The end is near for the crumbling ruins of a historic Sudbury resort
It's too late to save Hyde Manor. For more than 150 years, the distinguished Sudbury establishment catered to tourists, first as a tavern, then as a seasonal summertime resort. But it closed for good in the 1970s, and today Hyde Manor's signature four-story hotel building looks more like a haunted house than an erstwhile
Portions of the roof have already caved; the lavish dining room has vanished in an undistinguished heap of rotted beams. The wide wooden porch has mostly disappeared, leaving the front of the building dangling above a slight rocky slope. The façade seems to slump forward, toward Route 30 below. It looks as if it won't be long before the whole thing comes tumbling down.
If you've ever driven between Middlebury and Hubbardton, you've surely spotted this strange Italianate structure and the cluster of smaller buildings surrounding it. Maybe you've slowed to get a better look. The spread certainly seems out of place among the farms and trailers and summer camps surrounding nearby Lake Hortonia.
But don't bother looking for a sign or a historical marker. There isn't one. The current owners - a family that ran the hotel for the last decade of its life - still live on the grounds and aren't eager to draw attention to the deteriorating relic. They can't afford to fix it up, and haven't gotten around to tearing it down. Yet.
So for now Hyde Manor - at once creepy and regal - begs the question: What happened here?
The answer begins to reveal itself in a basement - at the University of Vermont. Buried in the stacks of the library's subterranean Special Collections are two documents that trace the history of the Sudbury site - an award-winning undergraduate research paper and a 105-year-old promotional booklet for "Hyde Manor in the lake and mountain region of Vermont."
Steve Sgorbati was a student at Castleton State College when he wrote "Hyde Manor: the Early Years" in 1990. It won the Nuquist Award for Vermont historical research by an undergraduate in 1991. Today Sgorbati happens to be the Sudbury Town Clerk.
He says he chose his topic because he was curious about the building. "Once I tried to find out about it, nobody knew, or I got conflicting information," he recalls. Sgorbati tracked down town records and other historical accounts to piece together his timeline, which begins with Mill's Tavern, the first watering hole on the site, established in 1798.
The tavern sat along a stagecoach route, which is how Pitt Hyde happened upon it. Hyde owned a stage line that carted mail and passengers between Montréal and Albany. He bought the tavern and 47.5 surrounding acres in 1801.
In 1805, the stage road was improved, and transformed into the Hubbardton Turnpike. The improved portion ended at Hyde's Tavern, which proved a fortuitous location. Pitt Hyde's son James eventually took over the operation and began holding all-night Yankee balls. By mid-century, the establishment had become Hyde's Hotel.
"In a retrospective look back on Hyde's during the 1850s," Sgorbati writes, "the local newspaper claimed in 1870 that Hyde's Hotel was the 'favorite resort of this section of Vermont for parties of pleasure.'"
It wasn't popular just among locals. New railroad stations nearby and better water access via a canal at Whitehall, New York, made the site increasingly accessible to wealthy tourists in the mid-1800s. Hyde's proximity to clear mountain springs - one runs right through the center of the property - attracted city dwellers in search of a respite from the crowded, dirty urban centers of New York and Philadelphia.
In 1850, Hyde's reputation as a destination spot got a boost from historian Benson Lossing, who visited the hotel, and mentions it in The Field Guide to the American Revolution. He writes:
As usual, every delicacy of the season was upon the table. Indeed, "a table equaled to Hyde's" has become a proverbial expression of praise among tourists, for it is his justifiable boast that he spreads the choicest repasts that are given between Montréal and New Orleans. His beautifully embowered mansion is at the base of the Green Mountains, near the margin of a charming lake, on the borders of a rich valley, about twelve miles East of Lake Champlain, and a more delightful summer retreat cannot well be imagined.
When a fire destroyed the structure in 1862, the Hydes erected the hotel that still stands today. Sgorbati's assessment of the construction emphasizes its magnitude. "The place looks as though someone moved one of the Gold Rush hotels of San Francisco or Dawson, Alaska," he writes, "and dropped it among the Sudbury farms, expecting another boomtown in Rutland County."
In fact, the resort grew in popularity in the antebellum years. By the turn of the century, the owners, now led by James' son Arunah, or A.W., Hyde, had built additions to what became known as Hyde Manor. They expanded its capacity to 300 guests, or more than half the population of Sudbury.
They also added other buildings, such as the Casino, which housed a stage for live performances; and the Den, a small, circular building with a dramatically peaked roof, where the men could retire for a game of cards.
A long, narrow Amusement Hall was also apparently an attraction. The 1901 promotional booklet features photos of all of these amenities, as well as flowery text touting their charms. "The Amusement Hall, an important factor to the enjoyment of many of the guests, is equipped with Narragansett Standard Alleys, Brunswick Pool and Billiard Tables, all in perfect condition; [and] a barber shop and dark room," reads the copy.
Other photos from the booklet show guests in suits and dresses picnicking, riding horses and enjoying a game of golf at the Manor's nine-hole course. The text also refers to the Manor's nearby 700-acre farm, and its property on Lake Hortonia.
Because the journey to rural Vermont was still fairly arduous, visitors often stayed for a week, a month or more. Many families, some of whom traveled from as far as Los Angeles, remained for the entire season, from June until October. Sgorbati explains that repeat visitors got to know one another, and looked forward to seeing each other every summer.
So what changed? Neither the promotional booklet nor Sgorbati's paper offers any answers; there's no official documentation of Hyde Manor's touristic turns after the end of the 19th century.
In his paper, Sgorbati alludes to a sequel, but 16 years later it's still not available. Sgorbati confirms that he did, in fact, continue his research, though he hasn't published his findings. He says the Hydes sold the property in 1962. Another family bought the place and briefly tried running it as a year-round resort - a challenge, considering that the buildings aren't insulated. They installed a rope tow on the hill behind the hotel and bussed visiting skiers to Killington, but the winter biz was a bust, and they gave up in the 1970s.
To understand what went wrong, Sgorbati tracked down one of the Hydes and conducted interviews with former guests. "They said it was a different era," he says. "After the Second World War, things really changed."
The increasing ease of airplane and automobile travel broadened travelers' options, and made long stays in one place unnecessary. Once visitors started coming for shorter stays, the entire culture of the resort broke down. "The car really killed 'em," Sgorbati observes.
Holiday Inns, which began appearing in the 1950s, didn't help, either. "At that point, people didn't want old-fashioned stuff," Sgorbati says. "They wanted an elevator to carry them up to the floors."
The present owners, he says, could offer more insight. But they'd rather not. A family representative agreed to an interview and a tour of the property on the condition that their names be kept out of this story.
The woman explains that they're already overrun with curiosity seekers and trespassers, despite multiple "Keep Out" signs posted on the 400-acre property. Teenagers, hikers and vagrants sometimes camp out in the ramshackle old hotel. "I'm so afraid I'm going to go in there and find a body," she says.
The woman notes that the family has not abandoned the site. The family actually lived in the hotel until 12 years ago, at which point they moved into the former Amusement Hall. The bowling alley is still there, says the woman. They use it for storage.
The woman says the family tried twice to convince historic-preservation agencies to help repair the hotel, to no avail. So she and her relatives are trying to restore the small, circular Den building; they recently patched the roof and repaired the foundation; and they've planted flowers and shrubs around their residence and at the foot of the drive. They also continue to mow the old golf course across the street, which now looks like just another farm. But the wooden Casino building, slanting perilously to one side, is headed for the scrap heap. As is the old hotel.
Says the family spokeswoman, "Nothing lasts forever."