ALSTEAD — A portion of the former estate of hotelier Charles N. Vilas, Alstead native and benefactor, sold last month to Saving Souls Sanctuary, LLC.
A venture of Karen L. Schwabe, Saving Souls Sanctuary was registered Feb. 28 with the N.H. Department of State as a hospitality business.
Reached by email Saturday, Schwabe thanked The Sentinel for the message but did not respond to questions about Saving Souls Sanctuary or plans for the property. She did not respond to follow-up email and telephone messages on Sunday.
Real estate broker Cindy Westover, owner of Galloway Real Estate in Walpole, the agency that carried the property listing, declined to provide further information about the sale when contacted Saturday, citing privacy concerns.
The late Gilded Age brick mansion and its 62-acre site with mountain views sold for $855,000 on March 2, according to the New England Real Estate Network, after being on the market for about seven months. The property was previously owned by the Laurel T. Sherburne Trust, NEREN records show.
The interior of the 14-room Georgian-style brick home, generously outfitted with marble in the style of the mansions in Newport, R.I., contains 6,700 square feet of living space including seven bedrooms, seven bathrooms and two partial bathrooms, according to the real estate listing of the property. The 62 acres of open and wooded land along the Cold River includes several outbuildings, among them a garage with 10 spaces, a barn, a stable and a three-bedroom caretaker’s home. The property also includes an in-ground swimming pool.
The listing said the property could be purchased with another house — a Victorian — on the estate, along with additional acreage, for $1.75 million. Westover confirmed that only part of the property had been sold in the March transaction.
There is some dispute as to when Vilas built the brick mansion — some say 1900, others 1909. Vilas purchased land for the estate in 1896, according to documents on file with the Cheshire County Registry of Deeds. He previously maintained a summer home on River Street, according to The Alstead Chronicles, a Facebook page maintained by Syrene Walker Porter, trustee of the Alstead Historical Society.
When contacted Saturday for this article, Porter called Vilas “an interesting man,” adding, “Alstead was so fortunate to have had him here” — a sentiment echoed by others on the Facebook page.
His legacy looms large in this small town of roughly 2,000 residents.
Vilas was born in Alstead on Nov. 12, 1852. After completing a public school education, he began his career in hotels at Bay State House in Worcester, Mass. In 1872, he went to New York City to work for his uncle, Hiram Hitchcock, one of three owners of the Fifth Avenue Hotel. Vilas started as a clerk at the luxury hotel and worked his way up the ranks, eventually purchasing half interest in the property along with a nephew of his uncle’s business partner, according to The Alstead Chronicles. Vilas and his business partner operated the hotel until 1908, when it was razed to be replaced by an office building later known as the Toy Center.
Vilas’ uncle grew up in the Walpole village of Drewsville. In retirement, Hitchcock lived in a mansion on Tuck Drive in Hanover, according to Dartmouth College archives. Upon the death of his wife, Mary, in 1887, he established the Mary Hitchcock Memorial Hospital in Lebanon.
Vilas, too, was a generous philanthropist, donating funds for various projects in Alstead and the surrounding area, including Vilas High School and a bridge between Walpole and Bellows Falls, Vt.
On his then 300-acre estate, he created Vilas Pool, a free recreation park opened to the public in 1926. The park included swan boats, a dancing pavilion, picnic areas, playground equipment and a stone tower with a carillon of 12 bells, according to The Alstead Chronicles. Vilas Pool became town property upon Vilas’ death in 1931.
Vilas was married twice. His first wife, Elizabeth Harrington, died in 1889 after 10 years of marriage, leaving three children, all of whom died before Vilas. In 1918, Vilas married Jessie Ford of Pasadena, Calif. After his death, Jessie sold the estate and returned to California, where she died in 1959.