For Jane and Terry Shaw, saving a historic building isn’t just about revitalizing a once-proud landmark, home or business. It’s about saving a piece of the soul of Jeffersonville, the Shaws’ home for three decades.
The Shaws have saved whole chunks of that soul so it can be experienced by younger generations and by the thousands who visit the ski village every year.
The Shaws are directly responsible for saving six historic structures in Jeffersonville — three homes, a former general store and two carriage houses. Their efforts have inspired others to do the same, helping Jeffersonville to keep its small New England feel.
Most recently, the Shaws brought life back to a former general store at 143 Main St. The building had fallen into serious disrepair in recent years. Now it’s home to a store, Two Sisters Mercantile, on the ground floor and a four-bedroom apartment on the upper stories — saved by a couple who hate to see any historic building go by the wayside.
Jane said she followed, with a heavy heart, the saga surrounding the demolition of the historic St. Teresa’s Catholic Church in Hyde Park.
“I just wanted to go up there and buy it and fix it,” she said. That feeling fuels the Shaws’ continued work to rehabilitate historic buildings in the village they love.
“We’ve had a good life here,” Terry said.
Jane draws inspiration from “A Splendid Torch,” a piece written by George Bernard Shaw, an Irish playwright and political activist:
“I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community, and as long as I live it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can.
“I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no ‘brief candle’ for me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.”
Destined to be together
Jane grew up on the Mountain Road in Jeffersonville. After high school, she attended Colby College at the insistence of her school superintendent, who drove her to the Maine campus to ensure she got there. After college, she taught outside Boston in the 1960s, then traveled the globe. After contracting malaria in Sri Lanka, she came home to Jeffersonville in 1980. She dove head-first back into her hometown.
She also reconnected with Terry, whom she’d dated while both attended Colby. She turned down Terry’s marriage proposal in 1965 — “I needed to finish school,” Jane said — and Terry went into the military, serving in Vietnam as a helicopter pilot and attaining the rank of captain.
“I didn’t see him again for 25 years,” Jane said.
Terry married someone else and had three sons, but was recently divorced in February 1990 when he visited a college friend in Jeffersonville to do some skiing. By December, Terry and Jane had married and were living with Terry’s three sons, ages 3, 6 and 9, in Jeffersonville.
“I needed help,” Terry laughed.
Jane said, “I married him and three boys!”
A passion uncovered
Jane, who has a background in art and architecture, helped boost the local art scene in Jeffersonville, and then found her first opportunity to save a historic local building when the Victorian house where the Shaws now live came up for sale.
She’d already helped to rehabilitate historic homes in Waterville, Maine, while at Colby, and decided to take on this new challenge despite some serious obstacles. The home and adjacent carriage house, which date back to 1878, had been abandoned for several years.
“They were a total disaster. When I bought the place, my father thought I was nuts,” Jane said. Never one to back down from a challenge, she paid $67,000 for both buildings and began the battle to rehabilitate both.
“I borrowed every cent from Merchants Bank,” Jane said.
Her father saw an article about the National Register of Historic Places, a program that offered a number of perks. Jane looked into it and invited assessors to look at both buildings. Neither had undergone major renovations.
“Not a new thing in them, but they were ready to bring back to life,” Jane said.
That work to get her own buildings on the national registry snowballed, and the entire village of Jeffersonville would eventually be placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
“It helped lead to the creation of a whole district,” Jane said. She believes Jeffersonville was one of the first villages in Vermont to attain that status, and eventually more than 70 buildings gained historical status.
“It helped us; it brought attention to the fact that we’ve got something pretty special here,” she said.
Seven years after buying the old Victorian and rehabilitating it, Jane sold it to a friend. She moved into an apartment on the second floor of the also-rehabilitated carriage barn in 1990, just in time to reconnect with Terry.
Jane found another landmark to save in the squabble over what to do with the old town hall.
“People wanted to rip it down, or sell it for a dollar,” Jane said. She didn’t plan to say anything when the issue came up at town meeting that year, but couldn’t help herself.
“I said this would be like selling the Rockefeller Center” to a foreign country, Jane said, and she pleaded with voters not to give up on the historic building. They agreed, provided she led the effort to save it.
“Fred Boyden nominated me to a committee of one” to lead the project, Jane said. Today the historically restored building is home to both the town government and a branch of the federal government, and the historic building that formerly housed the post office was later rehabilitated and turned into apartments.
“I think that helped people realize, maybe there’s something to this,” Jane said.
Creation of the Jeffersonville historic district helped get the local historical society going, and influenced Arlan and Irma Sweet to leave their 1865 home on Main Street to the historical society. After being rehabilitated, that home became a preschool in 2010.
“Volunteers came out of the woodwork for that one. That’s what is really exciting for me, that younger generations are excited about getting this done,” Jane said.
The Shaws have continued to focus on their own private rehabilitation projects.
“Everyone says you’re supposed to downsize as you get older. We’ve upsized,” Jane said.
“It’s kind of a sickness,” Terry said.
They refurbished the parsonage right next to their Victorian home. Part of that building dates back to 1835, but the local church couldn’t maintain it anymore. To prevent demolition, the Shaws bought it and the carriage house that came with it. Soon, they were responsible for a pair of reborn properties standing side-by-side on Main Street.
Buildings on the National Register of Historic Places do have the possibility of federal rehabilitation aid, but the Shaws typically use their own money or a loan to do the work.
“I’m a free-market capitalist. I’m not interested in taking aid from the government,” Terry said.
“And they take so long; there are so many delays,” Jane said, though the couple and their sons like to do much of the restoration work themselves.
One son, Michael, bought and rehabilitated his own home right in the village, across from fire station. That building was once a haberdashery in another part of the village before it was moved in the 1930s.
Ten years after selling the Victorian house, the Shaws jumped on the chance to buy it back. They have been there ever since.
And the adjacent carriage house has become a focal point for the local arts scene that Jane has helped create. In 2006, the couple turned the ground floor of the carriage house into the Visions of Vermont art gallery, which features the work of many landscape painters who have made Jeffersonville a hotspot for that genre. There’s also one apartment above the gallery and one below it.
One of the first exhibits in Visions of Vermont didn’t include any landscape paintings. When assessors from the National Registry of Historic Places evaluated Jeffersonville as a historic district, they’d taken photos of every historic building in town. Jane decided to put those pictures on display as an exhibit in the new gallery.
She invited anyone with ties to the buildings to bring their own photos and share what history they knew of each.
After rehabbing the parsonage, the Shaws rented it to a single mother with three children. After living there for years, the woman bought her own house in the village, and the Shaws turned the parsonage into a five-bedroom Airbnb. Their sons now run it, and guests include artists from all over the world who visit every year for the Jeffersonville Winter Rendezvous, another celebration of the art scene that Jane helped launch.
The occupant of their most recent rebuild, Two Sisters Mercantile, isn’t the first business to lease space from the Shaws. The carriage house basement was rented to a man who manufactured fiber optics to feed through telephone lines, and a woman used the first floor to teach sewing and related crafts.
“She was always a very good business person,” Terry said about Jane, and she has helped a plethora of small businesses get off the ground. “I think some of that comes from her family; they’re all independent people.”
One more job
The Shaws’ latest rehabilitation job was tough but quick. The couple bought the building in the summer of 2019 and the rehab was done by midwinter.
Jane decided to buy the building, which the Shaws can see from their front porch, after watching it decline. “We could just see it going to hell,” she said.
Terry and Jane are both in their mid-70s now, so they’ve slowed down on their on contributions to the grit-and-grind work of rehabilitating a building. Luckily, their sons and Jane’s family have stepped in, and contractors help out, too.
“No longer are we in there sanding floors,” Jane said.
Though the latest rehab took only about six months, “it was intense,” Terry said. “I figure it took at least two years off my life.”
The building dates to 1885, and had been a typical New England store where the family lived upstairs.
Rehabilitating a building can be a delicate balance.
The new: Terry and Jane had to reinsulate the old stone foundation, replace the dirt floor with concrete in the basement — “There was a little river through there the first time we went in,” Jane said — and replace the roof, much of the siding and the windows.
But they worked to preserve the building’s character, saving as much of the old clapboard and woodwork as possible.
While the work was going on, Tamra Higgins and Monica Case approached the Shaws about moving their business, Two Sisters Mercantile, into the ground floor with their already established business. They settled on a rent-to-buy agreement, and the Shaws left the spot vacant for a few months until the sisters could move in at the beginning of July.
“They were amazing; they bent over backwards for us,” Higgins said. “I appreciated that they were willing to wait. We couldn’t have asked for better people to work with.”
“If you get the right people in there, you want them to keep it,” Jane said. “We’re just so grateful that we lasted through it.”
Doing this rehabilitation work, “you have your heart and soul in these buildings,” Terry said. “You want them to continue to be looked after. At least until you croak.”
So, is this the Shaws’ final project?
Terry hesitated, but Jane didn’t.
“There’s one for sale right next door to it,” she said with a smile.