Off The Beaten Path in Southern Vermont

I woke up at 5 AM, was reminded that I wasn’t a morning person, and stumbled out my back door at 6. My friend was waiting for me in his parked car as the headlights cast a dull amber pallor onto quiet streets that were under the cold gray dawn. It was 41 degrees and I was all shiver bones in the new coming chill.

I stopped for a few gas station coffees and was rewarded with my early rise by wicked fog that obscured the landscape off route 7 in a glorious visceral veil that turned everything into mutated shadows. I caught some of it on my cell phone hanging around Dorset Peak, before it burned off. 

The weather lately has been prime for adventuring, and I’ve been aching to get out. This trip would give me that spark in my brains I was looking for. Feeding off my desire to visit as many obscure places as I can, I figured that two ghost towns in southern Vermont would be a great way to spend my day. These vanished places are probably some of the most obscure in the state. But everyone pays the price to feed, and I arrived back home exhausted and practically limping, so I suppose that can be gauged as one hell of an adventure. But I’m also someone who’d willingly drive 8 hours just to find an oddity, so a follow-up day of sluggish exhaustion was easily worth it for me.

Somerset

I’m willing to assume that plenty of Vermonters haven’t heard of Somerset. If you take a gander at a state atlas, it’s a narrow rectangle at the western edge of Windham County that nudges into eastern Bennington County – giving the latter county its block lettered “C” shape.

The entire burg is filled by the Green Mountain National Forest. It has a year-round population of 2 people and is only accessible by a forest service road that is all too easy to miss because of it’s small, squint-to-read street sign. But out of the two destinations I was planning on scouting, Somerset was the only one that was somewhat accessible by vehicle, so we started out with that one. I was still sipping my coffee which was getting unsatisfyingly cold, trying to shake off a road trip thematic Tom Waits song beating around in my head.

Somerset Road sort of plunges immediately down an embankment right off The Molly Stark Byway in woodsy Searsburg, and almost as quickly, turns to washboarded gravel after passing a few houses with scores of signs telling you that they’re not into people trespassing on their land. The increasingly destitute road now follows the Deerfield River and is thick with trees. We noticed that some older power lines had still been strung up along the road, and ran the length of the Searsburg portion. But it was evident these lines were archaic predecessors of modern day utility infrastructure. Some of the poles were leaning pretty horizontally as we got further down the road, and that’s when we noticed that they had glass insulators still on their lower rungs, now defunct as the power company had long clipped those wires and modernized things a bit a few feet higher up. Glass insulators were developed in the 1850s originally for telegraph wires, but were later utilized for initiative telephone wires and electric power lines, until the 1960s when they began to be phased out and simultaneously became a feature of interest.

I thought it was pretty cool to see them, and that there are still more or less untouched Vermont back roads that still exist. Older relics like these are becoming increasingly hard to find nowadays. And, apparently, there is a collectors market, clubs and even shows dedicated to them. Anything can have fanfare it seems.

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The Somerset Road as it winds through Searsburg.
The blue glass insulators are on the bottom rung, while the modernized installation sits on top.

As soon as we hit the Somerset town line, which was marked by an omnipresently strange country icon of a bullet-perforated speed limit sign and an abrupt transition of bad gravel road to worse gravel road. The power lines stopped, and for the next several miles, we were deep in the type of woods where you really couldn’t see the forest through the trees, and they were all in the throes of their glorious descent into their perennial death.

There are really no places in Vermont like Somerset. Though there are 2 census documented year-round denizens, the amount of people gets to about 24-ish during the summer months – they’re all people who have camps there. In a 2011 interview done by WCAX, one of two Somersetians, Don Gero, explained that people don’t stick around here. Both residents are bachelors, and he quipped that because Somerset has no electricity or phones, women don’t want to live there. “They can’t use their hair dryers or wash their clothes” he said. He’s also not happy about the summer camping population, who are “two dozen too many” for his tastes, and paeaned for the good ol’ days when I guess none of them were there. Often, the current culture of these odd places is more interesting than the past events that created them.

Charted by Benning Wentworth back when Vermont wasn’t Vermont and its land was quarreled over by New York and New Hampshire, the New Hampshire governor and businessman (in no particular order) just drew a whole bunch of lines on a map and granted towns without knowing anything of the area’s geography. The most important thing was that New York couldn’t get their hands on any of the land, so he didn’t concern himself with pesky things like that. Vermonters decided they preferred anarchy, and would later orgonize an independent republic in 1777 with our own currency and postal service, and then, the 14th state in 1791 when we tried on our current name. 

Somerset is all mountains, far away from anything and hard to get to. Despite that it wasn’t great real estate to early settlers, 321 people tried to live here in the town’s 1880s apex. Logging was the only way to make a few bucks, so they deforested all of the area mountains. They attempted to have log drives down the Deerfield River, except for when it was low, which it was, a lot. 

The demand for timber was ravenous, and that convinced a railroad line to lay tracks up to the mills, which were a huge boon to the town, but also helped speed up its death. A town depending on a finite resource comes and goes like fads always do, and most of the trees in the area were hacked down, the inevitable consequence was that both the logging industry and the town became a literal washout. 

The town’s last hurrah was when the Deerfield River valley was eyed for a future facing wonder like hydropower and the cash it could bring. In 1911, the Somerset Dam began to take form. The dam was built by massive work crews of about 100 men in shifts, doing everything by hand and took about 3 years to complete. The reservoir did what reservoirs do best and collected the desired water, which submerged what was left of town and the railroad and the mills. 

At some point, there was an airfield in Somerset, which has also vanished. Today it’s a free and minimal amenitied national forest campground under the same name. According to campers who post reviews online, it’s either wonderfully remote or a place where amateur outdoors folk or “Massholes” go to belt loud music and litter. Given my experience at campgrounds, I’d say it’s probably both.

I also found out, which isn’t detrimental to your life if you don’t know, that you can take class D forest roads from Somerset all the way north to the Kelly Stand Road – a west-east oriented forest road that’s also one of Southern Vermont’s most scenic. If you enjoy shunpiking, finding more of these back road byways to explore is usually not a bad thing.

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The Somerset Road in Somerset.
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A small and mowed cemetery surprisingly pops out of miles of wilderness as you travel up the forest road. Many of the weathered and matching headstones were kids. One sad entombment was uniquely chiseled with a sheep on top, and quickly caught my wondering eyes. Lancelot was 3 years old. Life up here was tough, especially for kids.

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The further away from civilization we drove, the more apple trees started to distinguish appear from the northern forests. These apples trees appeared somewhat old, some of them were haunted by the thick woods and lack of sunlight needed to grow. Others still carried apple crops of various qualities, apple strands that are heirloom seeds, and are not commercially available anymore in an increasingly controlled GMO market, leaving these trees to one by one drift away or die off.
The further away from civilization we drove, the more apple trees started to distinguishly appear from the northern forests. I’m not sure how old some of these trees were, and if they were original to former Somerset residents, or planted after the national forest took over. These apple trees appeared somewhat haunted by the thick woods and lack of sunlight needed to grow. Others still carried apple crops which varied in how rotten they were. These apple strands that are heirloom seeds, and are not commercially available anymore in an increasingly lack of choice based GMO market, leaving these trees to one by one die off.
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A brown and white national forest sign explained at the trees that were still able to produce apples were part of an “apples for wildlife program”,which is pretty self-explanatory.
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I could have hung out in Somerset all day, it was just so beautiful and almost intimidatingly wild. All I’d need is a few Vermont microbrews to accompany me. This little brook paralleled the forest road, but I wouldn’t have found it if I didn’t stop to spark my interest in an old apple orchard.
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Only 3 things remain of Somerset’s days as a town – one of them being its restored but locked one-room schoolhouse, also found a ways up the forest road. I heard it was a private camp, but not positive about those details. I’d love to see the inside. Or to live in a restored one-room schoolhouse.
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The forests of Somerset. Are any of my blog followers into Geocaching like me? Somerset may be remote, but the area is loaded with caches!

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The Somerset Reservoir is where the Somerset Road comes to an end, and in my humble opinion, one of the more stunning places in Vermont. The sinuous and currently blustery cold water body is about 5-6 miles long and undeveloped. The dam's roadside appearance is really just a high grassy wall with a nearby unmanned rickety tin shack that has a TransCanada logo sign plate on it. But atop the dam is this awesome view of one of Vermont's largest wilderness areas. I really wish I had brought a kayak or something. Seriously, places like this are therapy to me. I couldn't contain my approval and swore a few times to prove it.
The Somerset Reservoir is where the Somerset Road comes to an end, and in my humble opinion, one of the more stunning places in Vermont. The sinuous and currently blustery cold water body is about 5-6 miles long and undeveloped. The long form of Stratton’s rounded mountain top could be seen in the distance . The dam’s roadside appearance is really just a high grassy wall with a nearby unmanned rickety tin shack that has a TransCanada logo sign plate on it. But atop the dam is this awesome view of one of Vermont’s largest wilderness areas. I really wish I had brought a kayak or something. Seriously, places like this are therapy to me. I couldn’t contain my approval and swore a few times to prove it.

Glastenbury

Vermont author Joseph Citro introduced Connecticut’s faded hamlet of Duddleytown (which was really only a place name in the town of Cornwall named after the trio of brothers who bought land there) as “the granddaddy of all New England window areas” in his book Passing Strange, which to me made a pretty good lead-in to that chapter (it was actually the last sentence in his chapter on Glastenbury). I’d like to term swipe that to introduce Glastenbury on a more localized level, as the granddaddy of Vermont’s lost areas, for multifarious justifications.

Getting to the ill-fated town is nothing short of a challenge today, and was for the people who tried to make a life for themselves up there over a century ago. It’s isolation, stubbornly built up in an area of 12 peaks over 3,000 feet with no convenient access, makes it one of the most unique places in the Green Mountain State, then and now.

If you’ve been following my blog, you might know that I’ve been very interested in Glastenbury since I was a kid, and wrote about it extensively, my long winded self trying to pack as much detail as I could into a blog post. This entry expands on that.

To summarize things; the vanished town of Glastenbury was charted in 1761, and reflected the circumstances of its neighbor Somerset when it was naively plotted over some of the worst topography in the state. As a consequence, it wasn’t really until the 1850s when anyone paid interest to the town, when people figured out they had an entire mountain of wood to deforest for profit, and a logging/charcoal duality became Glastenbury’s only industry.

About 12 brick kilns for charcoal production were built in southern Glastenbury at an area known as “the forks”, because it was a distinguishable location where Bolles Brook split in two in a V-shaped parting of ways. A small and rough, lawless village designated as South Glastenbury grew up around these kilns, including a one-room schoolhouse, loggers boardinghouse and company store.

The steepest railroad ever built in the U.S. was developed to get up into South Glastenbury. The electric trolly line was the only element that made the town a pragmatic place; bringing down money making lumber and charcoal, and later, bringing up tourists. Many have no idea that aforementioned rail bed still exists, and if you follow it, will bring you deep into indistinguishable wilderness to the grave of the old town. Our adventure started well before we got out of the car when we navigated our way to the portal into the forest. 

Funny enough, Glastenbury is still technically a town, at least in the haze of Vermont law. A gaze at a state atlas, or a Google map search, will show you a dotted lined square that represents a town boundary, only, there is nothing within the square. It’s considered an unincorporated town – or, one of 5 Vermont communities with a population so low, that instead of a town government handling its affairs, those things are managed by a county or the state. Or the national forest service I guess. There are a few people who still do live in Glastenbury – populated by just 6 people ( their properties are pretty much clustered near the borders of either Shaftsbury or Woodford), who also have achieved somewhat of a level of intrigue beyond the strange phenomena that describes the town.

I’m going to stay quiet on the access road we took, because it’s pretty evident that the people who have their addresses there don’t want the crowds. (Like the folks in Somerset, they live in the boonies for a reason, only, these folks express their discontent via threatening scrawl) When we drove up the gravel roadway, we immediately began to pass some shabby looking properties, all of them with handwritten and somewhat threatening signs warning nonlocals not to park their cars there, or else.

Fearing our car would be cannibalized for its wheels in an uncomfortable back woods “we warned you!” sort of situation, we decided to find what we designated as the safest parking space on the road, far away from any discernable houses and no parking signs. Hoping that we didn’t make a stupid mistake, we trekked up the road on foot, found the forest road, and began our hike into one of the most fabled places in state mythology.

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This is a shot of the trail slash old rail bed, miles into our hike. Unexpectedly to me, this might be the most grueling of Vermont hikes I’ve endured. The amount of rocks ravished my feet to a point where I was literally limping down the trail, silently no longer caring if I was there and begging to rest my weary bones in the car.
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Further up the trail, we started to find original rail spikes from when the railroad was built over a century ago!
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This was a sign that got me revved up. We began to notice chunks of Slag along the trail. Slag is a stony waste matter separated from metals during the smelting or refining of ore, and since Glastenbury was built around charcoal furnaces, there is plenty of the stuff in the woods today. We were even to find some rare green and blue slag. I’m not very savvy about the jewelry culture, but I guess you can polish and buffer up slag chunks pretty attractively and make accented miscellany from them. I dig them in their natural form, and grabbed a few chunks of the green for my collection of oddities.

We hushed our sound as we heard another one that was all too familiar to me. We heard an approaching 4 wheeler. Because of my suspicious nature and not knowing what sort of people were this deep up in the woods, I decided to relocate myself as far to the side of the trail as I could, give a friendly nod and let them pass. As they got closer, I saw it was a younger couple, a man and a woman, and they slowed down as they saw us. I decided to take the mutual encounter and get past my social anxiety and spark up a conversation with them.

Actually, I wanted directions, because we were beginning to second guess ourselves as to where we were, and if we could find any of the ruins, and I really didn’t want to leave disappointed.

The front handbrakes were pulled and their 4 wheeler slowed down to a stop. The gentleman, who was wearing a camo baseball cap and sunglasses smiled at us and wished us a good afternoon, his wife sat behind him silently observing us with a friendly expression. I returned the greeting and asked him if he could direct us to South Glastenbury.

“Oh, the forks?” he asked. That casual nickname drop meant that they were aware of it, and I nodded my head, my excitement immediately betrayed my casual expression I was trying to keep. I also thought it was pretty rad that locals today still use the place’s old handle.

“Yes, the forks. Are we close? Would it even be traceable in all this?” I gestured to the thick woods around me to make a point. “Well, yeah you can find it. But this is sort of the wrong time of year to be looking for that sort of stuff. Also, it’s bear season up here you know. Uhh, how’d you guys know about Glastenbury, just curious?” he asked us with a backdrop set to his tone.

I wasn’t quite sure if my candor had triggered a nerve, or how to give him a cropped statement of how Glastenbury found itself sticking to the flypaper of New England mythology, but I had a feeling he already knew that. “So, you know about Middie Rivers?” his wife spoke up. “Yeah, I do” I stated. There was no need to be superfluous there. But for those of you who are unfamiliar with Glastenbury and it’s monsters;

Local lore includes a froth of big hairy monsters, a cursed Indian stone that swallows humans, UFOs, mysterious lights, sounds and odors detected by colonial settlers, and numerous hikers walking off the face of the earth here between 1945 to 1950 – earning it the nickname; “The Bennington Triangle” in 1992, which has adhered itself to the flypaper of popular culture.

Fortean researchers like John A. Keel conjured up the term “Window Area”, which I had referenced at the beginning of this section, as a place where some sort of interdimensional trapdoor can be found. Well, that’s one theory anyways. New England is loaded with so-called “Window Areas”. Cryptozoologist and researcher Loren Coleman identified Massachusetts’ “Bridgewater Triangle”, using the term “triangle” to designate any odd geographical area. Joseph Citro followed up by coining “The Bennington Triangle” – both are said to be “window areas” It’s also one of my favorite terms to use when talking about this caliber of local weirdness.

Who knows where the flickers of truth are in all this. And that’s what makes everything so damn fascinating, because there is truth in these tales tall and true.

It’s also the mountain’s paranormal and controversial tales that attract modern day professed ghost hunting clubs and social media sensationalists, whose meddling are an affront to both locals and reasonable judgment, which really seemed to have damned the wilderness area.

Don’t get me wrong, these haunting stories are partially why I found myself hiking up the mountain, because of how impressionable they were and still are to me, but I find that there is also a line between being a civilized researcher, and becoming one of the monsters you’re chasing and exploiting it on a tawdry clickbait website with a headline that reads something like “{insert subject} will give you NIGHTMARES!”

Middie Rivers

The elderly Middie Rivers was the first of a handful of people who reputedly disappeared in the mountains in or near Glastenbury. Anyone who tells the story of southern Vermont’s Shangri-La recants that Rivers was an experienced woodsman who, while leading other hunters on the mountain, got a bit ahead on the trail, and was never seen again.

“None of that is true”, his wife said declaredly. “Rivers wasn’t a hunter or an experienced woodsman at all! He was actually from Massachusetts, and he had borrowed a rifle from his brother-in-law, who he was hunting with. He’d probably never even hunted before, and certainly never guided other hunters up here. The only thing that’s true about that story, is that he did disappear.”

“One theory is that he might have fallen down an old well. That seems pretty plausible to me”, I added. She nodded her head. “Yup, that’s what we think too. I mean, there are plenty of them up in the hills. But vanishing without a trace…people love to say that, because it backs up the mystic or, I don’t know, the ghostly impression about this place. They’d rather believe that than the facts, because it’s more interesting” she furrowed her brows and cut herself off in annoyed contemplation – like she knew what she wanted to say but couldn’t get it out. I was loving this conversation. “I know a bit about Middie Rivers” she continued after a moment. “I know a lot of stories and legends, passed down by relations to him. The Loziers – that’s the family who is related to him – we knew/know them, they passed down all sorts of stuff to us growing up. They have a camp up in Glastenbury still, like us. I even have a picture of Middie Rivers”.

“Ah, that explains the 4 wheeler then. I was a little surprised to see you folks! I assumed this was just a hiking trail or forest road”.

“Yup, we’re one of two camps in Glastenbury on this trail. My wife’s father built it years ago. We were grandfathered in. After the national forest took over, no one else was allowed to build up here or drive up this trail anymore. As it is, we need a special permit to have 4 wheelers so we can ride up here” – the husband cut in. “Did you see all of the gates?” I nodded in confirmation. We had to crawl underneath a few of them just to advance our hike. He continued; “We used to have friends up all the time, they used to come up in huge parties on ATVs up the trail. Now you can’t do that. It’s ridiculous, but hell, we’re not going to fucking lug all of our shit up to the camp on foot” – he then gestured to a cooler on the back rack of his 4 wheeler to emphasize his point. I got it. My friend and I had been walking for over an hour now, and I was already exhausted. “Our camps have been here for a long time – they started out as plywood cabins with dirt floors, and over the years as they were passed down, we’ve improved them a bit. No one else can build up here now.”

“I mean, it’s really probable that Middie could have fallen down a sink hole”, his wife interjected herself back into the already broadening conversation. “Sinkholes?” I asked, hoping I delivered a cue to get any sort of further information. “Ayuh, it happens more often than you think. Sinkholes swallow hunters all the time! There’s tons of them up here. People have hunted this mountain all their lives and still report getting turned around in the woods and intimidated here.”

“Because of the cross winds that meet on Glastenbury Mountain?” I prodded, a showing a little pride in my research. She nodded her head.

“I’d love to hear more about Middie Rivers, or any stories you guys have, if you’d be interested in chatting? I can give you my email or something?” I attempted. I couldn’t help it, I live for stuff like this. There is just something underneath my skin, a desire to make sense of everything. I’m definitely the type to overload myself with information.

At this point, his wife broke out in a lopsided grin and told me that she wasn’t interested in speaking any further about Glastenbury, without actually telling me she didn’t want to speak anymore about Glastenbury. “Well, we’ll be on our way now” said her husband, his thumb pushing the ignition and the engine promptly firing up. He gave us directions that were incredibly vague, but given the lack of wayfinding points, were the best he could do with people who’ve never been in those woods before. I thanked the both of them, tipped my hat in gesture, and both groups parted our opposite ways down the trail.

The Forks

It didn’t take long before we were unclear of the given directions and insecure about how much we remembered. It didn’t help that there were plenty of brook forks along the trail, tripping my thoughts up to think that any of them could be the forks.

As we continued our trek up the trail, we sighted something that sort of sketched us out. I’m laughing to myself as I type this sentence, but it was a cozy looking, nicely upkept log cabin which was probably one of the camps the baseball capped guy was talking about. There was an open lawn area out front that was mindfully mowed and solar panels on the roof, with an outhouse in back.  It’s hard to explain what it is about off grid living, or seeing a home way out in the boonies, that sends odd reactions that crawl up your spine. I suppose that so many of us are just accustomed to being hooked up to utility poles (in some more repressive states, it’s actually against the law to be off the grid), that this sort of makes us subconsciously weary, like there is something “weird” about the arrangement, and easy to stereotype the people that chose to live like that and how they’re of their own sort. But then I remember that I’d live like that too if I could.

But still, I picked up my pace a bit, wanting to get out of sight of the cabin and back into the woods. Then, we ran into another fellow on a 4 wheeler. This time, our approaching character was an older gentleman. We side-stepped off the trail again, nodded our heads, and went through the same rounds of introductions as last time.

“The forks, huh? Well, I mean….you can’t make out much of the old hotel foundation anymore, but it’s right off this trail. Nothing much left of the kilns. Might be some iron bands, maybe bricks.” Then he pointed to an offshoot 4 wheeler trail that ran through an area thick with prickers and berry bushes. “There’s more kilns up that knoll there” he said, his wisdom rolled confidently off his tongue wrapped up in his heavy Vermont accent. “Oh, uh, that trail looks like it goes behind the camp we just passed,” I said uncomfortably. Though my hobby of exploration often involves trespassing, I wasn’t about to skulk around someone’s land up in those hills, especially inhabited land. People in the boondocks have guns. “They aren’t home are they?!” He said, a little wonderment in his inotation.

“No, we didn’t see anyone when we walked by”, I returned, grinning at his unexpected humorous reaction.

“Oh, good!” he said, his enthusiasm almost made me crack up. I wondered if they got along or not. “But yeah – there’s more of em’ down that trail. Well, I’ve never seen them, but I know they’re there!” This time, I didn’t contain my mirth. I liked this guy. I asked him to clarify our misdirections a bit, and he gave us some of the most Vermont directions I’ve ever gotten – far superior to the ones I got when searching for some of our state’s mysterious stone chambers.

“Well, when you get to the forks, take a right instead of the left crossing over the brook, then go up the mountain a ways but still make sure to parallel the river – look down and you’ll eventually see the kilns. Or what’s left of ’em anyways. ” Just then, a Glastenbury traffic jam formed behind the old timer on his 4 wheeler, as three teenage rednecks on dirtbikes pulled up and sort of just looked at my friend and I stoically, the last one in line revved his engine impatiently while refusing to make eye contact and tried to flaunt his, I don’t know, machismo? Or maybe he was just impatient. I shook his hand and wished him a good afternoon, and we were on our way.

More walking down the trail later, and we approached a very standout fork in Bolles Brook and the rail bed portion of the trail we were on ended and transitioned into a slender path beyond a wooden bridge that crossed the brook. We had found the forks.

The village of South Glastenbury circa 1897. Bolles Brook is in the middle of the photo. The hotel (former logger's boardinghouse) is to the left, with the double story porch, and the casino (former company store), is up the hill a ways to the right. You can also see the electric trolly on the lower right hand corner of the photo - the same tracks we hiked to get up into town.
The village of South Glastenbury circa 1897. Bolles Brook is in the middle of the photo. The hotel is to the left, with the double story porch, and the casino is up the hill a ways to the right. You can also see the electric trolly on the lower right corner of the photo – the same tracks we hiked to get up into town. This is my favorite picture of Glastenbury.
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This is “the forks” or Bolles Brook today. The village of South Glastenbury is practically intractable.
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Taken on the forest road bridge that crosses Bolles Brook. Someone cryptically carved either “The Kilns” or “The Kill” on the railings.
The Glastenbury casino, 1897. I really like the architecture on this old building, like the multi-story porches and the clocktower. You still get a good sense of how isolated it was.
The Glastenbury casino, 1897. I really like the architecture on this old building, like the multi-story porches and the clocktower. You still get a good sense of how isolated it was.
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You can’t really tell, but this landslide filled in pitted portion of hillside is a foundation. This is where Glastenbury’s casino used to be. The logging and charcoal industry decimated the forests of Glastenbury, so the townsfolk, with a lot of urging from the railroad who didn’t want to go broke, developed South Glastenbury into a mountain tourism getaway. The loggers’ boardinghouse became a hotel and the company store became a casino. It was open for business by 1897 after much painstaking work was put into sprucing up the area, and visitors loved it. Glastenbury must have been pretty cool in its day, way up in the mountains over 2,000 feet. And during the time of inconvenient travel, it must have been a novelty. But a year later, a flood destroyed the tracks to a quality beyond repair, and it successfully killed the town. Most of the buildings just rotted away and fell into their cellar holes, and the national forest took control of the area in the 1930s.

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“Well….” I dragged out the word, in a reverie of run down indecisiveness. “Should we try to scout the hillside a bit? See if we can find anything?” I asked. My friend enthusiastically agreed, not being constantly annoyed by an abused foot throbbing in pain. So, off the trail we went, regardless of the reminders that we were in “The Bennington Triangle” and “this is how people disappear” that my brain was trying to communicate with me. To my relief, which quickly muted by lethargy, my friend ecstatically yelled; “I found bricks!”
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I clambered over to where his form was through the foliage and found myself stumbling over piles and piles of bricks that practically made up the slope we were on. Further up the hill, we began finding some old stone foundations filled in by a century of erosion.

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I read that there were very few photos of any of the charcoal kilns in Glastenbury. Here's one of the few I was able to find.
I read that there were very few photos of any of the charcoal kilns in Glastenbury – and the few that do exist are only after the kilns went defunct. Here’s one of the few I was able to find, with two men standing nearby.
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The further up the slopes we ventured, our efforts paid off. I began finding tons of moss covered bricks and bent up iron bands from the old charcoal kilns! I was so excited to find artifacts that have survived the ravages of time – things that help us reconstruct our past culture.
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A contorted iron band from one of the old kilns.

Visiting the peaceful and secluded location of Glastenbury town was a strange experience. Knowing the lore and the history there sort of make you look at this otherwise banal stream crossing in the woods through a different set of lenses, ones that makes professed monsters a bit more discernable. Unless there is just something in Bolles Brook that made/makes the locals morbidly imaginative.

On our way down the mountain, we saw a couple fellas standing barefoot in the chilly waters of the brook smoking pot – a scent that followed us halfway through the rest of our hike. One gave us a toothless smile and a wave, and kept on giggling at whatever it was they were talking about. I won’t deny that they picked a nice afternoon for woodsy shenanigans.

Thankfully, our car was as we left it when we got back, and we sluggishly made our way back down to Bennington to grab a burger.

My friend and fellow explorer Josh is into video editing and decided to film our oddysey. Cinematography is something I keep saying I’m going to get into more, but my laziness and reserved nature always seem to prevent that from getting a checkmark on my list. If videos are your thing, and you want to see my friend and this blogger being sort of goofy/awkward while tromping through the woods, I’ll link you below.

Things worth mentioning:

If any of you are interested further in Glastenbury, I’d highly recommend author Tyler Resch’s venerable book about the history of the town. I have a copy of it in my library.

I’d also like to suggest Joseph Citro’s Passing Strange, a detailed compendium of New England folklore and weirdness. It was one of the first books I bought as a kid, and my worn out copy is still with me. Both of these books helped further my research and curiosity.

If you missed it, here is my first post on Glastenbury, if you want more on the town’s history and ghastliness.

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To all of my fans and supporters, I am truly grateful and humbled by all of the support and donations throughout the years that have kept Obscure Vermont up and running.

I spend countless hours researching, writing, and traveling to produce and sustain this blog. Obscure Vermont is funded entirely on generous donations that you the wonderful viewers and supporters have made. Expenses range from internet fees to host the blog, to investing in research materials, to traveling expenses. Also, donations help keep me current with my photography gear, computer, and computer software so that I can deliver the best quality possible. Seriously, even the small cost equivalent to a gas station cup of coffee would help greatly! Especially now, as my camera is in need of repairs and I can’t afford the bill, which is distressing me greatly.

If you value, appreciate, and enjoy reading about my adventures please consider making a donation to my new Gofundme account or Paypal. Any donation would not only be greatly appreciated and help keep this blog going, it would also keep me doing what I love. Thank you!

Donate Button with Credit Cards

Gofundme: https://www.gofundme.com/b5jp97d4

The Franklin County Wolf Monument

“Wait – there it is!” I shouted, pointing to the top of a long rock emergence that confined a rootsy trail between a steep descent down to more rocks and dead leaves. I hastily bushwacked off from the path, clambered up the small incline thick with lots of scratchy underbrush and got to a plateaued area at the top, and found what I had been searching for – the very camouflaged Franklin County wolf monument.

This boulder clumped pitch on Saint Albans’ Aldis Hill was apparently where the last gray wolf in Franklin County was seen in 1839. But instead of memorializing the wolf, it memorialized how it ended up. Dead. As my confused friend shuffled up after me, I let out a fulfilling “yes!” like I wasn’t still in ear shot of residential neighborhoods.

According to the inscribed story on the supine slab; the beast, 6 feet in length, had been ravaging in unidentified ways, the country around northeastern Franklin County until local businessman and politician Lawrence Brainerd had some sort of run-in with it, pursued it up the hill, and shot it, which inspired someone to then erect a pretty modest, somewhat macabre commemoration of the event. That person remains a mystery. People react to these sort of situations in different ways. Then, shooting a wolf was probably seen as a good riddance worthy of recognition, where currently, I’m sure the reactions would be social media spitfire. Still, the monument serves as a mark of distinction of the area, and makes me wonder what other secrets or conditions have long been buried?

The area around the monument is some of the hill’s wildest topography. It would be easy to envision having a run-in with a wolf up there, or maybe some other wild beast. Though I’m not sure how many Brainerd’s are left in the maple city, there is still a Brainerd Street today that runs upwards from North Main Street in the direction of the hill, commemorating the obviously influential family. Although, it’s disappointingly not marked with the city’s signature white street signs emblazoned with green maple leaf silhouettes.

The monument is a local legend and cool piece of Franklin County obscura. Many don’t know about it – which doesn’t surprise me. And if you do, you fall into two camps; you know where it is, or don’t. And if you do, it’s a pretty hard thing to give directions to. On my second time hiking up the hill, it was July and come down humidity, I was trampling through the heat and trying to discern my friend’s text message directions, only to walk back down the hill no longer caring if I found it or not and just wanting to sit in some air conditioning for a while.

Plenty of others have tried to find it – but it’s a challenge. Trust me, this was my third time on the hill, which is surprisingly steep and tredded with a network of overlapping trails that can screw up a mental compass. Generally, if you use the hum of the interstate nearby, you can get a good orientation of where you are. But the monument is small, doesn’t distinguish itself from the woods, and isn’t really on the trailside.

I knew the Hard’ack ski area existed, a local rope tow operation on the east slope of the hill with both a devoted fan base and volunteer crew, because I grew up in Milton and used to go there as a kid, like lots of area kids did. But I wasn’t aware that there were trails beyond Hard’ack, that lead up and all over Aldis Hill. And that’s a shame, because once I found out just how to get up to the un-signed recreation area, I really liked it. Its terrain was rugged and wild, not what I was expecting for a little green rise that separates Saint Albans city from interstate 89.

Aldis Hill, or, the area that’s not Hard’ack, was gifted to the city of Saint Albans in 1892 by the family that owned it, the Aldis’s. The idea was to turn the rocky eminent into a recreation area for Saint Albans-ites. Somewhere on the 849-foot hill is a lookout, framed by old-growth trees that rewards the finder a pretty awesome view of the architecture of the city, and beyond looking out towards Saint Albans Bay. However, this was one of those Aldis Hill points of interest that I haven’t been able to find yet. Seriously, there are a lot of trails here, and none of them are marked. But the very noticeable lack of signage is, in my opinion, another thing that makes this woodsy area so satisfying.

I was reading some great nostalgia from an article the Saint Albans Messanger wrote up, as one Franklin County resident recalled building forts, wrecking other kids forts, building dams in spring runoff streams, playing games, and having rock fights. That really brought back great memories of me, my brother and friends growing up and doing all of those things in the woods behind our suburban house in Milton, which are some of my fondest memories. It’s great that Aldis Hill exists. If I was a kid, I’d definitely be playing in these woods.

I won’t give out the location of the monument, because honestly, 3/4th of the fun was actually trying to find the damn thing myself. The wanting brought me exploring all over Aldis Hill, which in my opinion, is worth it. Who knows, you might find the cool stone cut staircase, the lookout, the monument, remnants of barbed wire fencing being consumed by trees, and rusting artifacts that somehow ended up in the woods on the hill.

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If you have found it - you might have scratched your name into the large boulder nearby with smaller rocks.
If you have found it – you might have scratched your name into the large boulder nearby with smaller rocks.
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Or on this tree, which someone decided should have a content face.

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To all of my fans and supporters, I am truly grateful and humbled by all of the support and donations throughout the years that have kept Obscure Vermont up and running.

As you all know I spend countless hours researching, writing, and traveling to produce and sustain this blog. Obscure Vermont is funded entirely on generous donations that you the wonderful viewers and supporters have made. Expenses range from internet fees to host the blog, to investing in research materials, to traveling expenses. Also, donations help keep me current with my photography gear, computer, and computer software so that I can deliver the best quality possible. Seriously, even the small cost equivalent to a gas station cup of coffee would help greatly! Especially now, as my camera is in need of repairs and I can’t afford the bill, which is distressing me greatly.

If you value, appreciate, and enjoy reading about my adventures please consider making a donation to my new Gofundme account or Paypal. Any donation would not only be greatly appreciated and help keep this blog going, it would also keep me doing what I love. Thank you!

Donate Button with Credit Cards

Gofundme: https://www.gofundme.com/b5jp97d4

The Hungry Gorge

The deadliest place in Vermont is simultaneously one of it’s least dead places. The head of the state’s public safety commission once dubbed the Huntington Gorge as “the deadliest place in the state”, and according to those who make it their business to track this sort of stuff, this is considered the most dangerous swimming hole in all of New England. But despite that macabre distinction, in the summer the chasm is absolutely crawling with bodies, energy, and canned beer, all which dive impetuously off of the dangerous cliffs.

It’s not hard to see the appeal to this spectacular rocky crevice carved deep into the Richmond hills. Vertical undulating cliffs rise intimidatingly around a twisting boulder deposited river that corkscrews through several waterfalls, ranging from 6 to 12 feet in height, underneath a ceiling of evergreen trees. But this stunning crevice successfully conceals real dangers, masking strong currents that can easily whisk an unsuspecting person away. With high levels of water rushing rapidly down a steep rise constricted in a narrow spot, it’s an easy place to be greeted by the grim reaper.

Some refer to the spot by its unofficial nickname; “The Hungry Gorge”, probably because of the place’s appetite for human beings. Since 1950, a great number of people have lost their lives here, but just how many people is up for debate apparently. A few books, newspaper articles and the Richmond town records list the number at 25, but other accounts say the number is probably high as 40. The victims’ ages so far range from between 15 and 30, and all lost their lives by drowning. This information may even be out of date by the time I actually get around to publishing this entry. The casualties even include heroic would be rescuers, including a state police officer who attempted to retrieve a body and drowned in the process. And the numbers continue to grow, despite numerous attempts to stem the death tolls.

The most tactile approach happened in 1976 when a band of locals got together and blasted away a dangerous underwater chute where several swimmers had gotten swept into and trapped by strong currents. But the gorge continues to take lives.

In 2005, a 19-year-old UVM student became another statistic when he slipped on some rocks and plummeted fatally into the gorge. Frazzled people wanted a solution. There were demands to make the gorge off limits entirely, with heavy trespassing fines as intimidation to visitors. Some even wanted to build a giant wall around the gorge. That same year, Gary Bressor would purchase the property for $20,000 to preserve it and keep it open to the public, so future generations can continue to enjoy the unique area – or as others would argue, so future generations can die here. It’s a matter of perspective I guess.

The purchase made other gorge goers happy, unequivocally saying that anyone can enjoy themselves here, you just need some common sense and some information – something I’d agree with. Bressor was one of those people as well, so he bought the land to stop the quarreling over what to do with it and formed the Huntington River Gorge LLC, who wish to protect and preserve the natural area. Because it’s now under private ownership, an official ban isn’t possible.

But why do so many seem to die here? Apart from entrapping geography, the answer may lie within its tourist population. Many people who drown here are out of towners, who aren’t aware of the gorge’s concealed dangers, seeing things through youthful impunity. The surprising and frustrating thing about Huntington Gorge is that some of the deaths here could have been easily avoided. According to my research, a few deaths were related to drug or alcohol use before diving in. And sometimes, well, accidents just happen.

The locals know when to avoid the gorge, especially when the river is swollen with high runoffs from snow melt or rainwater, and they know where the safe parts are to swim. Some people have lived near the gorge all their lives and have never set foot down there.

A drive up Dugway Road, the dirt thoroughfare that runs along the rim of the gorge, reveals a plentiful amount of parking ban notices and warning signs nailed to any available tree or fence post that would be visible through a windshield. At the top of the gorge sits an official dark green state historic marker chronologically listing deaths here over the years. But the dates end ominously in 1994 which was probably around the time the sign was erected, and an updated replacement hasn’t been commissioned yet – if it ever will. There is talk of even more signs are planned to be erected when the project gets official zoning approval. But, knowing how human nature works, those signs won’t be of much help unless the visitor actually chooses to heed their warnings. Despite the dangers, this swimming hole remains widely popular, partially because of it’s harrowing reputation, or maybe some just have a perverse interest in tragedy. Humans have always had a fascination with death after all. That’s partially the reason why I visited. Also because I run a blog on Vermont weirdness, and love being outdoors.

Regardless, it’s easy to fall for this site’s charm and majestic splendor. Even in the dead cold of winter when I first visited, it was impressive. Icy waters churned over the surfaces of halfway frozen waterfalls and the cacophony of solid vs. liquid echoed up over the gorge walls. But I stayed well away from the edges, because a very slick layer of ice had glazed over the rocks, and I definitely didn’t want my name emblazoned on a tragedy induced warning sign.

Having a blog has offered quite a crash course on social culture. One of the benefits is befriending cool people through it. My friend Timothy is one such person. We hit it off last fall and even went on a few adventures together. He grew up down the road from the gorge as a kid and agreed to show me around on a sultry summer day.

After a morning of metal detecting at a ghost town and being pestered by mosquitoes, a dip in the Huntington River sounded fantastic, and visiting with someone who was intimate with the place excited me. I wanted to know it’s secrets and it’s stories. But within minutes of arriving, I wanted to go home. The gorge was thick with people in sports jerseys and cheap beer. Timothy groaned and said he missed the days when the gorge something that really only the locals knew about. Today, it’s all overran with bros and frat boys he complained, who, at least on that particular day, were making quite the ruckus as a crew who set up camp on a rock below were challenging someone’s manhood as they waited to see if the guy would jump off the cliffs as a group of distantly perched girls laughed snootily at them. There’s nothing wrong with people flocking to a great spot on a hot summers afternoon, it just wasn’t my particular scene.

Subsequently, the growth of the college kid crowd pushed out a lot of the locals from the gorge said my friend. When he was younger in the 90s, he loved spending his summer days there as he developed a fascination with diving off of the cliffs. Doing this, he got to know several of the old timers who were very familiar with it and knew all of its secrets and idiosyncrasies, like the best places to jump, when to go, and places to avoid. During this time, he explored every nook he could and got very familiar with it. During one of his dives, he found a wheel from a car that was from the early 20th century. On his other expeditions, he told stories of caves he found, and how if you were patient enough after diving into a pool near the falls, minnows would swim into you, hundreds if you had the patience. There are even certain rocks that have seen so many people sunning themselves or used as a launching point to jump off of that they have grooves in their surfaces now. “I remember always trying to make it down there before ten in the morning when I was a kid – that was always before the crowds would come down – and you’d always see the usual people, all jumping off the ledges and trying to out-do one another in the flamboyance of their dives. But it was all in good fun, and some of those guys were really good. Others looked up to them. Everyone knew each other, it was sort of like a club”. Today, those characters may have more or less, vanished from its boulder strewn walls. To my surprise, one of the last vestiges of older crowds to still hang out here, are nudists. We saw a few on our trek down the ledges to the river.

But the gorge is so popular, its entangled its way inside the frothy forefront of local legends. Some put enough emphasis on the gorge in conversation as if it’s the only swimming hole in the area, sort of like how Vermonters refer to Lake Champlain as “the lake”, even though Vermont has numerous other bodies of water.

As we were cringing at the site of a 20 something-year-old girl try to park an orange VW Bus, which was continuously ending in a position where two of the four wheels would be lifted off the road, my friend postulated that he thinks some of the locals might be hanging out at the upper gorge again. The upper portion of the gorge was the original gathering spot for visitors, and the locals hung out at the lower portion away from the crowds, until bad press moved most of the frenzy down to the lower gorge. But here’s the thing; both parts of the gorge are just as dangerous as one another. The only difference is that one area has been stained by hysteria and numerous signs about death, and one hasn’t.

Not surprisingly, a location with such grim stories attached to it has also spawned a few ghost stories. The only one I heard was years ago, where an unsuspecting swimmer was resting on some rocks and got a creeping feeling that someone was watching them. When they gazed around, they noticed a fully clothed teenage boy staring at them, standing on top of a large boulder down river a bit. But they noticed he was sopping wet, and he was standing there still as a stone. Concerned, the swimmer went to stand up, thinking that the boy may have needed help, but when they turned back around, he was gone. It was an open area, so he couldn’t have managed to clamber back up the gorge walls without being detected. But somehow, he had completely vanished. Whether these grim cautionary stories are preternatural occurrences or a local method of driving people away is anyone’s guess.

But the Huntington Gorge’s grim veneer isn’t exclusive. All swimming holes have the potential to be monstrous places if the right circumstances are applied. And seemingly, it seems to be a certain shade of visitors who ruin these sort of places, as opposed to the places themselves. A bit north, the landmark Bolton Potholes are a good example.

Bolton town is an often interstate passed Chittenden County fringe town where it’s old designation as “the land of boulders and bears” is undiluted verisimilitude. It’s charted land acreage is mostly taken up by steep rises in elevation, which suck for farming, but are great for outdoor recreational pursuits like a ski area and part of the 250 mile Long Trail.

A go-to summer relief for many area Vermonters, the potholes are where 3 impressive glacial waterfalls that pour into emerald-tinted holes are formed where Joiner Brook plunges about 45 feet down the Bolton slopes. It’s a cool area, but now days, the site also draws other sights in the form of large herds and obnoxious visitors, who litter, crowd the road and party there which bothers both long time visitors and denizens of the road that runs alongside of it. I used to go there as a teenager, but not so much anymore, opting for quieter locales.

Every action has a reaction, and now, there is talk of possibly closing it or restricting access to the public. Maybe. There is also a fight against that, wanting to keep these special places accessible for present and future Vermonters, which blew up on the Vermont subreddit page. Only time will tell, I guess. I’m more on the side of using common sense, and that it would be a shame to loose our state swimming holes – a deep-rooted tradition up here which is something that we tend to dig a lot. They’re free, all inclusive, and often outlandishly beautiful. The type of thing that summer memories up here are made of. But if you trash the place, well, your part of the problem.

If you visit, just be careful.

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This summer, my camera has developed some technical problems that are above my ability to fix them, and I’m trying to save up some money to have it diagnosed by a professional, and then for subsequent repairs. Because my camera is self designated as the most important item I own, this is a real bummer for me. Any donations would be hugely appreciated.

As you all know I spend countless hours researching, writing, and traveling to produce and sustain this blog. Obscure Vermont is funded entirely on generous donations that you the wonderful viewers and supporters have made. Expenses range from internet fees to host the blog, to investing in research materials, to traveling expenses. Also, donations help keep me current with my photography gear, computer, and computer software so that I can deliver the best quality possible. Seriously, even the small cost equivalent to a gas station cup of coffee would help greatly!

If you value, appreciate, and enjoy reading about my adventures please consider making a donation to my new Gofundme account or Paypal. Any donation would not only be greatly appreciated and help keep this blog going, it would also keep me doing what I love. Thank you!

Donate Button with Credit Cards

Gofundme: https://www.gofundme.com/b5jp97d4

Wizard’s Glen

Ever since we started narrating our folklore collectively as a species, we’ve always marked the wildest places of our topography as incubators of contagion shotgun blasts for the darkest, grimmest things our human minds can create, existing in a variety of forms. These tales often like to hang around well into the intervening years where they should become obsolete, and yet, they don’t. We all deal with the dangers of the world in different ways. Sometimes, carrying on the traditions of talking about these kind of fabled places is a way of dealing with these dangers. And sometimes, these monsters reveal the most about humanity.

Wizard’s Glen in the Berkshires is a wild, picturesque depression between two steep-sided hills. Intersected by a lone, narrow and often washed out dirt road with it’s to-the-point name of Gulf Road, you are welcomed into this attention-grabbing area by tons of boulders that are stacked up the hillsides, some covered with some impressive and patriotic graffitic murals instead of the flippant teenage rabble I expected to find in such an area.

The name “Gulf” interested me before I even began to think about Wizard’s Glen.  The noun is a distinctive part of the obscure Vermont vernacular. Gulfs are known to the rest of the world as a large area of the sea or ocean that’s almost entirely surrounded by land, expect for its mouth. A Vermont gulf is a landlocked one – found in our mountains. We know them as deep ravines (or more dramatically, an “abyss”) that run between two parallel mountains or rises. To my knowledge, us Vermonters were/are the only ones to use the word in that sense. Vermont actually goes as far as to erect road signs to let travelers know that you’re passing through one. Granville, Proctorsville and Williamstown Gulfs come to mind, all of which are great drives. But finding a gulf outside of Vermont, even only in the form of a street name, was sort of cool to me. There is also a Gulf Road in New Hampshire near Brattleboro.

This particular Gulf Road runs east to west over the bumps that are the Berkshires. Both entry points are unobtrusive and start out as an unremarkable suburban street with storm drains, crumbling curbs and cobra head street light fixtures that run to the very point when suddenly, the pavement ends, and the obsessively trimmed lawns cease to exist, and you’re in a surprisingly sizable wilderness area that runs for about 1.8 miles between Lanesborough and Dalton. But at the slow speeds you are forced to crawl on this winding roadway, it feels much longer.

Wizard’s Glen

The area known as Wizard’s Glen, vs. the rest of the area that’s not known as Wizard’s Glen, co-exist very inconspicuously with each other. If it wasn’t for the wayfinding graffiti marked boulders, I would have driven right by it.

I got out of the car and noticed the temperature was a pleasant few degrees cooler, and the forest was soluble underneath a still silence. I immediately began to get interactive with my environment and started clambering on top of the boulders and under Hemlock boughs and inside the caves and crevices of undetermined pasts.

Godfrey Greylock described the diminutive gorge in 1879 as being “as though and angry Jove had here thrown down some impious wall of Heaven-defying Titans. Block lies heaped upon block; squared and bedeviled, as if by more than mortal art…”

I have to say, the stories about this place were far more waggish than it’s real life locality would suggest, which only intrigued me more. This place has spawned plenty of strange tales of the supernatural and the dreadful, and many of them are almost as old as New England is.

Someone had told me that the hollow is known for its strange sounds and echo-related properties, and claimed that if you banged on one of the rocks with a hammer, it would make a noise sounding like you were smashing the keys of a xylophone, while inexplicably, the surrounding boulders wouldn’t. However, that enticing theory was disappointingly proven false. Well, at least it didn’t work for me.

It was here that Indian priests and shaman centuries ago performed rituals, ceremonies and incantations amongst the rocks in the ravine known for its echoes. Because they revered this area to have special properties, it was said they even offered human sacrifices here to Hobomocko, the spirit of evil. There is a flat, broad square-ish rock known as “Devils’ Alter” where these cryptic sacrifices were said to be imposed. The rock today has faint traces of red stains on it, which some say is the remaining blood from the aforementioned occurrences – but the reality is the stains just come from iron in the rocks.  The unique name Wizard’s Glen was actually derived from these legends. And it makes sense – it’s aesthetically the type of place where strange happenings can’t be easily dismissed.

The best known story of the glen is of John Chamberlain, a hunter from Dalton about two hundred years ago whose whopper of a story was passed on in Godfrey Greylock’s book Taghconic: The Romance and Beauty of The Hills in 1852, when he interviewed Joseph Edward Adams, a ninety-year-old man who had heard it from the hunter eyewitness himself.

Chamberlain had killed a deer and was carrying it home on his shoulders, when he was overtaken in the hills by a storm. The tired man decided to take shelter in a cavernous recess in Wizard’s Glen. But despite his fatigue, he was unable to sleep and wound up laying awake, lying on the earth with his wide open in the dark. He was suddenly amazed when, according to him, he saw the woods bend apart, disclosing a long aisle that was mysteriously lighted and contained “hundreds of capering forms”. As his eyes grew accustomed to the new faint light, he made out tails and cloven feet on the dancing figures. One very tall form had wings, who the hunter thought to be the devil himself.

As Chamberlain lay watching the through the spiteful deluge from his cave shelter, a tall and painted Indian leaped on Devil’s Alter, fresh scalps dangling around his body and his eyes blazing with fierce require. He muttered a brief incantation and summoned the shadows around him. They came with torches that burned blue, and began to move around the rock singing some sort of harsh chant, until a sign was given, and a nude Indian girl, shrieking, and fighting, was dragged and flung viciously onto the rock.

The figures now rushed towards her brandishing sharpened weapons in their outstretched arms, and the terrified girl let out a shrill cry that the hunter said haunted him for the rest of his life. The “wizard”, (who I’m assuming is the prominent figure with the wings), raised an ax, as the rest of the group waited apprehensively for the oncoming carnalish blood bath. Lightning flashed and quickly illuminated the dark pocket of woods, and Chamberlain noticed the the girl’s face quickly fell on his. The look she gave him tore at his heartstrings. He gathered as much courage as he could, and decided to act. Grabbing his bible he traveled with, he ran towards the debauchery in self-righteous fashion, clutching it in front of him and hollering the name of his god. There was a crash of thunder. The light faded, the demons vanished and the hunter was left sopping wet in the middle of the woods in silence. When morning came, he had almost convinced himself that it was all a dream, until he realized his deer had vanished.

Though not much is really known about Chamberlain, it was apparently well documented at the time that he was “no lover of the Indian race,” which may explain more about the content or the intent of this fanciful legend than anything. In my humble opinion, this eyebrow furrowing story probably shouldn’t be taken as verbatim of a real event. Even as mythology or folklore, it lacks essentially what most of these tales are built on; meaning.

There is no good evidence that any Native American group up in our part of the country even conducted human sacrifices, but I do believe that Wizard’s Glen held some sort of ritualistic importance to the area’s original natives.

Hobbomocco is a real Algonquin deity, though, and was more so associated with darkness and the night. His name is related to all Algonquin words for death and the dead, and has no relation to the Christian idea of Satan, unless misinterpreted by, well, a Christian. In the Algonquin viewpoint, Hobbomocco is actually a side or nuance of the natural world, a potential source of dangerous visions and power, which can be obtained through communication, sort of similar to Voodoo deities, and how it’s said that with enough persuasion, you can persuade them to either carry out good or evil intentions.  I think the rather dramatic story of Wizard’s Glen may be more of a manifestation of the friction between two clashing cultures and their ideas, where everything else is sort of devalued, open for interpretation, or simply cast away.

There is also said to be a talus “cave” known cryptically as Lucky Seven Cave somewhere in the glen. However, after some time clambering around and almost rolling my ankle, I couldn’t find any opening that could shelter a human who wasn’t a small child, so either it’s long toppled, or I just didn’t have good directions. Some speak of covens, convergences and rituals still being practiced in the cave and around the site, given the various paraphernalia and shitty beer cans that you can find there. I find it interesting that this site may still be attracting modern day wizards, witches or spiritualists, or people that think they are these things, but when I visited, I had the beautiful place all to myself under the heat of the day, despite the fact that it’s a geocache location and the famous Appalachian Scenic Trail crosses Gulf Road near the glen, just east of there.

Historic post card image of Wizards Glen, via cardcow.com. Date unknown.

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More Wild Places

While I’m on the topic of gulfs, I’d highly recommend checking out what may be Vermont’s most beautiful; Granville Gulf, a rugged and impressive wilderness area of moss laden cliffs, ferns and waterfalls.

If you’re curious about more of our regional wild places with extraordinary folklore attached to them, my blog entry on Glastenbury and the popularly dubbed “Bennington Triangle” may be worth a read. It’s certainly one of my favorite Vermont tales to tell.

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To all of my fans and supporters, I am truly grateful and humbled by all of the support and donations throughout the years that have kept Obscure Vermont up and running.

As you all know I spend countless hours researching, writing, and traveling to produce and sustain this blog. Obscure Vermont is funded entirely on generous donations that you the wonderful viewers and supporters have made. Expenses range from internet fees to host the blog, to investing in research materials, to traveling expenses. Also, donations help keep me current with my photography gear, computer, and computer software so that I can deliver the best quality possible. Seriously, even the small cost equivalent to a gas station cup of coffee would help greatly!

If you value, appreciate, and enjoy reading about my adventures please consider making a donation to my new Gofundme account or Paypal. Any donation would not only be greatly appreciated and help keep this blog going, it would also keep me doing what I love. Thank you!

Donate Button with Credit Cards

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Experiencing East Mountain

It was the mid 1950s, and the United States and The Soviet Union were in the middle of the Cold War. The race was on, both nations stockpiling enough firepower to wipe out most major cities, vaporized in a discharge of enormous mushroom clouds. The ensuing radiation would take care of the rest. According to those in the know, if a nuclear bomb was dropped, the result would be an obliterating flash of light, brighter than a thousand suns.

Paranoia gripped the nation, and preventative measures were taken by the government. Vermont’s desolate Northeast Kingdom became one chosen location to detect and be an early warning against the end of the world.

The United States Air Force chose East Mountain, a 3,438 foot sprawling ridge line surrounded by some of the most remote wilderness in all of Vermont, to be the site of a radar base. Construction started in 1954, and by 1956 and 21 million dollars later, the North Concord Air Force Station was functional. The base was designed to provide early warning signs and protection from nuclear fall out, as well as sending information to Strategic Air Command Bases.

About 174 men lived in the base in a village of tin and steel Quonset Huts known as the administration section, situated on a mid mountain plateau surrounded by almost impenetrable bogs. Their job was to guard the radar ears, which resided in massive steel and tin towers on the summit of East Mountain – constantly straining to hear the first whines from Soviet bombers coming from the skies above. The giant buildings were topped with large inflatable white domes that protected the radars. The government spared no expense protecting the United States from a possible soviet attack. People were urged to build bomb shelters in their basements, school kids were taught to hide under their desks in case of a nuclear blast, and almost every town had a fallout shelter.

The Quonset village offered amenities such as a store, bowling alley and theater, barber shop and mess hall. But the wilds of Vermont were a tough place to live, especially in the winters, when snow drifts could often reach the edge of the roofs. Sometimes, the air boys would be stuck on the mountaintop when the mountain road became impassible, and would have to wait out the storm up there. Some enlisted men dreaded serving their time in Vermont because of this, but it was the city boys who hated it especially – many who served from the Chicago area. A mural of Chicago’s Lake Shore Drive once covered an entire wall of the mess hall in an effort to make the men feel more at home (but that mural can’t be anywhere near detected today). The base also provided a bus that drove to Saint Johnsbury every night, for a little stress relief and therapeutic contact with civilization, so the men could see a movie and hit the bars.

At first, there was only one way to access the base, a dirt road that traveled through tough mountain valleys and up steep slopes to the base, a 9.3 mile drive. In the winters when the snow drifts gained mass, army personnel would have to phone the base from the bottom of the mountain to let them know they were on their way up, because the road was so narrow it only offered room for one vehicle traveling one way at a time, and if you ran into someone else, well, good luck.

Later, a paved road was constructed from East Haven on the mountain’s western slope, offering another approach. Though the base was a cold functioning monument to man’s urge to destroy itself and the trembling hands of fear, it also offered a boost to the area’s economy as well as social impacts to area towns. In 1962, the base’s name was changed to the Lyndonville Air Force Base.

But the functional life of the East Mountain Radar Base was brief, as expensive costs to keep it running were adding up, and advancing technology made it obsolete before construction was even completely finished. It officially closed in 1963. Since then, it’s became the idol of local legends. Strange stories of death, UFOs and unknown characters skulking behind rusting ruins and evergreen forests slowly began to haunt the place.

The weirdness started before the base even closed. In 1961, a strange object – which many speculate was a UFO – was identified in the skies above East Mountain, which the military reported as lasting for around 18 minutes. A few hours later, Barney and Betty Hill were allegedly abducted by a UFO near Franconia Notch, New Hampshire, which lead some to believe there is a connection between the two coincidental events.

In 1965, Ed Sawyer of East Burke bought the property from the government for $41, 500, and what a purchase it was. The base was in pristine and authentic condition at the time, and he loved it. Sawyer made money by selling surplus equipment and scrap metal. He moved into one of the Quonset Huts and also ran a woodworking shop there. In 1969, a group of snowmobiliers rode onto the property without permission. As they were traversing the lengthy access road, one of them hit a chain slung across the road as a makeshift gate, and was decapitated.

Not long after, trespassers and vandals discovered the base, and started making trips up into the vast wilds of the mountains hoping for an adventure. Sawyer installed several gates going up the roads to deter people from coming up, but he would numerously find several padlocks had been pried off and ruined. Sawyer had to replace about 35 padlocks a year. He would eventually result in shooting at trespassers to protect himself when menacing visitors became destructive and violent. He had even been threatened before.

Not only would they loot and steal everything from wiring and original furniture, but they destroyed the buildings. There was even an account where he woke up one night to a bunch of snowmobilers who were able to ride over the roof of his building because the snow drifts were so high!

The constant influx of vandalism and weather took its toll on the radar base, which has since further deteriorated and taking on a forlorn, haunting appearance underneath bounding hills and silent forests.

The property was put on the market, and remained unsold for many years, until recently when Matthew Rubin purchased it, who envisioned building a wind farm on the site, and anyone who has been on East Mountain would understand why. But after years of attempting to get permits from the state, he postponed the project indefinitely. The property has since been added to Vermont’s list of hazardous places, for massive soil contamination from oil and other motor fluids.

Around 1990, another person met their own mortality on East Mountain, when they fell from one of the radar towers and was killed. To add to the radar base’s already mysterious reputation, it’s been said that the rotting ruins have also been home to hobo camps and a hideout for the Hells’ Angels at one point.

Today, the radar base, known variously as East Haven, East Mountain, Lyndonville and Concord, sits abandoned in a nebulous haze that hangs over the kingdom forests, the incongruous ruins littering the mountain top – the eerie silence is occasionally broken by the winds and the scraping sounds of rusted metal. A disconcerting and questionably regressive riddle to the end of one apocalyptic dream, and the uncertainty of what the future will bring.

The Quonset Village, Circa 1961-62
The Quonset Village, Circa 1961-62
The radar towers on the summit
The radar towers on the summit

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Historical Images via The Air Defense Radar Veterans’ Association – photos from the 1960s

The East Mountain Radar Base - satellite view
The East Mountain Radar Base – satellite view. The Quonset living area is in the lower left corner, and the radar towers are in the upper right, to give you a sense of scale.

The East Mountain Radar Base was one of the most unique places I have ever gotten the chance to explore, and that adventure started even before we arrived there.

We approached our destination from the small town of Victory underneath the bravado of September skies and rambling mountains. Victory has one of my favorite names for a town in Vermont – it’s one of the few place names in the state that derives from an idea rather than a person or place. A suggestion for the cool name may date back to 1780, when settlers across New England were caught up in a general sentiment of Victory after the tides were beginning to turn against the British, especially after the French had decided to join the American cause.

It’s stand out name is kind of ironically fitting for it’s it’s admittedly stand out culture as a place of uninviting destitution, the power of it’s isolation is irrefutable. There are no state routes or paved roads – only unkempt dirt roads that are rutted into a landscape of hills with mangy looking forests partially scarred by ugly logging activity and expansive bogs with heavy moose traffic. The town is remote, even for Vermont’s idea of the term. It has none of the things that many towns have to formulate an identity; it has no post office, general store, gas station, school, police station, fire department or churches. Instead, a cluster of trailers in various states of upkeep huddled together at the bottom of a steep hill is the closest thing the community has to a village center, an area called “Gallup Mills”, which are what VTran’s green reflective way finding signs direct you to as opposed to Victory.

It does have a town hall though – in a restored one-room schoolhouse, which apparently sees far more feuding amongst the 62 people that live in Victory than actual productive town business affairs.  I’ll take a quote from Victory resident Donna Bacchiochi in a Seven Days article that I think sums up the town; “You see how lonely it is, how out of the way it is? The reason we moved here is we aren’t social. People in Victory are like that. They don’t visit each other, they don’t kibitz, they don’t do anything like that. It’s vicious.”

In 1963, Victory made local and national news by becoming the last town in the state to get electricity, and that was pretty much owed to the by then defunct radar base being nearby. With millions spent running power up the mountains to the base, Victory took advantage of a fortuitous situation and made connections down to the valley from the existing grid.

Traveling off into the hills of Victory, we made our way up Radar Road which was built parallel to the bouldery banks of The Moose River and underneath fallen trees that hung over the road, as our tires jarred into pothole washouts. As I’m writing this, I can’t think of accurate words to describe the sense of isolation we felt up in the mountains of East Haven. Miles away from anywhere, no cell phone service, no sounds of the familiar world to ground you and give you a sense of place.

Eventually, we came across a weedy clearing in a sea of Green forest, the formidable forms of the Quonset Huts with their rusted steel facades and broken glass skulking behind the fading colors of early autumn. We had reached the former living area of the base – the sentinel forms of the radar towers high above us could be seen on a steep ridge where congested softwood forests climbed out of the swamps. Many of the huts had been razed already, leaving cement slab foundations choked with weeds. One of them was dismantled and given to the Caledonia County Snowmobile Club, where it was re-assembled. The remaining buildings were low profile, almost completely obscured by the forest that was slowly reclaiming what it once had.

A walk through the buildings was a sentient experience over broken glass, soggy and exposed insulation, a storied compendium of generations of graffiti, and evidence of human habitation, arson and partying.

Administration Section – Fall, 2014

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The Motor Pool.
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Every building on the base was fueled and heated by it’s own enormous oil tank, which also result in the heavy soil pollution there today. The tank pictured here was probably more towards the mess hall – but the new property owners have since moved it to block the road just beyond the administration section, to prevent people from driving up to the towers on the summit now. The only way up is via a 2 hour hike, or if you have 2 wheels.

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We didn't know this at the time, but the cumbersome Formica board leaning inside one of those busted bathroom stalls is the former control board interface for the radar computers up on the top of the mountain. The unexposed side still had it's typography, button slots and scones where light bulbs were. It has since been removed.
We didn’t know this at the time, but the cumbersome Formica board leaning inside one of those busted bathroom stalls is the former control board interface for the radar computers up on the top of the mountain. The unexposed side still had it’s typography, button slots and sconces where light bulbs were. It has since been removed.

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Return to Radar Mountain – Mothers Day Weekend 2016

On mothers day weekend, I met up with a few friends and we ventured up to radar mountain. It was 72 degrees – perfect for a road trip – and I really needed to get out of the house.

Although, a late start ensured that we got up on the mountain just an hour or so before sunset, but that didn’t stop us from having a little fun. We got a campfire going and my friend hooked up his record player to some period-accurate loud speakers, and played era-appropriate music from the 50s, when the base would have been in operation. I only have eyes for you” was playing as I shot this, making eerie tin can sounds and tossing them across silent swamps and the silhouettes of nearby mountains – which we joked was the radar base theme song.  It was an extraordinarily cool night. 

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Among the stranger things that we have found inside an abandoned location, my friend said that one of his more uncomfortable finds happened here in the asbestos dusted mess hall – when he found a pair of contact lenses on the gritty floor tiles a few years back.

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“Horse Man”

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Furnace. When the building caught fire, the asbestos did what asbestos does, and prevented the hazard from spreading, but in the process, it was also left horribly exposed, making the building a hazard of different proportions.
Furnace. When the building caught fire, the asbestos did what asbestos does, and prevented the hazard from spreading, but in the process, it was also left horribly exposed, making the building a hazard of different proportions.
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What I found really interesting about the construction of the administration area, was that because it was literally built over a mountain swamp, some of the terrain had to be leveled to accommodate the foundations, but that terra-forming was only done around the sites that they were working on, leaving the rest of the area more or less as they found it, as evidenced here by the swampy stand of birches (there are a lot of birches up there) next to a more leveled cinder block construction. I speculate that if this base were to be constructed today, the entire property would just be flattened.
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We know that all sorts of people come up here for various reasons that one would want to come up to a defunct radar base far from the concept of society and law. Plenty of them have firearms. But in this case, these strangers were inside of the building as they were shooting up the walls. My camera lens was staring at bullet exit holes.
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The former gymnasium and theater building. I had never seen it before without all the leaves on the trees. This structure arguably had the largest of all the fuel needs for the administration area, and probably the most asbestos contamination. So big that the gym had it’s own furnace and power plant wing build behind it. Today, the swamp behind the gym is an impenetrable, scrubby and foul area that is burdened by plenty of oil contamination after the base closed.
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Behind the gymnasium, you can still trace the tennis courts. Remarkably well. Though the base has been defunct for 53 years now, it’s paved extremities like the road itself, and this tennis court, have held up very well over the intervening years all things considered. Though, the paved surface is breaking out in isolated subterranean build ups that make rounded protrusions and bumps through the tarmac. Parts of surviving property delineating chain link fence were even still standing.

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The old guard shack, which is slumping a bit more as the years go by. Radar Road's 1960's pave job still holds up better than many of Vermont's roads that VTrans dubs as "usable".
The old guard shack, which is slumping a bit more as the years go by. Radar Road’s 1960’s pave job still holds up better than many of Vermont’s roads that VTrans dubs as “usable”.

The radar base was already proving to be a creepy area to explore. The compelling silence up there was occasionally met with auditory hallucinations – we would jump at the sound of what we thought were other people lurking somewhere nearby, or the oncoming roar of a motor of a passing vehicle, only to be greeted by nothing but our own fears and the self imposed things that crawled into our heads.

From the administration section, we climbed back in the car and drove up the remaining stretch of Radar Road, and were immediatly met with the most imposing road I’ve ever traveled on. The forest literally was swallowing the road – the cracked paved surface immediately pitched upwards on a grueling steep grade that kept on climbing – the growth was so thick that tree branches came in through our open windows and began to smack us in our faces, until we were forced to roll up the windows. The road was only wide “enough” for one car, and that was even far fetched. There was no place to pull over, no place to turn around. If another car was coming in the opposite direction, especially around one of the many blind hairpin turns that also happen to travel uphill, you would be screwed. One of you would have to give. At this point, the orange glow of my friend’s low fuel light illuminated on the dashboard, giving us another reminder of just how far away we were. If we ran out of gas up here, it would be a very long walk back to civilization.

But the drive to the top was exhilarating – the intoxicating scent of Spruce and Balsam trees blew in the winds and filled the car. Soon, the trees became stunted and the horizon began to open up from the dark forests, and the shapes of hazy blue mountains with their knife sharp ridge lines began to undulate in the horizon. All of the sudden, we were underneath the imposing steel skeletons of the radar towers. We had made it.

Summit Radar Towers – Fall 2014

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Radar Road as it flattens out on the summit. From up there, you can see New Hampshire’s Presidential Range.

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Almost immediately, we were greeted with a good reminder at just how dangerous this place was. Several of the floors in the steel towers were rusted through, some with holes, and others with entire sections that actually swayed and bended with each passing step. Mysterious liquids of various colors rested in odorless pools on the floors and dark spaces, as the wind howled outside and rattled the walls. Rust was everywhere, and the possibility of Tetanus discomforting.

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It wouldn’t be an adventure if we didn’t find a Bud Light can along the way, which seems to be the drink of choice for people who frequent these types of locations.

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This 5 story tower is the tallest structure on the base, and was never actually completed. It was halted before radar equipment was ever installed because the base was decommissioned.
This 5 story tower is the tallest structure on the base, and was never actually completed. It was halted before radar equipment was ever installed because the base was decommissioned.

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The best part about the visit here was no doubt the magnificent 360 panorama of the Northeast Kingdom and New Hampshire from the top of the tallest radar tower, but getting there was a game of nerves. Climbing up the already questionable structures reverberating with the groans of rusting tin moving in the wind, and up a rusted ladder coated in a layer of mysterious slime that gave you no traction. If you slipped, you plummeted several feet down towards a hard concrete floor into pools of fluids obscuring soggy insulation and rusted objects. But once on top of the tower, as you gaze into unbroken wilderness as far as you can see, and you bask in the profound silence, it’s completely worth it.

At the summit, there were visible campsites made on the slopes beneath the towers. I couldn’t help but think about how amazing it would be to camp up here in the deep, underneath the constellation light. I’m sure it would be a spectacular experience, perhaps even unsettling. As we were leaving, another car came up the road and parked, before a group of teenagers climbed out holding quite a few packs of Twisted Tea. I guess other people are taken by the strange allure of this place as well – and it draws characters of all kinds.

Proving this point, on the way back down the road, we met up with another vehicle, its roof and grill lights flashing, and it was barreling up the road. Thinking it was the police, we found a place to pull over. As the car passed us, we clearly read the words” Zombie Apocalypse Survival Vehicle” written on the sides in police-esque decals, the car soon sped out of sight as it headed towards the mountaintop.

Sometimes, the pursuit of life can bring you to some incredible places.

Update as of August 2015

A while after I had published this post, I was amused when I saw an inbox message on the blog’s Facebook page from the owner of the “Zombie Apocalypse Survival Vehicle”, which pretty much started out with the line “Hey! I’m the guy with the car!” As it turns out, he’s also one of the members of the East Mountain Preservation Group and might just be the person who is most intimate with the place. He practically lives up there, spending his free time examining it’s ruins and doing some urban archaeology to figure out how the base functioned, and the stories behind the things I saw on my trek up the mountain. So, we struck up a casual social media friendship, which transitioned into a real time friendship, which lead to us planning a radar trip together.

He picked me up in the affor-referenced Zombie Apocalypse Survival Vehicle, and we made a special trek up to the kingdom, to explore the base on the 52nd anniversary of it becoming defunct. He gave me a much more detailed tour of the place, showing me things that I had walked right by or took no notice too. One of my favorites was the collection of old cars that had been junked in a swamp that ringed the administration section. When the base was abandoned, the army trashed the place, heaping their junk and cars into the woods, and dumping lots of excess waste, such as oil and fuel tanks, into the soil. The faint acrid stench of contamination still permeates in the swamps today. Following well packed super highways made by what seem to be countless passing Moose, we were able to find the rusting remains of the vehicles. We also found an old switchboard that once controlled radar and ventilation equipment, switchboards that once served the telephones and their lead cased wires, and several old wells now contaminated with iron that stained the water a stagnant red.

But the most surprising find was what we refer to as “The Boulders”; a very literal moniker we bestowed on a man made road block just beyond the Quonset Huts. Logging equipment was used to dig a trench through the road, and then to drop four gigantic boulders into it, to prevent anyone with a vehicle from driving up the remaining two miles to the radar towers on the summit.

By far the coolest part of the trip was when we were able to get the power running in some of the buildings, after a great deal of rigging and assistance, I heard the eerie yet rewarding sound of a light that hasn’t flickered or hummed in 52 years, come to life. Not a bad way to spend an anniversary.

As it stands as I write this in 2016, the radar base and all visible surrounding property was purchased by a logging company out of Washington State. From what I was told – the company doesn’t plan on being as friendly to recreational land use as the prior landowners were. To get some tax breaks on all those acres of forest, they have to allow some, so they’re focusing on moose hunting permits. But from what I heard, all 4 gates up Radar Road will most likely be closed more than they’re open from now on, so logging and quarrying crews can do their thing without the constant interruptions of over sized trucks with out of state plates coming up the road, which surprisingly carries the traffic volume of a suburban neighborhood than a logging road in the middle of the kingdom. But, only time will tell.

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The Patch Hollow Massacre

Why do remote and wild places captivate us so much? Maybe it’s because these inaccessible places don’t easily give their secrets or their history – forcing the curious adventurer to truly dig for answers (sometimes literally). Or maybe it’s because here, our imaginations run wild as we find ourselves detached from the modern comforts and the familiarization of our backyards. We seek these places for their inspiring beauty, and ask for the answers to our questions which burn in our veins of desire. Anything can happen out there.

Vermont’s mountains hold quite a few ghastly secrets. Perhaps the most well known story to come out of the Green Mountains is the legend of The Bennington Triangle and the now vanished town of Glastenbury. It was here on the wild slopes of Glastenbury Mountain where 5 innocent people dissapeared without a trace between 1945 and 1950 – no clues or remains were ever found, but the theories were more than plentiful.

I’d like to tell a story just as sinister and lesser known, in a place just as remote and wild. But this story is more gruesome because it can be proved, and its catalysts are human rather then paranormal – hinting that sometimes the most dangerous things on Earth can be ourselves. I’m especially fond of this story for it’s obscurity, and that it’s darkness happened near one of my favorite places.

Patch Hollow

The Long Trail travels north from Glastenbury, over the peaks of Southern Vermont’s Green Mountains, dips down and back up the steep gulf around Route 140, and descends upon a wild and desolate area above Wallingford called “Patch Hollow”.

Running in a north-south direction, Patch Hollow is a deep trench of land high in the Green Mountains, formed by the steep slope of Bear Mountain to the west, and the more gentle Button Hill to the east. In the center of this densely wooded bowl is a large swamp, its green waters occasionally protruded by the skeletons of dead trees that twist towards the Wallingford skies above. In 2008, the beaver dam broke with such a force that it sent a large wall of water plowing down the steep hillsides, carving a jagged gorge into the land and completely taking out a chunk of Route 140, the bafflingly large boulders that were transported down the hill still rest along the roadside today.

The power of Mother Nature is both awesome and awe inspiring, and Patch Hollow is indeed a wild place. I know this hollow personally, as I grew up hiking here and riding my 4 wheeler through the few trails that traversed the rough terrain (and are not for the inexperienced rider). But what I didn’t know at the time, was that there used to be a settlement here – one with a gruesome tale attached.

My first thoughts of any sort of community way up in Patch Hollow, far above the valleys amused me. Looking at the stark wilderness today, it seems almost unrealistic. This is where a lesson in Vermont history comes in handy. When towns were being settled, and the first roads were being cleared, often they were built through the highlands and the mountains because the valleys were prone to flooding and washouts. This means that at one time, Patch Hollow was on the main road through town. In the book “History of Wallingford, Vermont” by By Walter Thorpe, he writes that a settlement of at least 5 families once made their home here. But there are no clues that are left that would point to the bloody struggle that took place at here, not even a hint that civilization was once rooted in this sunny dale.

So what happened here? The story goes back to May 11, 1831. One of the settlements in the hollow was owned by Rolon Wheeler, a “man of violent passions and jealous disposition,” according to an account written in 1911. Wheeler was reportedly guilty of sexual acts with his wife’s sister — a situation that when was leaked, created a great deal of resentment from the community.

Some community members from Wallingford and nearby Shrewsbury were so resentful that they decided to go as far as form a mob – with the intent of tar and feathering him. The threats were made so publicly that Wheeler was forewarned and took measures to defend himself. He fashioned a knife from a large file and barred his door.

On the night of May 11, your classic angry mom scenario formed two parties from Shrewsbury and Wallingford, and set out for Patch Hollow for some justice. Equipped with jugs of rum, a bucket of tar and a sack of feathers, both parties made their way into the mountains. The party from Shrewsbury never made it – getting lost in the woods instead. Their pride damaged – the reality of getting lost over powered the want for vigilante justice, and the group returned home.

The Wallingford group didn’t share the same fate, and did arrive at Wheeler’s house. They eventually forced their way in by prying a hole in the gable end of the roof. Three men leaped into the house and struggled with Wheeler in the dark. Wheeler stabbed one man in the side and another was slashed an excessive amount of 14 times. The door to the cabin was unbarred and more people poured into the cabin. In the scuffle, someone was killed. The angry mob stopped being belligerent and went to get a better look at their prize.

But, in all the haste, they made a fatal, and rather embarrassing mistake. They killed group member and friend, Issac Osborne by mistake…Wheeler was nowhere to be found. After a few minutes of trying to comprehend the situation, the group noticed that a set of clothes had been strewn across the cabin floor. The picture was clearer now. Wheeler had escaped the hands of one of his attackers by wrestling out of his clothes, crawling under his bed, and prying up some floorboards before escaping beneath the house.

A moment of realization was then sparked under the watchful eye of the Patch Hollow shadows. The mob panicked, most likely all scared because they committed murder that night, and hastily fled the house. Later, Dr. John Fox of Wallingford would visit the scene, which he recounted as “the most terrible sight he could recall.”

By the light of a candle, Fox saw “the livid body of Osborne on the bed and cabin literally soaked in blood.”

After escaping his blood stained house, Wheeler decided that spending the night naked in the woods was a safer decision than venturing back into town. Before dawn he stole a shirt from a clothesline, walked to the Hartsboro section of town (now a ghost town and a road of the same name) and hid in a barn. Needing clothes, he spent part of the day crudely weaving a dress from rye straw he found in the barn, and then retreating to his sister’s home in Pawlet. But after all that, Wheeler was finally caught.

He was arrested and put on trial in a makeshift court held at the Baptist Church in Wallingford — the only building in town that could hold the crowds eager to watch the proceedings. In the end, he was found innocent under terms of self defense.

The mob who assaulted him didn’t get off so easily. Two of his attackers were fined $60 each,while three others were fined $40. Justice was served, just not in the way the angry mob had expected.

After the court hearing, something strange happened to Patch Hollow. Perhaps the tragic events of that chaotic night left its scar in the minds of everyone who partook, forever troubling the land. Or maybe it was just “bad for business”. After that bloody incident, Patch Hollow became abandoned shortly afterwards and to this day, no one has tried to rebuild it.

Today’s Patch Hollow is quieter, as the mountain forests reclaimed the land, the only visitors now are the countless hikers that loyally hike the Long Trail to get lost in the Vermont woods for little while, letting the wilderness and the solitude quell their thoughts.

How To Get Here:

Take the Long Trail North from the Route 140 trail head in Wallingford, or South from The Clarendon Gorge just off Route 103 in Shrewsbury.

Links:

For those who are further interested in The Bennington Triangle, there is a great documentary on the area’s history on Youtube

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fdyysF0VC20]

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rBPMp8H3x3w]

Weird South Hero

I love the Champlain Islands. One of the most unique regions in the state, the islands have the special distinction of being the only region in Vermont that are truly isolated – only accessible from 3 bridges. Because of this, the islands have been able to maintain a unique image and way of life – complimented by scenic lake and mountain vistas, verdant pastures and small towns rooted in local tradition.

One of my favorite drives is South Hero’s West Shore Road, a narrow dirt road which winds its way along the many bays of South Hero’s west coast, framed by classic old summer camps, stony beaches, multi-million dollar McMansions and some of the most beautiful farmland anywhere. There’s even a vineyard, with eclectic summer evening concerts on their sprawling front lawn. In the summer months, there is perhaps no place more fitting for a leisurely cruise as the soft summer breezes gently blow summer dresses hanging on clotheslines. But the scenery isn’t the only draw to this road. There are a few quirky yet fascinating sites if you know where to look.

Bird House Forest

Located in the swamps just north of Whites Beach, just feet from the roadside, are hundreds of brilliantly colored Bird Houses that hang from the many hardwood trees in the thick marshland. It’s almost impossible not to notice, and on summer days, it’s not uncommon to see someone slow down to get a better look at them. I’ve driven by them several times and knew of their existence, but I never had taken the opportunity to actually stop and get a good look at them. That summer evening, I had my chance, and my curiosity was piqued. Why are they here? Do they have a story? Why are there so many? It’s not abnormal for someone to own a bird house or 2, but hundreds? As luck would have it, the owner of the birdhouses was actually out wood working on his front lawn, and must have noticed me standing there with my camera.

The story was actually quite to the point. “Well, as you can see, we’re surrounded by swamp” he said, gesturing to the swamps surrounding his house. “So there are a lot of mosquitoes here. Or at least there were before we put these up” He probably saw the amused look on my face, because he laughed and explained further. The bird houses are home to tree swallows, and tree swallows eat mosquitoes. “They make it so me and my wife can sit outside on the lawn in the evening and enjoy ourselves. We don’t get eaten alive” He told me he started this project 15 years ago, with only 20 bird houses. His wife was the one who convinced him to paint them the striking bold colors. “They really stand out” he said while laughing. He said after a year, he went to check on them and found that each one was occupied. So he built more. Now he has over 400 of them. I asked him if he was planning on building more. “We’ll see” he said chuckling.

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The gentleman who made the birdhouse forest also has a knack for wood working, and it’s really cool. You can see his various driftwood creations along the road near White’s Beach and around his yard – including this giant driftwood monster.

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Castle Island

Did you know that there are several miniature castles scattered around South Hero? I didn’t, until one unseasonably warm spring day, I found myself taking a picture of a dilapidated old barn near Whites Beach. It was around evening, and there was a brilliant sunset, a harsh wind was blowing in from the lake. As I was setting up for my picture, I met an elderly couple who were out enjoying an evening walk down the road, which was completely free from traffic. “Pretty cool, huh?” The elderly gentleman greeted me in a thick Vermont accent and pointed towards the old barn. I told him it was, and introduced myself. Because he was an old Vermonter, he carried on a good conversation, and asked me a lot of questions about myself. When I told him I was into local history and weird points of interest, he pointed over to the white farmhouse directly across from us and asked if I had seen the castles yet. I had no idea what he was talking about, so he motioned me to follow him and lead me behind the house.

Well, I wasn’t really sure what I was looking at. It looked like the crumbling remains of some sort of fountain, maybe a bird bath? But it had been made entirely out of field stone. Admittedly, my first impression wasn’t all that great. “This is one of the original Barber projects” he said. “Used to be a Castle somewhere on the property, but they got rid of it when they added the porch onto the house”. Now he had my attention. I had never heard of Harry Barber before, or his castles, and I wanted to know more about this mysterious gentleman.

Through talking to the kind old man, and doing some additional research online, I was able to put together the pieces to this great story.

Harry Barber was born in Switzerland and as he grew up, he developed a strong fondness for the castles found throughout the country. Sometime in the 1920s, he lost a piece of his finger, either in a mining accident or sawing wood. With the insurance money, he decided to utilize his new found wealth and travel to the Americas. He made it to New York at the age of 21, and from there, eventually made his way up to Vermont and ended up in South Hero.

He fell in love with a local girl and married her, starting a family and learning English along the way at his various caretaking and maintenance jobs on on nearby Providence Island, just off the coast of South Hero. Harry worked several jobs through his life, but his true passion was always the beloved castles from his homeland. He was a passionate gardener and groundskeeper and often loved to enhance the look of his properties by constructing beautiful castles, fountains and stone walls made from local field stone. The castles were all modeled after the castles of his homeland, which he had always been taken by, with his creative whimsy added in.

Harry was known as a likable guy in general and was known for his kind heart, sense of humor, and his yodeling. But it was his fine craftsmanship that the locals were inspired by the most, and as a result, many patrons asked him to build castles for their properties. There are no records of if he actually profited from them, and for how much.

It was said that every castle he built had a different story behind it, and featured lavish details such as glass windows, flags and even drawbridges. Local lore even has it that some would use the castles for trade or bartering.  I heard one story of a neighbor offering a bed and breakfast one of the castles in return for free trash removal service. The castle was later moved to the inn’s property where it rests today.

Despite his amiable personality, tragedy was also woven into his framework. For reasons unknown, he committed suicide in 1966 at the age of 66.

Many of his original castles can still be seen scattered around South Hero today. The exact number of structures he built and the number of ones that are surviving are unknown. But some tell me that there is, in fact, a number – there are seven of them, and they are called “the seven castles”. One can be found as far away as mainland Milton. And a few months ago, I was able to confirm this on a chance encounter with the owner of the castles – a descendant of Mr. Barber who was kind enough to show me around his property so I could get a look at them.

Some of the castles on private property, and trespassing is frowned upon, and others are hidden behind other obstructions such as plants. But some are visible from the road, and are easy to photograph with a good zoom.

Compelling monuments of man, dreams and the cold hand of tragedy.

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One of Harry Barber's castles, as seen in front of The Crescent Bay Bed and Breakfast, on the West Shore Road.
One of Harry Barber’s castles, as seen in front of The Crescent Bay Bed and Breakfast, on the West Shore Road.
The Rockwell Bay castle on the West Shore Road. A tiny sign out front said it was constructed in 2006, and even features a small light in one of the towers.
The Rockwell Bay castle on the West Shore Road. A tiny sign out front said it was constructed in 2006, and even features a small light in one of the towers.

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One of the Barber castles in Milton. The owner eventually wants to restore it to it's former glory. *bad cell phone picture - I know!
One of the Barber castles in Milton. The owner eventually wants to restore it to it’s former glory. *bad cell phone picture – I know!

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