David Sumner House

David Sumner House

Site: V10-5
Municipality: Hartland, VT
Location: Route 5, Hartland Three Corners
Site Type: House
Vt Survey No: 1409-20.01, within Hartland Three Corners Historic District (State)
UTMs: (Zone 18) E: 710150. N: 4823870

National Register Nomination Information:


The David Sumner House is a well-preserved example of a 2 story, brick, hip roofed, Federal style residence with a fanlight entrance and Palladian window. It is located at the center of the village of Hartland Three Corners in Hartland, Vermont. The house is situated on a low hill immediately to the south of and overlooking the center of the village, where there is a mix of historic commercial, public, and residential structures at the intersection of U.S. Route 5 and Vermont Route 12, the principal routes to Woodstock, Windsor, and White River Junction. The integrity of the landscaping elements of the original grandiose setting continue to evoke the aura of importance attributed to the estate as the primary residence of the town's most prosperous business entrepreneur of the early 19th century. Additions made to the principal structure during the latter part of the 20th century do not appreciably alter the historic integrity of the design, materials, or workmanship. The estate is undergoing a rehabilitation by the current owner.

The brick, Federal style, 2 story, 5x2 bay, hip-roofed main block of the Sumner House has an original 2 story, 2x3 bay, hip-roofed ell incorporated into the western portion of the plan, thus appearing as an I-house from the east side facade and a 5x4 bay structure from the west. The principal facade features a centrally located fanlight entrance with sidelights, above which is a Palladian window. Sash is generally 6/6 with simple cornice trim and originally were flanked by shutters. First floor front windows have non-original wooden window caps with rosettes and garlands in raised relief, which were added c.1950. They came from the demolished Conant House in Windsor that was designed by Asher Benjamin in 1801.

The house rests on a fieldstone foundation, which is faced with granite block. The structural brick walls are laid in Flemish bond that were painted c.1900, again c.1970, and sandblasted c.1980. The asphalt shingle, hip roof (once slate) has three exterior brick chimney stacks with rebuilt caps incorporated in the brick wall of each secondary facade. The molded eaves cornice is denticulated. A balustraded and panelled parapet was probably commissioned c.1940 in the Federal manner of Asher Benjamin. lt features panelled corner posts surmounted by urns. The panelled portions of the parapet have a fan motif in the corners, which enframe urns, rosettes, and garlands in raised relief.

The fan motif is repeated in the panels of the principal front entrance, which features a segmentally arched, leaded fanlight set in a shallow, brick, relieving arch. The fanlight, with delicately curved muntins featuring rosettes and beads, has a molded, wood, keystoned cornice and surmounts a 6-panel door flanked by 2/3 length side lights and panelled pilasters The pilasters are articulated with a cable motif in the panels, rosettes in the frieze, and a denticulated cornice. The sidelights have lead muntins with decorative rosettes at the joints in the design. Panels below the sidelights repeat the cable motif and corners are distinguished with fans, as in the parapet panels. The 6-panel door appears to be original, although identical fans in the corners of the panels, which are evident in photographs of c.1930, are no longer present.

The fanlight entrance is sheltered by a c.1974, flat-roofed entrance hood with a denticulated cornice and surmounted by a Palladian window with a semi-circular arched fanlight in the central portion. The window is set in a brick relieving arch partially obscured by the eaves cornice and is articulated in the same manner as the principal entrance directly below. The window is notable in having an urn set on top of each end of the cornice molding flanking the central arched portion. Four windows on the first floor main facade have the window caps with rosettes and garlands that were added c.1950 from the demolished Conant House in Windsor.

The west side facade has a secondary entrance with a semi-circular, arched fanlight having radiating muntins and a wood keystone surround, and set in a brick relieving arch. The modern inset door has 12 lights above two raised molded panels and a brass latch.

The east side facade has a c.1987 bulkhead. An original window on the second story was enlarged to a door c.1970 when a straight run open stairway (since removed) was added. A small, bowed, iron balcony added in 1987 now projects from the doorway.

The main exterior view of the Sumner House is of the principal north facade, where a c.1940 balustraded fence with corner pilasters (originally topped by urns) replicates the original and defines the landscaping elements of this impressive setting.

A 1-1/2 story, 5x2 bay, gable-roofed, brick rear ell in the Neo-Greek Revival style was designed c.1972 by architect Trumbull-Nelson of Hanover, New Hampshire. It is clearly distinguishable from the historic main block and replaces an earlier, probably original, wood ell and carriage barn in this location. The new ell does not appreciably alter the integrity of the historic structure as the public view of the Sumner House is of the original north front main block.

The ell has a granite-faced concrete block foundation and a wood shake roof with an interior brick chimney stack as well as one incorporated in the wall. Brick walls are structural and are laid in Flemish bond, as are those of the main block. Windows are trabeated, with granite sills and lintels and 12/12 sash. A complete wood eaves entablature features three fascia, a plain frieze, and a molded box cornice with gable returns.

The east side facade of the ell, articulated with brick pilasters that have granite caps, features a central portico with clustered Doric fluted columns sheltering the multilight entrance with fluted wood pilasters. It was finished in 1987. A Doric colonnade connects the portico to the main block and covers an 8-panel door with a bulls eye glass, multilight transom. The bowed central portion of the west facade of the rear ell is detailed in the same manner as the east facade, but without the portico. It is original to the 1970 structure. A l-story, porte-cochere (a Doric drivethrough portico) shelters the west side entrance to the main block as well as a portion of the new rear ell.

A c.1970, 1 story, brick, hip-roofed wing is located in the ell of the original house plan on the east side. It features a entrance with a new 8-panel door, flanking 2/3-length sidelights, semi-circular louvered fan, and a fluted surround with cornerblocks and patera.

The interior of the original main block retains the majority of its important, original, distinguishing features. A central stairhall with an elliptically curved stairway is flanked by two parlors. The original ell, incorporated into the plan, features a west side entrance room with an L-shaped stairway (not original) and a central rear parlor. The c.1970, 1 story addition in the ell of the east side is incorporated into the plan as an entrance hall. The second story has a central front stairhall flanked by two bed rooms, a central rear stairhall, and two flanking bathrooms and small bedroom.

The historic elliptical staircase (removed c.1960) was rebuilt in the original location in 1987 using the existing components, which were in storage. It rises in an open string, having fluted square balusters with a molded hand rail and a scroll newel post on the curtail. The slender, Doric newel post tapers at the top and bottom and features a delicate flower on the top where the handrail entwines around it. An identical, engaged column distinguishes the curved wall portion of the stairway, which is articulated with a panelled dado having slender vertical moldings set at equal intervals. The curving stringer of the stairway is articulated with a frieze band featuring flutes and fillets as well as cable motifs, with trapezoidal moldings articulating the ends of each riser above the frieze. The original staircase has a less open appearance, with a curved wall under the staircase joining it with a round arched, open entrance flanked by pilasters, which was situated under the highest rise of the stairs on the west portion of the stairhall. It featured a molded cornice with keystone and panelled pilasters with decorative capitals. This entrance was not in evidence for the present rehabilitation.

The center stairhall is distinguished by elaborate cornice moldings with a "drilled dentil" motif. Early wallpaper evident in c.1930 photographs display illusionistic drapery under the cornice molding. The interior surround of the principal entrance features beaded, panelled pilasters, frets in the frieze, bead and reel motifs in the cornice and panels with corner fans under the sidelights. The west wall formerly separating the stairhall from the west parlor has been removed.

The west parlor originally had a mantelpiece, since removed, in the projecting chimney breast. The room features a simply molded cornice and baseboard, molded trim around windows and doors, and panels below the windows.

The east parlor retains its original formal character with an elaborately carved cornice, panelling under windows, a molded baseboard, and an ornate mantelpiece. The cornice has drilled hole swags, a bead band, and a section with flutes and rillets. The fireplace in a projecting chimney breast has a rectangular, cast-iron surround with beaded trim incorporated into the wooden mantelpiece. The mantelpiece has fluted, Corinthian, semi-engaged columns supporting a large, elaborate entablature with a widely projecting cornice forming a mantelshelf. The fascia are detailed with incised garlands, beaded panels are raised in the frieze over the columns and central portion, and the cornice, also articulated over the columns and central panel, has a fret band and bead and reel band. The south wall of the parlor presently opens into the c.1970 entrance room.

Floors in this area of the first floor are non-original, narrow hard wood, probably laid over original floorboards. Door types are mixed, with original 6-panel doors interspersed with newer French doors and 4-panel doors. Latches are of the replacement Norfolk type.

The west side entry hall exhibits similar trim with a simple molded cornice, picture molding, baseboard, and panels below windows. An L-shaped staircase with landing rises in an open string and was added c.1970. The original back stairway appears to have been in the same location, however it was in a straight run and rose more steeply.

A modern bathroom has been added c.1986 under the elliptical staircase. The rear room presently at the center of the plan has a simple, newly constructed mantelpiece in the projecting chimney breast.

The second floor interior of the original main block has a central front stairhall flanked by two bedrooms. The stairhall retains the identical elaborate cornice molding as the stairhall on the first floor. It formerly featured wallpaper with illusionistic drapery under the cornice. The second floor retains its original wide board flooring.

The east bedroom is the more elaborate of the two flanking the stairhall. The decorative mantelpiece features panelled pilasters supporting a partial, denticulated entablature. The frieze is raised in the portion above the pilasters and the cornice widens to form the mantelshelf. Door and window trim is simply molded. Corner bookshelves with a denticulated cornice have been added as have a closet and doorway to a 1987 bathroom in the original ell portion of the plan. The west bedroom features a fireplace in a frieze and molded cornice mantelshelf. The dimensions of the original room appear to have been altered to add a closet.

The original rear ell, which probably contained two smaller bedrooms, presently has two bathrooms and a small bedroom, all of which were added in 1987.

The plan of the interior of the c.1970 rear ell is divided into thirds. That portion adjoining the original house has a kitchen and dining room on the first floor, with a bedroom on the second floor. The center portion is a great hall with large, multilight windows and a brick floor. The remaining third of the ell is a large library.


The David Sumner House, built c.1811 in Hartland, Vermont, is significant as a good example of the brick, hip-roofed, Federal style residence prevalent in this Connecticut River Valley area of Vermont at the beginning of the 19th century, and thus is eligible for the National Register under criterion C. The design of the house, including the fanlit principal entrance and Palladian window surmounted with urns, is clearly influenced by Asher Benjamin, who authored architectural guides for carpenter-builders and who opened a school in the adjoining town of Windsor from 1800-1802. The residence retains the majority of these notable design qualities; alterations accruing over the years are largely reversible. The house is also the only known surviving structure associated with important local businessman and entrepreneur, David Sumner, noted for his extensive lumber holdings in the Connecticut River Valley, wood finishing mills, and efforts to maintain a canal to allow river transportation of wood to lower New England markets. The building thus is also eligible for the National Register under state and local significance for criterion B. David Sumner occupied the building as his primary residence during his most prosperous years: from c.1811 until his death in 1867.

The architectural style of the house is an interpretation of that first practiced in the adjoining town of Windsor, Vermont.(1) The majority of Asher Benjamin's early work until his move to Boston in 1803 was in the Connecticut River Valley of New England. Receiving his early training as a builder, Benjamin executed several houses and ran a school in Windsor, where he worked with many journeymen and apprentices during his residence there from 1800-02.(2)

The existing portion of the interior staircase of the Sumner House and photographs of its complete original appearance reveal that it is clearly a Benjamin derived design, suggesting the probability that one of his apprentices designed the house. It is nearly identical to the elliptical staircase in the Col. Jesse Lul House of 1806 in Windsor (Vt. Survey #1423-7, #3 in Windsor Historic District, entered in the National Register 4/23/1975), although the design has been slightly condensed to fit a narrower entrance hall. The staircase also approximates that in the nearby Hartland House now owned by Ilse Bischoff, located on Vermont Route 12, indicating that Benjamin' 5 designs were widely promulgated in the area during this period at the turn of the 19th century.(3)

The brick construction of the house, together with the fanlight entrance with sidelights and the surmounting Palladian window, are good examples of designs seen locally in Hartland from the period c.1800-1820. Similar house examples include: the Bischoff House nearby in the village, the Harlow-Godine House on North Hartland Road (Vt. Survey #1409-16), and the Gilson-Mills House just one mile north on U.S. Route 5 (Vt. Survey #1409-19). In comparing the fanlight entrances, various millwork similarities with the Sumner House are evident. All of the panels below the entrance sidelights in the above examples employ a quarter fan motif in the corners. The fan motif was also present in the corners of the panels of the 6-panel door as seen in old photographs of the Sumner House, a characteristic seen as well in the door of the Harlow-Godine House. Another common design motif shared by these residences are rosettes in the capitals of the flanking entrance pilasters. The Sumner House compares with the Gilson-Mills House in the decorative circle-diamond muntin configurations of the entrance sidelights. The Sumner House entrance design differs from the others in that its fanlight is segmentally, rather than semielliptically arched. The configuration of the Palladian window approximates that of the Gilson Mills House in that it employs a semi-circular arched center fanlight portion with flanking flat-topped side lights, rather than a more ornate muntin design in the sidelights and fanlight. Especially noteworthy are the sections of two wooden urns perched above each outside pilaster of the flanking Palladian window sidelights. This feature is seen in some other houses in the town of Hartland and reflect a direct Asher Benjamln influence.

Deed and record research have not indicated an exact building date for the David Sumner House. David Sumner and his early business partner/brother, James Sumner, participated in a large number of business transactions in Hartland during the period from 1809-1850. However, some essential records that could probably verify the purchase date and/or construction date are presently missing. Hence, it cannot be definitely concluded that the house was actually built during Sumner's ownership, as the early recorded deeds, such as one of c.1815, refer to his acquisition of proper ties with houses already extant. In one reference of 1815, allusion is made to a "dwelling-house and adjacent lands with other buildings now occupied by David H. and James B."(4) The dwelling referred to may be the house in question, thus indicating a building date prior to 1815.

Born in Claremont, New Hampshire, in 1776 and trained in the mercantile trade in nearby White River Junction, Vermont, David Sumner apparently came to Hartland to join his brother, James Sumner, who had begun business and land transactions there in 1805. Arriving c.1810(5), David Sumner added to the development and prosperity of the area by connecting the Vermont/New Hampshire lumber industry with large markets to the south near large urban areas. His most significant contribution was in maintaining, enlarging, and collecting tolls from a canal and locking system around the "Waterqueechee" Falls on the Connecticut River as it flowed south by Hartland.(6) The "Aterqueechey" Canal, first built by previous owner, Perez Gallup, was important as one of three canals in Vermont, the others being located at Bellows Falls and White River Junction.(7) By providing a means to negotiate the falls, the river became an unobstructed waterway to the transportation of logs and lumber from the northern forests to such places as Springfield, Massachusetts, and Hartford and Middletown, Connecticut, where it was marketed from lumberyards. David Sumner owned extensive lands north of Hartland in Dalton, New Hampshire, owned and operated several sawmills in Hartland where lumber was processed, and maintained a store in Middletown, Connecticut.(8) Sumner thereby created a mini-monopoly in the lumber industry of the region.

David Sumner furthered the transportation of goods in the region by forming a company to bridge the Connecticut River between Hartland, Vermont, and Plainfield, New Hampshire. A bridge was built in 1821 and in 1841 at the same location, both being carried off in floods. Afterwards, Sumner maintained ferry transportation between the two towns at that point in order that Plainfield's raw materials could be processed at Hartland's manufacturing facilities. He was also responsible for the construction of several town roads in order to further the transportation of his lumber to their points of dispersal on the river. After the railroad went through c.1850 and as roads improved, river transportation declined in importance.

Sumner's large brick home on a small hill joined another of the same period, also on a hill (Bischoff House, Vermont Route 12), in overlooking what had come to be known by 1832 as "Sumner's Village." His prosperity was symbolized by the fine Federal style home/farm set in a village whose economy his entrepreneurship had virtually created. It was owned after his death in 1867 until 1932 successively by his wife, daughter, and two grandchildren. Despite various 20th century additions to the structure, the David Sumner House continues to evoke the prosperity of the formative era of Hartland Three Corners Village through its Asher Benjamin-inspired design, impressive setting, and association with David Sumner.

After the house passed out of the Sumner family, it was owned for many years by Marvin Hatch. Hatch was one of the leading antique dealers in Vermont, in business here and also for a time in Charlestown, New Hampshire, from the 1940s to the 1970s. It was during Hatch's ownership that the window caps from the 1801 Conant House in Windsor, the roofline balustrade, the rear ell, and the replica balustraded fence were added.

1. William Hosley to P. & E. Stark, letter, 10/28/1984.
2. Ibid.
3. Ibid.
4. Hartland Land Records, Book 7, p. 301.
5. Hartland Land Records and Papers of David Hubbard Sumner, although Child's Gazetteer refers to the date that Sumner came to Hartland as c.1805.
6. Hamilton Child, Gazetteer & Business Directory of Windsor County, Vermont, 1883-84, (Syracuse, N.Y.: The Journal Office, 1884): 146.
7. Howland F. Atwood, "Notes for a History of Hartland," Vermont Quarterly (vol. 16, no. 3, July 1948): 146.
8. Nancy Darling, "History and Anniversary of Hartland," Vermonter, (vol. 18, 1913): 250.


Beers, F. W. Atlas of Windsor County, Vermont, Rutland, Vt.: Chas. E. Tuttle Co., 1969, original 1869.

Child, Hamilton. Gazetteer & Business Directory of Windsor County, VT, 1883-84. Syracuse, N.Y.: The Journal Office, 1884.

Atwood, Howland F. "Notes for a History of Hartland." Vermont Quarterly. 16 (July 1948).

Darling, Nancy. "History and Anniversary of Hartland." Vermonter. 18 (1913).

Sumner, David Hubbard (1776-1867). Papers. Document Box 96, Vermont Historical Society.

Sumner and Steele Papers, Hartland Historical Society, Hartland, Vt.

Interviews: Frank Motschman, Hartland, Vt., 4/14/1987; Richard Neroni, 4/20/1987; Liz Ambrose, Hartland, Vt., 4/20/1987; William Hosley, Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, Ct., 4/21/1987; Dana Ennis, Hartland, Vt., 4/21/1987; John P. Dumville, Vt. Division for Historic Preservation, Montpelier, Vt., 4/21/1987.

Letter, William Hosley to P. & E. Stark, 10/28/1984.

FORM PREPARED BY: Deborah Noble, Preservation Consultant, P. O. Box 106, Concord, VT 05824. Tel: 802-695-2507. Date: May 1987.

DATE ENTERED: March 2, 1989.
(Source 127)