You know that old adage, that every (New England) town has a haunted house? Well, in my case, that turned out to be true.
There is something strange about this old farmhouse located on a heavily traveled town highway near Chittenden County. As far as first impressions go, the strange feeling can start from your first glance. In a world where we expect things to fall into man-made symmetry, this house was built differently.
The house is shaped like a V, with the point lining up with the curve formed by the road it sits on. The house has two front doors each at the point of the V, so a first assumption is that it may have been a duplex at some point (a fate that isn’t so uncommon with old Vermont houses). But once inside, you realize the house is a single residence, it was never divided into 2 properties, adding a little confusion at this unusual architectural feature.
To add a little more contemplation, the house’s rambling layout may have you a bit disoriented. The lack of hallways in the house means you enter into other rooms from other rooms, some rooms have four entrances and others only have one. Most of the windows are boarded up – sealing the inside like a tomb. Small slits of sunlight occasionally works their way in through slits in the wood, or bullet holes that had been shot in the planks.
The silence that hangs over the inside of this property is heavy and deep, and makes an amiable companion for the somber darkness – its ghosts falling through the songs of the house as their desires come undone. The only sounds you can hear are the weight of your feet making the wooden floorboards groan, or the occasional crunch of broken glass under your shoes. Most of the furniture has been removed, but various items still remain. There is a room filled with rusting bed frames and another with wooden cribs. A walk down a hallway near the front door revealed a strange discovery, the basement door had been nailed shut with railroad spikes pounded into the frame with a sledgehammer. But that’s not where this story ends. As a matter of fact, given the number of stories about this small farmhouse, it may just be this town’s most haunted house.
While there are no records of murders or tragedies within its crumbling plaster walls, there are a surprising number of terrifying stories that are told about it. But with no traceable origins, these stories are shrouded in mystery.
The house was built by Ethan Austin, son of one of the first settlers, David Austin. He purchased the farm when he married Clarissa Hill, and constructed the farmhouse in 1840. Later, in the 1860′s this farm was occupied by his daughter, Mrs. G. W. Crown. It has since then changed hands quite a few times, until finally transferring it to the caprices of nature. The builders decided to incorporate the property’s position on a sharp turn in the road into the design of the house – and built the unique V-shape structure that stands today, in a style known as a “Flat Iron House” – which essentially joined two buildings end to end at a 30-degree angle. The foundation is stone with a post and beam wall structure, outfitted with Asphalt Shingle.
The farm was once large enough to hold 2 barns. Today one of these barns has crumbled away into nothing but a memory, only the half shell of a cinder block wall is barely visible through a large patch of weeds that is growing around it. The other barn sits directly across from the house, but is in terrible shape. The wooden structure is warping and slowly caving into the backside, where there is large hole in the roof. Inside the barn, underneath all the collapsing beams and crumbling roof (not a safe place to walk) are some great old antiques of yesteryear. An old tube radio, hand carved cribs, period farming equipment – all which will be lost when the barn decides to tumble. The farm has since dwindled in size as urban encroachment began making its way up the hill, bringing trailers, late century ranch houses and new cookie cutter developments of 2 car garages and pastoral named side streets.
The farmhouse and the small few acres that have survived are a melancholic enclave of what once was. Now, this is where urban myth began to manipulate the missing information. A few local residents told me that they recalled the farm being defunct as late as the 80s but the house was still an active residence until the early 90s, when it was abandoned and has remained that way ever since. However, these suggestions were only speculation – the answers are unclear. Perhaps the house was too outdated and was in need of modernization, a bill the owners couldn’t afford. Maybe it was Chittenden County’s infamous property taxes that drove them to leave. If so, then why didn’t they sell it?
Later, more information would come to light. As told by a friend, he reported that someone had recently talked to him who knew the current owner of the house, who is still alive. He speculates that a divorce was the eventual reason for its abandonment. Further tax complications would make selling the property difficult. But what seems to be more puzzling than the house’s demise, are all of the strange stories that circulate around it.
Tales of Suburban Youth
The most famous legend to come out of the dark enclaves of this house involve a classic scenario in American folklore. As the story goes, on one particular night in the 1970s, a man, for reasons unknown, shot and killed his wife and infant son. Only after a fleeting moment of clarity, he shot himself as well. However, this story is vague, and the father’s motives remain unclear. One more elaborated version of the story includes he was fighting secret wars, battling phenomenal amounts of stress and depression, which created a temporary moment of insanity. Other versions state he found out his wife was having an affair with a neighboring farmhand. Furious, he killed her. When he realized his son had been a witness, he killed him too. I asked the historical society about these stories but they assured me that no murders have ever been recorded at that house. They had never even heard of the story until I brought it up. But earlier, when I had stopped and talked to a neighbor after taking some photographs, he seemed to take a different side, and told me he swears a family was killed inside years ago. Then he stopped and corrected himself. “Well, maybe not killed, but I swear someone died in there anyways”. A strange footnote to all of this is that in the dark corners of the living room, only unveiled by the beam of a flashlight, is a dated family portrait, a small bullet hole making cracks in the glass.
Another story I’ve heard tells of another death inside this house. Supposedly, a lonely man once lived there who had no friends, no family and was overwhelmed by his despairs. Seeing no other way out, he hung himself from a rafter in the attic. His lonely spirit is now said to haunt the attic and the second floor, his sadness living on amid the crumbling plaster walls and dusty floors. If this is true, this may account for all of the unsettling feelings of heavy sadness felt in the upper floors. I could not verify this story either. But years ago, I remember talking to one local teen who was dared to enter the house by a group of his friends. “Everything was alright until I got upstairs” he said. “Then I started to get really uncomfortable, my legs were shaking. I wanted to leave”. I asked him if he knew any of the stories about the house, and he said he didn’t. Admittedly, I felt a little unnerved upstairs as well. Was it the watchful ghost of the gentleman that hung himself? Or was it just the creepy ambiance of an old house?
Passersby have reported to see what looks like “lantern lights” bobbing up and down through the attic windows when driving by the house late at night, but as far as I know, no one has stopped to investigate.
There is an area of the kitchen that just doesn’t like to be photographed, and I’m not quite sure why. I’ve been back to this house with several different cameras in an attempt to photograph the kitchen, but all of my photos would inexplicably come out blurry, even if they are completely still and resting on a tripod or counter top. But if I turn around and aim it towards the living room, the picture will come out without any interference. This to me is probably the strangest feature of this house – I have no explanation why.
Last summer I brought a friend of mine to the house with the intention of taking a few pictures, I didn’t plan on staying long. She had no prior knowledge of the house or it’s lore, and was eager to join. That was, until she went upstairs. For no reason, this once calm person suddenly became paralyzed with anxiety. “What’s wrong?” I asked. “I’m not sure, I just don’t like it up here…it just feels really weird” she said. I could tell her own words confused her, like she had no idea what to make of these new feelings. Eventually she had to wait outside. “I can’t do it…go ahead and take your pictures, I’ll just be at the back door. I’m sorry, but I can’t”. She never came back inside, and she told me she was never going too. The few times I attempted to talk to her about it, she refuses to go into detail. I suppose I don’t blame her.
On one occasion, I had brought 2 friends with me on a sunny spring afternoon to visit the property. Once again, we found ourselves upstairs, me playing with the ISO settings on my camera. As I was trying to ready my camera for a picture, I heard a noise that I dreaded hearing; the sound of footsteps inside the house. I immediately tensed, my other friends noticing my reaction and did the same. We listened intently, I could feel my heart in my throat. The footsteps were heavy, like a man’s, and sounded like it was a possibility this intruder was wearing heavy boots that clomped harshly on the wooden floors. As I listened more carefully, I came to a puzzling and startling conclusion; the footsteps were coming from upstairs. That was impossible. We would have heard anyone climb the wooden stairs, we were in the room directly off them. And yet, here we were, listening to those dreadful footsteps coming from the room next door. It sounded like whoever, or whatever, was in that room was pacing back and forth continuously. As we waited, it didn’t seem like whatever it was going to leave the room. And then, as suddenly as they started, they stopped, vanishing into the dusty atmosphere of the shadowy house. We waited for several minutes, listening for them to start back up. They didn’t. And we hastily left. To this day, none of us have no idea what we heard.
Whatever inspired all of these stories is a mystery to me. As a kid, I remember hearing them being told, and as I grew older, I continued that time-honored ritual. So what exactly is at work here? The product of over active youthful imaginations that burned these tales into legend? Or do these stories have a shred of truth to them that is still waiting to be uncovered? Maybe the only ones that truly know are the ancient Maples that cast their shadows upon the house.
An interesting footnote to this story is that the current owner of the house confessed to me that the house is in fact haunted. However, the stories I had written about made him scratch his head in confusion – he had never heard of before. Strange things have happened inside he said, but nothing like what I had reported. But the owner didn’t want to elaborate any further. He gave me the gist that the house was kind of a burden to him.
Maybe its the real estate that adds to its creepiness. It was built over a swamp. It’s dank stone basement flooded pretty frequently. A talk with an employee of the local town water district verified that, as he told me he’s been to that place quite a few times, and had some complaints about the shoddy electric work, among other things.
This house, with its rural setting and creepy atmosphere is the perfect breeding ground for urban legends. It’s sort of a comforting thought in my mind, that such mysterious places still exist. As the community develops and evolves around the house, it’s always enjoyable to hear that these legends are still told, and the house still stands to mystify the next generation of curiosity seekers – daring to show you a world that is familiar and yet, completely foreign.
These photos were taken variously throughout the years, from when I was a bullet proof teenager looking for a thrill, until a few years recently. Some of these may not be my best work, so excuse the quality. But – I’ve added them to tell the story of the house and its atmosphere. Until I find my way back to re-photograph it that is…
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