Historic Breakenridge-Root house on Greenbush Road catches fire

The historic Breakenridge-Root house on Greenbush Road caught fire on June 18. Photo by Lee Krohn.

Editor’s note: The historic Breakenridge-Root house located at 4206 Greenbush Road caught fire on June 18. Charlotte Fire and Rescue was dispatched after smoke was seen coming from the second floor. Homeowner Mark Naylor and his family were not home at the time. Mutual aid from Shelburne, Ferrisburgh, Hinesburg and Monkton departments were also on scene. The fire started in a bedroom and was extinguished using compressed air foam and about 10 gallons of water. Damage was contained to just that one room, Charlotte Fire Department Assistant Chief Rob Mullin said. The cause of the fire is under investigation.

The story of a house is the story of the people who called it “home” during their lifetimes. It sheltered them in good times and bad, through triumph and tragedy, and an unfortunate fire adds yet another vital chapter to the history of an important early Charlotte home.

Ironically, the original Francis Breakenridge house on the site also suffered a fire about 1805, but with no fire department in those days, it burned to the ground. According to information from the Chittenden County Historical Society, the current house was built between 1806 and 1813. At that time it was on the southwest corner of an intersection of what is now Greenbush Road and a road that began on Lake Road, crossed Greenbush Road by the house, then intersected with and continued across Route 7 by the old Solomon Williams house and the Peter V. Higbee house where it becomes Higbee Road (before the access was moved south across from the Berry Farm), and connected to the east with Mt. Philo Road.

The first house built on the Greenbush Road property was constructed by Francis Breakenridge, born in 1761 in Bennington, son of Lt. James and Mary Breakenridge. Francis and his younger brother Jonathan arrived in Charlotte before 1792. Brothers Francis and Jonathan had married sisters Polly and Lorena “Lurene” Newell, daughters of Thomas and Lorena Newell. Francis Breakenridge began to build his farm holdings with 60 acres of land. Francis Breakenridge died in his new house on February 23, 1813, during the great typhus epidemic that carried off nearly 70 local residents.

Noble Loomis Root, born in June 1800 in Charlotte, eldest son of Charlotte Congregational Church Deacon Gad Root and Elizabeth Clemma Root, occupied the home until he died from cancer in the house on June 13, 1872. He had expanded the property to include the next house north, now owned by Bud Lawrence. Noble Root was married to Mary Ann “Polly” Lowry, who was also born in 1800 in Charlotte, daughter of Nehemiah and Betsey Lowry. They had four children: Jacob Noble, George Lowry, Henry Curtis and Martha Curtis. Jacob died in the house on February 25, 1843, during a regional epidemic of puerperal fever and erysipelas that also killed a large number of Charlotte residents.

Similar to the Breakenridge brothers, brothers Henry and George Root married sisters Maria and Eleanor Wright, daughters of Daniel and Martha Wright, in 1851 and 1856 respectively. Noble Root divided his estate into a home farm of 107 acres where George remained, while Henry and his wife moved into the second farm of 124 acres where Bud Lawrence now lives.

Martha married David Cooper in 1856, but David died early in 1858, and after her daughter Martha Elizabeth was born on September 30, 1858, Martha herself died on October 23, 1858. The deaths were believed to be from consumption.

George and Eleanor’s firstborn, also named Eleanor, was born September 27, 1857, and died in the house on August 25, 1862, of chronic inflammation at age 5. Their only other child, a son named Charles Wright Root, was born April 15, 1869, although they adopted Eleanor’s niece, Clarissa Moody Doty, following her mother’s death in 1874. Eleanor Root arranged to have her sister’s remains brought to Charlotte for burial in the West Burying Ground (aka Barber Hill Cemetery), where she is buried simply as Clarissa M., daughter of Daniel L. and Martha Wright, but her married name of Doty is not included. Young Clarissa never married but, despite traveling in various jobs, maintained her residence in Charlotte with cousin Charles Root and family.

After Noble’s death in 1872, his widow continued to live at the house with her son until her death on March 1, 1878. George Root was primarily a fruit grower with a small dairy operation, while his brother Henry ran a sheep and horse farm with a small dairy operation. George died in the house of a stroke on March 31, 1894, and his wife Eleanor died of pneumonia on April 17, 1908.