‘The one place where everything was whole’
The gate at the front of The Splendid Splinter in Westminster was built with stones taken from the property.

‘The one place where everything was whole’

With the renovation of her childhood home, a daughter pays homage to a family who lived in the public eye — where ‘the greatest hitter who ever lived fell in love with Miss Vermont’

WESTMINSTER — Turning a beloved childhood home into a bed-and-breakfast isn't unusual.

But there is a lot more to the story of how Claudia Williams renovated and restored her family homestead - a hideaway on a 60-acre farm in the woods - that was bought by a fashion model with her earnings and where one of the greatest hitters in the history of baseball fell in love with that model, got married, and got divorced in a tempestuous relationship that ultimately lasted much longer than the marriage.

The model was Dolores Wettach of Putney, who represented Vermont in the 1956 Miss Universe beauty pageant, earned a nursing degree from the University of Vermont in 1957, was a Vogue model in the 1960s and, in 1968, became the third wife of Red Sox legend and Hall-of-Famer Ted Williams.

Claudia Williams, their daughter, has filled the home with photos and memorabilia from the careers of both of her parents, as well as her older brother, the late John Henry Williams. She has called the house the Splendid Splinter, after one of many nicknames given to her father.

But for Claudia, the Splendid Splinter is not so much about baseball history as it is about love - or, as she puts it, “where the greatest hitter who ever lived fell in love with Miss Vermont.”

A different kind of love story

Dolores Wettach was born in New York City but grew up a farm girl in Putney. Her family ran a mink farm, and she was adept at skinning and dressing minks - so adept that her animal husbandry instructor at UVM had her teach classes. She loved the outdoors and and loved to fish, two qualities that greatly impressed her husband-to-be.

But that farm girl was also a tall, dark-haired beauty who won the Miss Vermont USA pageant in 1956 and whose budding nursing career was interrupted when she was spotted by a couple of fashion photographers in New York City. Before long, she was meeting with legendary Vogue editor Diana Vreeland and setting off on a successful modeling career.

Claudia said the top fashion photographers of the 1960s such as Art Kane, Milton Greene, Norman Parkinson, and Helmut Newton loved working with Wettach, as much for her beauty as for her willingness to jump into any situation and circumstance and still look stunning in the process.

As she tells the story, her mom was at the height of her career as a model when she met Ted Williams.

Dolores was flying back to the U.S. from a shoot in Australia when Ted boarded the plane during a stop in New Zealand. He was flying back from a fishing trip and was sitting across the aisle from her.

Ted was instantly smitten. He wrote a little note and tossed it to her.

The note read, “Who are you?” Dolores had no idea who he was. She laughed, wrote “Who are you?” and tossed it right back.

He then scribbled on the note, “I am Mr. Williams, a fisherman who would like to meet you.” And he continued to flirt with Dolores on that flight until they reached California and went their separate ways.

He was persistent and got her phone number and address in New York. It took about three dates for her to discover who “Mr. Williams” really was.

They got married in 1968 and moved into Dolores's farmhouse on Pine Banks Road, not far from her parents' farm. There was one problem with the mid-1800s post-and-beam house, however. It sat close to the road - too close for the taste of her new husband, who didn't like the gawkers who slowly drove by, wanting to get a glimpse of the great Ted Williams.

But Dolores had a solution. In the fall of 1971, not long after Claudia was born, Ted was away on a long fishing trip. She decided to move the house 521 feet up the hillside behind the existing site, so Ted could have his privacy and get the great view of the river valley as a bonus.

The move was meant to be a surprise. Dolores enlisted the help of Milton Graton, the famed New Hampshire restorer of covered bridges, and moved the house up the hill.

When Ted got back from his trip and saw the house was gone, he was furious at first, until he remembered that his wife said she a surprise for him. He then was duly impressed.

“He said, 'Some women like to move furniture, but she moves houses,'” Claudia recounted.

That was but one example of the kind of woman Dolores Wettach Williams was: someone who could stand toe-to-toe against an emotionally complicated man.

But even a woman as strong as she was could not stay married to Ted Williams. They divorced in 1974, but he would come every summer to spend a few days on Pine Banks Road on his way to his fishing camp in Canada - an occasion Claudia said she and her brother always looked forward to.

A legacy to live up to

Many books have been written about the many lives of Ted Williams - an outstanding baseball player who gave up five years of the prime of his career to serve his country in World War II and the Korean War as a combat pilot in the Marine Corps, an outstanding fisherman who traveled the world but loved nothing more than to spend time on the Miramichi River in New Brunswick pursuing his beloved Atlantic salmon, and a man who was relentless in his pursuit of excellence - in baseball, in flying, and in fishing - and had no tolerance for mediocrity.

Those same qualities also made him a difficult man to be married to, or to have as a father. While Claudia Williams says she “is not ashamed that his blood runs through my veins,” she also acknowledges that it was not easy having Ted Williams as a father.

She ably told that story in a 2014 memoir, Ted Williams, My Father, and is quick to refer her book to anyone who is curious about what Ted Williams was really like. She believes her father's various biographers did not fully capture the many facets of his emotionally complicated life, particularly his chaotic upbringing as a child and how it affected all of his relationships as an adult.

In her own life, Claudia grew up refusing to trade on her father's fame to get ahead in the world. She grew up on her mother's farm in Westminster, and she went to Westminster Center School and Bellows Falls Union High School. But when she was 16 and had a chance to finish her high school studies in Paris, she didn't hesitate.

“This is a small town, and my accomplishments were often overshadowed by my parents,” Claudia said. “Removing myself from them got me to see who I really am.”

It took time to find out, a process she details in her memoir. She spent much of her 20s in Europe, where few knew of her father. A self-described “athlete without a sport” - she was a distance runner since her days at Westminster Center School - she trained as a triathlete and almost made the Olympic team.

Like her parents, Claudia didn't do anything halfway, nor would she settle for anything less than being the best at anything she tried.

After the deaths of her father in 2002 and her brother in 2004, she spent several years as the caretaker for her mother, who died in 2017.

Claudia subsequently became a nurse practitioner, splitting time between Vermont and her home in Hernando, Fla., where she lives with her husband, attorney Eric Abel.

A tribute to family

The loss of her mother prompted Claudia to come up with something that would honor the memory of her family. While people might come to the Splendid Splinter because they are fans of Ted Williams, Claudia wanted to make sure that her mother would not be overlooked.

“Coming back here was coming back to the one place where everything was whole,” Claudia said. “Everything that was sacred to me is here.”

And everything that's in the house where she grew up has a story, and deep personal significance to her.

That is reflected in the decor in the various rooms. On the door of her mother's former bedroom is a sign: “The Queen.” That was Ted's nickname for Dolores.

The room is filled with photographs from her modeling days, as is the “Miss Vermont” room, also named for Dolores.

The “.406” room, named for Ted's batting average in 1941, the last time any major leaguer cracked the .400 mark for a season, is baseball-themed and has one of his favorite chairs.

An addition to the original 19th-century dwelling, the Sweetheart Barn, is a bit of an exception to the rest of the house. It is a self-contained space that practically screams “honeymoon suite,” albeit in a Vermont country style.

According to Heather Murphy Hicks, the manager of the property, the Splendid Splinter had a soft opening last summer and fall, with the house formally made available for rentals this month.

The first wedding on the property is scheduled for Mother's Day weekend, and the hope is that there will be more romances kindled and consummated on the Westminster hilltop that was the scene of another great love - a love so great, it even moved houses.

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