July 31, 2013

Vilas Home celebrates 125th anniversary

By JEFF MEYERS Press-Republican

---- — PLATTSBURGH — Residents and staff of the Vilas Home in Plattsburgh are marking the 125th anniversary of the historic building, and they want to share the celebration with the community.

The Vilas Home, located on the corner of Beekman and Cornelia streets, will be host to an open house Sunday morning with activities for family members of all ages.

“We like to think of the Vilas Home as very comfortable and very homey for our residents,” said Scott Hurlburt, administrator of the adult-living community.

“It’s like a quality piece of leather that has aged over 70 years. It has scratches and some discoloration, but that makes it all the more attractive.”


The Vilas Home was built in 1888 by Samuel F. and Harriet Vilas as a home for senior citizens who were unable to live alone. The original name was the Samuel F. Vilas Home for Aged and Infirmed Women.

“I believe that Harriet was more the driving influence behind the establishment of the Vilas Home,” Hurlburt said.

“The home was originally built to house 12 elderly women and served Clinton, Essex and Franklin counties.

“Mrs. Vilas also took in derelict women and children, and in exchange, those women took care of the elderly folk,” he added. “The building could initially accommodate 31 residents.”


Historians consider the Vilas Home a prime example of Queen Anne architecture, with its truncated hip roof, cross-gable wings, arched windows, recessed porches and shingled pillars.

The building is listed in the National Register of Historic Places under the provisions of the National Historical Preservation Act of 1966.

In the 1990s, a 12-bed addition was constructed at the back of the Vilas Home, but the addition has kept the traditional quality of what Mr. and Mrs. Vilas intended when they first mused of a home for seniors in the latter years of the 1800s.

Decorations along the building’s first-floor main corridor are modest, with an elegantly colored mailbox of blue and violet flowers greeting visitors after passing through an attractive front porch and into the house via the main door.

Two large portraits of Mr. and Mrs. Vilas hanging in the hallway signal the important role they played in ensuring that residents today enjoy a safe environment with a valued level of independence.


“The Vilas Home has a storied history of keeping folks here as residents for a long time,” Hurlburt said, noting that one current resident has been at the home for 13 years.

“We have amazing people here as our guests. Our residents have some great memories and are really a treasure to the area.

“Many of these men and women served in World War II or worked in factories in support of the war,” he added.

He also praised a veteran staff that sees to the needs of the residents and have become a part of the extended family for those residents.

“This is not a nursing home,” he said. “Our folks are pretty independent. The Vilas Home doesn’t just include the residents; their family members become a part of our family, as well.”

Residents typically arrive at Vilas through individual referrals. They are often not well enough to stay at home alone but are strong enough to function in the Vilas Home’s independent environment, Hurlburt explained.

Daily activities abound for residents, and a resident council works with the staff to plan functions and activities that interest the people living at Vilas.


Ruth Hagen, born in New York City and a resident of western New York for most of her life, is beginning her eighth year as a resident of Vilas.

“I came up here (to Plattsburgh ) because my daughter (Ruth Mowry) was living here,” she said of her initial interest in the Vilas Home. “We’d pass (the home), and I’d ask her what it was, and she said, ‘Oh, it’s an old-person’s home.’”

Hagen developed some health concerns shortly after, and her family decided it was best if she did not live at home alone. She looked to that elegant building she had passed so often as her potential new home.

“I’m very happy here,” said the 94-year-old resident. “We now have a very wonderful director (in Hurlburt). His door is always open, and he has been available to help me solve some problems.”


Jeanne Dragoon, 87, who has lived in the Plattsburgh area all her life, has been at Vilas for about two years and has plenty of praise for her new home.

“When you can no longer live alone at home, this is the most wonderful place you can be,” she said. “They treat you with respect. They do everything they can to make you healthy and happy.”

Dragoon’s neighbor at Vilas, Eleanor Tregan, was a lifetime resident of Saranac before joining the Vilas family a few years ago.

“Everything is great,” she said. “The friends you make are wonderful. It’s very comfortable.”

Thelma Douglas, 92, has been at Vilas for four years and was a resident of Plattsburgh for 70 years. She worked in the Plattsburgh City School District as a physical education instructor.

“For a number of years, I took care of a good friend at home, but then she had to move to the Vilas Home,” Douglas recalled. “I knew the place very well, and when my health failed and I could no longer stay at home, I knew this was the place for me.

“They do a great job,” she said of the staff. “They make it a home, not an institution.”

“Each one of our residents is a repository of America, of the way it was,” Hurlburt said. “For me, this has been a wonderful opportunity to share in their lives.”

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CELEBRATION The Vilas Home is a non-profit organization. The open house will be held 8 a.m. to noon Sunday, with activities for all ages. Assemblywoman Janet Duprey, Plattsburgh Mayor Donald Kasprzak and other dignitaries will be on hand. A silent auction willl be held to help raise $12,000 needed to purchase a generator for the Vilas Home. For more information or to arrange a tour, call 563-4960 or email