I met Lisa Wiley while getting my weekly COVID test, where on Tuesdays and Wednesdays she instructs students and staff on proper swabbing technique.
Friendly and open from the start, when I asked Wiley for an interview, she invited me without hesitation, to her house near Shaftsbury, VT.
With the promise of unique musical instruments, flower gardens and a sizable flock of chickens, a friend and I drove the fifteen minutes to her abode.
The property is the New England ideal, a flat space between fall-colored hills, with spectacular mountain views in one direction, a grove of evergreens at another border and a pond nearby. The house itself is of a Greek Revival style, and belongs perfectly in the bucolic landscape, painted in deep red and accented with dark green.
Wiley has only lived there for four years after her move from Portland, Oregon but she has already made the place distinctly her own by adding garden beds and a luxurious chicken coop and striving to connect with the house’s fascinating and extensive history.
“It’s not me, it’s the house,” she says most succinctly, and after the interview, I would argue that it is both of them; the place perfectly represents the person who is full of stories, welcoming, and generous. An ideal host, she filled our arms with plants and fresh eggs before we drove off, gave us celery from her garden, showed us all around the property with utmost enthusiasm and shared enough touching and humorous stories to fill our two-hour visit.
Originally built as a summer home in 1826, the interior represents all of the people that have inhabited it. Rough-hewn marble steps leading to the basement remain from the original construction, and a 1920 Greenwood cast iron stove sits in the kitchen, while the back room appears a chapel hall, with high vaulted ceilings and huge windows looking in three directions.
“What is the emblem in the middle?” I ask in regards to the stain-glass window that occupies the back frame. “M and R stands for Mario and Roberto,” replies Wiley, explaining that it was these two men who added the beautiful room for their inn called the Country Cousins. The house was a gay bed and breakfast in the 1970’s, and remains infamous among neighbors for wild parties and promiscuity.
Wiley herself came across the house almost by accident. She saw the For Sale sign on a drive and immediately knew it was perfect, remarking: “It was the feeling the house had, and still has.” It is a “people’s house,” and much like Wiley herself, it comes alive with company.
For that reason, it has been especially difficult for house and owner to lock down for COVID quarantining as they are both fueled by new and interesting people.
Wiley is not the first to feel connected to the energy of the place. Many people have come with familial connections, with one woman bursting into tears for no apparent reason while on an informal tour of the bedrooms. She revealed later that her ancestors had lived there and it was residual grief she felt from their time in the house.
Wiley has also found artifacts that allude to a rich past. Most recently, while working in the backyard, she uncovered a large pinky ring engraved with the name Irving Fineman, who, it turns out, was a Bennington College professor in the 1930s and has many connections to the area.
“It loves people, it begs for people,” she says of the place, and I cannot help but notice the similarity to her own welcoming and open spirit. “I would not have bought the house if I knew about the bears and the snapping turtles,” she remarked at one point with a laugh, yet it is in the unlikely acquisition that she has found her home and the house a new and exciting chapter.