Bill Wilson House and Griffith Library
Devoted to the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Bill Griffith Wilson, or Bill W. as he was affectionately known, the Bill Wilson House began its life as a hotel built in 1852. The hotel was acquired by the Wilson family in the late 19th century and was renamed the Wilson House in 1895, the same year Bill W. was born in the hotel’s north parlor. The hotel passed through various owners, was known as the Aeolus Inn for a time and eventually fell into disrepair by the 1970s. Its link to Bill W. largely saved it from the wrecking ball. It was eventually purchased by AA devotee, Albert Lepper, in 1987. Lepper and others decided to restore the old hotel and turn it into a place of respite for recovering alcoholics and as a tribute to Bill W. Today, it hosts various meetings and conferences associated with AA and Al-Anon. It also serves as an example of one of the few remaining small-town hotels in Vermont. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1995.
Backstory and Context
What is now the Bill Wilson House started as a mid-19th century hotel built by local businessman, Ira Cochran, who owned a marble sawing mill. As the marble industry grew, so too did the railroad industry and Cochran sought to take advantage of both when East Dorset became a stop on the Western Vermont Railroad’s line between Rutland and Bennington. His large, Greek Revival style hotel was soon filled with passengers and quarry workers. Cochran passed in 1894 and the hotel was acquired by his son-in-law, Blake Barrows, who married Cochran’s daughter, Betsy. The Barrows’ daughter, Helen, married William Wilson and he obtained partial ownership of the hotel as a result. Helen and William Wilson’s son, Gilman Barrows Wilson, married Emily Griffith and it was Emily who gave birth to William Griffith Wilson (Bill W.) in the hotel’s parlor in 1895.
Unfortunately for Bill W. and his younger sister, Dorothy, their parents divorced when Bill was 11 and both mother and father left Vermont. Bill W. and Dorothy were then raised by their maternal grandparents, Fayette and Ellen Griffith, in the house that is now home to the Griffith Library. This event, perhaps more than any other in his life, had a profound effect on Bill W., despite the best efforts of his grandparents. He was educated at Manchester’s Burr and Burton School and met his future wife, Lois Burnham, in 1913. Bill W. went on to attend Norwich College, a military school, and married Lois in 1918, just prior to leaving for Europe and World War I. It was while in England that Bill W. had an epiphany of sorts in an English church that would aid him greatly as he struggled with alcoholism when he returned to Brooklyn and began working on Wall Street.
Throughout the 1920s, Bill W. did his best to ruin his marriage and career with his alcohol addiction. He was finally visited by an old friend that had recently conquered his own alcoholism through the efforts of a spiritual fellowship called the Oxford Group, a forerunner to Alcoholics Anonymous. By December of 1934, with the help of his friend, the Oxford Group, and a psychiatrist named William Silkworth, Bill W. achieved sobriety. He then sought to aid others struggling with alcoholism. As the Great Depression raged, Bill W. went to Akron, Ohio in pursuit of a business venture that never came to fruition. While in Akron, he was tempted to turn again to alcohol and sought the help of a fellow Oxford Group member, Dr. Robert Smith, also from Vermont, and Bill W. found the partner with which to create Alcoholics Anonymous.
The two decided to do what they could for others going through what they recently had, and AA was formed on the day Dr. Bob had his last drink, June 10, 1935. From this point onward, the two devoted their lives to assisting others in achieving sobriety and, to that end, created “…a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength, and hope with each other that they solve their common problem and help others to recover from alcoholism.” Bill W. then went on to create his 12-step process that was expanded from the Six Tenets of the Oxford Group. Next, he described his 12-steps and the overall vision of AA in his 1939 book entitled, simply, Alcoholics Anonymous.
Dr. Bob passed in 1950 from colon cancer after assisting thousands in achieving sobriety. Bill W. devoted the last 35 years of his life to assisting fellow alcoholics through AA and died in 1971 on his 53rd wedding anniversary. The Bill Wilson House and the Griffith Library serve the purpose of continuing his work and legacy through helping others and documenting the life of Bill W.
Henry, Hugh. "National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form: Bill Wilson House." United States Department of the Interior/National Park Service. June, 1995. Accessed November 6, 2019.https://npgallery.nps.gov/NRHP/GetAsset/NRHP/95001427_text
"Wilson House History." The Wilson House. Accessed November 6, 2019. http://www.wilsonhouse.org/wilson-house/
Allen, Anne Wallace. "Vermont's Quiet Memorial to 'Bill W.'" Los Angles Times. February 13, 2000. Accessed November 6, 2019. https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-2000-feb-13-mn-63865-story.html
"Bill's Story." Stepping Stones Foundation. 2010. Accessed November 6, 2019. https://www.steppingstones.org/billsstory.html
Madigan, Cherise. "After 30 years, still celebrating sobriety." Brattleboro Reformer. May 5, 2018. Accessed November 6, 2019. https://www.reformer.com/stories/after-30-years-still-celebrating-sobriety,538908