Rising like an apparition from the dairy landscape overlooking the valley of Otter Creek, Shard Villa is one of the most memorable Victorian mansions in Vermont. It was built for Columbus Smith, who amassed a fortune through his innovative practice of international probate law devoted to securing unclaimed European fortunes for American relatives. It is named for the case that established his career—the estate of Mary Shard, the daughter of a tavern keeper in Trenton, New Jersey, who ran off with an aristocratic British officer on the eve of the Revolution and ended up the country-house-owning widow of a prominent London businessman. With his share of the proceeds, Smith expanded his birthplace farm into an English-style country estate. Inspired by the work of Calvert Vaux, he engaged Burlington architect Thayer to design a picturesque villa with a central tower and mansard roofs and entrusted its execution and detailing to young local builder Clinton G. Smith (no relation), who would proudly use this, his first independent commission, for his professional letterhead. Both architect and builder appear to have borrowed significantly from Woodward's National Architect (1869).
The villa is constructed of local blue stone with elaborate sand-painted cast-iron arched window hoods, scroll-sawn and turned trim on balconies and bay windows, and an arched double-leaf paneled door with etched glass. The mansard roof, originally of multicolored slate, was sheathed in copper after the turn of the twentieth century. Each of the main rooms was trimmed with a distinctive mix of imported and estate-harvested woods, and walls, ceilings (up to twelve feet in height), and floors were painted with figural antique and Renaissance-derived imagery by Silvio Pezzoli, an Italian-born artist whom the Smiths brought to Vermont after a European grand tour.
The grounds were laid out in a picturesque fashion by Boston-based landscape architect Robert Morris Copeland (then a resident of West Castleton, Vermont), who also worked on the Billings Estate (WS29) in Woodstock. Here he planned serpentine drystone walls and artfully clustered trees that frame views down Otter Valley. Following the death of the Smiths' only son, Clinton Smith built a mausoleum (1881) to the north of the mansion, deriving his details from Woodward but translating wooden forms into granite. Predeceased by both of their children, the Smiths left their estate as a home for the elderly. In 1922 a brick residents' wing was added to the mansion, which remains in use as one of the earliest purpose-built facilities for the aged in Vermont.