The Visionary of Wilder, Vermont
Charles T. Wilder was born in Attleboro, Massachusetts on September 1st, 1831, and grew up in Chelsea, Massachusetts. After he completed his education at Monson Academy, he joined Wilder & Company of Boston, which had been founded by his father, Charles B. Wilder, in 1840. His younger brother, Herbert A. Wilder, would later join the family business. By 1863 the two Wilder brothers were running Wilder & Co., which they would expand greatly in the decades following the American Civil War.
In 1863 Charles T. Wilder married Mary E. Ware of Wellesley, Massachusetts, and Wellesley would become their permanent home throughout their marriage. They had one child, a daughter, who died at age three.
In 1880 Charles and Herbert Wilder purchased the development rights to build a paper mill alongside the Connecticut River in what was then known as Olcott, Vermont. The Upper Valley operations would become the focus of Charles T. Wilder, who took an active role in the planning and development of the surrounding village.
In 1892 Charles T. Wilder completed construction of a summer residence on the New Hampshire side of the river, on a bluff overlooking the Wilder Mill. The Wilder Mansion, which is assumed to have been designed by Boston architects, remains today in the area of Lebanon, N.H. that is still informally known as East Wilder.
Charles T. Wilder died in August 1897, and news of his death and sizable philanthropic gifts appeared in newspapers nation-wide. His will included $12,000 for the construction of a bridge across the Connecticut River connecting Olcott, Vt. and Lebanon, N.H. with the stipulation that the village of Olcott be renamed after him. Learn more about the history of the Village of Wilder.
Mr. Wilder made significant gifts to nearby Dartmouth College, including a bequest of $75,000 for the construction of a physics laboratory, which would become Wilder Hall. Mary Hitchcock Memorial Hospital also received a large donation for the establishment of the “Charles T. Wilder free bed.” Wellesley College, in Charles and Mary Wilder’s hometown, would also receive substantial donations.
Charles left numerous gifts to a number of other institutions, including: Kimball Union Academy, the Mount Hermon School, Whitman College, Colorado College, Carleton College, Amherst College, and the Armenian Missionary Association.
His brother Herbert Wilder sold the Wilder Mill to the International Paper Company in 1899, but continued the Wilders philanthropic impact on the Upper Valley and institutions nationwide. This included the construction of the Wilder Club and Library in Wilder, Vt., and “The Men’s Building” at Oberlin College, which is now known as Wilder Hall.
Special Thanks: This history has been adapted from “The Wilder Brothers: The Mill, The Village, The Legacy” and “Connecticut River’s Wilder Mansion an Historical Perspective” by Frank J. Barrett, Jr.