History of the Mansion:
Built in 1807 for entrepreneur David H. Sumner, The Sumner Mansion Inn was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988 and is recognized as one of the finest Federal Mansions in New England to survive from the early 19thcentury.
The mansion was designed and built by the renowned revolutionary-era architect Asher Benjamin, the father of the Federal Period. Asher Benjamin designed many stately homes, churches and government buildings in the revolutionary era mostly in New England.
Asher Benjamin (June 15, 1773 – July 26, 1845) was one of the most noted American architect and author whose work transitioned between Federal style architecture and the later Greek Revival. He is credited with designing many of the interior and exterior architectural elements of the federal style. It is said that Thomas Jefferson often referred to Benjamin’s drawings and writing when constructing and adding to his beloved estate Monticello. Both men were self taught in the field of architecture and building and admired the work of another renowned architect Italian Andrea Palladio.
Benjamin authored seven books on building design and influenced the look of cities and towns throughout New England and builders in many states also copied his plans in the Midwest and South during reconstruction after the civil war.
Asher Benjamin was commissioned to design and build the Sumner Mansion for Mr. David H. Sumner, a wealthy entrepreneur who made his fortune in logging. Hartland Vermont was at one time referred to as Sumner Village as David Sumner was the most renowned citizen at the time he built the mansion. The main house has fortunately retained its original floor plan and most architectural features from 1807. In the early 1970’s a rear wing featuring two large rooms was added and this too was constructed using the original architectural drawings by Asher Benjamin. Benjamin designed a grand formal hall envisioned for large gatherings that Sumner opted not to build in 1807. The plans were unearthed and the wing was constructed by the owner of the property in 1970.
This grand hall wing has a separate entrance off a rear circular drive. The entry room is a large and breathtaking brick floored solarium used as a dining room and the other is magnificent 2-story library and function room complete with an upper mezzanine and circular staircase. The library has built in shelving along the walls which house hundreds of volumes and many artistic objects and interesting historic pieces.
The Personalities that make the Mansion
The David H. Sumner Suite:
Named for the original owner & builder- David H. Sumner:
David Hubbard Sumner, born at Claremont, N.H., 7 December 1776. He was a noted businessman and State Representative. He married in 1805 Martha Brandon FOXCROFT “Mattie” of Brookfield, Mass., she died at Hartland, Vt., 27 March 1824. They lived first at Cupola Farm with his parents while he built a classic brick federal mansion in North Hartland, designed by Asher BENJAMIN. David married second on 25 April 1838, Wealthy THOMAS of Hartland. They lived at Hartland, where he was a State Representative 1814-15. He died 28 August 1867.
David Hubbard Sumner (1776-1867) of Hartland, Vt., was a merchant. He ran a general store and became a prominent citizen of Hartland, serving as captain of the militia (formed in 1812), representing Hartland in the State Legislature in 1813 and 1814, serving as justice of the peace, and as postmaster for almost twenty years. Sumner took great interest in the development of the town, building roads, bridging the Connecticut River, and establishing sawmills. He was very active in the promotion of the navigation of the Connecticut River, serving as president of a company organized to make Water Quechee Falls navigable by putting in locks and canals.
Born in Claremont, New Hampshire, in 1776 and trained in the mercantile trade in nearby White River Junction, Vermont, David Sumner apparently came to Hartland to join his brother, James Sumner, who had begun business and land transactions there in 1805. Arriving c.1810(5), David Sumner added to the development and prosperity of the area by connecting the Vermont/New Hampshire lumber industry with large markets to the south near large urban areas. His most significant contribution was in maintaining, enlarging, and collecting tolls from a canal and locking system around the “Waterqueechee” Falls on the Connecticut River as it flowed south by Hartland.(6) The “Aterqueechey” Canal, first built by previous owner, Perez Gallup, was important as one of three canals in Vermont, the others being located at Bellows Falls and White River Junction.(7) By providing a means to negotiate the falls, the river became an unobstructed waterway to the transportation of logs and lumber from the northern forests to such places as Springfield, Massachusetts, and Hartford and Middletown, Connecticut, where it was marketed from lumberyards. David Sumner owned extensive lands north of Hartland in Dalton, New Hampshire, owned and operated several sawmills in Hartland where lumber was processed, and maintained a store in Middletown, Connecticut.(8) Sumner thereby created a mini-monopoly in the lumber industry of the region.
David Sumner furthered the transportation of goods in the region by forming a company to bridge the Connecticut River between Hartland, Vermont, and Plainfield, New Hampshire. A bridge was built in 1821 and in 1841 at the same location, both being carried off in floods. Afterwards, Sumner maintained ferry transportation between the two towns at that point in order that Plainfield’s raw materials could be processed at Hartland’s manufacturing facilities. He was also responsible for the construction of several town roads in order to further the transportation of his lumber to their points of dispersal on the river. After the railroad went through c.1850 and as roads improved, river transportation declined in importance.
Sumner’s large brick home on a small hill joined another Federal Style Mansion of the same period, also on a hill (Bischoff House, Vermont Route 12), in overlooking what had come to be known by 1832 as “Sumner’s Village.” His prosperity was symbolized by the fine Federal style home set in a village whose economy his entrepreneurship had virtually created. It was owned after his death in 1867 until 1932 successively by his wife, daughter (and husband Benjamin Steele), and two grandchildren. Despite a 20th century addition to the structure, the David Sumner House continues to evoke the prosperity of the formative era of Hartland Three Corners Village through its Asher Benjamin-inspired design, impressive setting, and association with David Sumner. After David Sumner Died, the Mansion became the property of his daughter Martha and her husband Benjamin Hinman Steele.
The Justice and Martha (Sumner) Steele Suite:
Named for Judge Benjamin Steele and Martha (Sumner) Steele, the second owners of the mansion
Benjamin Steele inherited the property upon the death of David Sumner, father of his wife Martha (Sumner). Martha Steele is credited with preserving the mansion and an original coach used by David Sumner and loaned to the Marquis de LAFAYETTE on his visit to Vermont in 1825. She subsequently donated the coach to the Hartland Historical Society.
Benjamin Hinman Steele was born in Stanstead, Canada East, 6 Feb., 1837, son of Sandford and Mary (Hinman) Steele. Benjamin’s grandfather was Zadock Steele, the noted “Indian Captive” of Royalton, Vermont. Ben prepared for college at Derby Vermont Academy and also at the College de Saint Pierre and at Chambly, Quebec. He entered Norwich University in Norwich, Vermont in 1853 and remained there only one year. He entered the Sophomore class of Dartmouth College and subsequently graduated in 1857 as valedictorian of his class. Then Attorney Steele married 6 Feb., 1861, one Martha Foxcroft Sumner of Hartland, Vermont.
Mr. Steele was not an active politician in his early years, only having held the office of postmaster during President Lincoln’s administration, until he was appointed judge of the Vermont Supreme Court in November 1865 by Governor Dillingham. He was then only 28 years of age and was the youngest man ever appointed to the bench of Vermont. His court decisions are among the clearest and ablest in Vermont history. He held the position of Judge until 1870 when, much to the regret of all, he declined a re-election. Upon his retirement he moved his family back to Hartland, Vermont. In 1870 he was appointed a member of the State Board of Education where he was an influential member. He was also a delegate to the National Republican Convention at Philadelphia in 1872.
In March of 1872, Judge Steele went to New York City seeking medical treatment for a chronic stomach condition (bleeding ulsers). For some time everyone thought he was improving in health, but he grew steadily worse. In May he returned home to Hartland, and a few weeks later he started for Minnesota, hoping that the climate there might be more beneficial for him. He stopped at Fairbault and was improving, but he soon had several attacks of hemorrhage from which he was laid low. He died in Fairbault on Sunday, 13 July, 1873 (age 36 years). He left Martha his widow, a daughter Mary and a son David. Martha managed to maintain the Sumner Mansion for another 34 years when in 1907 it was sold and left family ownership.
The Lafayette Suite:
Named for one of the most famous guests who stayed at the mansion- Marquis de Lafayette:
Lafayette was a French general who became a commander in the American Revolution. He traveled the new country after the war and visited Vermont often. In fact he laid the corner stone for the first building at the University of Vermont in Burlington when construction started in 1811.
- Born Sept. 6, 1757, in France to a wealthy noble family
- Father was killed by British in Battle of Minden
- Joined Freemasons at age 17
- Joined the American Revolution at age 19
- Tactical skill and French alliances helped clinch victory at Yorktown
Born into an ancient family of French warriors, the Marquis de Lafayette inherited an inclination for gallant adventures along with a vast estate. When the time came to prove his mettle, it was not at the service of France, but the rebellious American colony improvising a new government an ocean away. Just 19 years old and speaking only a few words of English when he presented himself in Philadelphia in 1776, his inauspicious entry into American history belied the monumental effect of his passion, instinctive skill, and connections.
It is said that Lafayette became a friend of David Sumner when the latter was a Representative in Vermont. Lafayette was a visitor to the Sumner Mansion in 1825 when he toured the colonies for the fifty year anniversary of the American Revolution
From July 1824 to September 1825, the last surviving French General of the Revolutionary War, the Marquis de Lafayette, made a tour of the United States (Then just 24 States). At many stops on this tour he was received by the populace with a hero’s welcome, and many honors and monuments were presented to commemorate and memorialize the Marquis de Lafayette’s visit. An excerpt from his travel schedule describes his Vermont visit is considerable detail:
- June 27 — Lafayette arrived late (approximately 10PM) in Claremont NH.
- June 28 – In the early morning (8AM), Lafayette crossed into Vermont at the Cornish Bridge. He travelled north, and his party stopped at the home of David H. Sumner for the evening.
- June 29th He left Hartland and passed through Woodstock at 11AM took a stagecoach through the mountains to Barnard and Royalton. He passed through Randolph, VT, here he is said to have met a young Justin S Morrill and Senator Dudley Chase. He was escorted by Governor Cornelius P. Van Ness and others through Barre, Vermont to large festivities in Montpelier held in his honor that included speeches by supreme Court Judge Elijah Paine and others. He spent the night in Montpelier at The Pavilion, an historic and politically important structure.
The Asher Benjamin Library
Named for Asher Benjamin the designer, architect and builder of the Sumner Mansion
Asher Benjamin (June 15, 1773 – July 26, 1845) was one of the most noted American architect and author whose work transitioned between Federal style architecture and the later Greek Revival. He authored seven books on design deeply influencing the look of cities and towns throughout New England and the U.S. Builders also copied his plans in the Midwest and South during reconstruction.
Asher Benjamin was born in Hartland, Connecticut, shortly after which his father died. The first 30 years of his life would be spent in the Connecticut River Valley. He received his early training from a local builder, and showed an aptitude for architecture by carving Ionic capitals for the 1794 modifications to the Oliver Phelps House at Suffield, Connecticut. In 1795 he designed and built an amazing stone spiral staircase in the Old State House at Hartford, which had been designed by Charles Bulfinch. The latter’s use of overall symmetry, blind arches, fanlights and smooth brick greatly influenced Benjamin, who would help spread the urbane Federal style into the countryside. Gideon Granger would write of Benjamin that: “From a poor boy unaided by friends, by his indefatigable industry and talents in a few years he has raised himself to the first rank of his profession.”
Asher Benjamin as counsel to Thomas Jefferson on additions to Monticello.
Thomas Jefferson served as United States Minister to France from 1784 thru 1789. In Paris, Jefferson saw a new style of domestic architecture that was elegant and less academic in its classical form, he began to think about remodeling and enlarging his house from it modest eight to over twenty rooms. Demolition of the first Monticello began in 1797, was limited to its upper floors and northeast front.
This same year, Asher Benjamin published his first book on architecture called The Country Builder’s Assistant, which depicted many diagrams and instructions on the creation of interior and exterior architectural elements. Jefferson referred to this book as he enlarged Monticello. During this period the two self taught architects and builders took up written correspondence of mutual admiration that lasted until Jefferson died on July 4th, 1826.