A piece of Rutland’s history is up for sale.
When Marlys Leon, known as Marty, passed away this past spring, she had lived in her house for 50 years. Not just any house, it’s one of the Grove Street mansions, and it ties directly into the city’s history.
The house at 201 Grove St. is known as Ivyholme. It sits in a row of some of the most striking houses in the city, and was built for and owned by Gustave H. Grimm, who revolutionized the maple syrup industry and moved to Rutland and into the house in 1892.
“The house is listed in the Vermont State Register of Historic Places,” said Jim Davidson, curator at the Rutland Historical Society. “Grimm originally made and sold things for the maple syrup industry — plugs to drain and larger pieces for boiling. He was a nationwide provider, and decided that since so much of his business was in Vermont that he would open a factory here. If you go to Pine Street you can see the property, it’s still there.”
Grimm established the G.H. Grimm Manufacturing Co. and patented a more efficient way to boil sap. He became the largest producer of maple syrup-making equipment for 114 years, and produced many pieces of equipment that maple producers still use.
Nella Grimm Fox was his only child, and when he died in 1914 at age 64, Nella assumed control of the business at age 40 and ran it successfully for 37 years.
Fox spent almost her entire life at Ivyholme, and later lived there by herself. As did Leon, who moved in with her family in the late 1960s. A connection between the two women who occupied the house for many years, decades apart, started to emerge.
The first thing people say about either Fox or Leon is that they were “strong, independent women.” They both had strong ties to the community, they were both big tea drinkers, they both kept teeming flower gardens which they were well known for, they were both big animal lovers, and they both loved Ivyholme.
“This house was Marty’s love,” said Nicole Moore, who along with her husband spent the summer cleaning out the house to get it ready for sale.
She met Leon when they worked at Rare Essentials together 20 years ago, and the two became close friends.
“I don’t even think I was 30 yet,” Moore said. “She was in her 50s and was one of those women that gives you all these lessons that you wouldn’t want to learn from your mom.”
Moore and Leon’s daughter, Meredith Brown, talked about the similarities they discovered between Leon and Fox, who had kept all kinds of pets throughout her life. In old photos found in the house that date back to 1904, there’s a basket of kittens, a family dog in almost all of the photos, and later on, apparently, a monkey.
“When we were little kids, my father was planting a row of shrubs and came across a small coffin,” Brown recalled. “Obviously everybody was freaked out, and it was quite an elaborate coffin, so (our) initial thought was it was a child. The bones (were) taken to Castleton State College where my dad knew a professor, and it ended up being the bones of a monkey.”
But Leon had a similar affinity toward animals.
“My mother fed the crows outside the house every day,” Brown said. “She swore that the minute she got up in the morning they would see her through the windows and start screeching at her to feed them.”
“She fed squirrels, skunks, foxes, chipmunks,” Moore said. “The chipmunks are so friendly that if you sit in the backyard they’ll come right up to you.”
Both women were also known for their generosity with the community.
“The library would not be here without Nella,” said Amy Williams, Rutland Free Library assistant director. “She left this big bequeathment which completely holds up our programming and materials budget.”
“She remembered the community she’d grown up in and succeeded in by leaving a large donation to the library, the hospital and Grace Church,” Davidson said.
“The Fox Room in the library is named after Nellie Fox,” Moore said. “Not her father — her. That’s pretty cool.”
Brown, 54, grew up in the house and lived there for 14 years.
“When you have a house like that you share it,” she said, recounting a childhood full of Halloween parties with a fortune teller in the pickle cellar, Christmas caroling on horseback, and New Year’s Eve parties with casino games.
“I remember being a little kid and looking down the balcony at all the women smoking cigarettes in their sparkly dresses,” Brown said.
“When kids would first meet me they would say, ‘she lives in the big house on the hill,’” Brown said. “But it was the fun house on the hill.”
And it’s full of Rutland history. Medallions on the main fireplace have the G.H. Grimm monogram, and one of the original Grimm stoves sits in the basement. The builder was said to be a man named Arthur Smith, who built the home as a Queen Anne shingle-style Victorian, a style that was copied around Rutland after Ivyholme was built.
The 3,766-square-foot home is listed for $299,500.
It’s easy to picture a glamorous life behind the mansion’s Gatsby-esque facade, but there’s a warmth to it. With its round rooms and cozy views of the mountains, it’s full of character. A rare weeping hazelnut tree sits in the front yard that looks like a big bonsai tree.
“The Grimms loved Vermont,” Moore said. “They loved being outside, they loved their animals, and the house was passed on to like-minded people.”
There is some concern as to what might happen with it. The idea of turning it into a bed and breakfast has been tossed around, or renting it for weddings and special occasions.
“There’s something special about it,” Moore said. “I want to see something good happen with it.”