This Place in History: Shard Villa

Local News

SALISBURY, Vt.

At ‘This Place in History’, we’re in Salisbury with Executive Director of the Vermont Historical Society Steve Perkins.

Shard Villa is an amazing mansion from the late 19th Century, and we’re going to go get a chance to check it out, said Perkins.

This is called Shard Villa and it was built by Columbus Smith of Salisbury, Vermont. Columbus Smith was a fairly notable lawyer and local well-to-do individual in this town and in Addison county. He was born in 1819 and went to Middlebury College, graduating in 1842. Early on in his career, he came into the company of an individual names James Cook from Ripton, who had a case where he thought he was the last person to be able to inherit an estate over in England, explained Davis Brakeley, who sits on the Shard Villa Board of Trustees.

So we were at the early 19th Century at this point, and there were still a number of Americans who had estates or people they were related to in England who were passing away. So Columbus made this a specialty of his? asked Perkins

Right. This first case was quite involved and took him fourteen years to actually solve it and bring it to fruition. Because of that, he became quite adept at navigating the English court system and it became his specialty to go recover these estates and deal in inheritance law. This was built between 1872 and 1874 and it was named after this first large case which was the Mary Rutherford Francis Shard case, it’s a mouthful, for the Cook family in Ripton, explained Brakeley.

He went on a European tour in 1884 with his wife and daughter. He sent back and brought back a great deal of artwork and sculptures that he had seen. And in all of his travels, he became quite interested in the decorating style of the European estates. One of those at that time was to do an awful lot of fresco work on the insides of buildings. While he was over there, he decided to enlist the services of a man named Silvio Pezzoli who was a young artist. He made a deal for him to come to the U.S., and to spend a year here from 1886 to 1887 and do his work on Shard Villa and create all these murals you see all over the building top and bottom,” said Brakeley.

“Columbus had a son and daughter and unfortunately they both predeceased him. After that, it was devastating of course to the Smiths, Columbus had the mausoleum that’s off on the north ridge built for that purpose. So because both of their children had predeceased him, and they didn’t have any immediate family members that they were inclined to give this vast estate to, that they felt were deserving of it, they were somewhat at a point where they weren’t sure what to do.”

“There were actually some concerned people from Middlebury who sent them a letter that suggested maybe they would be interested in leaving this in memorial to the daughter for the care and upkeep of elderly women of Addison county. That’s basically what they did. At her death, it went through a fairly contentious probate battle because of these other family members that were appalled that they didn’t have any claim to this at all.”

“Eventually it was settled, a trust was set up and it continues to this day. It’s been in continuous use for the care of elderly women and men of Addison county since then. And it is pretty much just the way it was when they passed away. It is as you see it now,” concluded Brakeley.

At ‘This Place in History’!

For more from our ‘This Place in History’ series, click here.

To view a map of Vermont’s roadside historical markers, click here.

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