January 26

Elsie Viles’ legacy includes historic Augusta house and grounds

The Elsie & William Viles Foundation board plans to carry out her wishes.

By Betty Adams badams@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA — Philanthropist Elsie Pike Viles, who died last March at age 98, made sure her legacy would be felt in the city for a very long time.

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Fulfilling wishes: Elsie & William Viles Foundation Treasurer Mark Johnston, left, President Daniel Wathen and Executive Director Patsy West laugh during an interview on Thursday in the Daniel Cony Weston House on Stone Street in Augusta.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

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A CHEERFUL GIVER: Philanthropist Elsie Viles at her home in Augusta on Stone Street in 2007.

Staff file photo by Jeff Pouland

Additional Photos Below

She left an estate worth almost $20 million to the Elsie & William Viles Foundation, along with the hope that her historic Stone Street property be used for “educational, historical and cultural seminars, meetings, retreats, workshops and symposia, and as a temporary residence for visiting dignitaries, scholars, educators, artists and civic and cultural leaders.”

The directions are contained in her will.

Now those charged with carrying out her wishes are moving to implement the plan.

Patsy West, who was Viles’ primary caregiver, is now executive director of the Elsie & William Viles Foundation. The foundation’s goals are listed online at elsieandwilliamvilesfoundation.org: “preserve open spaces and conservation of forest land; care for and protect animals; support children and education, and promote and preserve Maine history and culture.”

Daniel Wathen, former chief justice of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, is president of the foundation. Mark Johnston, president and chief executive officer of Kennebec Savings Bank, is treasurer. Both men were friends of Viles and her late husband, as were the others on the seven-member board.

Last week, West, Wathen and Johnston sat in a parlor at the Viles house, bathed in bright light as the setting sun shined through the west wall of tall windows and talked about the estate’s future.

“Elsie’s still in charge,” said Wathen, who previously had been foundation vice president but acknowledged that when Elsie Viles was president, there was little for him to do.

“At this point, everybody on the board has known Elsie a long, long time while Elsie was president. We’ve sort of learned her likes and dislikes, and we feel pretty confident that Elsie is still ruling us.”

He said the board is charged with paying out money annually to specified beneficiaries, with the discretion to add a few local charities, largely those that Viles supported during her life. The foundation also is to assure the continuation of the Elsie and William Viles Scholarship Fund, which will award a scholarship to a Cony senior — elected by a high school committee on the basis of scholarship and character — who attends a Maine college or university. This year, the scholarship will be for $17,500 for each of the four years of college.

The foundation board also has specified funds to make upgrades at the house so it could be used to host meetings for local nonprofit groups.

“Elsie was a very good hostess, and it’s sort of a continuation of that,” Wathen said. Thousands of china teacups and saucers stored in cabinet after cabinet in a series of pantries off the dining room remain as evidence of her frequent hospitality.

“Elsie’s parties or gatherings always had an educational or cultural aspect,” West said, and that’s what the board seeks to perpetuate. “She did not want it as a museum.”

The foundation will use two or three rooms in the house as office space, and West will coordinate the requests to use the house for meetings. There is no charge.

So far, a garden club is scheduled to meet there in April and the Kennebec Historical Society in September.

The board still is developing plans and awaiting recommendations, but work visible to passing motorists has been done recently on the historic house itself, which stands on 85 acres, one of the largest undeveloped tracts of land in the intown area.

High shrubs and some trees are gone from the perimeter of the house, and the wood that frames the brick exterior has had a fresh coat of an antique-gold paint. The two-story house, with multiple chimneys and numerous bathrooms and bedrooms, now pops into view as motorists head south on Stone Street. There’s a finished barn as well, which started life as a six-stall stable.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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Philanthropist Elsie Viles, 92, right, chats with Rep. Patsy Crockett, D-Augusta, in 2007 prior to receiving a legislative sentiment at her Stone Street home in Augusta.

Staff file photo by Jeff Pouland

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GRAND MARSHAL: Elsie Viles rides down Water Street in Augusta when she was the 2008 Independence Day parade grand marshal.

Staff file photo by Joe Phelan

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the front door of the Daniel Cony Weston House on Stone Street that’s home to the Elsie & William Viles Foundation in Augusta on Thursday January 23, 2014.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

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some of the many sets of tea cups and saucers on Thursday January 23, 2014, in the Daniel Cony Weston House on Stone Street that’s home to the Elsie & William Viles Foundation in Augusta.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

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water damage from ice dams in the tropical wallpaper of the dining room in the Daniel Cony Weston House on Stone Street on Thursday January 23, 2014 that’s home to the Elsie & William Viles Foundation in Augusta.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

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the dining room with tropical wallpaper on Thursday January 23, 2014, in the Daniel Cony Weston House on Stone Street that’s home to the Elsie & William Viles Foundation in Augusta.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

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the Daniel Cony Weston House on Stone Street that’s home to the Elsie & William Viles Foundation in Augusta on Thursday January 23, 2014.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

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the Daniel Cony Weston House on Stone Street that’s home to the Elsie & William Viles Foundation in Augusta on Thursday January 23, 2014.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

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the parlor, left, and entry way of the Daniel Cony Weston House on Stone Street that’s home to the Elsie & William Viles Foundation in Augusta on Thursday January 23, 2014.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

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William Bridgeo, Warren Wilson and Elsie Viles model hats at her Augusta home in 2009.

Staff file photo by Joe Phelan

 


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