Calais and A. Kent’s Hotel
The history of a building is, by its very nature, quite often concurrent with the history of its locale. In relating the history of A. Kent’s Hotel, it is appropriate to sketch very briefly the beginnings of Calais.
In October, 1780, the township of Calais was granted to Col. Jacob Davis (first settler of Montpelier), Stephen Fay, and 68 others. The charter was granted in August, 1781, and a survey begun two years later, in 1783. The town was found to have 23,040 acres. The first settlers considered the land surface quite broken, but there was very little land in town not available for farm purposes! In 1787, Frances West started clearing his land, but permanent residents didn’t settle until the spring of 1789. The first permanent settlers on record were Abijah Wheelock and family, Moses Stone, Samuel Twiss and his bride, Col. Davis and Frances West and his wife. Freeman Wheelock was born in October 1789, the first child born in Calais.
In 1793, the first mills (corn mill and sawmill) were erected by Col. Davis and Samuel Twiss. From then until the mid 19th century the population grew and the mills multiplied and flourished. Such things as potash, wooden clocks, bells, axes and scythes, shoes, starch, harnesses, and cloth were manufactured in Calais. There were also a few distilleries but they were driven out of business in 12 years due to public opinion. (Too bad public opinion isn’t strong enough now to keep beer bottles off our roadsides!) In 1803, Joel Robinson built a saw-mill at Kent’s Corner which was the longest continually operated mill in the state and is still operable. March 23, 1795 marks the first regular town meeting which was held at Peter Wheelock’s.
1798 and 1803 are perhaps two of the more significant dates in the pre-history of A. Kent’s Motel. In 1798, Remember Kent arrived from Rehoboth, Massachusetts and settled in Calais. In 1803, a road was laid out and established by a state committee from Montpelier to the Canada line. Eventually this road went through Calais at Kent’s Corner.
Abdiel Kent was born in 1805, the fourth of eight children born to Remember and Rachel Bliss Kent. The house in which he was born was a small log cabin which used to stand diagonally across from the present Kent Museum, where the white clapboard house (built in 1810) now stands. The log cabin was moved down the road just below, where it now stands, enlarged and covered with yellow clapboards.
Abdiel Kent went through the Grammar School in Calais. He went to Boston around 1827, to learn to be a stone mason, and supported himself in the winters by teaching school. Upon completing his apprenticeship of about three years, Abdiel Kent returned to Calais and bought the property where the Museum now stands, and began manufacturing boots in a small building. This business was continued some 40 years, at times employing a dozen or so men, and for some 20 years harness making was connected with it. In 1832, he enlarged his shop and put in a small stock of staple dry goods and groceries. In 1854, a new shoe shop and store were built and the latter was stocked with a general assortment of goods. This business was continued by Abdiel and his brother Ira, under the name of I. & A. Kent.
About 1833, Abdiel Kent started to build what later became A. Kent’s Hotel. The reason for his building must have been that the coach road which ran from Canada through Newport, Hardwick, the Hardwick Gulf and Montpelier, went right through Kent’s Corner. There was a definite need for a hotel, and Abdiel Kent was canny enough to realize that the horses needed to be changed both before and after the 10-mile trip to Montpelier.
Abdiel Kent first built the wooden section between the brick part and the store for his own living quarters while the rest of the buildings were being constructed, and as he was still a bachelor, his needs were simple.
Structurally, the Kent Museum is interesting, because it demonstrates how independent this community and others like it really were. The building was made almost entirely of materials produced and fashioned within a very small distance from the building site. The brick was made in the family brick-yard down Kent Hill toward Gospel Hollow. The granite for the foundation, steps, and lintels came from Barre. Abdiel used to hitch up his span of Morgans and haul one piece of granite at a time…a round trip of 35 miles. The iron work was all done in the family blacksmith shop across and up the road. The nails were handmade. The finished wood came from the sawmill 300 yards to the north which, by that time, was also in the family. The moldings and detailed woodwork were made on the site. The windows and blinds undoubtedly came from the Sash and Blind factory in North Calais. About the only things that came from any distance were the wallpaper, which came from Boston, and the rum which he sold for six cents a pint.
The building was opened as a hotel in 1837. (It was always referred to as A. Kent’s Hotel, never a tavern or an inn.) He ran it alone until he married Fanny Curtiss in 1846. About the next year she persuaded him to give up the hotel business and attend to the other businesses that were taking up more of his time anyway. In addition, the stage route was soon to cease with the coming of the railroad to Montpelier. Abdiel and Fanny Curtiss Kent had four children; Ella, Murray A., Van R., and Laura, before Fanny’s death in 1854. Abdiel then married Lucy A. Bliss and they had three children; Howard, Herbert, and Josephine.
Ira Richardson and Leroy A., sons of Ira Kent, and Howard and Herbert, sons of Abdiel Kent got their business experience in the I. & A. Kent firm. Ira and Abdiel Kent finally turned their affairs over to the younger members of the family around 1880. At one time they were involved in running the general store and post office, boot and shoe factory, sawmill, brickyard, cheese factory, harness ship, blacksmith shop, creamery, and hay and feed store in Maple Corner, as well as dealing in hides and land.
At Herbert Kent’s death in 1916 the buildings were sold and the contents were auctioned. Through the years it changed hands several times. One summer day in 1928 the owners were discovered knocking off the chimneys, brick by precious brick. Mrs. Ira Rich Kent rushed up the hill from “The White House” and bought the bricks (cleaned) even before they were all taken down. Later, through the generosity of Atwater Kent (son of Prentise Kent and grandson of Remember Kent II) A. Kent’s Hotel came back into the Kent family in 1930. It was used as a guest house while it was slowly restored by Mrs. Kent and the family over the years. During the depression some college friends summered there and helped with the restoration by scrubbing, painting, papering, etc. Furniture of the period was obtained through gifts and at auctions, thus A. Kent’s’ Hotel became a museum even while it was being restored. In 1953 it was given to the Vermont Historical Society by Mrs. Kent and since then it has been operated by that entity. In 1968 a Federal grant from Title III of the Older Americans Act of 1965 was obtained which helped to finance longer hours and a larger, more informed staff in the Museum. A Country Craft Store with handmade articles produced by senior Vermonters was also initiated and made possible by the grant.
This history was compiled in part from: Hemenway’s History of Washington, County, 1882; and an informal address given by Hollister Kent at the Museum opening in July, 1953.
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