1811: A Colonial House is Built
Midway through the Revolutionary War, a grant for the township of Rochester was awarded, and on July 30, 1781 a Charter of Incorporation was issued. Rochester was slow to develop because of its remote and mountainous territory, but in 1789, early settler Cephas Sheldon built a log house which became not only his home, but a tavern and for 229 years people have been welcomed to the home at what is today the corner of Route 100 and Park Row, across from the Rochester Park. Ephraim D. Briggs purchased the property in 1811, and around 1814 the log house was torn down and a new colonial-style home was built. From this home E. D. Briggs carried on an extensive trading business in addition to a store, an inn and a tavern.
Chester Pierce married Brigg’s daughter Caroline and became a partner in the business, and upon Brigg’s death, they inherited the property, building a new home on the site. Eventually their son Edward and his wife Julia became the owners of the property, modifying the architecture in Victorian fashion with gables and porches and beautiful gardens. Their home became the center of civic events for Rochester, and included a Ladies Aid Society and Community Club, both of which generated participation in music and the arts. Tragedy struck the Pierce home on the coldest of winter days in 1914. The house with its gables and porches was destroyed in a spectacular fire, but by 1916 had been rebuilt by Julia Pierce and her sister Ellen in nearly the exact Victorian style.
1930s: Parker's Inn
Following the deaths of Julia and Ellen, in the 1930s the Pierce home was purchased by Edson and Florence Parker who converted the building into a country inn. Mrs. Parker was renowned for her cooking, and Mr. Parker for his beautiful flower gardens and grounds. Known also for their hospitality as innkeepers, the Parkers for years entertained many visitors from throughout the country, including groups of deer hunters from down country who for years made an annual fall pilgrimage to Rochester for hunting and good times at the Beer Room or the Woodshed. Many of these same people were to become future Rochester homeowners. One of the several large barns attached to the house, and during the Parker tenure, was leased in the 1940s to the Rochester Volunteer Fire Department who remained at this site until a new fire station was built in 1964.
Following the Parker’s sale of the Inn in 1952, a succession of innkeepers and property developers owned the property until 1991, when Rochester Community Care Home, Inc. purchased the property which was yet again undergoing another renovation. The building evolved into a shared housing residence for older people – Park House. Gifford Health Clinic rented space at Park House until the late 1990s, and on their departure, that space was renovated into resident rooms.
1991: A need for Senior Housing is Answered
Park House evolved from an idea discussed at Rochester’s 1985 Town Meeting. Community members voiced their frustration when elderly friends and family members could no longer maintain their households and were forced to move away from town. The lack of alternative housing options was shared with the towns of Granville, Hancock, Pittsfield and Stockbridge. This need for elderly housing in the Valley was answered in 1991 when Rochester Community Care Home, Inc. purchased Park House and established congregate housing in the center of the Rochester community. 146 people have called Park House home since 1991.
In 2017, Park House completed a major renovation. Modernization was paid for by grants from Vermont Department of Housing and Community Development sponsored by the Town of Rochester, Vermont Housing & Conservation Board, Federal Home Loan Bank of Boston Affordable Housing Program sponsored by Lake Sunapee Bank, Vermont Downtown Tax Credit Investment by Northfield Savings Bank, Housing Ministries of New England, and Vermont Center for Independent Living.
The renovation is nearly indiscernible from the exterior. It includes such vital components as a sprinkler system, a kitchen hood suppression system, extensive air sealing and insulation, 58 new windows, repaired attic windows, and structural reinforcement of the entire building. Split unit heat pumps were added to each living unit along with an air exchange water heater to supplement the existing heating system. Most noticeable to residents, the upstairs floor plan was reconfigured to accommodate 5 new bathrooms and to enclose existing bathrooms within individual living units.
Throughout its 229 year history, the Park House building has seen multiple renovations and served many families. In its past, it’s been a private home, a trading post, a millinery shop, a tavern, was destroyed in a spectacular fire and was rebuilt, an inn, and now it serves a new community. Profound thanks to the foresight of a group of people who saw and responded to a specific need.
– Nancy Woolley