By Lois De Heer

The purchase of the General Wait House is one of the most important decisions agreed to by our town residents 25-plus years ago, when the vote passed to buy the home of our town’s founder, General Benjamin Wait. We are not speaking here of just any house or building but of our founder’s home that he built in 1793. Not many other towns can attest to having such a historic post and beam treasure, 228 years of age and still standing.

The one thing the town did not consider in 1995 was the need for an annual budget line for upkeep. The rents from the nonprofit organizations were expected to cover monthly expenses, but were not increased, as rents are, to keep up with the necessary cost of monthly expense.

For years there was an annual Public Rest Room Reserve fund, with plans to have one around Bridge Street when we had many more shops and restaurants there. When the Wait House provided public rest rooms, this fund was available to use a portion of it. This fund still exists. Perhaps a portion of that can go towards the Wait House operations.

This house is one piece of history our town can be proud of to show we care about historic preservation and obviously the state agrees since it gave a $200,000 grant to renovate it and to include a visitor center and public rest rooms. Although it was moved from its original site in the meadow across the road and a second floor added back in the early 1830s, our historical consultant member, Bob Burley, had seen to it that the main floor was to remain as original as possible.

The historical society fund raised and presented to the town (as guaranteed) $50,000 (close to one-third of the purchase price) to help pay for this treasure. It was always considered from the planning stage of renovation that the Waitsfield Historical Society would have a home at long last with a museum and office to store and display the archival collections of memorabilia of former Waitsfield residents. This includes Civil War letters sent back home from our soldiers away, photographs, clothing, doctor and dental tools of the 1800/1900s and much more.

All that was expected of the historical society was that we furnish the meeting room and kitchen with the needs in those rooms for the renters to make use of but keep it historical. This we did at the expense of several thousand dollars.

The carriage barn, the newer of the buildings, was a task the Waitsfield Historical Society worked hard at, starting in 2009, to turn into a three-season meeting place (no heat) and for local nonprofit organizations to present programs. This we did, with fund raising and donations, to the tune of $11,000.

The dairy barn was our next task, to turn it back into what it originally was, emulating a working family farm museum to show school children and visitors what life was like back in the day in Waitsfield. This was built around the time the house was moved to this site which makes it approximately 180 years old. Due to the condition of the building, it needed constructional work before we could take on that task. The town could possibly be eligible for a historic building grant but not a historic barn grant, as we have been told by a state preservationist. People have donated to our plan of the museum since they saw what was done to the carriage barn. We hope to not disappoint them.

The list goes on for what the historical society has accomplished at the Wait House at our expense rather than ask the town for financial help. When the local chamber of commerce moved to new quarters, we were asked by the town administrator if we would like to move from the second floor to this first floor space. We eagerly agreed and were given permission to do so by the select board in 2017. Since it needed a clean paint job, we took care of that, and a few other things, before we moved down and kept the historic colors.

We have a dedication to this historical home and are proud that others in our town feel this same dedication. Thank goodness for those who help to keep history alive. Next time you are in the Wait House, look at the framed commemorative poster hanging on the wall in the meeting room with all the names of the people who donated to help with the purchase of the General Benjamin Wait House.

De Heer is the president of the Waitsfield Historical Society.