Just Her Cup of Tea

Boden has created her perfect life in Hyde Park

by Heleigh Bostwick

gover_houIn 2001, Connecticut resident Suzanne Boden was seeking “a Georgian-style house with a proper front door.” After ignoring three messages from a friend about a “Victorian Colonial” for sale in Hyde Park, Vt., she asked for a photo, and a match was made. Nine months and extensive renovations later, she opened The Governor’s House.

Plenty of people dream about moving to Vermont and opening a bed and breakfast, but Suzanne Boden, innkeeper at The Governor’s House in Hyde Park, wasn’t necessarily one of them.

Before moving to Vermont, Boden was living in Haddam, Conn., across the river from where she had grown up in Middle Haddam. The energetic, divorced mother of three sons had designed and built the energy-efficient, geo-thermal-envelope home they lived in, and was running a business called By Invitation Only — one she originally thought would be like a dating service, but that turned out to be a singles activity group instead.

In 2001, with her youngest about to head to prep school, Boden decided it was time to find a new project.

“I was looking for a house to turn into a B&B, but it wasn’t something I had always wanted to do,” she recalls. “It was more that I was looking for a house — a specific type of house: a Georgian-style house with a proper front door.”

She first heard about the house that would eventually become her new home and business from a friend of a friend of a friend who contacted her about a “Victorian Colonial” that was for sale in Vermont. Boden laughs and says that, of course, there is “no such thing,” so she ignored the messages. Three times. Finally she asked the real estate agent to send a picture, but it was so blurry she could barely discern the features.

Nonetheless, she discovered that the facade of this “Victorian Colonial” was a copy of the Vassall-Craigie-Longfellow House, a 1759 Georgian Colonial in Cambridge, Mass., that had once been George Washington’s headquarters and, later, home to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. It was built in 1893 by a former governor of Vermont named Carroll Page

It turned out that the house, which sits on an entire block in the middle of town, truly was what Boden was looking for and she bought it in February 2001. “The house was beautiful, but it was a real mess,” she says. “It had been vacant for most of the seven previous decades. There was no kitchen, no laundry, no driveways, no garage — and the foundation and roof were both in really bad shape.”

She spent the next nine months renovating the house, traveling back and forth to Connecticut until her youngest finished up the school year. “I camped out in one of the small rooms — the only one with a lock and electricity,” Boden recalls. “There was a sink and toilet, but no shower, and I had a toaster oven, microwave, and a cooler. I shoveled snow to keep the food in the cooler cold.”

By October, The Governor’s House opened its doors for business. The inn has eight guest rooms. One is handicapped accessible and two of the smaller rooms are perfect for single travelers. Children are welcome — a conscious decision on Boden’s part that resulted from her travel experiences with her own children.

Most of the building’s interior is late period Victorian except for one room, the parlor, which is Georgian. Other notable features include a drinking fountain original to the house, a vestibule lined with red marble from a nearby quarry, a large front hall with an oversized fireplace, and the laundry. Boden lives in an apartment over the garage that she built during the renovation.

The kitchen is modeled after the one in Boden’s Connecticut house and is modern and efficient while incorporating the original woodstove used for cooking. “It has lots of modern things in it,” says Boden, “but half of it looks like it’s from 1900. I found the woodstove in pieces and managed to put it back together, but the flue was gone and so was the hearthstone. I bought a new flue, and a new hearthstone that was so heavy it took 12 men to install it.”

As a self-proclaimed “champion recycler” who saves and recycles everything from corks to box tops, Boden uses cloth napkins and real linens, hanging them out to dry on the clotheslines in “the laundry” at the back of the house. She also encourages her guests to recycle and refill water bottles.

But, she says, not everything is as energy-saving as she would like it to be. Heating, for example. “My previous house was incredibly energy-efficient,” she says. “One of the frustrations I have in running the inn is that I have to heat the whole house because of the sprinkler system.”

Another unanticipated downside of running a B&B is that, as a single innkeeper, Boden spends nearly all of her time at the inn. “There aren’t too many people doing it alone, and just having that second pair of eyes, ears, and hands makes a big difference,” she says. “If I need to go to the recycling center, I leave a note on the door. In October, I never leave the house!”

October is foliage season, by far the busiest time for Vermont’s innkeepers, she says, followed by summer, and then winter. She closes the inn during April and May, and usually takes a little time off in November.

Boden wryly observes that innkeepers will never make a lot of money. Of course that’s not why she went into business, she says. “I wasn’t just looking to make money. I had dual purposes. I wanted to do something I could feel good about.”

To that end, Boden does more than just rent rooms to guests. The Governor’s House is also a popular wedding venue, and six years ago Boden stumbled on the idea of elopement weekends. “The town clerk called one day in August to see if he could drop off a marriage license for a forthcoming wedding at the inn,” says Boden. “I had a light bulb moment and figured an elopement here was as convenient and easy to do as one in Las Vegas.”

Boden makes it easy for couples to be married at the inn by taking care of the Vermont marriage license, making sure there’s a justice of the peace on hand to officiate, and lining up local photographer Orah Moore. Moore has been shooting photos for the inn’s wedding parties since it opened.

“I do a lot of photography for Suzanne, and she is the most amazing, hardworking, and dedicated person,” says Moore, who also owns Haymarket Card and Gift in Morrisville. “She has single-handedly brought the inn back to the beauty it is now, and she’s done it all herself. I admire her for having the vision to restore it to its original splendor.”

In 2003 Boden received an award from the Preservation Trust of Vermont for her restoration efforts.

Five or more weekends a year she has a Jane Austen literary weekend, for which people travel from all over the United States and Canada to attend. The inspiration for this popular weekend event came to Boden one day as she was in the back yard listening to Mozart and hanging out the linens. “I thought to myself, ‘This is a period house and Jane Austen is of the period,’” she says. “I went online to research if anyone else was doing this kind of thing, and no one was.”

As part of her Jane Austen weekends, Boden presents lectures on the customs and etiquette of that era, some of which she does herself. She’s compiling her research into a book, she says, “that will be something that the novice will read and then understand Jane a bit better.”

On Thursdays and Sundays, by reservation, Boden serves afternoon tea in the library. “I serve a very traditional tea using a silver server with three-tiered plates,” she says. “The bottom tier is four kinds of sandwiches; the middle tier is filled with scones, strawberry jam, and clotted cream; and the top tier contains tiny sweets.”

Afternoon tea is one of Boden’s passions. She’s even written a book on the etiquette of tea, Practical Tips for a Proper Tea, and is waiting for the illustrations to be completed. “I go to tea everywhere,” she says. “The only fabulous tea room I haven’t been to is in Vancouver.”

Boden has traveled all over the world and still does so, preferring places where she can walk the countryside. “This year, I walked from a small town in England near Rochester to Dover on Pilgrim’s Way,” she says. “I also walked in Madeira and France, and then I went to London to enjoy — what else — afternoon tea!”

She likes to collect miniatures as well. “I have a copy of my house in Connecticut that I keep inside a cabinet,” she says. Most of her miniatures are arranged as vignettes. One of her favorites is a Jane Austen period room, which she sometimes shows guests during the Jane Austen weekend. “I adored my grandmother’s miniature cabinet, and I’ve been collecting since I was 5 years old. I’m still collecting.”

Now 65. Boden says that her plan in old age is to slow down, perhaps do some etiquette consulting, and finally write that Jane Austen book. “I can do those things and still run the inn, maybe with fewer guests,” she muses. But whether — and when — that happens is anyone’s guess.

“I have a wonderful guest book—it’s Smythson of London. The standing joke around here is that when the guest book is full, I have to retire. But,” she says with a laugh, “that might be just a joke.” •