Charles N. Vilas Estate in Alstead, New Hampshire

Charles N. Vilas Estate Front View in Alstead, New Hampshire

The Charles N. Vilas estate (90 Vilas Rd.) in Alstead, New Hampshire is currently for sale–as of August 4, 2017–for $1.349 million.

However, it is actually only part of the estate because according to Zillow in 2013 it was listed for $2.995 million and consisted of 15 bedrooms, 19 baths, and 17,668 sq. ft. The listing description at the time stated:

Considered one of the most important properties in Northern New England. Some consider it the Breakers of the west. “The Manor on the Hill” was built by Charles N. Vilas hotelier and philanthropist in the 1900’s. The property consists of an 18-room yellow brick residence, a 12-room Victorian mansion,a 7-room caretaker’s home,a recreation hall, a swimming pool, tennis court, Carriage house and pole barn. Framed by 80 acres of open pastures, panoramic views and direct river frontage, “The Manor on the Hill” is a diamond and it’s Alstead’s jewel in the crown. The present owners have painstakingly restored the estate to its original grandeur and have been enjoying every aspect of this exalted hide-away since they purchased the property. The possibilities for future use are many. It could become a religious retreat,a health spa,a health care facility, a camp,a corporate headquarters, charter school or elegant bed and breakfast Inn. Less then 4 hours from NYC and only 2 hours from Boston.

The difference now is that the 12-room Victorian mansion has apparently been subdivided, along with about 19 acres, and presumably sold (since we cannot find a separate listing). Now the property consists of 8 bedrooms, 9 baths, and 8,738 sq. ft. Here is the new listing description:

This one of a kind historic property built in 1909 by notable hotelier and philanthropist, Charles N. Vilas, has over 8000 sq. ft. of living space. The estate boasts beautifully proportioned rooms, rich in architectural detail, with a great flow for entertaining. There are 8 bedrooms, including a spacious master en suite with separate dressing room and a staff or AuPair quarters . Beautiful marble can be seen throughout the home. The estate includes a separate 3 bedroom caretakers residence-guest house along with a large 4 bay barn with 3 box stall stable with 5 straight stalls, pole barn and 2 other outbuildings. Gorgeous fields with direct water frontage on the Cold River as well as a salt water inground pool. This impressive home is approx. 30 minutes from Keene, NH, 45 minutes to Dartmouth College – DHMC and approx. 1 hour and 15 minutes to Manchester Regional Airport.

Both mansions are stunning and both are shown in the video below. But for the purposes of this post all the pictures are from the latest listing.

Charles N. Vilas born in Alstead, New Hampshire

So who was Charles N. Vilas (shown above)? Surprisingly, it was not easy to find much online about his life. After a bit of searching we were able to locate this historical biography of Charles N. Vilas that is excerpted from a 1959 Alstead, New Hampshire Town report (pdf) of all places:

On this site stood the house built and occupied by Noah Vilas (1733 – 1799) and his son Nathaniel Vilas (1766 – 1852) whose children born here numbered twenty. It was also the  home of his son Cyrus Kingsbury Vilas (1815 – 1887) and the birthplace of his children Mary Vilas Packard (1850 – 1908) and Charles Nathaniel Vilas (1852 – 1931).

The above words appear on a tablet mounted on the original doorstep of the old Vilas home, by C. N. Vilas in 1925.

Noah Vilas came to Alstead in 1779, from Grafton, Mass., located on a height of land in the South-west part of town near Alstead Center. About 1788, his son Nathaniel took over the farm and they built the large home where he reared a family of twenty children. Across the road he had a shoe shop, employing twelve men and he was also involved in road construction through heavy forests and n the moving of buildings, the largest being the Baptist Church at Alstead Center, to Paper Mill Village.

Cyrus K. Vilas, son of Nathaniel, stayed on this 180 acre farm until after his father’s death in 1852. This was one month after the birth of Cyrus’ son and Alstead’s great benefactor, Charles N. Vilas. He sold the farm in 1853 and in 1860 settled in Paper Mill Village on River Street in the house now known as the parsonage, succeeding John Dickinson in the drug business. He served the town in many capacities and died in 1887.

Charles Nathaniel Vilas, hotel proprietor and philanthropist, was born in Alstead, November 12, 1852, a great-great grandson of Peter and Mary (Gay) Vilas of English descent. Following a public school education, he obtained employment at the Bay State House, Worcester, Mass.

In 1872 he became associated with his uncle, Hiram Hitchcock, one of the proprietors of the Fifth Avenue Hotel, New York, one of the most famous hostelries, in the United States. Beginning as a clerk, he held various positions of importance and upon retirement of Hiram Hitchcock, he purchased a half interest, his associate being Elmer A. Darling (for more information see our post on Elmer A. Darling’s estate, Burklyn Hall), a nephew of his uncle’s partner. The two nephews of the original owners continued successfully until the building was razed in 1908. The success of Fifth Avenue Hotel was in no small measure due to Vilas’ able management.

For a number of years, Mr. Vilas maintained his summer home next door to the River Street home, formerly the home of Dr. Winslow Porter and purchased by George E. Lewis in 1898. Meanwhile, purchasing a 300 acre farm in Alstead, he built a handsome home and on part of the estate created and developed “Vilas Pool”, a free recreation park opened to the public in 1926. It includes a large swimming pool, boating facilities with swan boats, a dancing pavilion, picnic  area, playground equipment, and stone tower with a carillon of 12 bells, said to be the second largest in New England.

Personally, he was a man of calm, placid, and even tempered disposition, modest in his philanthropies, creative and original in his ideas, and noted for his hospitality. Politically, he was a Republican and in religion a Presbyterian. He was twice married; first, on December 16, 1879 to Elizabeth Harrington of New York, who died in 1889, leaving three children, all of who pre-deceased him and second, on January 24 1918 to Jessie (Ford) Vilas of Pasadena, California. He died at Alstead September 8, 1931 and she died at Pasadena on February 14, 1959.

Vilas Pool enjoyed by hundreds annually became town property along with a sustaining fund o $75,000 in his will following Mr. Vilas’ death. Under his will also, he gave the town Vilas High School, a $175,000 building, plus a trust fund of $125,000 to help support it, dedicated in January 1935; in 1926 the town clock in the steeple of the Universalist Church which stands in the center of town; the entrance gates to Maple Side Cemetary; a $1,000 trust fund for care of Vilas lots Maple Side and Alstead Center cemeteries; the field known as Millot Green; and he purchased the ruins following the fire in 1925 which destroyed the New England Telephone office, two stores and a garage, to enlarge parking space and erect a flag pole.

Also, a $10,000 trust fund to each of the town’s four churches, three Congregational and the Universalist; a $20,000 trust for bed at Mary Hitchcock Memorial Hospital, Hanover, for Alstead people; and two trust funds, the income therefrom to be used for general purposes for which taxes are used, amounting in total to a half million dollars.

His philanthropies extended beyond Alstead. He gave $120,000 to Mary Hitchcock Hospital, he being one of the incorporators of the now famous medicalcenter, which is named for his aunt, Mary Hitchcock of Drewsville. He also gave $70,000 for an interstate bridge between North Walpole and Bellows Falls, which after his death was named the Vilas Memorial Bridge.

The above information pertaining to Mr. Vilas, and the cover pictures used, were furnished by Miss Maybelle Still.

As mentioned above, you can learn more about Vilas Pool at their website. Here is how they describe it:

Charles N. Vilas began construction on Vilas Pool in 1920. Vilas Pool opened to the public in 1926 and was complete with Swan boats much like those in the pond near Boston Gardens, a dance pavilion, large picnic area, horseshoe pits and playground. A beautiful stone Carillon is one of a kind and is the 2nd largest bell Carillon in New England. Charles N. Vilas gave VIlas Pool to the town of Alstead NH in 1931, along with a trust fund for it’s upkeep. Today Vilas Pool Park offers a “touch of magic”, a great location for Weddings, Anniversaries, birthday parties or whatever the event a family may be celebrating. It’s rustic, exceptional natural beauty and historic features is what sets us aside from other locations in our area. Vilas Pool Park is such a unique spot, revisited by families for generations.

See more pictures/video of the Charles N. Vilas estate:

Charles N. Vilas Estate Living Room in Alstead, New Hampshire

Charles N. Vilas Estate Dining Room in Alstead, New Hampshire

Charles N. Vilas Estate Marble Stairway in Alstead, New Hampshire

Charles N. Vilas Estate Master Bedroom in Alstead, New Hampshire

Charles N. Vilas Estate Barn in Alstead, New Hampshire

Charles N. Vilas Estate Horse Stables in Alstead, New Hampshire

Demolition of Govoni’s Restaurant in Woodstock, New Hampshire

Demolished Govoni’s Resturant in Woodstock New Hampshire

A few weeks ago, we were driving on 112 (the other Kancamagus Highway) toward Lincoln, New Hampshire to get to I-93 on our way to Manchester for a meeting. Just outside of Woodstock we noticed a large yellow excavator parked next to the cute building shown above (picture via Google Maps). The building was perched above Lost River, and had, to the best of my knowledge, been there for a very long time.

I had a nagging feeling I should get a picture, but we had little time to spare to get to the meeting. We hoped instead that today was not demolition day. So we drove on . . . big mistake.

On the way back, we prepared to stop to get a picture of the building. We were too late. The excavator had already devoured most of the building. As we drove by we could see the foundation and Lost River below.

The cabin, shown below, was also a casualty, but we didn’t know that at the time until driving by again a few days later. The cabin is even closer to the river and we had always tried to imagine what it would be like to spend the night there. The roar of the river, especially during snow melt season, must have been deafening.

Demolished Cabin in Woodstock, New Hampshire

So, we did some poking around to try to find out why the buildings were, perhaps needlessly, knocked down. We knew the bigger building had been a restaurant at one time. Indeed it was — Govoni’s Italian Restaurant at 521 Lost River Road, North Woodstock, NH (link to Yelp)

It was apparently a charming and popular restaurant earning 3, 5 star reviews and 1, 4 star review. We have no idea how long the Yelp posting will stay up since the restaurant is closed, as such, we are posting the review below since they really convey the sense of loss here (no pun intended):

Review 1:

This was one of the most charming, classic, authentic restaurants I’d ever been to in the world. Italian food would come on simple white dishes. The dining room was checkered tablecloths and Chianti bottle candlesticks. The picture windows in the back overlooked a small gorge with a footbridge that was taken down a few years ago. Kind of like out of a Frank Capra movie. So sad that it is not there. But happy that no one has bought it and turned it into an Olive Garden or some other cookie-cutter place.

Review 2:

My wife and I used to dine there about four times during the summer. We once drive one and three quarters of an hour just to dine there and turn around and drive home. We terribly miss Govoni’s. It was great ! Now, unfortunatey, it’s just a memory, but a very enjoyable memory. Paul and Julie, we miss you.

Review 3:

This is a family run restaurant that has been there for years. Now it’s only opened in summer (closing 9/5 for the season).  It gets very crowded so go early or be ready to wait a long time. it’s worth it.

I had one of the specials, chicken carnavale, it was fabulous!  Very flavorful.  My fiance had the lasagna, it looked like the sauce was a little burned, but he liked it just the same. The meatballs are served without sauce which is odd, and they are just ok.

The stuffed mushroom appetizer was great. The salad reminded me of my Italian grandmother, yummy dressing served family style

We didn’t have any dessert but we say lots of them come out and they looked great.

The location is great, there is a river right behind the place.

Review 4:

Definitely go early! Its completely worth the wait. I had the Shrimp Boursin and it was so delicious I was at a loss for words when the waiter asked how I liked it. EVERYTHING, right down to the house salad was phenominal!! The atmosphere is typically italian cute (like your in an old farmhouse) and the restaurant is set next to Indian Leap & Agasiz (sp) Basin a popular and picturesque swimming hole! If they are open, go, you won’t regret it!!!

But wait! There’s more! Based on the last review, we did a quick Google search on the “Indian Leap / Agassiz Basin” and discovered that is a very popular spot for cliff diving/jumping. The article in the link mentions Govoni’s and discusses a parking issue where the restaurant and swimmers share parking.

So we have to wonder, was Govoni’s demolished to make way for more parking for this popular swimming hole? We certainly hope not. Our building heritage is just as important as our natural heritage. We just don’t build buildings like this anymore.

Even if the Italian restaurant was no longer viable as a business entity, surely another use could have been found. Seems like a perfect spot for an ice cream stand or even a small general store.

If anyone has any information as to why these buildings were demolished, please share in the comments below.

Here is a video we found showing daring cliff jumpers at Indian Leap.

Frosted Window on a Cold Night

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In an upstairs room that is slowly being transformed into a bathroom (and, to the chagrin of my family, I do mean ssslllooowwwllly), there is a window above the stairs that frosts whenever the temperature drops below freezing.

We love this window because we can immediately tell how cold it is outside by the amount of frost covering it. In the 20’s, about a quarter of the window. In the teens, about half the window, In the single digits, about 75 percent. And at below zero, it is a full sheet of ice. In the picture above, it was 6 degrees.

Of course, it’s no secret that we aren’t fans of vinyl siding or windows. And I can tell you that we don’t get this magical effect from the unfortunate few vinyl windows we have that were installed by the previous owner.

In our zeal for “energy efficiency,” we have lost these unexpected interactions with nature that add beauty to our lives. It’s difficult to see in the picture, but the window does have an historic wooden storm window on it (which is where the frost forms), but that will likely be the extent of our weatherization efforts. We’ve grown too fond of our ice.

If you need another reason to keep your wooden windows, see our post “Vinyl Windows Equal Less Light.”