Jessica Swift as a young woman.
four senior ladies sitting at a table
Jessica Swift seated second from left at the Bicentennial Picnic, Middlebury, Village Green 1976.
Collection of the Henry Sheldon Museum, Middlebury, Vermont

The Stewart and Swift Families

The Main House of Swift House Inn was the home to Jessica Swift, one of Vermont’s most prominent philanthropists.

Like many old New England houses, Swift House Inn comes with a history. This is a tale of two entwined families: the Stewarts and the Swifts who lived in the house from 1814 to 1981.

Jessica Stewart Swift’s family used the building we now call the Main House at Swift House Inn as a country home and a homebase for her father’s governorship in Vermont. Jessica was famous for many things, but most of all for her long life. She lived to be 110 and to this day retains the record as the longest lived Vermonter ever.

The house itself was built by Samuel Swift in 1814. He was a writer, a historian, a judge, and a newspaperman. When he died in 1875, Governor John W. Stewart (1825-1915), who was Jessica’s father, bought the house.  An interesting historical footnote: Stewart was influential in turning the Vermont delegation from William H. Seward to Abraham Lincoln at the 1860 Republican National Convention helping to secure his nomination. We honor that legacy with the Swift family’s prized portrait of Lincoln on display in the library.

In 1885, the Stewarts hired Clinton Smith, Middlebury’s most prolific Victorian architect, to design and build the horse barn and carriage house located on the northeast corner of the property. Among Smith’s many buildings in Middlebury are the Methodist Church, the County Courthouse, and the barn at the Morgan Horse Farm.

In 1915, on the death of Governor Stewart, the house passed to his daughter, Jessica (1871- 1982). After a first marriage to J. Walter Sylvester, a minister who died of tuberculosis within eight months of the wedding, Jessica married an older man, Charles M. Swift, grandson of the original owner of the house.  A former lawyer, Charles’ major accomplishment was building a streetcar system for the Philippines. Mr. and Mrs. Swift traveled around the world, cruised on his yacht in Florida, maintained a New York apartment, and built a summer home complete with a golf course on Lake Champlain in Ferrisburgh. They used the Middlebury house occasionally and made it available to friends and relatives.

In 1939, ten years after the death of her husband, Mrs. Swift made Middlebury her primary home, giving up her New York apartment in favor of the Vermont countryside where she remained an active member of the community well past her 100th birthday. 

Neighbors recall Mrs. Swift as being a strong and caring member of the community. In the summer, she provided flowers from her gardens and greenhouse to the Congregational Church. In the winter, she served hot cocoa to kids who she invited to sled down her snowy sloping front lawn. She listened to children recite the violin and offered generous Middlebury College scholarships to the neediest students. 

In 1984, her home became what is now Swift House Inn. The Gate House (originally the Cartmell House) was added shortly thereafter to the Inn. The Carriage House was renovated in 1990 to its current form to complete the inn as we know it today.