Village People

The Frongillo family's love of Sunday River starts off-mountain at their historic home in the heart of Bethel.

It’s the very last week of winter when I visit Gail and Bill Frongillo’s house on Broad Street in Bethel—cold enough for Gail to turn on the heat when we walk in, but close enough to spring that the backyard gardens are no longer buried under snow. Standing alongside its stately neighbors within Broad Street’s historic district, the Greek Revival with wraparound porch, stone wall, and barn is not at all what you imagine when you hear the phrase ski house.

In 2001, the lifelong skiers began their house hunt in Bethel. They loved the history and beauty of Bethel and its proximity to the mountain. When Bill went there one day to scope out a different house, he had no intention of seeing the rambling historic home on Broad Street, but the real estate agent encouraged him to check it out while he was there. That was the end of the search.

Built in 1859 for a U.S. congressman named David Hammons, the house had many connected rooms, and had once been used as an inn. The Frongillos—who didn’t have children yet—agonized over the size of the house and the amount of work that needed to be done inside and out. “The porch was falling down; there was old carpet and wallpaper everywhere,” recalls Gail. At the same time, they were drawn to its history and period details. Bill, the owner of an audiovisual staging and production company, was especially intrigued by the barn, which had a stage and fireplace and was once used as a theater by the Gehring Clinic, a rest home for those who traveled to Bethel to receive hypnosis treatment. “Ultimately, the house made the decision for us,” says Gail.

Despite the challenges (as well as more than a couple incredulous friends and family members wondering what they were taking on), the Frongillos forged ahead, moving to Bethel and working on the house over a period of many years. The first thing they did was tear down the porch and rebuild it in keeping with the home’s historic character. Bill did a lot of the work himself, restoring all the hardware on the doors throughout, and repairing and restoring all the windows, which had been painted shut. “People must have thought we were crazy,” says Gail. “Looking back, I’m realizing we absolutely were.”

Over the years, though, the Frongillos began to grow into their home. The couple had three children who started in Sunday River’s ski program as toddlers, and they began making friends in Bethel, whom they would host often. Gail, a financial advisor, commuted to Boston a few times a week. For many years, ski weekends began with Friday night dinner with three other couples. “We would rotate where dinner would be, but one thing was for certain—we had a date,” says Gail. Now winter weekends start with Friday night at Sud’s Pub or Sud’s takeout, a visit from a friend (or two, or three) from Massachusetts, and then early to bed to be ready for an 8 a.m. departure for Sunday River. “I think a lot of people head straight to Sunday River without ever thinking to venture down into the village,” says Gail. “But we love it here. There’s a ton
to do.”

For this family of skiers, the main draw to Bethel is of course skiing at Sunday River, but the Frongillos love being in the village “where summers are as wonderful as winters,” says Gail. The family hikes, mountain bikes, golfs, and takes advantage of Sunday River’s zipline. They especially enjoy the town’s MollyOckett Day festival in July, where friends from out of state reunite for Bethel’s summer homecoming. “Bethel is a wonderful place to have a reunion,” says Gail. The kids enjoy the festivities at the fair, and the adults watch the band concerts from their front porch. In the evening everyone gathers around the firepit by the gardens in the backyard. “We also love sitting on the front porch and patio late in the afternoon when the sun is warm and you can watch the sunset behind the Bethel Inn and the Mahoosuc mountain range,” says Gail. And on any given night, the Frongillos love chatting with and waving to neighbors as they pass by.

These days, the Frongillos spend most Saturday evenings at home. With a group of friends who also have children, they find the house accommodates everyone comfortably. “My motto has always been ‘the more the merrier,’” says Gail. The adults enjoy time around the dining room table, while the children romp in and out of the rest of the house. Conversation in the dining room is often interrupted by a marching band of five to ten kids showing off their musical talents with drums and any other noisemakers they can get their hands on. A person walking by might witness a dance party or a ski jumping contest out back on the kids’ man-made slope and rails. “There is always a lot of laughter on Saturday nights in our home,” says Gail. “Very few go home disappointed.”

Evidence of these gatherings can be found on the bottom of the Windsor chairs in the dining room. Unstained on the bottom, the chairs have been signed by family and friends over the years. One chair is even stamped with a dog print from a favorite canine visitor. (“We would frequently find Cheney scratching at the back door to come in for a Frongillo visit,” says Gail.)

For years, the Frongillos lived in Bethel full-time, but today they are Cumberland residents and Bethel is a second home to them, only an hour and a half away. “Even though we go up often, every time we pull onto Main Street, I still feel that decompression,” says Gail. “That familiar feeling of ‘ahh, it’s good to be back.’”

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