STORY BY BENJAMIN LERNER
PHOTOGRAPHY COURTESY THE WILBURTON
After 75 years as a country inn, The Wilburton Inn has transformed into The Wilburton Destination Resort. Specializing in family reunions, destination weddings, and ski season vacation homes, the private 30-acre hilltop estate features an array of lodging options that range from suites to cottages, as well as additional vacation homes and two turn-of-the-century mansions. Visiting groups can now return to an age of grandeur and rent the 11-bedroom Wilburton mansion as their exclusive Vermont vacation home.
Tucked away on a scenic hilltop, the stately Wilburton estate overlooks a spectacular Vermont valley. Built in 1902, the mansion is surrounded by tall trees, modern sculptures, and six charming villas. Walking through the doors of The Wilburton mansion, well-appointed entertaining areas give way to luxurious bedrooms on the second and third stories. Each tastefully decorated suite in the mansion and villas tells the story of a different era of The Wilburton’s history. Some rooms pay tribute to the Gilded Age industrial barons that oversaw the mansion’s construction during the late 19th century and early 20th century. Others are named and decorated in honor of perennially returning guests, whose deep and lasting attachment to The Wilburton is manifested in many of the photographs that line the hallowed halls of The Wilburton Mansion.
For over thirty-three years, the Levis family has channeled their love, joy, and passion into welcoming guests to Vermont. Lauded in glowing reviews on travel sites for their attentive service, the Wilburton is a unique oasis of European hospitality in Southern Vermont. Their Canine Concierge, Jetson, is so well-known and beloved that he was featured on Animal Planet’s “Puppy Bowl” this year.
During the pandemic year, the Wilburton estate became a haven for many families who moved into the spacious vacation homes for the whole summer. As a result of their highly-successful “Zoom with a View” rental package, several groups ended up renting the 2-bedroom, 6-bedroom and 15-bedroom vacation homes for the entire ski season.
Family innkeeper Melissa explains: “The Wilburton is a livable canvas on which visiting groups can create the Vermont vacation of their dreams. It offers so much space and privacy that we can host many smaller family reunions simultaneously. The Wilburton is best for large groups of up to 100 people who want to vacation together to celebrate a birthday, wedding, reunion or retreat and enjoy the magnificent hilltop for themselves.”
“We want people to feel at home with family and friends when they come here,” says innkeeper Tajlei Levis. “We encourage them to be creative. We have hosted a week-long 50th birthday with a Live Action Role Play, a tea party, and a black-tie gala. We had a Halloween wedding with a headless horseman who galloped up to the bonfire at the stroke of midnight. The Wilburton is a vibrant place where guests can create a very personalized experience.”
True to that spirit, parties of anywhere from 6 to 100 people can now book The Wilburton’s mansions, villas, and cottages for private retreats and gatherings. The Marble Pavilion Tent can host catered events with up to 200 people. (For more on the Wilburton’s upcoming summer events, including their much-anticipated “Tuesdays in the Tent” summer cabaret series, see page 64.)
No matter how you choose to enjoy your time at The Wilburton, there’s never been a better time to come together and celebrate life at one of Vermont’s most beautiful and charming cultural landmarks!
The Wilburton Mansion
For the luxury Wilburton experience, look no further than the Wilburton Mansion itself. With 11 bedrooms, 13 bathrooms, and 12 beds, this spacious mansion comfortably sleeps up to 24 people and combines turn-of-the-century aesthetic sensibilities with modern amenities. On the first floor, a lavish living room salon provides an ideal setting for socializing, and the timeless Billiard Room features a handsome bar perfect for entertaining. A striking carved mahogany staircase leads to the glamorous guest rooms – each of which is designed in line with a corresponding aesthetic theme. According to Melissa Levis, the staircase is one of her favorite features of the Wilburton Mansion. “I spent some time living at the Wilburton Mansion when I moved from New York to Vermont. I felt like Eloise at the Plaza. I used to love walking down that grand staircase, sitting down in front of the fireplace with a good book, and just reveling in the ambiance. The Wilburton is a wonderful place to clear your head, escape the stresses of modern life, and rediscover your true self.”
Outside of the Wilburton Mansion, guests can savor the beauty of the surrounding region on the majestic marble overlook patio or from a comfortable Adirondack chair on the Grand Lawn. Guests can also swim in the refreshing outside pool, play a fun game of tennis or basketball, or enjoy restful moments of shady reflection on the outdoor veranda. On cool summer nights, the outdoor fire pit is the perfect spot for both romantic reconnection and quiet personal reflection. As you climb Melissa’s favorite staircase and make your way up to the second floor of the Wilburton Mansion, you will come across five welcoming suites. One notable highlight of the second-floor-suite collection is the “Wilburton Hall” suite, which pays homage to James Wilbur. Wilbur was a self-made entrepreneur who was born in Cleveland, Ohio. Wilbur purchased the Wilburton mansion in 1909 from its original owner and builder, Chicago railroad tycoon Albert Gilbert. Afterward, he quickly renamed it to suit his own vision. Over the course of the years that he spent in the Green Mountain State, Wilbur paid for the first paved road in the state of Vermont and also made a long-lasting mark on the state’s collegiate culture when he built the Ira Allen Chapel at the University of Vermont. The bay windows in this suite provide sweeping mountain views, and the warm décor creates a restful and restorative experience.
Down the hall, the “RKO Movie Suite” honors the era when RKO Pictures owned The Wilburton. In the 1970s, the famed motion-picture company purchased the estate to serve as the location for romantic getaways for celebrity couples, as well as retreats for high-profile studio executives. Today, the RKO Movie Suite boasts a velvet chaise lounge that is the color of a Hollywood red carpet, a maple king bed, and a warm gas fireplace.
On the third floor of the Wilburton Mansion, the distinctive “Norman Rockwell” suite features charming decorative accents that honor the famed American artist who resided in nearby Arlington for fourteen years. The Parisian gabled ambiance of the room is enhanced by a double-sized sleigh bed, as well as a marble sink in its private bathroom across the hall. Coincidentally, Norman Rockwell enlisted several people who have worked at the Wilburton estate over the years to serve as models for his pictures, including former housekeeper Lucille Holton, whose red haired and pigtailed likeness was eternally preserved in Rockwell’s classic “The Babysitter” picture that ran on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post in November 1947.
Strawberry Hill Villa
Just a three-minute walk from the main Wilburton Mansion, the 6.5-bedroom 7-bathroom Strawberry Hill Villa sleeps up to 20 people and features spacious guest rooms, a communal living room, and a large eat-in kitchen. The name “Strawberry Hill’’ pays homage to the earliest days of the Wilburton estate, when the 500-acre Gentleman’s farm was referred to as Strawberry Hill. The suites are gloriously decked-out with color-themed decorative touches, centered around the colors of the flowers that they are named after. Each room has its own deck, and the outdoor patio has an on-site barbecue with seating for twenty.
The Maxwell Suites
On a grassy knoll next to the Wilburton’s swimming pool, the Maxwell Suites overlook an enchanting sculpture garden. The four suites in this brick cottage each have private entrances and are decorated to honor the four cultures that inspired family patriarch and scholar Dr. Albert Levis. The Aztec-themed “Pyramid of the Sun” room has a carved jade relief sculpture on the wall and a Vermont marble bathtub/shower. The “Golden AppleGreek Suite” pays tribute to Levis’ childhood years in Athens, Greece. The accent pillows with Greek patterns sit atop an antique wooden day bed, where the walls are adorned with a gold-framed mirror and a romantic picture of the fabled Mediterranean island of Santorini. The “Nirvana Room” has a full kitchenette, and the “Garden of Eden Suite” has a jacuzzi.
The Reunion House
The aptly named Reunion House provides an ideal base for large families to come together and enjoy a fun Vermont vacation. This 8-bedroom, 5-bathroom home accommodates 18 guests, was recently redecorated, and is the most budget-friendly vacation house on the Wilburton campus. The house is situated in a quiet corner of the Wilburton grounds, next to the Museum of the Creative Process and the tennis courts. The huge lawn is perfect for outdoor recreation and relaxation. The open living room/dining room on the main floor features rustic décor accents such as an antique, grandfather clock and comfortable leather couches, as well as a piano and wood-burning fireplace. It’s an ideal location for convivial gatherings, family meals, and board game nights.
Equinox Views Villa
For breathtaking mountain vistas and spacious king bedrooms, look no further than the Equinox Views Villa. This 6-bedroom, 6-bathroom villa is available for rental as a deluxe vacation house, and its suites are also available for individual rental. Each suite in the Equinox Views Villa is dedicated to a member of the family of beloved Wilburton innkeeper Georgette Wasserstein Levis. The “Lola’s Pied A Terre” suite features a gas fireplace, private deck, and jacuzzi, and is dedicated to Georgette’s outspoken and charismatic mother, Lola. Inside, a four-poster wooden bed with a sky-blue bedspread sits behind a cerulean couch, creating a regal and posh ambiance. Those who yearn to experience the most baronial accommodation should book a stay at the Presidential Suite, dedicated to Georgette Levis’ brother, Bruce Wasserstein. Known affectionately by his financial cadre as “Bid ‘em up Bruce,” Bruce Wasserstein became a self-made billionaire and is widely recognized as a true legend of Wall Street. This 1000-square-foot suite is a complete apartment within itself. The suite boasts a full kitchen, a living room with leather couches, and a master bedroom with heirloom furniture and a king-size bed. Outside, a large private marble patio with chaise lounges and dining tables provides a perfect setting for unforgettable summer night social events and outdoor dining.
The Green Mountain House
With its open floor plan, high ceilings, and massive stone hearth fireplace, The Green Mountain House merges modern architectural design with classic rustic sensibilities. The house is a wonderful fit for medium to large size families looking to spend quality time together. With four full-size bedrooms, three bathrooms, and two children-sized bedrooms, the house sleeps eleven people comfortably. The house is airy and capacious, with retro-chic wooden walls and a combination kitchen/dining/living room area that leads out onto a wide deck.
For small families or couples looking for a romantic getaway in the Green Mountains, the Innkeeper’s cottage is a perfect fit! Featuring a brand-new galley kitchen with modern appliances and a wood-burning fireplace, this cozy two-bedroom, two-bathroom home is ideal for ski trips, spring and summer getaways, and autumn leaf-gazing weekends. Every season brings new dimensions of beauty and character to the sweeping panoramas outside, which are visible from the cottage’s new outdoor deck.
The Battenkill Valley Mansion
The Battenkill Valley Mansion was built as a wedding present for the daughter of the man who built The Wilburton. “How apropos,” says Melissa Levis, “since we host about 10 DIY weddings here each year!”
Situated on a completely private 5-acre estate just a half-mile from the Wilburton, this expansive mansion boasts 15 bedrooms and 13 bathrooms and sleeps up to 34 guests. Additional on-site features include a full-sized ping-pong table, four wood fireplaces, a gorgeous wood-paneled dining room, a large chef’s kitchen, and smartly decorated rooms with comfortable beds and color-coordinated décor. Outside, the property grounds feature a picturesque pond, a gazebo, and a pleasant picnic area. The mansion is marvelous for corporate and yoga retreats, family reunions, and DIY weddings.
Regardless of the season, the surrounding forest creates a tranquil and bucolic atmosphere for visiting guests, and the natural scenery offers those who rent the property a memorable and heavenly slice of Green Mountain magnificence.
A Family Affair
Although the walls of the Wilburton Mansion are adorned with many cherished snapshots and mementos, the picture that holds the most significance in the hearts of The Wilburton’s owners is a portrait of their late beloved matriarch: Georgette Wasserstein Levis. Georgette was the sister of Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Wendy Wasserstein, who penned the well-known play The Sisters Rosensweig. Georgette served as the inspiration for the play’s character, “Gorgeous”, a role for which Madeline Kahn won the Tony® Award for “Best Actress in a Play” in 1993.
In 1972, Georgette and her husband Dr. Albert Levis moved to Manchester, Vermont, and purchased property down the road from the Wilburton at the site of what is now Earth Sky Time Community Farm. At the time, Albert was working as a psychiatrist. Over the course of his career, he focused his efforts on The Formal Theory of Behavior, a groundbreaking treatise that analyzed the power dynamics of behavior by applying principles of physics toward the study of emotional energetic transformation. Today, his work is celebrated at the Wilburton at the on-site Museum of the Creative Process, where sculptural and written exhibits elucidate the subtleties of Albert’s complex and innovative theories regarding art and personal conflict resolution. For Albert’s 50th birthday dinner in 1987, the Levis family celebrated at the Wilburton’s restaurant, and upon learning that it was for sale, made a spontaneous decision to purchase the property and transform it into a unique destination resort.
Ever since that fateful day, the Levis family has served as the stewards of the Wilburton. Today, Albert and the four children, Melissa, Tajlei, Max, and Oliver work together to help run the inn, and each brings their own unique skills and experiences to the table. Melissa is a talented singer and songwriter who has performed as the frontwoman for an award-winning children’s music band named “Moey’s Music Party”. As the resident songstress, she wrote the Wilburton’s official welcoming theme song, a catchy number which many returning guests know word-for-word. Tajlei is a lawyer and playwright who has written and produced the sold-out murder mystery shows at the Wiburton each year. Max is a Dartmouth professor and Harvard Divinity School graduate who has been passionate about hospitality since he first began performing innkeeping duties at three years old. Oliver runs nearby Earth Sky Time Farm, where he works with a dedicated crew of family and friends. Together, they grow high-quality organic produce that is sold both at the farm and at local farmer’s markets throughout the warmer seasons. They also bake artisan quality naturally-leavened breads in their beautiful wood-fired Llopis oven. The breads and produce are also served at the Wilburton, where guests can enjoy a taste of local organic food in an unforgettable setting.