Orange mansion owner starts fundraiser for hedge maze garden

By DOMENIC POLI

Staff Writer

Published: 04-26-2023 2:27 PM

ORANGE — The Revival Wheeler Mansion owner who has been at odds with town officials over requirements to open the structure for business said she is rectifying the property’s issues and will spend the spring and summer working to bring to fruition a hedge maze garden with help from the community.

Cynthia Butler has been directed to make various repairs to bring the building up to code, but compliance has exhausted her budget and she hopes to make the hedge maze garden a reality via a brick fundraising campaign. People are invited to purchase bricks inscribed with names, messages or memorials.

“The plants themselves are quite expensive,” Butler said, adding that she hopes to plant a 1-acre garden behind the mansion at 75 East Main St. by the fall.

Anyone is welcome to visit bit.ly/3GOy39E to buy a 4-by-8-inch brick for $100 or a 8-by-8-inch one for $250. The smaller of the bricks will have enough space for three lines of text, 18 characters each, while the larger one will have room for six lines of text, also 18 characters each. People can also make a PayPal donation.

“Our goal is to build a garden that will help attract tourists far and wide, and be a destination for local visitors who have enjoyed the beauty of the mansion for years,” the fundraising page reads.

Butler’s intention is to build an English-style hedge maze garden with cobblestone and brick pathways. Her property’s back lot has been cleared, with Butler removing about eight damaged trees, roots and all. The fundraising campaign will continue until May 28, to give Butler enough time to order the bricks and have them delivered.

Butler, a California transplant who bought the North Quabbin region’s only Gilded Age mansion in July 2020 and now lives on its second floor, noted University of Massachusetts Amherst student Rebecca Bagdigian-Boone designed the garden two years ago as a senior project.

Butler has clashed with town officials over legal requirements and what she perceives as a lack of guidance to get her business up and running in accordance with fire and building codes. Building Commissioner Jeffrey Cooke and Fire Chief James Young updated the Selectboard on Butler’s project in February, with both expressing concern over the public’s safety. Butler had stated she hopes to open the mansion for events and retreats, with a boutique bar.

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Speaking last week, Butler said she has already spent $43,000 on the mansion’s sprinkler system and an additional requirement will cost another $20,000. She also said the water commissioners have required the system to have a double check sprinkler valve.

“I have to finish some compliance issues. I’m putting all of my energy into pacifying those requirements,” Butler said. “Now I have everything I need. I don’t know how long it’s going to take to get the work done.”

Mansion history

John W. Wheeler built the mansion in 1902 and 1903 for his wife, Almira. He had made his fortune manufacturing and selling sewing machines and was president of the New Home Sewing Machine Co.

He died in the building in 1910 and he deeded his home to the Order of the Eastern Star, a Masonic sisterhood. Then-Athol Daily News writer Allen Young reported the building was owned by the Eastern Star for much of the 20th century, serving as a home for its elderly members. The Eastern Star closed the building in 1990, and Karen and Robert Anderson bought it from the Star Realty Trust for $240,000 in 1996, according to Young. The new owners had intended to open a bed-and-breakfast called Anderson Manor, but those plans never came to fruition.

Reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com or
413-930-4120.

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