First published in Business People-Vermont in February 2017
Not Just Another Pretty Place
A new life for a Charlotte landmark
by Will Lindner
In 1990, Innkeeper David Garbose and his partner, Jane Garbose, a psychologist with practices in Middlebury and Burlington, bought the neglected Charlotte landmark, the Mount Philo Inn. Izze is the Garboses’ border collie.
We rescue things,” says Jane Garbose, co-owner with her partner, David Garbose, of the Mount Philo Inn in Charlotte. “Border collies, furniture …”
There’s actually an exhaustive list of things that she and David have rescued, including the inn itself — which isn’t an “inn” now, in the customary sense, so much as an assemblage of four spacious, impressively appointed suites that, except for shared walls and connecting foyers, are independent of one another.
“We don’t serve breakfast,” she says, by way of illustration. “We provide a complimentary breakfast basket of wonderful local products — free-range organic eggs, Vermont Coffee Co. coffee, Smoke & Cure bacon, Vermont maple syrup, Dakin Farm’s buttermilk pancake mix. Each suite has a kitchen, and people can make their own breakfasts if they want.”
But her point about rescuing things, besides Izze, the inn’s sociable border collie, is well taken. Standing in the so-called West Wing Suite of their 120-year-old building at the foot of Mount Philo, she and David are surrounded by beautiful, restored objects with histories predating their arrival at the inn. Desks, lamps, stoves (both the heating and the cooking variety), beds, sofas — all were found on Craigslist, or at yard sales, or through the Burlington nonprofit recycling cum work-training service ReSource. (David, at one time, served on the ReSource board.)
“We didn’t come into this property with a lot of money for renovations,” Jane explains. Yet the “scrounging” and “scavenging” (David’s words) that have gone into the 26-year project of refining and redefining their business is also an expression of their commitment to working with local things, and local people, to find the best Vermont has to offer.
Amazingly, there’s not a trace of hodgepodge in the inn’s décor. An unlikely union such as a polished, renewed stainless steel refrigerator sharing space with a refurbished, antique wooden typewriter table works well in their hands. And they credit each other for the talents they contribute.
“Jane is a fantastic designer, without a bit of pretense in her taste, so there’s a comfortableness to the place that’s really noticeable,” says Dave. “We stop and consider each purchase. Nothing is haphazard.”
His partner, in turn (for that’s what they are: “former marriage partners, current business partners,” as Jane describes it), extols his single-minded devotion to the continual development and improvement of the building they’ve owned since 1990. He is a full-time steward of the inn, while she is a psychologist who practices in both Middlebury and Burlington, yet she finds a connection in that work to her calling at the Mount Philo Inn.
“There’s something intuitive about working with internal spaces — in people and in this building we have,” she says.
Woody Keppel, another Charlotte resident, is a professional “fool” (in the Shakespearean sense) and a member of the Hokum Brothers, the house band the Garboses hire when they open up the grounds and the “ballroom” (constructed as a dining room in the 1920s) for community events. These gatherings might be fundraisers for local causes, or occasions to honor the work of local artists, photographers, writers, and musicians. The ballroom isn’t a community space for guests at the inn; at some 1,800 square feet each, the suites provide ample room for them to relax or entertain as they wish. Rather, the ballroom is part of the space that the Garboses and Izze claim as their own.
Having participated in many of these functions, Keppel has an appreciation for what the Garboses have created with found materials. A fine example is the elegant yellow birch staircase in the ballroom, which Dave carted and reassembled, piece by nicked and faded piece, from the 1863 Vermont Hotel in Rutland.
“Dave will go find marble, antiquated bird’s-eye maple,” says Keppel, “and sort of put things back together. When you’re around good-quality stuff it has an essence, its own vibrations that feel good. They’ve taken this old dilapidated inn and over many years brought it up to this beautiful building that it is today.”
David tends to deflect the credit to the carpenters, masons, and other artisans who have helped transform the building. “I hire experts,” he says, “and then follow them around and pick up after them.”
“And I pick up after him,” Jane adds.
Her first experience in the trades broadly referred to as “hospitality” was as a waitress in local bars and eateries, and during a youthful, nomadic period, by performing similar work in places like Lake Tahoe and Yosemite National Park. Eventually, she earned a master’s degree in psychology from Antioch University of New England. Her commitment to psychotherapy is demonstrated by her continued studies and broadening practice, including in psychoanalysis.
Born in 1956, David, whose father owned a clothing store in Gardner, Massachusetts, went to Clark University in Worcester, then set off for the Big Sur area on California’s coastline. He found work at the fashionable Nepenthe Restaurant and the Ventana Inn & Spa.
“I was a cocktail waiter at one point,” he recalls. “I loved it!”
“He’s front-of-the-house,” Jane chimes in, a cliché referring to the more sociable partner in a hospitality enterprise, “and I’m back-of-the-house.”
David later earned a master’s degree in speech therapy from the University of Massachusetts, and came to Vermont when he was hired by a software company with a speech therapy program to work in schools, hospitals, and other institutions.
When the two got together they lived for a while in New Haven, and later rented at Thompson’s Point in Charlotte. Being in the area, they frequently noticed the ramshackle former inn near the “carriage road” entrance to Mount Philo State Park.
“I fell in love with it,” says Jane. “When we started looking for a place to buy, this was the only place we looked at.”
The inn was built in 1896, replacing a farmhouse on the site, and attracted guests eager to enjoy the bucolic, open spaces on the hillside with a commanding view of Lake Champlain. In 1924, the Garboses recount, the owners donated 232 acres that became Vermont’s first state park. The business faltered, though, in the motel era of the mid 20th century. By the time the Garboses purchased it in 1990 it had been through bankruptcy, gone neglected at times, and for a while was resurrected as a commune.
“There were a few apartments in use when we bought it,” says Jane, “but basically it was a disaster.”
The turnaround came in stages. It went, under their stewardship, from an assemblage of conventional apartments, to furnished apartments, to, as Dave says, “nicely furnished apartments.” Gradually, the concept of an inn re-emerged, and then the present, unique concept of four very private, self-contained, two-bath, three-bedroom units, appealing for family reunions, professional retreats, or quarters for people temporarily working in Vermont or shopping for property here.
Over the years, former guests have formed a true community in the area, for Jane’s comment about “rescuing things” sort of applies to people, as well.
“When I drove to Vermont from Chicago in 2008, with basically my dog and my books, I was in transition in my life and looking for a place to land,” says Amy Curtis, who now lives just north of Mount Philo, in Shelburne. Somehow, she found the inn.
“Right away, it was clear there were a lot of people in transition that were staying there — people going through a divorce, or needing somewhere to stay while they were building a home. Dave and Jane have always served this kind of unique function, of drawing a very eclectic group of people together. All my best friends are in Charlotte and came through the inn, frankly.”
That includes her husband, Neil, a contractor who has worked for the Garboses over the course of 20 years. Curtis’s sentiment is returned. “Most of our friends are people who stayed at the inn and then stayed in the community,” says Jane.
Jane’s getaway from the inn is her therapy practice, and her getaway from her practice seems to be the inn. Dave and Izze climb Mount Philo every day, and he actually owns 16 sleds for its snowy slopes.
The inn sits quietly beside the hilly, two-lane road that some 120,000 people travel each year to visit the state park. It blends well into the landscape, but there’s a beacon, of sorts, that tells guests they’ve arrived. It’s a red telephone booth, with a sign saying “Check In” on the door, a relic from a time gone by.
Yeah, they rescued this, too. •