This Place in History: Theodore Vail


At 'This Place in History', we're on the campus of Northern Vermont University-Lyndon with Executive Director of the Vermont Historical Society Steve Perkins.

"Today we're going to be talking about a titan of industry, founder of one of our major corporations here in the U.S. And he has great ties right here where we're standing in Lyndon. We are inside the Vail Museum and Michael Thurston with the Manor Vail Society is joining us so we can do a little more exploring here," introduced Perkins.

"T.N. Vail, Theodore Vail, was the first president of AT&T. He came to Vermont to see a friend, had the best night's sleep he ever had in his life and wanted a place. So in 1883, he bought a little farmhouse. If you look at the mural here behind us, over the years that he owned the little farmhouse, it became something else entirely," explained Thurston.

"It's often said that Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone and T.N. Vail invented the telephone business. He figured out the wiring. He knew it from the telegraph industry, which is where he came from.  There were some interesting problems, like how do you do New York City? If you put all those wires in the air, you're not going to be able to see the sky. So they did underground stuff in New York City and that was all T.N. Vail's work," said Thurston.

"Any big power meetings or conferences happen here in Vermont?" asked Perkins.

"Certainly some. William Howard Taft and a lot of his friends would come to visit. It was a good excuse to get out of the city and into the country. There are rumors to have been tremendous meetings here in the formation of AT&T, but nobody has really been able to prove that," answered Thurston.

"[These two large chairs] were commissioned by T.N. Vail so that he and his buddy William Howard Taft could sit in front of the fire in a comfortable chair. They were both very large men. They liked to have private conversations. So these hooded chairs helped keep their conversations confidential, kept them warm because the two chairs would trap heat from the fireplace. They would sit on what was known as the stone porch with a fireplace and converse," explained Thurston.

"The mansion was torn down in 1974 because it was structurally unsound. But then they broke five steel cord braided cables trying to pull it down."

"We are in the Vail Museum, third floor of the current Vail Building. The primary portion of the Vail Building, which is not this section, it's another section, actually mimics the footprint of the original Vail mansion," continued Thurston.

"Now I want to talk about Vail's contribution to this community in this state. What are the other fingerprints that T.N. Vail has?" asked Perkins.

"This is a big one. As a lot of the industrialist mansions were working farms and this was no exception. There was a huge farm here that employed a fair number of people. It was  a very community-oriented property. He had big parties, invite the community. They used to do a clam bake. So he was very generous with the community," concluded Thurston.

At 'This Place in History!

To view more from our 'This Place in History' series, click here.

To view a map of Vermont's roadside historic markers, click here.

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