Middlebury Community House gains $200K boost in land sale

MIDDLEBURY — The 196-year-old Middlebury Community House — which is maintained on behalf of local residents by a longstanding trust — is entering a new era with a smaller property footprint, more financial stability and a plan to better showcase itself to Addison County — thanks in part to the ongoing Middlebury Fire Department project.
Built in 1816 beside the Congregational Church of Middlebury at the head of Main Street, the Middlebury Community House remains one of the best examples of post-colonial, Federal-style architecture left in town.
It was originally built as a residence for Horatio Seymour and his family. Seymour’s great-granddaughter, Jessica Stewart Swift, and her brother, Philip Battell Stewart, eventually inherited the property and gave it — and its furnishings — to “the people of Middlebury and surrounding area” back in 1938.
A board of directors, headed by Lynda Rheaume, has helped tend to the property and its maintenance needs. The board has done this through grants, revenues from renting the property for public and private functions, annual dues from a boosters group, and, primarily, through the interest of an endowment fund left by Swift.
That endowment fund had recently dipped below $400,000, a number that trustees wanted to beef up to ensure proper long-term care of the historic, high-profile building.
And beef that number up they did, with the $200,000 in proceeds from the sale of around a third of an acre of land and the Community House cottage to the town of Middlebury. The property was needed to allow for the renovation and expansion of the Middlebury Fire Department’s adjacent Seymour Street headquarters, now under way.
“The cottage was out of our hands at the end of April,” Rheaume said. “It was removed within four weeks.”
Money from the sale of the cottage and land sale has pushed the Community House endowment into the $500,000 range. Some of the endowment will come in handy this summer to pay for shutter replacement and fence maintenance.
And trustees are taking steps to better showcase the property. As recently reported, officials are training volunteers to give regular tours of the Community House.
“We want to open it up as more of an attraction,” Rheaume said.
The cottage will not be part of the tour: The structure was scrapped when officials determined it could not be salvaged and re-purposed for housing or other uses elsewhere.
Thirteen groups had been meeting regularly at the cottage, and have now secured other spaces in which to gather. Rheaume said trustees looked into serving those groups in the basement of the Community House, a space that was recently renovated and equipped with a restroom.
But officials determined that although the basement space could be used effectively for sporadic parties, meetings and training sessions, it was not well suited to host regular, frequent meetings. Such an arrangement would have required trustees to have a staff person on hand for security reasons in the house during such functions, an expense the organization can’t afford.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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