This striking 1796 Federal style house in Vergennes, Vermont is the General Samuel Strong House. It is a favorite mystery to many passersby. Unoccupied for decades, this house is more neglected than abandoned, but every Christmas season there is a fresh wreath on the door and the community keeps an eye on the house year round.
And we are in luck. This house has been documented by the Historic American Building Survey (HABS) in 1936. Find photographs and floor plans here via the Library of Congress. Here is the house in better days:
What a beauty.
24 thoughts on “Abandoned Vermont: Vergennes House”
I see that Gen Strong lived here while he and “Mcdonough” were building the fleet to fight on Lake Champlain during the days of the Revolution. Hope that someone will do more research about who he was, etc. Are we to gather that he did not stay in the area?
Such a shame that nobody’s living in this house!
It’s so intriguing that a fresh wreath is put on the door each year – almost like some annonymous person attending to a grave.
You might as well have labeled the HABS photo “Better days.” With the such history and the fact that that house is off-the-hook awesome, its actually rather shocking to see it in this state. Tragic.
This is my dream house. I’m 100% serious. I’ve pictured this house for years but couldn’t figure out some details. This is exactly what I’ve always wanyed! Thank you! Though I’m so sad that the house has been allowed to fall apart like this. Its such a shame.
wow, stinging from the comment registering surprise that such awesome houses are found in Vermont.
Some years ago, a fellow undertook documenting historic buildings in many towns in Vermont. I recall seeing the one of Castleton, Vermont, my hometown. They were little books, white with black and white photos of the buildings of interest, and close-ups of the details unique to each building. Very interesting,
and not ‘shocking’ at all.
Very true. I recently attended a lecture given by Glenn Andres of Middlebury College, and he discussed just how many great architects and how many great buildings we have in Vermont. Fascinating. Vermont is a full of beautiful buildings.
State as in condition.
I wonder if this house is for sale?
Not to my knowledge, Barb.
This house just went on the market.
Mystery solved! I lived a few houses down from this one as a child and still drive by several times a week. It’s still a beautiful house and I can’t help but imagine that inside it must be full of all the things the family left behind. Now that I have the name of the house I’m investigating the true story. I’ve always heard something about a suicide but I also heard a story about a carousel being on the property some where 🙂
Amanda, I’d love to know what you discover – especially if there’s a carousel involved!
My first home was in Vergennes. I was an infant then (1975) but we lived down Main, closer to the dam. My dad and I actually got to talking recently about the Strong house. I didn’t know anything about it until a few days ago. Apparently my parents had a chance to purchase it around the time we lived there. I forgot the price, but it wasn’t exorbitant, but still outside their modest budget. I guess my Dad knew a guy that was taking care of the place for the owner, an older woman who was in a nursing home. I believe she was tied into the Webb family of Shelburne Farms lore. So my dad got a peek inside and said it was really cool back then. Great preservation. Heaps of period furniture and decor. But soon afterwards, some guy, maybe the present owner, purchased the place and took steps to have it rehabbed into a couple of apartments. Apparently the State refused to permit the project citing its historic significance. The owner grew resentful and let the place go to pot versus selling to anyone else. So the story goes. But clearly someone is neglecting the place and I’d wager that multiple offers have been made to no avail. Either way, it doesn’t look like much time is left. What an awful shame. I bet someone at Town Hall has a better scoop on the situation. Best of luck Vergennes! -Seth DePasqual, Isle Royale National Park
I grew up a few houses away from the Wagstaff/Stong house. As a child Mrs.. Wagstaff would invite us (my sister and I) inside for tea parties. I remember how large the rooms were and how elegant Mrs. Wagstaff was. Many of our friends were very scared of her, as were we. As we got to know her, we realized she was just a lonely widow that wanted someone to talk to. I now live in the house where I grew up, my wife and I frequently walk by this old house and comment about what a grand old house this was and could be again. Sad
What a nice story and what good memories, Rob. Thank you for sharing.
I was one of those kids scared of Mrs.Wagstaff
She chased us out of the woods between her place and the Jackson land with a shotgun..Still remember it as it was yesterday
Great story and you are absolutely correct. For many years the grandson of the woman you spoke about has had it and yes he has refused any offer made by historical preservation groups to let them purchase it and rehab it. Such a shame it is a very beautiful building.
Hi Seth, Was your Mom’s name Adrianne by any chance???
Indeed, Adrienne is my mother. How did you know her?
It was always called the Wagstaff House – but it’s not abandoned. It’s owned by a gentleman named Rusten Swenson from Orwell, I think. Anyway. he’s had countless offers to sell and he won’t. Here are a few pictures of the inside of the house——-
Hi Mar, thanks for the information and link to images. Do you know why the gentleman won’t sell? Does he have a plan for the house?
Hi, I currently live next door to this house. I have met the gentleman that owns it. The plans he has expressed to me, was that he would love to restore it and has put work into it. We have lived next door for 4 years now and very rarely see him there and when he is there it is for short periods of time…just to “check on things”, to clear overgrown brush or maybe put a wreath on the front door. I had asked him if he would be interested in ever selling the place and at the time his answer was no. I have heard rumors that it was part of the Underground Railroad and there was an underground tunnel from the house leading to Otter Creek Basin, below the falls. Pretty cool!. I would love to know if there is any truth to it. I’ve also heard that much of the inside and foundation has collapsed that costs to fix or restore it would be astronomical. So very sad indeed.
Usually there is a fresh Christmas wreath on the door each December. In 2015 I drove by the Saturday on the weekend just before Christmas and looked for it. It was not there in the morning and then appeared that afternoon on the drive back home. This past Christmas, we drove up on Sunday the 18th and no wreath at all.
This gentleman, with good intentions? Perhaps.
I have more than 50 years’ experience in Historic Preservation, and in my opinion, this house is very fragile, and almost certainly on its way out, and FAST. These photographs are a grim reminder to me how very far this house has deteriorated since I last saw it. I never dreamed such a valuable home would be allowed to deteriorate this far. It’s as though the owner likes burning money to let a valuable property like this rot.
Sorry, I’m long-winded; this is long, but it’s of vital importance. Here goes…
First, a note about HABS. This is a photographic, drawn and written record of America’s most important structures and sites. The ‘very most important’, ‘the last surviving’, ‘the best example of the few surviving’… You get the picture – sorry if I insulted your intelligence, but it’s vital to understand: this house was recorded because nearly a century ago, it was judged to be of National Importance. At a time when there were literally tens of thousands more historic buildings than there are now, it stood out as remarkable.
It was not in great condition when recorded by the HABS team. It looks fine in the photographs. However, look at the one interior photograph. The chimney brickwork had slipped sideways – notice how the brick lintel for the firebox has sagged to the right. That indicates significant failure for the foundation of the chimney mass, a brick mass that supports much of the timber structure. This means that at that time, the center of gravity for the chimney had shifted, making it very vulnerable to any roof leaks, water puddling around the foundation, or any other source of water infiltration. Failing chimneys, or in fact any foundation shift, common in neglected and abandoned buildings, will pull a roof open and allow water entry.
There are no exterior air vents, so a damp interior – and I’m willing to bet a very great deal that this home’s interior is very damp, becomes a terrarium, with fungus and mold ripping through both structural and decorative woodwork.
The remarkable original ornamental exterior woodwork is deteriorating fast.
Notice, in any one of these wonderful photographs, how many of the lowest siding boards are flaking paint. Perhaps an indication of sill rot.
Notice how the rear elevation in the fifth photograph has lost virtually all of the paint, and there are makeshift siding and security repairs to failed door and window openings. The simple loss of a porch would not cause all this damage, there was already serious damage that caused the porch to collapse. More water infiltration to rot the interior.
If the owner really cared, the boards across the raw openings would have provided security to prevent vandalism and theft. The theft of important interior ornaments, like antique millwork, antique doors, door hinges and locks, staircase railings and mantelpieces is now big business. There are actually thieves that travel from state to state.
In my experience recovering stolen architectural components, most of the antique architectural ornaments for sale today have been stolen. Period. No arguments allowed.
If you need a prospective new owner to spend a significant amount of money to save a deteriorated historic building, it’s got to have sex appeal, meaning lots of fascinating original details. If they’ve been stolen, it’s hard to get someone to care when there are so many other historic buildings out there that need to be saved.
Worse, vacant buildings are in constant danger of arsonists. Again, I will book no argument. Even in lovely small towns with lots of concerned neighbors, important historic buildings burn every year.
Because of the home’s present condition, any buyer who does acquire it may be tempted to replace much of the surviving restorable material, original windows and siding, to add insulation and make the house ‘heat efficient.’ The danger is that so many new owners say they’ll ‘make it better than it was when it was new!’
So, with all this, my prognosis is grim. This home has just a short time before it’s too far gone to attract a buyer.