WESTMINSTER -- Ownership of the former law office of William Czar Bradley has changed hands only a couple of times in the past 156 years.
After Bradley locked the doors the final time in 1858, it remained in the family until it was transferred to the state of Vermont by Sarah Bradley Willard's estate in 1998. And it lay dormant in the state's possession until April, when the Westminster Historical Society obtained ownership rights.
To show off its new treasure, the historical society plans to open the old law office from 2 to 4 p.m. every Sunday from July 6 to Aug. 31. Historical Society President Virginia Lisai said the property, which consists of two small rooms stuffed with artifacts, will be opened so people can better understand the place they have probably driven past dozens of times but never really noticed.
"It sits right in the middle of our historic town. It's a gem that has just been sitting there since it was closed by the family," she told the Reformer.
Lisai said the historical society has opened up the law office in recent years, but this Sunday will be the first time the group has done so as its owner. She said Dan Axtell will host the opening, which has limited hours because the Westminster Historical Society is a small, all-volunteer venture. Short tours will be provided this Sunday. Lisai mentioned the historical society has always been concerned about the building and went through the process of getting ownership in order to spare it from ever being demolished by someone who did not appreciate its history.
According to information from the historical society, the old Bradley law office can be found two doors south of Westminster Town Hall and directly across from the former village store. William Czar Bradley served in Congress from 1813-15 and 1823-27 before leaving the public sector to practice and teach law out of the small office the Westminster Historical Society now owns. Bradley retired in 1858 and Lisai said it is as though he simply walked out of the building, closed the door and allowed everything to remain untouched for 140 years.
"It's just as if William Czar Bradley left for the day ... and that's what's so amazing," she said
Lisai told the Reformer what amazes her the most is how lucky the town is that no one ever had the urge to purchase and bulldoze it. She said much of the office's original contents are intact, though when the state obtained the property in 1998, it felt many of the papers and documents needed to removed to the University of Vermont so they could be properly conserved. Many other documents were sold at auction.
Lisai said attorney Fletcher D. Proctor, of Putney, offered his time and expertise in the transfer negotiations between the state and the Westminster Historical Society.
Vermont was admitted to the union on March 4, 1791, and had its first congressional election on October 17 of that year, with Stephen Rowe Bradley -- William Czar Bradley's father -- being one of the first pair of senators sent to Washington, D.C, to represent the Green Mountain State. The elder Bradley left office in 1813, which was coincidentally the same year his son was elected to Congress.
The historical society will have the shelves dusted, the floors swept and any cobwebs removed for Sunday's grand reopening. A reproduction of Bradley's portrait will also be on display.
Domenic Poli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.