The Grand Dames of Quechee Real Estate

Diana O’Leary; Carol Dewey Davidson; Barbara West

Carol Dewey Davidson, Diana O’Leary, and Barbara West have all lived in the area for large swatches of their lives (so far, as the old joke goes). They have seen people and trends come and go. They all admire the island of serenity that Quechee offers, in the midst of the sometimes too-great excitements of the modern world. Some of these excitements have been in their own lives. As so often happens, what may have been painful at the time turns into a good story when recollected in tranquility.

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Diana O’Leary
“I’ve been here so long I get repeat customers,” says Diana, in the Better Homes and Gardens The Masiello Group’s office in Quechee. Now 75, she grew up in New Jersey and went to nursing school. She met her husband two weeks before graduation and were married for 28 years.

“When I moved to Quechee in 1974 from New Jersey, I had four babies: Peter, Heather, Suzanne, and Patrick. My fifth, Allison, was born at Mary Hitchcock [Memorial Hospital in Lebanon, New Hampshire],” Diana says. The family of six, including their sheepdog, Heidi, and “Raspberry the Rabbit” moved into a Kingswood Condo before moving to a 124-acre farm in Quechee. The family kept Hereford cows, 40 sheep, and two pigs named Mork and Mindy. “That was a really fun time,” she recalls.

She smiles as she talks about her twelve grandchildren, noting that she has a married grandson in Switzerland, and “maybe soon there’ll be a great-grandchild?”

Diana’s real estate career started in 1986. After raising her children she wanted to try something new, and a friend encouraged her to try selling real estate. Diana says her nursing background helps her in sales because she truly loves to take care of people. “I have become friends with just about all of my customers, and I cherish the people I work with.” 

Baby Allison, mom Diana, Peter, Patrick, Suzanne, and Heather Britnell, circa 1977


She considers herself very fortunate. Thirteen years ago, Diana’s second husband, Paul O’Leary, was having cancer treatments and Diana needed help with her customers, so her colleague, Derek Cosentino, stepped in to help, and “we’ve been business partners every since. It works,” says Diana, “because I’m the people person and Derek is the smart one.”

Her own experience living in Quechee has made her consider Quechee “a piece of heaven” for families. In part, because the master plan means “it can’t get overbuilt, and there are still many lots available.

There are even smaller ‘green residences’ that have just been built.” Diana explains, “People want to get out of the hustle and bustle, but it’s nice to have it crowded here once in a while,” and points to the Balloon Festival held over Father’s Day weekend as one of those times.

While Diana has many stories to tell, one of her favorites involves her daughter Heather, who at 7 or 8 sold ice cream from the lower-level of the Emporium building (which was on the corner of Main Street and Waterman Hill and was destroyed during Tropical Storm Irene in 2011) on the weekends in the summer. “The Ice Cream Scoop,” was such a successful endeavor that she and her siblings began selling ice cream at the first Quechee Balloon Festival, and now, 39 years later, Diana’s grandchildren continue to carry on this family tradition.

“Quechee hasn’t changed much since I moved here except some of the changes at The Quechee Club like the new pool, the indoor pool, the exercise room. It used to be more of a ski lodge,” she says. “I think it’s really nice like this.” And Quechee as a whole is “still the quiet, peaceful place that makes it what it is.”
 
Carol Dewey Davidson
It’s clear from her name that Carol Dewey Davidson is intimately connected to Quechee’s history. She grew up in the house that was later the Pippin Inn. Her family owned the A.G. Dewey Company, which ran a woolen mill that made satinet. “It was nothing to do with satin, believe me,” says Carol, with humorous emphasis. The fabric is a light wool in a plain weave. It was used for army blankets, and for baseball uniforms for both the Red Sox and the Yankees.

Carol’s great-grandfather was Admiral George Dewey, who earned acclaim for his victory over the Spanish fleet at the Battle of Manila Bay during the Spanish-American war. Congress created the rank of Admiral of the Navy for him, a rank never awarded since.

Carol’s grandfather became a Cadillac dealer in the early 1900s. “He kept one special car every year till World War II,” says Carol, “not necessarily a Cadillac – it could be something traded in. Then during the war, he gave them all for scrap metal. There went the family fortune!” she laughs.

Carol Dewey Davidson and John Davidson with the beloved hayride Belgians, circa 1975


As a child, Carol attended local grammar schools and then went to boarding schools – three of them. “I was kind of a spoiled brat,” she says. Instead of college, she went to New York City where she worked in the X-ray department of New York Hospital, getting on-the-job training as an X-ray technician. She lived in a dorm. Eventually, she got married, moved to Greenwich Village for five years – “I did a lot of things in five-year increments”– and had two children, Jen and Andy. “I moved with my kids to Florida,” she says after her marriage ended. “I went on vacation to Florida, and I thought, ‘It’s easier to take two kids to the beach than it is to walk through the streets to the park.’ I did like living in Delray Beach, but watching kids there just hang at the beach all day and into the night, or going to bars...” So she decided to move back to Quechee and worked at her mother’s store, Dewey’s Country Woolens.

Quechee had long been a pretty depressed area. Serious cloth production had moved away, and hill farms were losing out economically to larger, flatter operations. It was at that same time, that John Davidson’s, Carol’s future husband, began making plans to buy and develop the Quechee Valley. Talking with friends who had seasonal camps, John decided to find a year-round vacation home, which led him to Quechee. One day Carol’s father walked into the Parker House, which was serving as a center of operations for the development project and said, “My daughter has just moved back here. Can’t somebody please take her out?” In 1973, Carol and John were married.

Ten years later she began working as a realtor. “Right away,” she says, “I started meeting people I still enjoy today.” She is now an agent with the Brick and Barn Real Estate Group.

Partly because of the covenants governing the development, changes at Quechee Lakes have been quite gradual. Many Quechee residents volunteer in the community, and, says Carol, “There are men and women here with huge, important jobs, they come up put on jeans and work outside, and play with their kids.

“The Quechee development is good for the economy,” she continues. “It’s good for Vermont. It’s a good product – nothing to be ashamed of,” says Carol. “Maybe there will be a few more houses, but it will always feel like this.”

Barbara West
“People from Woodstock didn’t drive into Quechee,” says Barbara West, when she was growing up in Windham, Vermont. The paint was peeling in this former mill town fallen on hard times. 

Barbara has had a variety of careers from childhood. At 14, she had saved up enough money for her dream – to buy and maintain a horse – but shortly after that went to boarding school. “I learned something about planning ahead,” she laughs. She went to Oakwood, a small, demanding school in Poughkeepsie, New York. “It was the best two years of my education,” she says. “At home, I got straight A’s, and I didn’t have to work hard. But there I had to work my tail off and college was a smooth transition.”

In her 20s, she began training show dogs (and their owners); she also trained other people’s horses. “I had a keen interest in the ones labeled untrainable,” she says,. She married Paul West, a longtime constable in Woodstock; they both served as deputies. He had children from a previous marriage and they had three more.

Around the same time, Barbara began to raise quarter horses, which she liked because of their all-around abilities. Though horses are usually a money sink, hers paid for themselves and more. She was one of four founders of the Vermont Quarter Horse Association, and she says there are now more quarter horses than Morgans in Vermont. She was instrumental in that transition: At one point she had 32 breeding mares and the first American Quarter Horse Association champion stallion in Vermont.

Barbara has faced her fair share of troubled times. She had to abandon her horse projects when she ruined her knee as the result of a ski accident that tore the ligaments from her bone and crushed her kneecap. Doctors wanted to amputate or fuse her knee, but she found a doctor who would work to rebuild it. After a year of excruciating autologous transplants of bone and other tissue, he said it would probably last 15 years if she were careful. She was 30 at the time, so she’s doubled his estimate, and then some. “Not coddling it is best,” she says. “I don’t run anymore, but I walk 60 miles a week. 

Then she faced an even more difficult tragedy when her daughter, Polly, at 31 years old, was diagnosed with Stage IV colon cancer. Polly pleaded with her mom to “please just find a miracle.”  Weeding through information on the internet, Barbara’s research uncovered three experimental treatments. Used sequentially “they bought nine good years, instead of the months we’d been told to expect,” says Barbara, who once was an EMT. Polly died in 2005.

At the same time, she found more miracles for her second husband, Michael, who had suffered a massive stroke. Special treatments (hyperbaric oxygen) delivered 14 years of quality life, until his death in 2011.
Barbara found a late-in-life romance that brought joy to her, until her fiancé, William Main, died after a short battle with cancer in 2016. Self-pity does not seem to be in her lexicon, however. She converses even on such difficult narratives with an underlying humor. “Any time you have choices, you’re privileged. And I’ve been blessed with a life to be thankful for,” she says.

Polly West in September 1973’s Quechee Times Vol. 1 No. 10


Barbara has been in the local real estate business since 1980 when interest rates were 18.5 percent. She bought her own first home, in South Windham, Vermont, when she was still in her teens. Today, she hopes for a stable market and low mortgage rates. “It’s probably not healthy to return to 2006 levels when people paid prices well above appraised values. What do you think your kids are going to do?” she points out. Her son, Paul, works with her, and also lives in Quechee with his wife, Lanni. Another daughter, Tammy, lives in Charleston, South Carolina, and runs her own real estate office.

Like Diana and Carol, Barbara, who owns Quechee Associates, says, “I’ve met many of my best friends in Quechee, people who started out as clients and became good and dear friends. I think this is what keeps me active. I love the hunt to find the perfect property for those coming to Quechee and this area.” 

Barbara sees some positive changes evolving in Quechee, such as young families coming and having a good time. With travel easier, and the need to be on site less necessary for many jobs, people have more choice of where to live. Now, she thinks – always looking for improvements – what about an assisted-living facility in Quechee? It could be another way to keep family members nearby.

Collegial Competition
The world of Quechee-area real estate is small, but its denizens stay friendly even though they are in competition. Of course, it’s easier when there are plenty of sales to go around, but these ladies have seen enough cycles to know that civility is the best policy. “It’s competitive,” says Carol, “but gentlemanly. The real estate community is quite close.”

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