19th century hill farms that were consolidated and expanded by Elmer A. Darling into a model gentleman farm in the early 20th century. Darling’s progressive model farm was named Mountain View Farm, and included a number of companion farms along Darling Hill Road that are today collectively known as the Darling Estate.
The District also includes Darling’s mansion, known as Burklyn Hall, a property listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973. Elmer Darling was a member of the social and economic class of wealthy Victorians that became gentleman farmers chiefly for pleasure rather than income. The District holds significance under National Register Criterion A because the resources are associated with events and patterns that made an important contribution to the agricultural development of Burke and Lyndon, first in the Vermont historic context of small-scale diversified agriculture, and later as an example of an extensive gentleman farm associated with the Vermont contexts of stock breeding, dairying, and agricultural processing.
The District also holds architectural significance under Criterion C because the resources represent good examples of architectural styles popular in the 19th and early 20th centuries in Vermont. The District is a composite of domestic architectural styles that include early Vermont house forms and popular architectural styles such as Cape Cod, Greek Revival and Colonial Revival, as well as agricultural building types. Several architect-designed buildings are interesting and unusual in this predominately agricultural area.
The period of significance is c. 1810 to 1960, beginning with the construction date for the oldest surviving agricultural homestead in the District (#9) and ending with the Darling family’s sale of the estate’s central property, Mountain View Farm (#4). This period extends from the area’s early 19th century consolidation and development into Elmer Darling’s gentleman farm, capturing 150 years of continuous, traditional agricultural activity in this landscape.
The District contains 10 historic properties that functioned collectively in the development and successful operation of Darling’s hilltop estate, which was one of only a handful of gentleman farms in Vermont. Today, the District looks much as it did during the period of significance, and modern residential development has generally been integrated into the landscape in a manner sensitive to its historic character.
Early 20th century patterns of agricultural land use are still evident in the historic farmsteads and surrounding landscape of fields, pastures and woodlands, as well as the maple tree allee along Darling Hill Road. Dramatic hilltop views from the road extend to the distant mountains to the east and west, just as they have for centuries. The agricultural traditions that created this cultural landscape are two centuries old, and were conserved and improved through the social and cultural efforts of Elmer A. Darling. The District is being nominated at the state level of significance.
Architecture of the Darling Estate
The Historic District is significant in the are of architecture because Elmer Darling designed his mansion and several agricultural buildings of his estate in the popular Colonial Revival style, and all of these structures are still extant. Darling’s properties exhibit a formal order at selected sites within this historic rural and vernacular landscape. The properties have also been uniformly well-maintained and were developed to have consistent signage and a distinct color scheme.
Elmer Darling’s mansion, Burklyn Hall is the most outstanding residential building in the the three northeastern counties in Vermont (also known as the Northeast Kingdom) and one of the most remarkable structures of its kind in Vermont. It was built between 1904 and 1908 on the highest ground along the ridge of Darling Hll, on the east side of Darling Hill Road. Darling named it Burklyn Hall because the building itself is located in both Burke and Lyndon.
Until the mansion’s construction, Darling stayed at the farmhouse on Mountain View Farm when he came to Vermont and at his hotel when in New York City. The subsequent completion of Burklyn Hall coincided perfectly with the sale of the historic Fifth Avenue Hotel in New York by Darling and his partners, and so in 1908 he returned from New York to live here until his death in 1931. Burklyn Hall was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972. In addition to its architectural significance, its setting on top of a hill with 360-degree views is a character-defining feature of both the mansion and the Darling Estate.
Elmer Darling was a member of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Class of 1871 and studied architecture for two of his four years there. Architecture was one of his life-long passions, and he commissioned the well-known architectural firm Jardine, Kent and Jardine of New York City (some of the original architectural drawings are stored in the vault at the mansion) to prepare architectural drawings of his new Colonial Revival style mansion.
The Jardine, Kent and Jardine firm traces its roots to the establishment of the company by two Scottish immigrants, David Jardine and Josh Jardine in 1865. Around 1887 another brother, George Jardine, joined David and John, and it became one of the more prominent, prolific and versatile architectural firms in New York City. After David Jardine’s death in 1892, the two remaining Jardine brothers joined with architect William W. Kent, forming the firm of Jardine, Kent and Jardine. The firm designed a wide variety of buildings including residential, commercial and religious structures in a range of different styles, including Italianate, Victorian Gothic, Queen Anne and Beaux Arts, with various materials including brick, stone and cast iron. In 1890 the firm designed stores and factories for Alfred B. Darling in Manhattan.
The Colonial Revival style of architecture was a dominant style for residential building throughout the country during the first half of the 20th century. In an article for Architects’ and Builders’ Magazine in 1910, Jardine, Kent and Jardine characterized the mansion as “a fine example of American country-house architecture” and the “equipment for service is as convenient and well-thought out as that of a hotel”. The article featured eleven interior and two exterior photos, along with two detailed architectural drawings.
The mansion was constructed by James N. Foye of St. Johnsbury; the heating, plumbing and roofing contractor was C. H. Goss of St. Johnsbury; the elaborate interior decoration was completed by Hoggson Brothers of new York City; and the outside pilasters and wood columns came from Hartmann Brothers of Mr. Vernon, New York. The construction used “an estimated 300,000 feet of lumber”, mostly taken from Mr. Darling’s own woodlots and processed at his East Burke Saw Mill. Much of the finish and moldings were also made in Darling’s Wood Finishing Mill in the Village of East Burke.
The elaborate interior wood finish of the first floor of the mansion was completed by the Heydon Company of Rochester, New York. The foundation for the mansion and the cellar was started in1904 with on-site limestone rock and granite quarried from nearby Kirby Mountain by the Burke Granite Company. The interior of this enormous, engineered mansion featured modern, early 20th century amenities, about 30 rooms and a lookout with a magnificent 360-degree vista of the surrounding countryside and mountains. The mansion also featured an art collection. Carefully picked out by Darling, the exterior colors were colonial yellow with white trim and green doors. The windows featured green and white striped awnings.
The landscaped grounds surrounding Burklyn Hall included lawns, terraced paths and select plantings of silver maple trees to create a tree canopy along the road. A semi-circular driveway led through the porte-cochere on the west elevation to the road. Each end of the driveway had two cast-iron pole lamps (made at the J. L. Nott Ironworks, NY), for spherical glass globes with electric lights set on granite bases. The large, octagonal, 2 story greenhouse (now removed) at the south end of the mansion provided flowers, fruits and vegetables.
A deer park was built west of the road for the entertainment of tourists, visitors, and children. Legendary Christmas parties were held for the children of East Burke, sometimes at Burklyn Hall and occasionally in new buildings such as the Creamer (#4i) and the Morgan Horse Barn (#4h). Shortly after the completion of the mansion in 1908, a magnificent greenhouse was constructed on the south elevation around 1910.
Mr. Darling and his sister moved into the completed mansion on November 1, 1908. Elmer and Louise (until her death in 1925) managed the estate and entertained visitors and house guests. This property also included four barns across Darling Hill Road to the west: the Carriage Barn (#1a) for the Darling’s large collection of winter and summer vehicles; the Morgan Horse Barn (#1c) for their prize-winning stock; the Wagon Barn (#1d) for agricultural vehicles; and the Field Barn (#1e).
The first three of these structures (#’s 1a, 1c and 1d) were designed in the fashionable Colonial Revival style by Jardine, Kent and Jardine. The only additions to this architect-designed collection of buildings on the west side of the road are the Field Barn (#1e), built in a vernacular style around 1906, and the Arena (#1b). The latter building was constructed aournd 1940 for Earle Brown (1870 – 1963), who purchased Burklyn Hall and the four barns across the road from the Darling estate in 1936 (including 140 acres in Burke and 960 acres om Lyndon).
Brown, of Minneapolis, Minnesota and Peacham, Vermont managed the estate for 12 years. He was engaged in the business of breeding Belgian and Morgan horses, and he added a new garage and arean (#1b) to the collection of Burklyn Hall buildings. In 1948 the property was sold to C. H. Davis, President of the Vermont Tap & Die Corporation in Lyndonville. IN 1957 it was acquired by the American Saw and Tool Company of Louisville, Kentucky.
Burklyn Hall was deeded to the State of Vermont in 1957 and briefly used as a men’s dormitory for lyndon State College, located in nearby Lyndon Center, until additional dormitories could be built on campus. Following the construction of more campus housing, the college moved forward with plans to sell Burklyn Manor, as they called it, in the late 1960s. Under the leadership of Elizabeth (Shahler) Brouha, the recently-established Friends of Burklyn Hall briefly postponed this decision and used the hall for public events and activities for several years.
Largely due to the Friends’ efforts and research, the property was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973. Still, despite their initiative to commit Burklyn Hall exclusively to public, educational and non-profit use, Lyndon State College soon sold the property to private owner David Drew.
The Legacy of Elmer Darling
Elmer A. Darling was a prominent gentleman farmer, community planner, conservationist and philanthropist whose leadership and benevolence in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont left a legacy still remembered and revered by residents today. Burke historian Phyllis Burbank referred to this period of local history as “the Darling era”.
Elmer continued the local philanthropic work of his uncle Alfred B. Darling, who died in 1896. It has been estimated that in addition to the large, productive Darling farms, the Darling land acquisitions for industrial sites and numerous residences in the Village of East Burke, forested land for logging (in Burke, East Haven, Victory, Kirby, Westmore and Lyndon) and the recreational land on Lake Willoughby in Westmore totaled over 8,000 acres. In 1931 the court valued this Vermont real estate at $190,675. The New York real estate was not part of the probate inventory.
Darling used this success as a businessman to benefit those of his community and become involved in politics. He was a Vermont delegate to the 1924 Republican Convention in Cleveland, Ohio that nominated fellow Vermonter, Calvin Coolidge (1872-1933), for President of the United States. In 1929 Vermont historian Arthur F. Stone wrote:
“Outstanding among well-known figures of Vermont is Elmer A. Darling, whose career has been of singular variety and interest, who now (1928) resides in a palatial residence called Burklyn Hall near East Burke, pays taxes in eight towns, is a moving spirit in all projects directed toward the advancement of several communities, and belongs to one of the oldest families in the United States.”
On a broader scale, the Darling family in general maintained a long tradition of philanthropy in this area of Vermont. The Congregational Church of East Burke is an excellent example. The early settlers of Burke were Congregationalists that came primarily from Litchfield, Connecticut and organized here in 1807. The present Congregational Church in the village of East Burke was constructed in 1845 by Baptists, and the Congregationalists rented it occasionally.
In 1865, Alfred B. Darling purchased the Baptist Church and leased it to the Congregationalist Society. Upon Alfread’s death he willed the property to the Society with an endowment of $10,000 to support the church. Both Elmer and his brother Lucius continued their uncle’s interest in the church and contributed to the decoration of the building in 1900 and 1924. Darling purchased a cottage in the village and “fitted it with up-to-date improvements for a Congregational parsonage”. Upon his death Elmer Darling left an endowment of $15,000.
In 1895 Alfred B. Darling (president), Mary V. Belden (secretary and descendent of the Belden Farm, #2), Mabel Hall Walter (treasurer and descendent of the Walter Farm, #5) and others formed the Society for the Study of the History of Burke (later renamed the Burke Historical Society). One of the motivations for the society’s establishment was a project to save and relocate the White School, a frame one-room schoolhouse originally constructed ni 1817 that closed in 1894 and was situated in District No. 3 in Burke.
After Alfred’s death in 1896, Elmer Darling provided leadership for the new organization and the historic schoolhouse was relocated in 1923 to a site next to the Burke Mountain Club (built in 1919) in East Burke. Today the schoolhouse is maintained as a museum of local history.
Beginning in 1903 and again in 1918 and 1919, Elmer Darling deeded three parcels of land in East Burke for expansion of the Woodmont Cemetery (begun in 1942 with a cemetery association dating to 1902). Darling transformed a small burial ground into a beautiful cemetery with landscaping and stone fencing. He financed the construction of “a fine tomb (1902), a tool house, set out trees, bought a house for its sexton and gardener and surrounded the cemetery by a handsome iron fence”. Darling left an endowment of $15,000 in his will and many members of the Darling family are buried there including Elmer, his brother and his nephew.
Meanwhile, in 1904 Elmer Darling began acquiring forested land on nearby Burke Mountain to supply his Saw Mill in the Village of East Burke. Burke historian Mabel H. Walters wrote that when it seemed a lumber company might “begin to ravage the slopes of the mountain and destroy its forest” . . . “Elmer bought over 1,000 acres of land there to preserve the beauty of the mountain”.
Darling financed the construction of a carriage road (1912) to the summit, a fire tower (1912) and a caretakers’ residence (1913). Lucius A. and Henry G. Darling gifted 1,662 acres to the Vermont Forest and Parks Division. The state subsequently purchased an additional 43 acres, and the Darling State Forest Park was created in 1934. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) improved the Darling Forest from June 1933 to September 1935 and from April 1936 to September 1938. A 2.5 story Toll House (1941) was constructed by the CCC, in the Adirondack Rustic style of architecture developed by the National Park Service, and it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2006 (pdf). Visible from much of the District looking east at Burke Mountain, Darling State Park now covers 1,726 acres.
In 1918 Darling designed and funded construction of the Burke Mountain Club, on the site of a former hotel across the road from his industrial properties in East Burke. Dedicated in 1920, this 1.5 story Colonial Revival style building with associated carriage shed and bandstand was built as a library, community meeting space and caretaker’s apartment. In 1922, Darling purchased a large bronze plaque to memorialize Burke’s veterans. Installed inside the Club, this plaque recognizes Burke’s 94 veterans killed in the Civil War, 2 in the Spanish American War and 22 in World War I. In his will Darling set up a $30,000 endowment to maintain the building and grounds. The Club is still a vital resource in this small community with its public library and meeting space.
Alfred A. Darling was a major financial contributor to repairs made to the Union Meeting House in Burke Hallow for its 100th anniversary in 1896. His nephew, Lucius Darling, was the last surviving trustee of the Union Meeting House Society. In his will, Elmer Darling set up a $6,000 endowment for the maintenance of this Burke Hollow church and cemetery, still owned today by the Town of Burke. The Union Meeting House was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2008 (pdf). Darling’s will also set up a $10,000 endowment for the Needy and Poor in the Town of Burke.
In 1920 Elmer Darling Succeeded his friend Theodore N. Vail as president of the Board of Tustees of thee Lyndon Institute at Lyndon Center. Vail had served as president from 1894 to 1903 and again from 1913 to 1920, and Darling continued to serve as president until 1931. Darling was also a trustee of the St. Johnsbury Academy from 1920 until his death in 1931, and his will left $10,000 to the school.
When a fire leveled the historic Lyndon, Vermont (follow link to see our town gallery) in 1924, Darling chaired a building committee and donated land to construct a new Colonial Revival style hotel in the center of town. Because of his leadership the new hotel, the ‘Darling Inn: A Gem in the Green’ was named for him. The Darling Inn in Lyndonville opened in 1928. It has been listed on the National Register of Historic Place since 1980 (pdf). Today the building operates as the Darling Inn Apartments, a 27-unit facility for senior citizens.
Darling owned a summer cottage named Cragmere on the south end of Willoughby Lake in Westmore, only 12 miles north of East Burke. In 1910, he acquired a specially-build, 35’ motor launch, The Burklyn, for day cruises. In 1914, Darling “turned over” his second cottage, Sunset View, to the Lyndonville Village Improvement Society (LVIS) “rent free”, to be used as a Tea Room to raise funds for the maintenance of several public parks in Lyndonville. In 1921 Darling built The Boulders dance casino, which he also “turned over” to the LVIS “rent free for fund raising”. The casino opened August 3, 1921 with “475 people attending.” Both Cragmere Cottage and The Boulders contained Darling’s personal property in 1930, including furniture and kitchen appliances valued at $299. Upon Darling’s death in 1931, the LVIS involvement at Willoughby Lake ended, and in 1934 the property became a summer attraction on the lake.
Darling may have sensed his impending death, and he prepared his last will on January 24, 1931. The will and administrative papers are today stored at the Caledonia County Courthouse in St. Johnsbury. Elmer never married and his death was “not unexpected”. He “passed on” at his mansion on April 11, 1931, just short of his 83rd birthday. His obituary reported his death “came with a deep sense of personal loss to every one who knew him and had come to recognize his fine traits of character and his true, philanthropic interest and real personal concern in the well being of the community and state”.
The obituary noted that the community “has many eloquent monuments to his memory, both in lasting brick and stone and in the hears and lives of the people with whom he came in contact”. The funeral was held at Burklyn Hall, with the Reverend Lawrence Larrowe of East Burke conducting the services. During the services all business was suspended in East Burke and Lyndonville, and shades were drawn in St. Johnsbury stores. Darling was buried in the family lot at Woodmont Cemetery in East Burke.
At his death, the regional newspaper reported that Elmer Darling’s estate totaled over 8,000 acres. Darling was a director of the Lyndonville Savings Bank and Trust Company, the Darling Inn in Lyndonville, the Lyndonville Realty Company, the Community Building Company as well as several Vermont railroad corporations.
He had extended his business and social network by becoming a member of the Union League Club of New York, the Society of the Sons of the American Revolution and the New England Society of New York City. On the Friday following his funeral, Darling philanthropy was headline news in the regional newspaper, the Caledonian Record, under the title: “Darling Left $211,000 Public Bequest.” His will listed the recipients of his philanthropy, left in trusts to:
- Burke Mountain Club, $15,000;
- Lyndon Institute, $100,000;
- St. Johnsbury Academy, $10,000;
- University of Vermont, $5,000;
- Middlebury College, $5,000;
- Bennington College for Girls, $5,000;
- Town of Burke for Needy Account, $10,000
- Union Meeting House and Cemetery at Burke Hollow, $6,000;
- Brightlook Hospital, $10,000.
There was no public announcement of the extent of the Darling fortune or his will’s many private and personal benefactors.
The executors of the Darling Estate were his brother Lucius, his nephew Henry and the Lyndonville Savings Bank and Trust Company, where Elmer had served as a director. The will contained eight single-spaced pages of references to land deeds in the Northeast Kingdom and the newspaper reported his “magnificent estate of over 8,000 acres”. Darling owned Vermont real estate in Burke, Lyndon, East Haven (466 acres), Victory (800 acres), Kirby (340 acres), and Westmore (391 acres, in addition to the The Boulders Casino and Cragmere Cottage properties).
The Tentative Summary of his estate, as of his death in April 1931, consisted of cash, bonds, stocks, mortgages, notes, life insurance, personal property and Vermont real estate totaling $1,195,105.79 (the value of real estate in New York was not included). Rents on Manhattan real estate in New York totaled over $20,000 per month. At the time of his death Darling held three checking accounts and five savings accounts. The balance of the Decree of Distribution, dated June 9, 1932, was 691,435.09.
What an amazing life story . . . our only question is: where are the Darling and Vilas families of today?
Don’t forget to visit our Lyndon, Vermont picture gallery.