By Meggie Baker
Set atop a curving hill in the shadow of Mount Equinox in Vermont, Manchester’s Wilburton Inn offers its guests more than a place to lay their heads at night. This Gilded Age mansion-turned-inn is a home away from home — and a family operation.
What do the Wilburton Inn’s family of innkeepers hope guests take away from their stay?
“A sense of relaxation, joy, inspiration,” says Melissa Levis, one of four siblings running the Wilburton with their father, psychiatrist Albert Levis. “An energy from the mountains and views, a sense of love and welcome.”
The Wilburton Mansion, completed in 1902 by industrialist Albert M. Gilbert, a contemporary of Robert Todd Lincoln, consists of 11 bedrooms — stay in The Lincoln Bedroom, the Railroad Baron, The Runaway Debutante — and is one of several buildings providing lodging options on the Inn’s estate.
But if you thought that staying in this imposing mansion meant maneuvering uncomfortably around stuffy, untouchable antiques, think again. True to the mission, the stately home offers comfort and welcome before you even open the front door. A wide, open-air veranda overlooking the nearby Green Mountain tempts guests to stop and take a moment before heading inside to check in.
When you do, there’s no need to rush to your rooms, or lock yourself away. Every inch of space in this impressive mansion invites guests to explore, and get to know the Levis family. Walls are lined with family portraits, photographs and landscapes. Stairwell landings invite visitors to take a break, or maybe set themselves up with a board game. Hallways offer tables and bookcases, objets d’art and novelties to admire.
If the night’s cold, sit awhile in front of a fire with a cup of tea, always hot, and get to know the other guests in the spacious living room, or just to enjoy the view offered by an expansive picture window. Explore the original dining room, where food is still served, or the gleaming Billiard Dining Room, whose decorations recall the days when the Wilburton was the place to go for the Saratoga crowd after a day at the races.
In the morning, get up and enjoy breakfast with the other guests, served in the Garden Dining Room, and in fair weather on the terrace, with pride of place going to the bread from Earth Sky Time Farm just down the road.
The organic farm and venue space, run by Oliver Levis and his wife, Bonnie, features a beautiful window-lined building whose convertible stage allows for indoor-outdoor events at the farm, such as frequent summer music concerts — a space that is also available for wedding receptions for those holding their weddings at the inn. Weddings are popular at the Wilburton Mansion: Ceremonies take place on the hill off the garden dining room and, currently, an additional event space is being constructed off the building. Also offered during the summer months are Farm Night Dinner Parties, free for guests staying at the Wilburton for two nights, catered by Earth Sky Time Farm with live music.
While guests can take advantage of local attractions such as Hildene, and the nearby outlets in Manchester, the Wilburton Inn offers enough specialty programming to keep guests busy without ever leaving the estate. Events such as the popular Doggie Slumber Parties, Mother’s Day stays and, of course, the event-packed Murder Mystery weekends, featuring mysteries penned by innkeeper and playwright Tajlei Levis, keep the Wilburton bustling. In the summer, don’t skip the Summer Theatre package, which includes discounted tickets to the Dorset Theatre Festival, Weston Playhouse and Bennington’s Oldcastle Theatre. Keep your eyes open for special Innkeeper’s Daughter Cabaret nights with Melissa.
When you come, don’t forget to schedule time to check out the sculpture trail and The Museum of the Creative Process, founded by Albert Levis and located on the estate.
What’s is like running a family inn?
“We love each other and respect our differences — we are four totally different creative people and our parents somehow raised us to appreciate and laugh with each other… Our lifestyle is one endless family reunion,” says Melissa.
Whether you have big plans, or are just looking for a weekend away, the Wilburton will keep you busy.
Wilburton Inn: 257 Wilburton Drive, Manchester, Vt.
Dinner … with a side of murder
Glamour was in high attendance at the Wilburton Inn’s recent original murder mystery dinner, “The Dangerous Divorcee,” a fictional mystery written by Tajlei Levis using the Wilburton’s real history as a retreat for the executives and celebrities of RKO Radio Pictures.
Top hats and headbands soared as guests arrived decked out in 1930s cocktail attire, overflowing with boas, beads and cigarette holders. The evening began with hors d’oeuvres and cocktails, and time for guests to mingle before packing themselves into the living room for the show.
Dorothy Margrove, “The Divorcee,” attempts to find a way to rid herself of her rich husband without ridding herself of her wealth. She ultimately decides to forgo the divorce for a better revenge — to make a movie more successful than her husband’s. So begins the flood of characters to Vermont: the husband, the starlet, the director, the leading man, the lawyer and the writer, in a clash that ultimately ends in murder.
The mystery continues over dinner and dessert and reconvenes with champagne in the living room. After the murderer is revealed, the guests take center stage in a costume contest that pits feathers versus shoulder pads.
If you missed the fun, not to worry! The Wilburton is bringing it back in April. And if you go, don’t expect a typical stodgy night at the theater.
“What’s really nice about this is it’s very immersive, so the audience is part of the show,” says returning cast member Brian Drutman.
Where’d the idea for a murder mystery dinner come from?
“My mother’s sister was Wendy Wasserstein, and Wendy had ‘The Sisters Rosensweig’ on Broadway, and my mother was just as funny, she just didn’t channel it professionally. So, she wrote the first, it was called “The Brothers Rosenblood.” It was a takeoff and it was really funny. … And then she got tired of it and was like, ‘You write it,’ ” says Tajlei.
For even more fun, visitors have the option to make a weekend of it: Arrive Friday for a cocktail party with the cast, and stay for an after-breakfast sing-along with Drutman on Sunday. Tip: Brush up on your Cole Porter.
If you go…
What: Murder Mystery Dinner Theater
Where: Wilburton Inn, 257 Wilburton Drive, Manchester, Vt.
When: 6:30 p.m., April 6
Bed & Breakfast Lodging from $175/ night. Arrive Friday for a “meet the murderers” welcome party from 6:30 to 8 p.m.
Tickets: $70 for just the dinner. Tax, service, cash bar additional.
Meggie Baker is the calendar clerk for The Berkshire Eagle.