By Barbara Emery Moseley
NOTE: This series chronicles the generations of Vernon’s Hunt family, all related to Jonathan Hunt of “Governor Hunt Road” fame. If you’ve missed any installments in this series, you can catch up here!
While driving on Governor Hunt Road or passing the Governor Hunt House, many people do not realize the importance of the man and his family for which both are named. In terms of wealth, intellect, political importance, and fame, the Hunt family is on the level of the Rockefellers, Roosevelts, and Kennedys, of more recent history. The house, as well, reflects the Hunts’ status in society.
It was considered a “mansion” in its day. It was no doubt completed in time for Jonathan Hunt’s 1779 marriage to Levinah Swan of Boston. Her education as a pupil of John Adams was most unusual for its time. Possibly, it shows the influence of Adams’ wife, Abigail, who was an early feminist. (Jonathan Hunt was a widower. By his first marriage, he was father of Anna, who later married Dr. Perley Marsh of Hinsdale. Together, they formed the Brattleboro Retreat. She also established our Marsh Fund—reported annually in the Town Report—“for preaching to the heathen of Vernon.”)
Although the outside of the house is plain, its interior reflects Hunt’s wealth and prominence. At that time, the land offered giant white pines, so the rooms display panels of extraordinary width above the fireplaces, and in wainscoting and paneling throughout. The skill of the craftsmen, using entirely hand tools, is evident.
Since painted walls were a reflection of wealth in Hunt’s day, the walls would have been painted often with surprisingly bright colors. A later owner, in the 1950s, had all the paint removed. Natural wood is what one sees today.
In keeping with the time in which it was built, the main entrance was simple, entering into a small hallway from which a narrow staircase ascends. A large, unfinished attic opens above the second floor. A coffin could not be carried out the front entryway, so a special door for that purpose was cut into the south wall of the adjoining room. Owners in the 1800s added a small porch there, as well as a Greek Revival-style roofed addition to the front door. Neither was original and have been removed, but show in some old pictures.
Jonathan Hunt died in 1823. The house, barn, and many acres remained in the Hunt family until prior to the Civil War. It was then bought by Marshal Reed and his half-brother, Ed Heard. Ardent abolitionists, they ran an underground railway station in the Hunt House.