House For Sale: Sunderland, Vermont
Not long ago, we spent a lovely morning at the Ira Allen House with innkeeper Maria Jones. Originally from the Philippines, she and her husband, Ed, a high school teacher from New Jersey, and their three girls (ages 6, 11, and 14) have been living in a large 1775 house next door for the past few years. With her family in school weekdays, it’s up to Maria to walk over to the Allen house early every morning and begin the daily tasks of operating a B&B. For the first hour of our visit, for instance, she was busy serving delicious-looking omelets to the half-dozen guests scattered about the dining room (which can seat up to 30). Cinnamon buns, toast, fruit, and such were on hand for them as well.
During this time we sat in the adjoining living room next to a cheerful fire, drinking coffee, sampling several of those buns, and admiring the huge overhead beams. Original? We’re not sure, nor was Maria. There was no doubt, however, that the two silhouette portraits hanging on the far wall were of Ethan and Ira Allen.
Once everyone was happy, Maria showed us the kitchen, fully equipped with all the basics. Half of the space serves as her office, and the adjoining two rooms house the washer and dryer — a busy place in a B&B — and a modern furnace. Also off the kitchen is a sunroom, with a hot tub just outside. “On weekends the girls eat breakfast out here,” Maria told us, “and they just love the Jacuzzi.”
Eventually, after hugs for each of her departing guests (all of whom reacted to her as though she were practically their mother), Maria relaxed with us for a few minutes back in the living room. Ahead for her, of course, were the breakfast clean-up, changing the beds and washing the sheets, working out the grocery needs, dusting and vacuuming, and so on. Running a B&B, we realized, is sort of an endless series of tasks.
“You have to love meeting people,” Maria noted. It was obvious that she fulfilled that requirement in spades. The current problem for her and Ed, she explained, was operating two homes — one as a business — and, at the same time, maintaining a family life for their three girls: “When we bought the Allen house three years ago, thinking it was a dream come true, we found we’d underestimated the difficulties in juggling those priorities.” Thus their decision to sell.
A tour of the upstairs was next. We found all five suites with their five bathrooms to be comfortable, sunny, and in good shape. Our favorite accommodation was the one Maria refers to as the “Skiers’ Suite” on the second floor. It has a large deck facing the forest in back. And the third-floor suite would be ideal for the owners’ living quarters — plenty of attractive space up there.
Finally it was time to walk across the road and a spacious lawn to the expansive shore frontage along the Batten Kill. On the way we marveled at the largest sycamore tree we’ve ever seen. It stands, reaching for the sky, just off the veranda, with its wicker furniture and, in one corner, a half-dozen fishing rods for guests. Now, to fly fishermen, as some of you may know, the Batten Kill is, as writer Geoffrey Norman once put it, “the river of their dreams and prayers.” In other words, it’s a fly fisherman’s holy grail, much written about over the years. It so happens, too, that Orvis, the famous fishing and hunting supplier, is headquartered just upriver from the Ira Allen House. During our visit to Orvis’s wonderful clothing and equipment store later that same day, we spotted an exquisite bamboo fly rod called “the Battenkill.”
Since we don’t have a Vermont fishing license, we didn’t fish the Batten Kill that day. Instead we simply sat on a bench next to a 12-foot-deep spring hole where, according to Maria, Ed has spotted some really large brown trout. We pictured the river flowing along from there, mile after mile, crossing the New York line to eventually empty into the Hudson a little way below Glens Falls. And we thought about Ethan Allen.
Why, we wondered, did he leave this beautiful property in 1787? We’re aware that he’d been severely criticized by local clergymen for his religious tract Reason: The Only Oracle of Man, written in this house. In it, he maintained a person’s destiny was up to him or her, not God. That was blasphemy in those days. So maybe he was plain sick of hearing the talk throughout the Sunderland area.
Ethan Allen eventually moved into a house on 1,400 acres along the Winooski (Onion) River in Burlington, where, in 1789, he died suddenly, remaining controversial and colorful to the very end. His last words? When a local minister whispered to him on his deathbed, “The angels are waiting for you, General Allen,” Ethan bellowed back, so loudly it made the minister jump: “Waiting for me, are they? Well, goddamn ’em, let ’em wait.”