The Vermont Character: Coffin Windows

One of my favorite pieces of Obscure Vermont is a mixture of architectural vernacular, and good old fashioned Yankee Ingenuity.

Do you see the diagonally tilted window placed in the gable end of this old farmhouse with its long edge parallel to the roof? A lot of people, Vermonters or flatlanders, seem to be flummoxed about these peculiarly slanted windows. That’s because their orientational existence isn’t found in any other states (though someone did tell me that they think they saw one somewhere in New Hampshire not too long ago.) To add a bit more rapturous froth to the isolated mystery, our Vermont parlance labels them “coffin windows”, or sometimes “witch windows”, depending on who you are I guess. Growing up, my mother would always point them out as “coffin windows” whenever we would take a trip out of suburban Chittenden County to more rural parts of the state, where older structures far outnumbered the new. I wasn’t introduced to “witch windows” until much later.

The etymology behind the monikers vary, and can’t really be traced back to a materialized point of origin.

Going alphabetically – it’s said these are called coffin windows because if a family member died upstairs, it was far easier to maneuver the needed coffin out the window and slide it down the roof as opposed to figuring out just how to haul it down a steep and narrow Vermont farmhouse staircase. And trust me, some of them are very steep and narrow to a point of over-cautiousness when walking up or down one – enough for me to sympathize with anyone who would groan at the prospect of dragging anything up or down them.

The name witch window gets a bit more on the superstitious side. It’s said that an old belief was that a witch couldn’t enter your dwelling through a crooked window or opening. A similar superstition that comes to mind is how the ancient Chinese thought bad spirits traveled in straight lines, so their architecture took on steeply peaked rooflines.

I know old Vermonters were a superstitious bunch. Our collective state history and folklore include such grim things as incriminating real people accused of Vampirism, or desecrating the graves of dead people accused of postmortem vampirism (our most famous Vampire execution was a man named Corwin, whose remains still loam underneath Woodstock’s boat shaped town green).

But witches? There isn’t much known on how scared Vermonters were of witches, leaving this as intriguing speculation. However, I was able to dig up a small number of succinct accounts in old state newspapers around the late 1700s and early 1800s of various Vermonters who locals suspected were witches, but in reality were probably nothing more than eccentrics living in a more narrow-minded time. One article amusingly reported that a Stowe woman was blamed for making several farmers’ milk cows run dry.

A more practical theory and probably the most likely of the three, was that these windows were a creative solution to let light into the cramped spaces upstairs. Gables didn’t often leave rooms for traditional sized windows and poor farmers didn’t want to spend the money on drafty dormers or getting a custom window made – which was a costly purchase many families couldn’t afford. They also enabled fresh air and ventilation to keep the house inhabitable. Though there are far more scolding environments than Vermont, our summers do get pretty humid, and the upper floors of an old house easily turn into ovens. 

Further down the line, these windows adopted yet another sobriquet with less dour and more civic pride; Vermont Windows. Though I haven’t heard that term nearly as much as the afore-referenced other two. 

In a world that loves things to fall into human-made symmetry, who knew that a window installed at a tilt could conjure up so many declaratory ideologies.

It seems that these windows have a bit of cool fanfare behind them, apart from your blogger. Some cool individual even made an Instagram account dedicated to them!

Route 100 in South Duxbury
Found one in this abandoned farmhouse I was exploring.
Found one in this abandoned farmhouse I was exploring.
East Calais
Calais
Calais
South Woodbury village
South Woodbury village
South Woodbury village
South Woodbury village
The NEK is in winter wonderland mode, even though it was a miserable 9 degrees. Saw this nice farmhouse and coffin window in tiny Peacham, what might just be the most iconic village in Vermont.
If you’re a cinephile, “Ethan Frome” was filmed in Peacham.
As seen on my friend’s family’s farm on view-stacked Turkey Hill in Northfield.

Any of you folks know of a coffin window near you? Let me know! I love road tripping around Vermont, and I always make excuses to shunpike somewhere!

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The Vanished Town of Glastenbury and The Bennington Triangle

Those who know me know that I’m a huge cartography buff. That love really perpetuated when I was 10, when my mother bought me a DeLorme atlas of Vermont, and I became enthralled with it, thoroughly memorizing every detail I could. But what is it about maps that are so irresistible to me?

Maybe because of their limitless potential, and their ability to unlock the mysteries of our world. Maps tell us how things in this world relate to one another, they take data and turn it into something tangible, something understandable, and maybe something that provokes thought or feelings. Several different types of information can be conveyed at the same time, melding several different ideas into a united idea. Lines to convey topography, more lines to convey boundaries between rock layers, towns, states and countries. More lines for faults, colors for bodies of water, forest land and types of climates. Maybe it’s because maps provide some sort of order, putting everything where it needs to be. Or just the opposite. They’ve always helped me make sense of my thoughts and ideas, and even draw ideas from things that haven’t been categorized or plotted yet.

I loved getting to know the great state I lived in. But one place really stood out to me.

A perfect square, that yellow dotted line indicating it was the boundary of a town, with the word “Glastenbury” printed inside. But inside the square, there was nothing but contour lines, indicating several mountains and rugged wilderness. I was enthralled by the fact that this town apparently had nothing in it. In the very top left corner, in small print, was the word “Fayville”, plotted on a dotted line that seemed to be a secondary road, meandering its way from Shaftsbury deep into the hills, and ending in the middle of nowhere. Even for rural Vermont standards, this was pretty desolate. I knew there was something different about this place, it challenged my young and naive view of the world. Why wasn’t there anything in Glastenbury like other towns around it?

It had a mystery to it, and I wanted to know more. My first act of familiarizing myself with Glastenbury was to make the trip down to that curious place on the map called Fayville. Myself and a few friends departed in his pickup truck and drove up the bumpy forest road into a strange clearing in the middle of the hills. Here, underneath summer humidity, we found old cellar holes almost entirelly hidden by tall grasses, beneath the shade of gnarled apple trees. At the bottoms, under layers of decaying leaves and dirt were iron bands, old horseshoes, and other various relics that hinted at human habitation once being way up here. It now made sense, Fayville was a long abandoned village that still appeared on maps.

The remains of the Eagle Square sawmill in Fayville, circa 2009-08. Photo: UVM Archives and The Landscape Change Program.
The Eagle Square sawmill in Fayville. Now, ferns, earth and rocks are filling in the foundation. Photo: UVM Archives and The Landscape Change Program.

As we were wondering around, the once sunny July afternoon became dark and cloudy, as a gusty wind picked up and tangled the long grasses. And it came fast, so fast that none of us were aware of a change in weather until things got dangerous. We were suddenly at the mercy of a freak ferocious thunderstorm that seemed to emanate out of nowhere, and became so violent that we literally retreated down the mountainside, in fear of the dirt trail washing out, leaving us stranded in the middle of the national forest. But when we got back down to the flats in Shaftsbury, it was sunny and dry. To make things far stranger, gas station attendants in Arlington were baffled that a thunderstorm – especially one of that magnitude – had passed through the area without them noticing it. Freak storms are common in New England, it’s by no means a rare phenomena here, but the conditions were just right to make this a head scratcher. I still have no explanation to this day.

Over the years, I began to dive into research, and soon would discover that I had stumbled upon one of the most interesting stories I had ever heard, which remains as one of the earliest examples of what got me interested in Vermont curio. Eventually, I decided that I wanted to write about this place that has long held my attention, to pay it reverence for having an integral part of my life, and also, because I love a good story.

A modern day road map of Glastenbury – which is a little misleading. The black lined “roads” that are represented are actually forest service roads/snowmobile trails. US Route 7 and a small portion of Glastenbury Road in the left hand corner are the only real roads in town.

But Glastenbury is perplexing and complex, and something I found a little difficult to write about, mostly because there was so much information to take in. I wanted to be tactful with how I approached it, balancing the resilient history, excellent folklore, and my own thoughts. When I was finished, the only conclusion I could draw is that there is no conclusion. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

An Introduction

In southern Vermont, northeast of Bennington, lies an incredible area of backcountry. It’s a vast area, roughly 36 square miles of unbroken wilderness, with 12 peaks over 3,000 feet in elevation, the centerpiece being Glastenbury Mountain at 3,747 feet. Mostly occupied by the Green Mountain National Forest, this is a surprisingly large stretch of wilderness for Vermont. It’s name sake comes from it’s largest mountain, and the ghost town that used to be there which also bore the same name.

Glastenbury seems to yield a prolific Google search, but despite the hits, the information about the vanished community is vague at best, with much that seems to be copied and pasted from one website to the next. That’s where Tyler Resch’s invaluable book Glastenbury, History of a Vermont ghost townemerged beaconlike in the darkness.

The town of Glastenbury was charted in 1761 by land grabbing Benning Wentworth, governor of New Hampshire. Wentworth was quite the character – granting as many towns in then unestablished Vermont as he could, with the intention to provocatively challenge New York, which also claimed the same land. Of course, Wentworth’s grants doubled as a lucrative endeavor, as he made sure to set aside some acreage for himself.

But Wentworth had no idea of the local geography, and simply drew lines on a map. Though Glastenbury tips it’s hat to a legendary place in England, Vermont’s titular community seemed to be ill fated from the very beginning. The rough and forbidding terrain and short growing season didn’t lure any settlement until the 1800s.

Because they had a mountain of wood to burn, the town embraced the lumber and charcoal industry, and began to slowly prosper as it lured settlement and business. Though Glastenbury town itself is a large area, it only contained 2 small settlements near the western border; the logging town of Fayville in the north, and later, the settlement of South Glastenbury. While Fayville is more known by people looking at a map, South Glastenbury is normally what is profiled in every article I’ve read. The two villages were never connected, the mountainous terrain was so steep that roads were never built.

South Glastenbury became the heart of town, and the headquarters of the majority of the charcoal operations, with 12 brick kilns erected along the cleared hillsides. A massive loggers boardinghouse, and company store – the only store in town, were built to serve the village. A few homes, a meetinghouse and a crude one room schoolhouse were also built for the few kids who grew up there. Because South Glastenbury sat at the confluent of two different branches of Bolles Brook, where the headwaters met and began their descent down the mountains, the small village became known as “The Forks”.

Life here was tough. It was a wild town, sort of a last frontier in Vermont. It was the kind of place where men out numbered the women, and the law often didn’t exist.

An 1865 Rice and Harwood Map of Glastenbury and Woodford shows the village of Fayville in the top left corner of town. South Glastenbury hadn’t been settled yet | via: oldmaps.com

I’m not willing to pay the $20 image purchase fee – but the website historicmapworks.com has an 1869 Beer atlas map of Woodford that you can check out – and this is one of the few maps I’ve came across to feature South Glastenbury in it. The map is sideways, so look for “District 2”, beyond the Woodford town line, and the black dots that represent buildings plotted around Bolles Brook.

A girl, a man and a boy outside Glastenbury Camp, 1933. Photo: UVM archives – The Landscape Change Program
he Loggers Boarding House, and several residents posing for a photograph.
The Loggers Boarding House in South Glastenbury, with several of the woodsman posing for a photograph. Photo: courtesy of Images From The Past
kilns2
A few of the brick charcoal kilns in South Glastenbury.
South Glastenbury
A strangely forlorn shot of South Glastenbury that really gives you an idea of what life was like for folks up there in the mountains. Primitive log homes and a charcoal kiln can be seen, with a few locals out front along the road. Photo: courtesy of Images From The Past

With a profitable timber industry came demands. People needed to get up into town, and lumber and charcoal needed to get down. The steepest railroad ever built in the United States was constructed as the solution, which started out as a sarcastic suggestion turned into a defiant reality. Starting in Bennington and ending at The Forks, The Bennington-Glastenbury Railroad was formed in 1872, the tracks climbing an astonishing 250 feet per mile at 9 miles long. But depending on a finite resource eventually created the end of the charcoal and logging industry and the mountains were logged until nothing larger than a sapling remained on the slopes.

But the railroad was still around, and they wanted money. The question was, what to do with it? In 1894, the railroad re-billed itself as The Bennington-Woodford Electric Railroad and the town reinvented itself as a tourist destination, using the railroad as a way to bring tourists up into South Glastenbury. The railroad switched over to using more reliable trolley cars instead of traditional rail cars, because they were stronger and more reliable, especially given the elevation they would have to climb.

Much time and money were invested into retransforming the town – turning the brawny old loggers’ boarding house into a hotel and the former company store into a casino. No details were overlooked, and both buildings became showpieces. They wanted Glastenbury to stand out from other summer resorts. After painstaking labor and expenses, the town opened up as vacation destination in the summer of 1897, and had a successful first season.

However, the barren mountains stripped of all their trees, were very prone to flooding and soil erosion. A year later, a devastating flood washed out the tracks, putting an end to the town for good. It’s high elevation and isolation ensured that no one tried to rebuild it, and the buildings fell into ruin under the silence of the mountains.

A trolley full of tourists arrives in South Glastenbury. The casino can be seen in the background. Photo Source
newspaper3
A newspaper flyer advertising the upcoming opening of Glastenbury as a tourist destination
A classic image of The Bennington and Woodford Trolley, filled with nicely dress women on their way to Glastenbury.
A classic image of The Bennington and Woodford Trolley, carrying a load of women who are dressed to impress, up into Glastenbury. Photo: courtesy of Images From The Past
he tourist destination of South Glastenbury, with the hotel on the left, and the casino on the right. You can see Bolles Brook and the Trolley line to the right of the brook.
The tourist destination of South Glastenbury, with the hotel on the left (old loggers boarding house), and the casino (former company store) on the right. You can see Bolles Brook and the Trolley line to the right of the brook. A walk up here today has almost entire eroded that there was once human habitation here. Photo: courtesy of Images From The Past
Glastenbury
The casino. Photo: courtesy of Images From The Past
Another hotel at Glastenbury. The identity of this one however remains a mystery. Vaguely dated between 1890 – 1930. Photo: UVM Archives and the Landscape Change Program
A group of individuals hiking on Glastenbury Mountain. When the group came back in the morning, they came back to water that was three feet deep. August 16, 1918. Photo: UVM Archives and The Landscape Change Program
This one is a mystery to me. The image is captured “On The Trolley Line to Glastenbury”. The roof of the building reads “Loafmore” Dated 1910, a decade after South Glastenbury had been abandoned. Photo: UVM Archives and The Landscape Change Program.

The population of Glastenbury dwindled down to almost nothing, which later got the attention of Ripley’s Believe It Or Not in the 1930s when they learned that all 3 members of the Mattison Family were the entire town, and held every office. Because of this, the state of Vermont disorgonized the town in 1937, the first time the state ever did such an act, and the area was reclaimed by the wilderness.

It’s even more interesting to think about that a town with such a galvanizing and unique history was actually so tiny in stature. Though many people who write about ghost towns robotically love to use descriptive terms such as “hub” or “thriving”, Glastenbury was really neither – it’s peak population climbed to around 241.

Apart from the town’s fascinatingly unique story line, it may be the obscure and inexplicable events that allegedly happened on it’s slopes that has really given the town it’s considerable attention. The area has since given birth to terrifying legends, if not actual monsters.

The casino, just a few years after its abandonment. It had already fallen into ruin by then.
The casino, just a few years after its abandonment. It had already fallen into ruin by then. Photo: courtesy of Images From The Past
Ripley's
A cartoon published in 1936 by Ripley’s Believe It Or Not featured the Mattison’s of Glastenbury.

“The Bennington Triangle”

While my love of maps inadvertently lead me to my interest of Glastenbury, their ability to organize information and draw conclusions was useless here.

Glastenbury Mountain and the surrounding area has long been considered one of Vermont’s most haunted places. In 1992, local author and folklorist Joseph Citro coined the term “The Bennington Triangle” to describe the area, and the designation not only stuck, it grew immensely in popularity. Over the years, the phrase has been been featured in books, websites and television shows, to the point where the name has taken a life of it’s own.

The theories and enthusiasm have quickly escalated and have continued to morph and stoke the fire. Many are quick to glamorize the region without being objective, only further propelling it into the blurred haze of fact and embellishment.

To better understand the hysteria here, let me try to summarize the more colloquial regional portrait for you.

It started with the native Americans, who refused to venture onto Glastenbury mountain. Fearing the land was cursed, they only used the land to bury their dead. But maybe it was because of a cross wind that met on the summit of the mountain. Even today, hunters will tell you that because of the disorienting winds, it’s very easy to get lost in the woods.

There is also a baffling legend of some sort of enchanted stone somewhere in the mountains, which is said to open up and “swallow” a human being in seconds if it’s stepped on. Another reason they avoided the place.

The weirdness continued when colonial settlers came to the area, whose vague and un-researchable accounts tell of weird sounds, noises and odors that would come from the mountain. But there are human things at work here as well, and those have been documented.

In 1867, there was an alleged wild man sighting, where a mysterious misanthropic specter would venture down from the woods (some accounts say he lived in a cave in Somerset) pull back his coat, and expose himself to unsuspecting women in Glastenbury and nearby Bennington. He was also said to brandish a revolver for intimidation. Whoever he was, he was eventually ran out of town and faded into obscurity.

On April 4th, 1892, Fayville mill worker Henry McDowell went haywire and murdered John Crawley by bashing him in the head with either a piece of wood or a rock, depending on the story. He fled town, but was later apprehended in South Norwalk, Connecticut, where he made a full confession. However, he was babbling on about voices in his head that wouldn’t leave him alone, and as a result, was sentenced in the Vermont State Asylum in Waterbury. But he escaped by hiding in a railroad car carrying a load of coal, never to be seen again. Some say he returned to Glastenbury, and others claim that he still remains hiding on the slopes to this very day. But by now, he would be an impossibly old man, which takes on an eerie resemblance to the tale of Doctor Benton coming from the mountains of New Hampshire.

On the opening day of Vermont’s first hunting season in 1897, 40 year old John Harbour, a respected Woodford resident, was mysteriously murdered at his deer camp in Bickford Hollow, a remote area in the hills south of Glastenbury. While hunting with his brother and family friend, they heard the blast of a rifle, followed by him crying out “I’ve been shot!”. They immediately turned around and searched for him, but it wasn’t until 11 AM the next morning when they found him, his legs protruding out from underneath a Cedar tree. However, something wasn’t quite right. His loaded gun sat neatly beside him, as if it was purposely put there. But something was wrong. His body was a distance away from where he was shot. They now knew that John had to have been moved. But by what? Did he crawl there after being shot? Did he receive human help, possibly by the shooter? There were no signs of him having walked or crawled to his final resting place, no clues at all.  The mystery remains unsolved to this day.

It was after these two murders that signaled both the beginning of Glastenbury’s slow decline, and the establishment of it’s reputation as a mysterious and haunted place. Sometime in the early 19th century, a stagecoach full of passengers were making their way over the mountains near Glastenbury, near present day Route 9 in Woodford. It was well past dark and a violent rain storm was washing out the road. The rain was coming down so hard, it soon forced the driver to slow down to a crawl as the thunder cracked the night sky. Things became so bad that the driver eventually came to a complete stop in the dark and wet mountain wilderness. As he hopped down from his perch with the lantern to get a good idea of the situation, he noticed something peculiar illuminated by lantern light. There were unfamiliar footprints in the mud just ahead of him.

The rain hadn’t washed them away yet, so they had to be fresh tracks the driver reckoned. His observations revealed that the tracks were widely spaced, suggesting that whatever had made them was tremendous in size. He noticed the horses were beginning to get spooked, but he just couldn’t stop thinking about those tracks. What made them? He soon hollered back to the passengers and asked for their opinions. At this point, the horses were going wild, which was spooking the driver. That meant that something was skulking nearby, and it might just be what made those tracks…

As the passengers began to step out, something dealt a savage blow to the side of the carriage. Now, all of the passengers scrambled out of the carriage, completely terrified. The blows kept coming, until the whole thing tumbled over on it’s side.

The quivering passengers and driver huddled together in the dark, the rain stinging their faces. Then the creature came into view. Though it was almost impossible to see, two large eyes could be made out staring at them. A vague detail described the brazen creature as roughly 8 feet tall and hairy, before it shambled back into the woods. Shortly after, whatever had attacked them had became dubbed as The Bennington Monster.

Another interesting theory suggests that the Bennington Monster is actually the horrifying transformation of the Glastenbury Wild Man. After he was chased out of the region, he took back to the woods and dwelled, becoming cannibalistic, deformed and insane, wearing animal firs and attacking lone stagecoaches coming over the mountains.

Strange Disappearances 

Giant hairy monsters that topple stagecoaches are all good for earning a place an official spook status, but it was the disconcerting events that took place after the town became disorganized in 1937 that have really cemented the area into the public’s imagination and paranormal concrete.

Glastenbury is where one of Vermont’s most frightening mysteries took place, and what’s more captivating is that it really didn’t happen all that long ago. Beginning in the last cold months of 1945, people from the area began to vanish without a trace.

The first one to disappear was 74 year old Middie Rivers. He was a native to the area and worked as a hunting and fishing guide. Because of his job, he was completely familiar with the woods. One day, Rivers led four hunters up onto the mountain. Things were going fine, until their trek back to camp. Rivers got a bit ahead of the group, and vanished completely. Expecting to catch up with him at the camp, the hunters began to panic when they didn’t see him there upon their arrival. Police and a group of volunteers combed the area for hours. But Rivers was an experienced woodsman, so they were fairly confident they would find him in no time. But search attempts continued for over a month, and no trace was ever found. Local lore has it that Rivers disappeared near Bickford Hollow, the same place John Harbour was murdered.

The next person to vanish is the most infamous of all the Bennington Triangle disappearances, the case most talked about. on December 1, 1946, 18 year old Paula Welden decided to take a hike on the Long Trail. she left her dorm at Bennington College and walked into the woods. She was easy to spot, because of her bright red coat. Plenty of people saw her that day, including on the Long Trail itself. But Monday came, and Paula didn’t show up for her classes. The college called the sheriff’s department. 400 students and faculty members assembled to help look for their missing classmate. A massive search party of 1,000 people, bloodhounds, helicopters and even a clairvoyant, combed the area diligently for weeks. A $5,000 reward was even offered! But on December 22, all efforts came to an end. There was no body, no clothes, no evidence, nothing. The quality of Paula Weldon’s search party was met with scrutiny, and because of this, it lead to the formation of the Vermont State Police. Another interesting detail I uncovered was that to this day, there are people who think it’s bad luck to wear red while hiking Glastenbury Mountain.

The third person to disappear was on Columbus Day in 1950. 8 year old Paul Jepson was waiting for his mother in his family’s pickup at the dump they were caretakers for. But when she came back, he was gone. Like Paula Welden, Paul was wearing a red jacket, so he should have been easy to spot, but Mrs. Jepson couldn’t find him anywhere. Frantic, she called for help, and another search was launched.

Hundreds of townsfolk joined the search, scanning the dump and the surrounding roads, even the mountains. They implemented a double check system, where as soon as one group finished searching an area, another group would search the same area. Even coast guard planes were brought in. But all was useless. Bloodhounds borrowed from the New Hampshire State Police lost Paul’s scent at the intersection of East and Chapel Roads. Local lore says that Paul’s scent was actually lost at the same place Paula Welden was last seen. After the search had been called off, Paul’s father disclosed a peculiar piece of information. Paul had mentioned that he had an inexplicable “yen” to go into the mountains lately. Paul’s disappearance made him the third to go missing in roughly the same area. Was there a pattern here?

Maybe. Or maybe not. It was said that there were pigs at the dump his family were caretakers for. One popular theory at the time which the newspapers suggested, was that Paul wondered off and was eaten by the pigs, thus explaining his disappearance.

Others speculate that Paul was actually abducted near East and Chapel Roads, carried away in a car. That would explain why the bloodhounds lost his scent. But we’ll never know for sure. Either way, the newspapers did what they do best and ran wild, and soon, others started to wonder what was going on here?

Two weeks later, On October 28th, 53 year old Freida Langer had left her family’s camp east of Glastenbury Mountain near the Somerset Reservoir to go hiking with her cousin. She was an experienced woodsman and was completely familiar with the area. About a half mile from camp, she slipped and fell into a stream. She decided to hike the short half mile back to camp, change her clothes and catch back up. She never returned.

When her cousin got back to camp, he was startled to learn that not only had she never came back, but no one even saw her come out of the woods.

Local authorities were quick to launch another search, alarmed at another unfathomable disappearance in the area. Once again, all efforts proved to be hopeless. They found nothing. The Bennington Banner picked up on the story, and raised a disturbing question: How did Langer disappear completely in an area she was so familiar with?

More Disappearances

On December 1st, 1949, James E. Tetford had been visiting relatives in northern Vermont. He boarded a bus in St. Albans, en route to the Bennington Soldiers home, where he lived. But he never arrived. Somehow, he had vanished without a trace without ever getting off of the bus. Even the bus driver had no explanation!

This account seems to be continuously accepted as proof of paranormal happenings, without further questioning the events. It’s worth mentioning that by the time James was actually reported missing, it was at least a week after the fact, when the Bennington soldiers home finally decided to call his relatives to figure out if he was actually coming back or not. By the time the police were involved in the investigation and got around to interviewing the bus driver and other passengers, it had been two weeks, and no one really remembered anything. But some information did arise. James was last seen by a friend of his when his bus made a stop in Burlington, and guessed he might have gotten off there, offering another possible explanation to his whereabouts. But regardless, his disappearance still remains a mystery. I don’t really see a connection here to the other disappearances, but I guess because it happened around the same time frame and James did live in the area, it has just been lumped into the big picture.

And perhaps one of the most arcane disappearance took place on November 11, 1943. As Author David Paulides tells in his book Missing 41137 year old Carl Herrick went hunting in the woods of West Townshend, about 10 miles northeast of Glastenbury. At some point during the hunt, Herrick and his cousin, Henry, were separated. Henry eventually made it back to camp, but Carl didn’t show up. As dusk began to fall and Carl still hadn’t arrived, Henry immediately contacted law enforcement, just as the snow began to fall.

The search for Carl lasted three days without finding a trace. But towards dusk on the third day, Henry stumbled upon Carl’s body. He was laying on the ground in the woods, motionless, his loaded rifle found leaning against a tree seventy feet away. Henry reported finding “huge bear tracks” around Carl’s body, but the official postmortem was baffling. Carl was reportedly squeezed to death, his lung was found to be punctured by his own ribs. What sort of bear squeezes a human to death? It would be an impossible act.

In Joseph Citro’s Passing Strange, (which was another heavy source for this article) he further mentioned a Burlington Free Press article dated October 25, 1981 reported that a trio of hunters disappeared somewhere near Glastenbury, and not surprisingly, that too remains unsolved.

Snowfall over Glastenbury from Route 7
Snowfall over Glastenbury from Route 7

Additional Theories and Searching for Answers

If you take these other accounts into consideration, this raises the number of disappearances from four to nine, which begs the question, what happened here? Where could nine people vanish to without a trace?

This is what we do know. The victims ages ranged between 8 and 74 and were evenly divided between men and women. Time is also a pattern. The disappearances all happened during the same time of the year – the last 3 months – and many of them were last seen between 3 and 4 PM. The rest is up for debate.

Because of the vast scope of the wilderness area and it’s inaccessibility, the task of finding a body is difficult. The conditions could easily ensure that someone’s remains would never be found again, regardless of cause of death. Depending on who you ask, there is a pattern there.

Speculations abound, adding many more layers to this fabled region’s already weighted and transgressive reputation. Could the Bennington Monster still be stalking the slopes, carrying its victims to some cave on the mountain? Maybe. As recently as 2003, Winooski resident Ray Dufresne saw something peculiar on his drive down Route 7, near Glastenbury. What he first thought was a homeless man stumbling around in a snowsuit, turned into an alleged bigfoot sighting upon a closer look. That story immediately blew up and was even picked up by local news stations. While some skeptics dismiss it as a prankster in a Gorilla suit, others aren’t buying it, and plenty more sightings have been passed down by word of mouth from the Bennington area, all which remain unaccounted for.

Or maybe, could these unfortunate people have accidentally encountered that enchanted Indian stone, and were swallowed in seconds?

Alien abduction is another hypothesis. Many reports of UFO sightings and strange lights in the sky have been spotted over the Glastenbury wilderness over the last century. Most notably, a “flying silo” shaped anomaly was see over the skies of Bennington by Don Pratt in 1984, which seems to be the go-to example for extraterrestrial sightings in the area.

But my personal favorite was designated by John A. Keel, an American journalist and influential UFOlogist, who used the term “Window Areas” to describe these places, or, some sort of inter-dimensional doorway or vortex into another world. New England seems to have a fair share of them. The legendary Bridgewater Triangle in Massachusetts which has similar phenomena, and the summit of Mount Washington are two of the most notable.

Perhaps the most tangible answer could be something all too familiar, a serial killer. “The Bennington Ripper” and “The Mad Murderer of The Long Trail” were all monikers given to the possibility of a sinister suspect that lurked in the wilds, but no evidence was ever found to prove this. The police during that time were not familiar with serial killers or how they operated, so even if it was the work of such a killer, the facts would have gone undocumented.

Adding to the seemingly ever growing list of theories, this one might be the most plausible. Near the former village of South Glastenbury, there are a few old wells. Some speculate that Middie Rivers accidentally tumbled down a well while on his hunting trip. His party, being unfamiliar with the area, never thought to check. As for the others….

An odd footnote to all of this; the body of Freida Langer did eventually appear, seven months after she had vanished. But sadly, this wouldn’t be of any help. It was in an area that search parties knew they had combed thoroughly, near the flood gates of the Somerset Reservoir. It was a completely open area, and anything there would be impossible to miss. And yet, here she was. Or, what was left of her. Her remains were in such gruesome condition that no cause of death could ever be determined.

Even More Strangeness

Enigmatic situations aren’t contained to the past, things reportedly continue to happen here to this day. Countless internet searches have dug up numerous unusual tales posted on message boards and blogs from hikers, hunters and curiosity seekers.

In the book Haunted Hikes of Vermont, Author Tim Simard mentions a one time incident of hearing a ghostly train whistle while hiking along the West Ridge Trail, miles away from both any functional railroad track, and the old rail bed that runs up into South Glastenbury.

One harrowing account I was able to dig up took take place on Columbus Day in 2008. This time, 2 Long Trail hikers were making their way through the Glastenbury wilderness. While hiking, they ran into a young man named Dave, who helped rebuild fire towers along the trail. They started talking about the mountain’s reputation, which at this point seems almost impossible not to do if you’re visiting. They had heard about the disappearances and shrugged it off as out of control tall tales. But Dave had a weird story to tell of his own. Dave spent some time on Glastenbury mountain restoring the fire tower on the summit, and would work up there for extended periods of time.

While camping in Goddard Shelter, his friends reported that there were nights that he would sit up in his sleep and laugh uncontrollably, and other nights when he would wake up screaming. Dave was considered a down to earth and smart guy, so this behavior had his friends extremely concerned, and disturbed. He had never acted in such a way before. I’ll never know if Dave had any follow up episodes, or an explanation behind these bizarre actions, the thread ended there.

Another story I was able to dig up only adds to the unscrupulousness of the region. In the book Ghost towns of New England, Author Fessenden S. Blanchard spoke with Arlie Greene – the oldest surviving member of the Mattison family. Greene recalled the old days in Glastenbury, and one particularly enigmatic, and possibly nefarious, incident. Two local men went fishing on the Peters Branch – one went upstream and the other went downstream. One of them was never seen again. A short time after the disappearance of the fisherman, someone found a human skull sitting on a tree stump near the brook. Some speculated Panthers got to him, but others weren’t so sure…

Arcane Stone Cairns

Yet another mystery, dressed in the forest light and acting as silent witnesses to times gone by. This enigma is far more benign than the previous ones I’ve covered, but is still just as vexing. There are a series of inexplicable cairns scattered around the mountain, and no one is quite sure why they exist. There are theories to why they are there. Farmers built them long ago while clearing their pastures, or several passing hikers on the Long Trail built them, to act as beacons in bad weather. But nothing adds up. The cairns were built in high elevations where farming never took place, and most of them are located miles away from the long trail in heavily forested areas. So what are they? The work of the Bennington Monster? Perhaps playful hikers built them wanting to add another Glastenbury mystery? For now, these giant piles of stones offer no explanations.

One of the stone cairns on Glastenbury Mountain. Via rock-piles.com/Norman E. Muller. Photo: David Lacy

What About Today?

Though Glastenbury is a ghost town and designated wilderness area, it’s anything but deserted. A myriad of outdoor enthusiasts, hikers, snowmobiliers, college students, history buffs, paranormal investigators and hunters all flock here to the undisturbed wilderness – trekking up the expansive network of forest roads, hiking trails or silent waterways, all realizing just how special it is here.

Today, there are about 8 residents that chose to live in this strange paradise. They love it’s obscurity, and I can see why. There are no other towns quite like Glastenbury in the northeast – and with only one road in town, a winding dirt road that snakes its way in no less than 2 miles, privacy is in abundance. And if you know about Glastenbury, there seems to be a sense of pride that comes with your knowledge of this obscure area, if not something that conjures a romantic notion of fantasy. As a matter of fact,”Chateau Fayville”, the last original house in Glastenbury and the former Mattison homestead, was put on the real estate market – and it looks like a nice place.

But there are several people who aren’t all that enthusiastic about its menacing repute and “Bennington Triangle” folklore – mostly because they’re not a fan of ghosts, curses and the bad, inflated outlook it brings to the area. Skeptical people will be quick to assure you that everything has a perfectly logical explanation. As for me, I’m one of the skeptics.

So, is there truly something phenomenal about Glastenbury that has yet to be comprehensively explained? Do curses and monsters really claim their victims? Well….this seems to be a controversial subject of much enthusiastic debate. I’ve heard it all. At the end of the day, some people surmise firmly to their untenable thoughts. I suppose it’s all subjective.

During the height of the disappearances, the local media ran wild with the stories and theories, which not surprisingly, got out of hand, creating vicious accusations and conspiracy theories. If you’re a fact checker, it’s worth noting that Middie Rivers was the only actual person to vanish within the town of Glastenbury itself. All the others were in neighboring communities, many on the Long Trail in Woodford.

To add to this, Author Tyler Resch is one of those who thinks the area is widely exaggerated, and has created preposterous theories carried by inertia. He once noted that he was surprised that more people actually hadn’t vanished, because the wilderness is in fact so large, and it’s very easy to become hopelessly lost if you stray from the trails.

Others argue that numerous things could have happened to the missing hikers. They could have fallen down an old well, or gotten lost and frozen to death, perhaps taking shelter in one of the numerous caves on the mountain which few people ever venture near. Another theory is that they were the unfortunate meals of a Catamount or giant cat, which would surely dispose of any evidence of a body.

If you put all of these pieces that I’ve covered together and add the intrigue of a town attempting to survive against all odds but still vanishing into the wilderness, you can easily draw a conclusion about something creepy and supernatural existing here. After all, the region does have great triggers for spook stories. I’m personally awe struck that such a plethora of incidents are all linked to a single area.

But at the end of the day, everything is relative. 4 hikers did disappear, and people have claimed to see weird things in the woods. The only absolute truth about all of this is that people swear these things happened. Whether the culprit was something awesome and sinister or innate, is the quandary here. Who knows for sure.

In finality, the Bennington Triangle certainly isn’t in danger of being forgotten anytime soon.

Additional Stuff! (Because this entry wasn’t nearly long enough)

Youtuber Matt Garland made this awesome documentary on the Bennington Triangle, which is in my opinion, a great watch.

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To all of my amazing fans and supporters, I am truly grateful and humbled by all of the support and donations through out 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.

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!

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Disappearing

A favorite activity of mine is to go shunpiking – cruising around Vermont’s back roads and letting my eyes and mind soak up whats out there. A few nights ago while traveling down a straight-of-way in Addison County, a pancake flat paved rural roadway surrounded on both sides by expansive hay fields, I came across a forested island in the middle of a vast expanse of nothing – a small patch of surprisingly dense hardwood trees, tall grasses, and the Vermont state flower, the Clover.

Behind the growth, I noticed there was something man made here that was coexisting with the small jungle – the second story of a sordid farmhouse could be seen above a fortress of clinging vines that were almost consuming the structure. Slowing down to take a better look, I realized there was yet another abandoned house across the street that was nearly invisible, and behind it, I could make out the shapes of a scattering of barns and sheds, all falling and fading. I had stumbled on an abandoned farm.

Pulling off into what was once probably a driveway, I basked for a moment in the silence that hung around the farm. The sounds of crickets and the smell of clover came through the open windows, and the breeze gently rustled the trees. As I was sitting in my late summer reverie, movement caught my eye. From behind the abandoned farmhouse I was near, a solitary figure rode into the opening on a bike, through thick grass and tanglewoods that I assumed were probably very difficult to bike through. Manning the bike was a haggard looking fella, who appeared to be in his 40s, outfitted in moth-eaten clothing and a rather new looking bike helmet. He approached the car, and I braced for his encounter the best I could, giving him a small smile, waiting to see what was about to unfold.

“What are you doing here?” was his first question, which I predicted as much. “I’m just turning around, took the wrong road” I said calmly and cautiously. “Do you own this land? I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to bother you”. “Oh, I worked here for over 30 years, so I pretty much do own the land” he began. “The farm is abandoned now, the family is pretty much all dead. I still come by almost every week and check up on things though” “Oh wow, that’s pretty incredible. This place looks like it has a lot of history” I observed. And that seemed to light an internal fire – a simple initiation of conversation, and suddenly, his reserves were taken down, and he opened up to me. “Oh man, the stories I could tell you”. I smiled at him and explained my passion for stories and history. His eyes lit up like flashbulbs. “Actually – do you have some time, I can show you around?”

Next thing I knew, I had my camera in hand, and was ignoring my better senses as I followed a total stranger through thick tall grasses, well out of sight from the relative safety of the road out front. He introduced himself as Ivan as we went to shake hands. Putting blind faith in this gentleman, I allowed him to lead me around the property and we began to talk about the shifty ways of time, his stories cutting deep into history.

“I started working here when I was 10, back in the 60s”, Ivan began. “I used to carry hay bails from the fields to the barn all day long. That’s how I got these” he snickered, as he flexed his muscles. “I used to work all day long, never took a water break. People always used to warn me I’d get dehydrated, but I never did” he said proudly.

We found ourselves standing in front of a barn. “These barns are over 150 years old, built from Oak, Cherry and Ash, all cut right here on this property. There used to be a mill over there” he gestured to now open pastureland. He walked over and wedged a sliding door open, it made a loud groaning noise as the door grinded against the building. The entire facade seemed to tremble at this disturbance.

Inside was a forgotten world. Incredibly thick quilts of spiderwebs clung to brawny timber beams and fell from the ceilings like snow, getting tangled in my hair. Hay scattered on the dirt floors 30 years ago was still there, matted and molding. Certain rooms were packed wall to wall with various artifacts. wooden apple crates, tires with wooden rims, old bikes, desks and shelves filled with various artifacts and paraphernalia, accounts of over 150 years of farming now sitting forsaken underneath swirling dust and sunlight coming in through dirt streaked windows. On our way out, he noted me looking at the apple crates. “I love these things. I have a few of them in my apartment, holding books and stuff” I commented. “Oh yeah, I love those old crates too. There used to be an apple orchard right behind this barn. Over 100 trees! I remember, we all used to eat so many apples – they were great on a hot summer day. They tore them all out a few years ago, the entire orchard”

Making our way through the tall grasses, we made our way across the property. In a neighboring barn almost completely concealed by tree growth, he pointed out that that particular barn was used exclusively for trapping. The farmers used to trap unlimited beavers, otters and raccoons on their property and the nearby creek, and used to bring all the pelts to hang and dry in that barn – where a long narrow hallway ran between two sets of walls where the hooks still were hanging.  “This barn used to be full of hides – all the walls would be covered” he reminisced. “We used to either eat them or sell them. Any bit of money helped” It was a strange image, staring at those filthy and barren walls that afternoon underneath filtered light streaming through broken boards. I noticed a dated industrial grain sorting machine at the very end of the narrow hall. He told me that the farm used to also produce its very own grain. The floor was still coated in ankle high piles of the stuff and it had gotten in my shoes. Standing inside, there was a moment of silence as we took in our surroundings, and weird sounds seeped throughout, the soft summer breeze clearing my mind.

Wondering back around one of the abandoned houses, he told me that after the farm started to go out, the house was rented out to people outside the family. The last occupiers apparently stole a great deal from the farm. Valuable antiques such as firearms, milk jugs and other artifacts they had been taken. Most of the original family had died off, all but one member, who is now well into her senior years, and still lives nearby. She’s tired and doesn’t have the want to upkeep the farm anymore, and is almost completely unaware of it’s slow collapse. “It’s a real shame” he said. “Once she dies, a guy wants to buy the place, come in and bulldoze all the barns, the houses, everything. They want to expand the fields and farm this area. Everything here will be lost”.

Walking across the road, he brought me over to another abandoned farmhouse. “Back in the 60s – this used to be filled with people from California. Used to come up here by the bus loads – there must have been at least 20 or so people living in this house. They were the ones who were in charge of keeping this farm running ship shape”

The door to the house opened effortlessly, swung inwards and banged against the neighboring wall – the sound was like a shotgun blast in the somber interior. Inside, the life was gone, but something kept on creeping on, the floors creaked as the past walked by. The interior was what I expected to find in an old Vermont farmhouse. Faded linoleum floors, porcelain sinks, peeling wallpaper and rooms filled with garbage. There were holes where stove pipes used to run and heat the house, and an the exposed skeletons of an electrical system that looked like it was done haphazardly years ago. “There used to be rows of bunk beds in these rooms – they all used to sleep in here” he pointed out as he swung open a door of an upstairs room.

As we walked back down the stairs, he paused at one door we hadn’t opened yet – the basement door. The entire farmhouse had shifted and slumped over the years, almost trapping the door in its frame, but after a few hard tugs, it wrenched free, sending splintered fragments of crown molding in the air. The basement was pitch black, and the old wooden stairs were no longer standing. “You know, I’ve always wondered if there was like a chest full of gold or something down there” Ivan said as he scanned the darkness with his eyes. I was now curious. Was he making a joke? But he was quick to explain. “Back when I was growing up – I heard stories that the older members of the family had hidden gold coins around the farm. There was some sort of currency scare in the 1800s where people assumed paper money was going to loose its value, so they all started to switch to gold coins. I guess I heard they had a few stashes hid around the houses” Hidden treasure was certainly intriguing to me, so I asked him if he had ever found any of these alleged gold coins perhaps hidden under a floorboard or in the pipe of a woodstove. “Nope, never. I think it’s just a story” he said.  With a little research later, I discovered that there was in fact a large scale panic in the mid 1800s, The Panic of 1837, where wages, prices and profits went down, and unemployment and a general distrust of banks went up. As a result, I’ve heard other stories of old Vermonters investing in gold currency, something they were confident was dependable and safe, and kept it around the house as opposed to opening an account at a bank. Even if his intriguing story was a rumor, or if he was simply trying to spin a yarn, it did have its roots in historical accuracy.

Now outside the house, he brought me over to another barn and stared up at a rusted basketball hoop rim that was hung above one of the entrances. “Used to play here a lot as a kid to pass the time” he recalled nostalgically. “We used to have games, me and the Californians. Was thinking about going out for the basketball team in high school, but I never did”

“How often do you come by?” I asked Ivan, now curious by our chance meeting. “About every week” he replied. “I like to check up on the place, to make sure things are alright, to make sure it’s all as it should be”. It seemed Ivan was waiting in vain for something to happen – throbbing, and wincing, not knowing who to love or who to blame.

Getting ready to leave, I reached out to shake his hand, and sincerely thank him for his grand tour. It always means a lot when people open up to me – those experiences suddenly become shared experiences, and effect both parties involved. “It’ll sure be sad when this place goes, that’s for sure. Just down the road, the neighboring farm already sold parts of their land to other people, and they built houses on them” I knew too well what he was talking about. “Yeah, that’s pretty common. A lot of the farms I remember growing up around have succumbed to development now” My comment seemed to strike him off his feet. “What? Oh no…I’ve never really left town, haven’t really been anywhere I guess. So I wouldn’t really know” he said wistfully, he almost seemed to grieve from the disease of change and urbanism. I felt badly for him, it seemed all he wanted was a sense of place, but there was only silence and heavy humidity.

It’s always interesting to think about how many great stories are still existing in Vermont that have gone untold, and are in danger of completely disappearing. Images of proud men slick with sweat sticking to tractor seats and labor that would break the summer’s back. Farm life isn’t a romanticized escape from the bustle of modern life, it’s sadly an often thankless, lynchian job of back breaking work with little to show for it. But it also is a labor of love and devotion matched by earnest gazes and blue skies that have seen the same troubles as us. Exploring abandoned places like this sometimes compels you to look for answers to your own questions, but all I seemed to find is everything seems to change. As the world progresses into a future that seems like a dream now, countless more farms may find themselves like this one. It’s an experience like this in a haze of turbulent innocence, where you get a hard reminder that nothing stays the same.

Update, August 2015

A month of so after I had posted this blog post, I received a Facebook inbox message from the owner of this property. I opened it hesitantly, thinking that it’s contents would be angry and accusative, but to my very pleasant surprise, he was actually telling me he digged my blog, and loved this particular entry. But one thing was bothering him. He asked me about my tour guide, Ivan, and said that the family never employed anyone under that name on the farm before. A bit befuddled, I gave him a detailed profile of the guy. “I knew it!” He started. “His name isn’t Ivan, he lied to you. That was Tom, the town drunk. He’s the guy who set the meetinghouse on fire a few years ago, then tried to come here and light up one of our barns”. I certainly didn’t expect that.

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To all of my amazing fans and supporters, I am truly grateful and humbled by all of the support and donations through out 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.

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!

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

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Mysteries and Legends Of The Champlain Islands

Though Vermont is the only New England state without a seacoast, we have our fair share of vast waters and attractive islands here. The Champlain Islands – an archipelago stretching from the Canadian Border, encompassing roughly 200 miles of shoreline around a trio of islands and a peninsula, is practically a different world. Accessible only by 3 bridges or a ferry from Cumberland Head, New York, the islands are isolated from the rest of the state, and as a result, are relaxed (though, 21st century stress doesn’t entirely escape) and carry a different attitude.

With the Adirondacks rising dramatically to the west across the lake, and the Green Mountains to the east and the south, the islands are a beautiful place. There’s not much to do, and that’s exactly what I love about this region. Route 2, the main artery, passes through 4 out of 5 towns that make up Grand Isle County, with the only stoplight being on the drawbridge that separates North Hero from Grand Isle. The economy is largely dependent on agriculture and tourism, most often combining the two in agritourism pursuits of farm stands, restaurants, and a few vineyards now days.

Things can coexist up here in the world around it peacefully, and sometimes, even manage to go largely undetected. And those sort of conditions are just ripe for mysteries. The numerous smaller and inaccessible islands that dot the lake are mysteries unto themselves – which are also most commonly private property. It’s easy and fun to speculate what sort of things happen on those remote chunks of rock, and what can be found there.

Carleton’s Prize

One of the most interesting stories I heard comes from off the south west coast of South Hero – a small chunk of rock rising 30 feet from the choppy waters of Lake Champlain, in a large passage between Providence and Stave Islands. One day, I was searching on Google maps, and noticed that this almost insignificantly tiny scrap of land had a rather peculiar name; Carleton’s Prize. Why would a small rock have such a strange name? What exactly is the prize here?

As it turns out, the name can be dated back to the Revolutionary War. Local lore has it that Benedict Arnold escaped around Valcour Island with what remained of his fleet during the battle of Valcour Island– and a dense fog had draped over the lake.  The trailing British fleet, lead by Sir Guy Carleton, were searching for escaping American fleets, but unknown to them, the Americans had slipped by them in the cover of night.

But up ahead, through the fog, they spotted something. A silhouette of what appeared to be a ship. This was their chance. The British bombarded it with cannon fire. However, the smoke from all the black powder obscured their vision even more, and eventually, they couldn’t see a thing. But determined to take down those no good Americans, they kept on firing. An hour later, the firing finally stopped, and the smoke and fog cleared, and they would finally see what an hour of shooting had gained them. And what a dose of reality it was.

They hadn’t been firing on an American ship. They had wasted several rounds of ammunition on a small rocky outcropping in the middle of the lake they had mistaken as a ship. Since then, somehow and somewhere down the line, the small landmass has been referred to as Carleton’s Prize. Some say that you can still see the scars from cannon fire, and maybe even a cannonball or two on the island’s rocky shore to this day. But this is where the story gets a bit hard to trace. This story apparently isn’t well documented, and not much information exists to actually back this up – apart from a Wikipedia article and a blog entry – but even the blogger was questioning the truth of this interesting legend. So, did this blunder actually happen? I suppose we can only speculate. As far as I know, no one has came back with a cannonball yet.

Though the story of Carleton’s Prize is intriguing, the island’s original name is far more mystical. In the book, In Search of New England’s Native Past, author Gordon Day tells us the Abenaki knew this small rock as odzihózoiskwá, or “Odzihozo’s wife”. But who or what is Odzihozo?

Odzihozo, “the transformer”, was the supernatural being who created Lake Champlain, the mountains and all the lands that made up their homeland.

According to the legend, Odzihozo was an impatient deity, and before he was even completely formed with a head, legs and arms, he set out to change the earth. His last creation was Lake Champlain, which he considered his masterpiece – and he was incredibly happy with it. So happy in fact, that he climbed onto a rock in Burlington Bay and turned himself to stone so he could watch and be near the lake for the rest of eternity. The rock still resides in Burlington Bay, and is known to boaters as Rock Dunder – several miles away from his wife. It was said that the local Abenaki would bring offerings of tobacco to the rock as late as the 1940s.

travel tip: near White’s Beach, make sure to check out the alluring bird house forest and keep an eye out for the miniature Barber castles scattered around the island.

Carleton's Prize - the small bump in between the 2 islands.
Carleton’s Prize – the small bump in between the 2 islands.
Carleton's Prize from White's Beach in South Hero
Carleton’s Prize from White’s Beach in South Hero

Isle La Motte’s Coral Reef

From the extreme southern portion of the islands, we travel to both the most northern and most remote of them – tiny Isle La Motte.  It is here where one of Vermont’s true treasures can be found – something prehistoric, something unique, and something that many people wouldn’t expect to find in the northern reaches of Vermont.

Around the island, curious visitors can witness evidence of the oldest fossilized coral reef in the world – some 480 million years old. As a matter of fact, almost the entire southern half of the island is made up of this incredible petrified vignette.

Many years ago, Isle La Motte was underneath the warm waters of a tropical sea, roughly where Zimbabwe is today. Officially dubbed the Chazy Reef, it once stretched from an area covering Quebec to around Tennessee, now sitting fossilized in quarries and underneath farms around the island. Over the millennia, the earth’s crust shifted, and eventually, due to volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and the pull of the tides, Limestone formed, preserving the reef.

On a recent visit, I had the experience to view some of the reef myself. Stopping at the Fisk Quarry preserve, I was first taken by the tranquility of the place, almost quietly awe inspiring. And yet, if there weren’t signs to hint at what you were looking at – you might not even know you were walking around such a magnificent treasure.

The Fisk Quarry itself is actually no longer an active quarry – nothing has been quarried here in over a century after the incredibly rare and highly desirable “Black Marble”. In 1995, proposals to once again open the quarry for asphalt purposes was put on the table, but local residents who didn’t want to see the fossils get turned into road fill, protested, banded together, and was able to get the Isle La Motte Preservation Trust and the Lake Champlain Land Trust to officially protect the land in 1999.

Today, it’s incredible to think that you are walking around on a coral reef – it’s years of history preserved, giving scientists an understanding of the formations of primitive reefs and their development overtime – in other words, what the world was like millions of years ago.

Nature has reclaimed most of the quarry and other reef viewing sights, offering tall grasses and wildflowers and mixed swamp lands with still green pools (and of course, mosquitoes). Underneath your feet, you can see the undulating patterns eternally molded into the stone, and various outcroppings and quarry walls showcasing different fossils. The nearby Goodsell Ridge Preserve has an even more remarkable collection of fossils that are much easier to find. Maybe next time, I’ll be more prepared.

Perhaps the real mystery is why in an area ranging from Quebec to Tennessee, the best preserved chunk of the reef is in Isle La Motte? That still remains to be explained.

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According to a sign, the areas around the white portions of the quarry walls are where most of the fossils can be seen.

Goodsell Preserve

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A Pink Lighthouse

To some, the idea of a traditional lighthouse seems out of place in tiny landlocked Vermont. But Lake Champlain’s 587 miles of shoreline is home to 12 lighthouses, 6 of them belonging to The Green Mountain State.

At a total of 120 miles long and 12 miles across at its widest point, Lake Champlain is the 6th largest freshwater lake in the United States – and even had a short distinction as being the 6th great lake, before complaints from the other 5 revoked the title, but we think it’s still pretty great.

Often dubbed as “New England’s West Coast”,  the lake was a vital part of the settlement of the region and has been inseparable from local history.  In 1819, the Champlain Canal was completed, connecting the lake to the Hudson River and eventually New York City. This would change the culture of the lake as it was propelled into a transportation route for trade and tourism. Burlington became the largest port on Lake Champlain, and the third largest lumber port in North America. With this much travel on the lake, lighthouses were needed to make sure travel could be made safely from one end to the other. And with a series of dangerous reefs and no less than 70 islands scattered throughout the lake, these lighthouses played important parts to keeping the lake running efficiently.

In 1819, the Champlain Canal was completed, connecting the lake to the Hudson River and eventually New York City. This would change the culture of the lake as it was propelled into a transportation route for trade and tourism. Burlington became the largest port on Lake Champlain, and the third largest lumber port in North America. The waterfront was transformed into a bustling and chaotic shoreline of mills, factories and no shortage of cargo ships and passenger steam liners. With this much travel on the lake, lighthouses were needed to make sure travel could be made safely from one end to the other. And with a series of dangerous reefs and no less than 70 islands scattered throughout the lake, these lighthouses played important parts to keeping the lake running efficiently.

Today, the lake is a different place then it was 200 years ago. Heavy ship travel have been replaced by personal recreation boats and a few ferries carrying people across the lake. Interstates 87 and 89 run along both sides of the lake, and have became the main routes of travel between Canada and the United States, leaving the lighthouses unnecessary. Now, these vestiges of the past have slowly been forgotten as the lake tides carry their memories into the mists. However, they are still surviving, finding new lives as private estates or cultural showpieces. Some are landmarks, and others have made large efforts to camouflage them from public knowledge, an irony to their original purpose.

The lighthouses of the lake have always been a curious subject for me. I’ve spent summers traveling around the shorelines and seeing countless summer camps, McMansions and beaches, but a lighthouse is a rare, almost unseemly. But as it just so happens, one of the 6 lights in Vermont rests on Isle La Motte, and unlike most, you can sort of catch a glimpse of it.

The realization of  the need for a light on Isle La Motte started humbly in 1829 with some good old fashioned Yankee ingenuity; by hanging a lantern light on a tree branch on the Northwestern tip of the island, to help mariners navigate their way around the island and through the channel.

In 1856, the U.S. government purchased the land around the point for a grand total of $50. The first attempt at a real structure was made in the form of a pyramid shaped limestone tower that would hold the lantern.  However, the lantern would always blow out on stormy nights, and eventually, the need of an actual lighthouse became evident, and in 1881, the first permanent lighthouse was finally constructed on Isle La Motte.

A twenty-five-foot tower made of curved cast-iron plates was constructed. Originally painted bright red, the tower features many attentions to detail, such as an Italianate cast railing, arched windows, and molded cornices. Over time, it has faded to a light pink.

During the 1930s, in a cost saving measure, lighthouses began to be replaced with steel skeletal towers. The Isle La Motte light was replaced in 1933. In 2001, the Coast Guard determined it would be cheaper to return the light to the original tower rather than replace the deteriorating steel tower and on October 5, 2002, the light once again shined across the lake’s waters.

A reminder from the locals that they would prefer you not drive down aptly named Light House Point Road - it's a private road.
A reminder from the locals that they would prefer you not drive down aptly named Light House Point Road – it’s a private road, and the lighthouse is private property.
Isle La Motte's Lighthouse, as seen from North Point Road - the best place to get a good view of it, unless you have a boat or a kayak.
Isle La Motte’s Lighthouse, as seen from North Point Road – the best place to get a good view of it, unless you have a boat or a kayak.

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Cloak Island

Off of Isle La Motte’s south east coast is a small island with a weird name; Cloak Island. Why would you name an island, Cloak Island? In Tara Liloia’s book Champlain Islands, the name behind the interesting moniker is revealed.

According to a re-printed 1857 era map of Lake Champlain and the islands, the tiny island was originally known as Hill’s Island, or Hill Island, most likely named after the owners, as most Lake Champlain islands are. So what’s with the name change?

As the story goes, a domestic quarrel in the 1770s boiled over, when Eleanor Fisk got sick of her husband’s angry tempers. She hitched up her team of horses and set out across the frozen lake towards Alburgh, but never made it. Later, her red cloak was found along the bushes and rocks of the island, which would forever be known as Cloak.

But there is another variation of the story. After Eleanor Fisk went missing, concerned townsfolk suspected she had drowned, but needed proof. So, they gathered down near the lake and dropped her red cloak into the water. An old Yankee superstition dictated that to find the body of a drowned victim, all you had to do was drop a cloak belonging to the missing woman in the water and it will come to rest above the body. The cloak eventually found its way over to the island and got tangled on the beach, thus giving Isle La Motte’s tiny neighbor it’s name.

Weird Waters

Isle La Motte’s waters seem to hold many secrets at their murky bottoms, where they lay until we learn to live with them. The island’s west shore, which is ringed by vacation cabins and small farms within sight of the matchstick like silhouettes of the Malone wind farm, has been host to allegedly bizarre phenomena over the years. In 2004, a Champ sighting was supposedly reported off of Isle La Motte near Point Au Fer, by a Maryland family out on their boat, when there was an “explosion” that came out of the water, followed by 3 “humps” that breached the surface and sank back down almost as quickly as they came up. The startled family had no explanation for what they all witnessed, and none of them were fast enough to grab a camera. Champ sightings are all good, but there is a much larger scale of weirdness that tends to get reported from around the lake, including people claiming they saw balls of light shoot astonishingly out of the water! The weirdness continues with other unidentified swimming objects spotted moving against the tides and creating large wakes in their path. There are even said to be UFO sightings. Sadly, these claims aren’t nearly detailed enough to warrant a separate blog entry at the moment or even more than one paragraph (maybe a future blog entry in the works?), but are certainly compelling. After all, it comes as no surprise to most of us that weird stuff has been reported along and around Lake Champlain for centuries, but rarely makes it into circulation.

Cloak Island
Cloak Island

I’d like to close this entry on island weirdness, with both an interesting account and a fact I was able to dig up. One of them happened many years ago. On May 19th, 1780, something called a “dark day” was experienced across the islands. Starting in the morning, and lasting for 36 straight hours, the area was plunged into inexplicable and startling darkness, so much so that people were lighting candles and lanterns in the middle of the day, just to see.

While this might seem terrifying and otherworldly – the explanation is easily presentable. During that time, vast wildfires were rapidly spreading their way across Ontario, the smoke billowing down into New England skies. Today, Vermonters are relativity experienced with that, as smoke from Quebec forest fires of previous years have spread down our way. However, nothing thus far as been powerful enough to send us into another “dark day”.

Another fun fact worth noting, especially if you’re a geography buff, is that Alburgh is one of only six non island places in the continental United States that doesn’t share a land border with anywhere else in the country. Alburgh, being a peninsula, is surrounded by water, and technically cut off from both Vermont and New York. It’s only land border is with Quebec.

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To all of my fans and supporters, I am truly grateful and humbled by all of the support and donations through out 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.

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!

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The Caverly Preventorium

Though I’ve written about The Caverly Preventorium previously for The Rutland Reader, it wasn’t until a few days ago when I would actually get to set foot inside for myself. Meeting up with Paul Dulski from Haunted Vermont, we set out for the Rutland County town of Pittsford.

As tuberculosis gripped the United States of the early 1900s, there was a growing need for hospitals and places to treat the ever growing number of people falling ill to the terrible disease, as what was once thought to be the work of vampirism in 18th and 19th century New England was finally becoming understood more. Sanatoriums were soon constructed across the country to not only house and attempt to cure all those who were grieving from the disease, but to remove them from the rest of society.

Researching the storied and often troubling history about the hospital, as well as listening to numerous people telling me of uncomfortable and most often unaccountable events that they experienced inside the building, this abandoned tuberculosis hospital in the woods has long held my interest. It certainly is a unique place in the Green Mountain State. Even DeadFi productions offered strange accounts they remembered while filming there one night last fall. But it wasn’t until visiting the place that I truly had a better understanding on just how compelling it really was.

Pittsford Volunteer Fire Department members Cody Hesse and Ethan Nordmeyer, who also help run the Pittsford Haunted House, a Halloween attraction ran on the first floor of the abandoned hospital every October, were kind enough to agree to unlock the building and give me a first hand tour. Sitting outside, swatting away swarms of mosquitoes under summer humidity, I got my first look at the hospital. Already, it was firing my imagination, and I underestimated it. The building looked smaller than I had thought – and with the tacky Halloween props decorating the facade, I admittedly wasn’t taking my first impressions all that seriously.

However, I had subconsciously broken my first rule of adventuring, to come in with an open mind. And as I was soon to find out,  that would end almost immediately as they unlocked the basement door, and beckoned for me to step inside. I knew things were going to be interesting when I saw the amount of effort the fire department took to keep people out. Each entrance was outfitted with deadbolts and padlocks. Ethan explained that several people had attempted to break in recently. Some of the doors were damaged from where a forced entry via crowbar was unsuccessfully attempted.

Apart from renovations to create the different areas of the haunted house, the bones were still authentic. The basement was musty and dark, a labyrinth of side rooms and doors. A massive old boiler adorned with ornate decor on its cast iron door was illuminated by the beam of a flashlight, standing out from swirling dust. Old industrial porcelain sinks, and relics from the old hospital lay stacked up in piles, leaning against the old walls in silence.

Almost immediately, my camera began to act up, which was a rare occurrence for me. It refused to focus when I attempted to take a photo and my battery kept loosing energy. To the group’s amusement, they all laughed at my misfortunes, and nodded their heads in mutual affirmation. They had all seen this happen before.

Cody fiddled with another padlock and swung open a camouflaged side door, revealing the staircase leading up towards the second floor, an area that visitors aren’t allowed to see. Almost instantly, the atmosphere changed, and we went from black painted walls and hanging demon clowns set to spring at you, to a funereal atmosphere of peeling lead paint, pensive silence and dull light coming through dirty windows. This was what I wanted to see, this was the bona fide experience.

Almost immediately, I felt different, it was something tangible, something I noticed crawl underneath my skin. Our feet clomped up the wooden stairs, the aging planks groaning and cracking beneath our feet that seemed to crack the heavy silence. Gazing downwards through the beam of our reliable mag lights, the original hospital floor, which had long faded, could still be seen, covered in lead paint speckles, dust, and raccoon feces. Cody explained that they always found evidence of raccoon and other critters on the upper floors.

We were met with a long and narrow hallway, with lines of wooden doors leading in either direction. Most of the rooms were almost identical, and empty, with robust radiators sitting underneath windows, showered with more flaking lead paint. It was strange to think about how these decrepit spaces were once occupied by suffering children who knew all about agony, now vacant, lifeless, and miserable in a completely difference sense, haunted by silhouettes. Things that were once in order, now seemed so strange.

Through the stale air, we pressed on, flashlight beams momentarily brightening dark rooms. Walking around up there wasn’t for the faint of heart. With lead paint, animal feces and asbestos, it wasn’t a sanitary place to be, but there was another quality that smoldered within the empty halls, we all felt uncomfortable being there.

Parts of the building had been taken down or have collapsed over the years. Former porch areas had been razed, leaving doors on the second floor opening into nothing but a straight drop down to the lawn below. Other sun porches – which was once thought to be a tuberculosis treatment, were now rotted beyond repair and unsafe to tread on, barricaded by doors that had been screwed shut.

The main house was surrounded by three smaller cottages, which offered a similar landscape of grungy hospital tiles, awkward spaces and stale air, all sealed up like a tomb. It would honestly be quite easy to loose your mind inside one of these buildings. The entire time I was inside, I felt like I had been spending my time in dislocation.

After the grand tour, we all gathered again on the front lawn, and as Cody and Ethan swapped their own stories of strangeness, I had a better idea of why The Caverly Preventorium had such a dark reputation. It was one of the few places I’ve gotten involved with where most people openly and insistently admitted to experiencing something inside. Though I didn’t see any ghosts or witness anything baffling, I can honestly say that this was one of the most unsettling places I’ve ever explored, and it certainly left an impression on me.

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This is Mary's Room, the hospitals most famous haunt. While people speculate that several children who died here still wonder the halls and empty rooms upstairs, Mary is the only one who really has an identity. She was formerly a nurse here, who died tragically by either falling down the very staircase we walked up and broke her neck, or contracted tuberculosis while caring for the sick children and died in her room. Many people have allegedly reported run ins with Mary.
This is Amy’s Room, the hospital’s most famous haunt. While people speculate that several children who died here still wonder the halls and empty rooms upstairs, Amy is the only one who really has an identity. She was formerly a nurse here, who died tragically by either falling down the very staircase we walked up, breaking her neck, or contracted tuberculosis while caring for the sick children and died in her room. Many people have allegedly reported run ins with Amy, including seeing her staring down at visitors from her window. The fire department reported that light bulbs would mysteriously burst inside this room as well, with no accountable explanation.

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Behind the cottages, another vestige of the former hospital remain, a former swimming pool, now almost entirely filled in by mother nature.
Behind the cottages, another vestige of the former hospital remain, a former swimming pool, now almost entirely filled in by mother nature.

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Years ago, when the haunted house was being created and the fire department was touring the buildings, this room was filled with piles of old post cards and paperwork from the hospital's functioning days, a scenario which was very typical of any abandoned hospital of asylum.
Years ago, when the haunted house was being created and the fire department was touring the buildings, this room was filled with piles of old post cards and paperwork from the hospital’s functioning days, a scenario which was very typical of any abandoned hospital of asylum.

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Much of the hospital is used for storage, making you feel claustrophobic as you wonder around the halls and rooms inside. Underneath mounds of various items, original features can still be seen.
Much of the hospital is used for storage, making you feel claustrophobic as you wonder around the halls and rooms inside. Underneath mounds of various items, original features can still be seen.

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To all of my amazing fans and supporters, I am truly grateful and humbled by all of the support and donations through out 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.

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!

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Of Mountains and Men; Legends of Bristol’s Cliffs and Hills

I gotta hand it to teenagers, they always seem to find the coolest places to hang out. The Bristol Cliffs will verify that.

I was heading to my old roommate’s parents’ place near Lincoln to help him do a little farm work, and he was pointing out cool terrestrial hangouts he used to haunt when he was a kid. If you’re a Vermonter, chances are, you spent a lot of your youth outside, and Bristol denizens might just have one of the best towns in the state for inspiring geography. That’s also because the entire eastern charted part of the township is cliffs and mountains that are gruelingly steep, which annoyed early settlers quite a bit. Today trends have changed and now it makes for desirable real estate because people want views.

We turned up near Bristol Falls, a hugely popular swimming hole with crowds so thick in the summer that it makes a trip there not worth it at all, at least to me. But the draw is completely understandable, especially viewing the place on an off season day when you’re the only one there.

Hemming in the falls are a set of craggy cliffs that are the side of a 1,825-foot rise known by the Vermont geographical place names board as Deer Leap. Locals just call it Bristol Cliffs, because they’re cliffs, in Bristol.

It’s a win-win for Bristol-ites, because you can admire the eye magnetic precipice from almost any point in town, and also get extraordinarily cool views of Addison County from the top of the to-the-point named ledges if you know which unmarked trail will get you up there.  It seems like most area teens do.

Local lore spins a yarn about Abenaki hunting parties chasing deer to the cliff sides and running them off the edges, where more hunters waited at the bottom to collect the carcasses.

But there is another tale that may offer an explanation, and it seems like sort of an archetypal tale that many small towns across America have in their own particular cast.

In the vague timeline of the 1800s or early 1900s, 2 love struck teens decided to commit suicide here by jumping because their families forbade them from being together, for reasons that never made it into the story. The guy held the girl’s hand, and allegedly said “Ok, dear. Leap!”. But that much of a precise detail would have had to involve a witness, and to my knowledge, none have ever came forward. I think that would make it into conversation at some point.

Today, the almost grueling hike gives you terrific views of Bristol village and Addison County and a sweat soaked shirt. It’s also a Peregrine Falcon nesting area, which can dive bomb at speeds of 200 mph.

The Ledges of Deer Leap in Bristol
The Ledges of Deer Leap in Bristol
The trail up Bristol Cliffs. I love finding tree carved screed.
Hiked above the haze today up to Bristol Cliffs, not to be confused with the other Bristol Cliffs one mountain over. Made it up just in time to feel a change coming up and a storm rumbling in.

 

“The Money Diggers”

It was one of those first great spring days of the year where having fun sounded better than my adult responsibilities, and I set out towards Bristol with an adventure in mind. My only obstacle was how to get there, which was at least 80% of that aforementioned adventure.

My plan was to bushwhack up towards a remote and grueling area of the Bristol mountainscape spitefully called “Hell’s Half Acre” by silver miners over a century ago. An area with an incredibly gothic ledger of tales affixed to it.

There are no trails here. No signage or public access. Just a giant mountain as a general compass point, which was a huge part of this wild area’s appeal to me. With a photocopied town tax map in hand, I studied the property boundaries and saw my portal; a narrow sliver of land between two lots that was owned by the national forest. That would be my way up to a miserable elevation called South Mountain.

Parking the car off a no trafficked gravel backroad, I simply entered the woods and walked in the direction of the mountain. I knew as long as I was going up, I was technically going in the direction I wanted.

My feet began finding numerous pine needle covered holes in the ground that are easy to slip into while walking, and roll an ankle if you’re lucky. Others are more unfortunate I suppose, and leave with broken limbs.

Eventually, the topical Quartzite rock slide loomed before me as I trekked through the budding woods in bloom, as the sun was already baking their chalky white surfaces. Undoubtedly, this is some of the most inhospitable land in Vermont.

The rocks were still retaining some of their winter moisture and snow runoff and were surprisingly damp and cool underneath where the sun couldn’t reach. It was a surreal world up there on those slopes. I could only imagine what the miners of yesteryear had to endure here. Some of the old shafts were still visible underneath toppled boulders and through drifts of decomposing leaves and pine needles, but were far too dangerous to venture down into without more planning on my part. And alas, no silver to be found.

What’s this about silver? This formidable landscape of boulders is where Vermont’s most well-known treasure tale once conspired a few centuries ago, and is practically a ghost of an occurrence nowadays that can barely be traced with a bit of optimistic scrutiny.

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Trekking through the woods, the land soon became strewn with boulders and loose rocks that tumbled underneath your feet as you climbed higher up the slopes.
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Closer to the rock slides, trees have long adapted to the rough area and have grown up, around and even on top of large boulders.
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The sun baked Quartzite surfaces of Hells’ Half Acre

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For a landlocked state, I was surprised and pleased to hear that Vermont had quite a few buried treasure stories through years of folklore research. And a rough area south of Bristol village seemed to be Vermont’s most notorious and alluring. Mostly because this one enticingly remains unclaimed under inexplicable circumstances- if it ever existed to begin with.

Could there still be a huge load of unclaimed silver up there waiting to be uncovered by a passing woods person?  Clambering my way around the dark holes entering into the bowels of Hells’ Half Acre that validated these claims, I wanted to know more about what happened here.  So I took to researching it, and it’s a terrific story, even if some of it may be nothing but fabrication. I’ll try to condense everything as best I can.

We can begin with this whole treasure hunting business with an outsider appearing in Bristol in 1800, a Spaniard named DeGrau. Because Bristol, Vermont was a small, insular town at the time, the locals took notice to a nonnative wandering into the general store to purchase mining supplies, of all things. He kept to himself, never asked for any favors, and didn’t hang around long enough to socialize.

But it wasn’t until bewildered and frightened kids began telling their parents that a strange gentleman had been threatening them in some unfamiliar tongue when they were playing up South Mountain. They had heard some strange clout and other noises and when they went to investigate, they ran into him and he chased them off. The description matched the fellow folks saw in the general store.

His violent attitude and secretive demeanor was all the reason fathers and older brothers needed to form an angry mob. They armed themselves and marched up onto the mountain with two clear choices for the man; explain his business here, or get driven out of town. Or, maybe both if he was really unlucky.

There, they heard the collision of metal against rock – the same noises that attracted their kids before –  and creating the noise was the oddly dressed Spaniard who was already out of place in the hardscrabble Bristol of the 19th century.  The mob surrounded him and gave him their ultimatum.

Seeing no other way out, he dropped his ax and exhaustively told his accusers that his name was DeGrau, and proceeded to enlighten the curious group with quite the tale.

Many years ago, his father, who was a miner, traveled the area with a group of Spanish explorers in search of precious metals and they found a rich vein of silver near the area he was digging, when Bristol was nothing more than a crude collection of cabins called Pocock.

They procured the mining equipment and a larger crew and began operations. Almost immediately, they found great success – the ore was rich and easily smelted into silver bars. They mined throughout the summer and into the fall and when they were ready to leave, they found that they couldn’t carry everything back with them – they had too much! So, they hid the remaining silver in a cave and hid the entrance. They all agreed they would come back for the rest of the silver, on the condition that they would have to be together. But, complications prevented them from coming back, until years later when DeGrau, who was now a very old man, was the only survivor of the original group.

The residents of Bristol not only believed his tale – they were fascinated by it! But there was a problem. DeGrau couldn’t find the treasure, the mountain looked different now, he didn’t remember where the cave was. It was probably covered by some rock slide that is the trademark feature of this unforgiving landmass. But, the locals who were now doing some scouting of their own,  were able to find evidence of old mining operations around the area, which validated his claim to them. Soon, he faded out of the picture, and eager Bristol residents took his place, digging around the base of the mountain, hoping to strike it rich.

Soon, he faded out of the picture, perhaps more grumpy and disheartened than he was before his last arrival in town,  and eager Bristol residents took his place, digging around the base of the mountain, hoping to strike it rich.

The rock slides and cliffs of Hells' Half Acre and South Mountain, as seen from Route 116. via Google street view.
The rock slides and cliffs of Hells’ Half Acre and South Mountain, as seen from Route 116. via Google street view.

Over time, people from beyond Bristol’s borders made their way to the mountain slopes to seek their fortunes.

Small-time operations existed in the area until around 1840, when a group of Canadians lead by a mysterious “Uncle Sim” trekked down to Bristol and began more intense mining operations. Uncle Sim was said to do no work himself, but instead, would direct and control the operations in idiosyncratic ways. He was said to be very charismatic, and incredibly persuasive, which I guess most hucksters are. He raised all his investments by promising $100 returns for every dollar raised.

Instead of doing the traditional scouting and digging, which relied on methodology and wisdom, Uncle Sim had a better idea, and hired a fortune teller, a clairvoyant Calais woman named “Sleeping Lucy” Ainsworth, Vermont’s most infamous spiritualist, to guide them and tell them where to dig mine shafts.

Stories of miners hiding behind rocks and in caves and making bear noises to scare local kids were also told. When that didn’t work, the diggers also made up terrifying folk tales about ghosts and vicious dogs that haunted the mine.

In just a half acre,  they dug numerous shafts into the rocky mountain soil, some that were said to reach 50 feet down, and then travel hundreds of feet directly under the mountain. The area was honeycombed with so many shafts that were said to be miserable, dark and cold that the area was given the nickname, Hell’s Half Acre. And the name couldn’t have been more fitting.

With months of back breaking labor yielding no results, tragedy and bad luck seemed to be the only thing the ambitious crews were discovering. Mine shafts had to be abandoned due to “foul air”, flooding issues and snow drifts. More work went into reclaiming the shafts than digging them. If that wasn’t bad enough, it was hard to haul food and supplies up into the mountains, so a lot of men were close to starving after a while.

By 1852, Uncle Sim begrudgingly gave up, packed up his crew and headed back to Canada. But he was apparently a determined or foolish man, and a decade later, he returned to the site. With the aid of a new conjurer, he was assured that all he had to do was move a few rocks, and he would discover the elusive passage which contained the treasure. But his effort was shorter lived than his first one. An old man by now, he eventually swallowed the taste of defeat and left Bristol, vanishing into obscurity.

A few other attempts at mining were made throughout the years, but no success ever came out of it, and as far as we know, there is a large treasure of silver still waiting somewhere within the foul depths of Hells’ Half Acre.

Is There Truth Here?

I’m not sure now, after researching this intriguing series of events more closely.

The problem here is that silver isn’t native to Vermont, according to the state geologist- and the idea of Spanish parties trekking down through the out of the way wilds of Vermont’s green mountains and finding veins of silver here is a little, well, unbelievable, considering they really had no reason to be here during that time frame. Unless of course, that silver was brought here and stashed for safe keeping that was all too successful? More interestingly, a few other Vermont towns have their own treasure tales, which are pretty similar to this one. But they all happen to be inspired by Silver, as opposed to Gold, which can be found in Vermont.

About the one thing I can confirm without a doubt is that the mining attempts did happen, and we have the old mine shafts and odds and ends still found underneath loads of pine needles on the forest floor to prove it.

Even the ubiquitously used term “Money Diggers” is a misnomer. They weren’t digging for money, but rather, a precious metal. At least they thought they were.

And “Uncle Sim” was real too. In a few additions of the defunct Bristol Herald, printed circa 1888-89,  newspaper writer Franklin S. Harvey recalled personal accounts of a run in with him in 1860, when Uncle Sim was at that point, a feeble old man. The sight of him digging around the rocks and cliffs looking for that silver was apparently so pitiful, that Harvey forgave him for jumping out behind rocks and making bear noises that scared him so badly when he was a kid investigating the diggings for himself. Harvey even claimed to speak with reliable Bristol old-timers who still remembered DeGrau, so we know he was real too. But the fact DeGrau dug and labored and found nothing also brings a little flimsiness to the story. Later on, Harvey’s accounts were collected into a now out of print book called The Money Diggers

The venerable Joseph Citro thinks that the story may be bunk, and brought forth some great validating research on this story.  Through Citro’s research, he uncovered an interesting thought by New England folklorist and historian Edward Rowe Snow, who speculated that the silver may have found its way into Vermont because of the plundering of a distressed ship off the coast of New London, Connecticut.

In November of 1752, the Spanish ship Spanish ship Santa Elena y Senor San Joseph was on it’s way from Hondorous to Spain. Its hold was loaded with at least 40 chests filled with silver. But on November 24th, the vessel ran into some trouble at sea and was forced to dip in towards New London where it anchored. It should have been a straightforward repair if the requests for aid weren’t met by thievery instead.  Most of that silver somehow vanished while in port, and the whereabouts are a mystery that probably will never be solved. Maybe the stolen loot somehow found its way up into the far-flung wilds of Vermont to be stashed, or maybe the party was on their way to Canada. Maybe. If that’s the case, what about the other Vermont towns and their similar treasure tales?

Another theory is that the local Indians may have put it there, but that also lacks validation.

Ghastly Tales

I guess the laws of buried treasure state that when you have one, you also have the supernatural. In Bristol’s instance, a ghost or two.

The original and more morbid of the tales is that when the mysterious Spanish prospectors were mining the base of South Mountain, they sacrificed a local boy and his dog under the moon, its light burning their blood on the stark white boulders. I guess it’s no secret that avarice brings out the worst in people and our monsters often say the most about humanity.

Anyways, this grim act was supposed to supernaturally bound the boy to protect the mine for all eternity, shambling through the shadowy woodlands around tree stumps and near caves, with a smoldering hot branding iron and a frightful gash across his throat, chasing away anyone who gets too close to the fabled mine. His dog turned hell hound is said to join him, growling and threatening to tear the throats out of anyone who ventures too close. Strangely enough, Harvey once wrote that some of those miners, who were gray-haired, aged men, actually admitted to hearing weird howls and groans at dusk.

The more modern version turns the boy and his dog into sympathetic figures. One fall afternoon, a boy and his dog went hiking in the woods around Hell’s Half Acre, exploring the abandoned mines and cavities and rotting wooden platforms. And perhaps maybe, something flickered in the back of the boy’s mind as he continued with his dog, something about a lost fortune of silver that was never found…

But as night fell, they never came home. His worried parents soon launched a search party, and plenty of neighbors and volunteers combed the woods and found nothing. After weeks of searching, they reluctantly gave up, and the cold Vermont winter rolled in. The next spring, a passing woodsman was walking through the woods, when he noticed something peculiar at the edge of a mine shaft. As he got closer, he recognized it as the skeleton of a dog. Then it clicked. If he was looking at the remains of a dog, sure enough, that vanished boy had to be nearby.

At the bottom of the 50-foot shaft, the skeleton of a little boy was found. The boy had fallen into the mine shaft and broken both his legs, unable to get out, he starved to death. His faithful dog refused to leave his side, and died at the edge of the hole. And then, supernature happened.

For years after, and maybe even today, folks up around Bristol Notch would say that when the weather was just right on certain nights, they could hear something coming through the woods. Something that may have sounded somewhat like a lonely cry for help.

Regardless if any of this is true or not, it was a great area to bushwhack up to none the less, and the landscape, which is strangely alien and dangerous, makes for a great elixir for your imagination.

Sources:

There was some great material to aid my research here; including:

The Money Diggers by Stephen Greene ( in the compilation book; Mischief in the Mountains)

Green Mountains, Dark Tales by Joseph Citro

The Money Diggers, by Franklin Harvey

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To all of my amazing fans and supporters, I am truly grateful and humbled by all of the support and donations through out 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.

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!

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

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The Reading Abduction Stones

Propped inconspicuously off a no-frills stretch of state route 106 in Reading, south of the attractive little village of Felchville are a curious set of stones that are too easy to miss. If you were to take a look, you might be perplexed at the strange, enigmatic hieroglyphs found on them, with pictures of a bow an arrow, people, trees and what appear to be pick axes, what do these curious images mean? Underneath is faded scrawl, scribed in eighteenth-century English. These stones are certainly vexing. So what are they?

These are actually a monument, chiseled and erected in 1799 that mark an older occurrence, an Indian abduction.

Susanna Johnson and her family were abducted by a party of Abenaki in 1754 from Charlestown, NH, and were marched by their captors across Vermont towards Canada. But when they reached the banks of Knapp Brook, Mrs. Johnson went into labor and unceremoniously gave birth to a daughter, before being forced to continue the trek shortly after.

During their years in captivity, her son assimilated into the Abnaki culture, while her daughter was sold to a French Canadian family from Montreal. The details are vague here, but Mrs. Johnson would eventually return home.

But years later, through a series of contacts, the three family members were briefly united. However, they were unable to communicate with each other linguistically or culturally.

Mrs. Johnson had the abduction stones monument made and put in their current spot, both where she gave birth and where they still sit today, and are the oldest such monument in the country. But while the 18th century English is translatable, the weird assortment of carved pictures are pretty peculiar. Perhaps we’ll never know.

In 1918, someone encased the stones in a larger stone monument, to preserve them forever, and today they rest on the side of Route 106, barely noticed by passersby.

If you wish to find them, look for the dirt pull off on Route 106, near the junction of Knapp Brook Road in Reading. dsc_0375_pe-2

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As seen driving down Route 106. What’s in a name anyway?
As seen driving down Route 106. What’s in a name anyway?

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To all of my amazing fans and supporters, I am truly grateful and humbled by all of the support and donations through out 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.

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!

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

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The Indian Footprints; Woodbury Oddities In Stone

Within the deep bogs and silent forests of Woodbury, along nearly impassible back roads when the weather is just right, is another world entirely. People live up here in palpable solitude. Marshes gently bleed into immortal evergreen forests that are bounded by jagged slate cliffs. The Green Mountains are the oldest mountains in the world, and Woodbury is a good look into the haunting archaic beauty and amiable stillness of the region.

It is here off one of these jarring back roads that winds around bogs and through cliff lined gulfs that two footprints stare at you on a crumbling ledge that seems to vanish into a dark forest above you. That is, if you happen to notice them. And if you do notice the fading, waist high footprints, you might become puzzled over their seemingly random existence in the middle of nowhere.

Why are they here? Who’s footprints are they? From what I know, no one really has any definite answers, but there is a local legend that works to uncover the mystery.

As what was told to me, most people who grew up in town called them The Indian Footprints, and have been there as long as anyone can remember. On both sides of the road are tall slate cliffs, and thousands of years ago, the road used to be a riverbed, and the cliffs the walls of a hungry gorge. When the water was low, you could easily cross the river, but when it was high, it rose to the top of the cliffs.

The river acted as a boundary between two rival tribes, thousands of years ago. As the story goes, in a classic Romeo and Juliet scenario, a young man and woman from the opposing clans fell in love, but their different circles forbid them to see each other.  So they planned to elope secretly at the gorge. But when the woman jumped in the river to swim over and meet her lover, the water was higher and rougher than she could put up with, and the rushing currents swept her away. The man jumped in to save her, but upon doing so, broke his legs on the rock ledge and drowned in the process. Their bodies would later turn up in present day Nelson Pond, just down the road.

The tragedy brought the two fighting tribes together at the river’s edge. The two grieving chiefs decided to commemorate the tragic event, and carve the footprints of the brave man on the ledge where he suffered his fatal fall. This act symbolized the ending of a long running feud, in hopes that no one else would ever die again because of it.

The footprints have been there ever since, or as the story goes. Over the years though, weather and water have long worked on eroding the footprints, and in 1958, a local resident took it upon himself to hand chisel the footprints back into the rocks in fear of them getting lost forever.

But perhaps a greater mystery than the origin of these stone carvings is just how to find them. Making our way through the worn village of South Woodbury amidst ponds with ink black surfaces that reflected snow dusted forests – my friend’s car slid and spun its way up and down hill top dirt roads far from the safety of cell phone reception. Miraculously, with only the aid of 2 wheel drive, we made it to the right area, and with a lot of searching amongst indistinguishable evergreens and cliffs covered with moss and snow, somehow, their outlines stood out of the rock surface.

Regardless of the authenticity, standing on that back road in Woodbury with snow tumbling down on the ground was simply beautiful, and could easily inspire a love story such as this.

The placid waters of Nelson Pond today, where their bodies were discovered by their grieving tribes-mates.
The placid waters of Nelson Pond or Forest Lake today, where their bodies were eventually located.

Not related to the Indian Footprints, but related to the area; I really dig this aesthetically prime rural town in Central Vermont. Woodbury has more lakes than any other Vermont township, and around those waterbodies are tons of rocky glacier gouged hills etched with scenic gravel back roads.

Like Chartier Hill Road, which has a barn that was built in 1903, that was also built over the road.

Woodbury’s Medevil Tower 

What to do with a defunct quarry and lots of rocks? You could build something like this medieval looking cylindrical watchtower tower on the shores of Sabin Pond, located off a thin back road in a quarried depression. It even has gargoyles perched sentinel around the top rim with faces rictus with gloom.

Property owner Scott McCullough, who also fittingly owns a rock crushing business, decided to begin building the inconspicuous 24-foot cylindrical quasi-mythical structure in 2009, partially in an effort to clean up the eyesore patch of land which locals began to use as a garbage dump, and partially for something to do on weekends. But be warned – trespassers aren’t welcome. And there are several signs to make the point. But I’m told he’s a friendly fellow who is pretty enthusiastic about striking up a conversation about it. Just as long as he’s around and you have permission to be there.

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To all of my amazing fans and supporters, I am truly grateful and humbled by all of the support and donations through out 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.

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!

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

Donate Button with Credit Cards

Vermont’s Mysterious Stone Chambers

New England is an old region. But we keep finding unexplainable oddities in our woods that make us wonder just how old. The great north woods that stretch across the northeast successfully hold many unsolved mysteries and intriguing curios. Seriously. Though parts of New England have become characteristically developed over the last century, the varying topography here and it’s fluctuating inaccessibility makes it hard to have a complete idea of exactly what is out there still. For example, a plane that slammed into Jay Peak in 1943 was just found in September of 2016.

Many of our curiosities have been made possible thanks to something ubiquitous to the northeast; rocks. There is “America’s Stonehenge” in Salem, New Hampshire, a strange site featuring exoticisms of stone construction whose builders and purposes are pretty obscure. There is the mysterious Gungywamp in Connecticut that has rock placements that may date back to 2000 BC, the vulnerable Upton Chamber in Massachusetts, and tons of stone tunnels, chambers and monoliths found all over this weird part of America. Many have yet to be discovered, and some are vanishing into the past tense.

Vermont adds to that list of eccentric finds with mysterious stone chambers scattered in the deep forests and rocky highlands around the state.

These strange beehive structures have incredible craftsmanship, using several ton stones put together with dexterity and without the use of machinery or mortar. The question is, wtf are they? Who built them, and why?

Most of these structures are igloo-shaped, burrowing into a hillside with a door like opening. Inside, the walls are made from perfectly placed stones and the ceilings encompass giant stone slabs weighing several tons. Some have enigmatic inscriptions etched into the stones that have baffled people since they have been discovered. Any information seems to have long ago vanished in some sort of cultural hiccup, ensuring the answers were never handed down, leaving this as one of Vermont’s greatest lingering mysteries.

But there are theories, and depending on who you ask, are the subject of much debate. An accepted theory by the powers that be of state historical research is that these stone igloos are nothing more than colonial root cellars, as old as 200 years. A Google search on them showed me several similar structures all tagged under the same label. But from what I was seeing, these constructions involved more modern planning or construction, often with brick or mortar and more defined delineation. Many of the alleged ancient chambers, weren’t, and were more naturally but impressively put together. Some of these stones weigh several tons, and would have most likely had to be dug up and transported to the building sites. Why all that labor for a root cellar?

More mystique has affixed itself to the masonry of these chambers, sort of debunking the root cellar notion the historical society stubbornly upholds. The Native Americans knew of these chambers as well, denied building them, and seemed to be just as puzzled. So it could be possible that these stone chambers were here long before the first land grabbing Europeans set foot in the hills of Vermont. And apparently, one of them has been carbon dated before, and the results concluded that these may have existed more than 2,000 years ago.  So what are they, and who built them?

Another explanation that is gaining popularity is that these mounds are a product right out of Atlantic coast area Europe, and were built by ancient Celts or Vikings, who during seafaring explorations, landed over here in northeastern North America.

While here, they discovered copper deposits, which Vermont is loaded with. Could these mounds be the product of ancient copper miners? And if so, that would further support that Celts or Vikings were here far before Columbus set foot in the western hemisphere. But that still leaves out a revealing detail; what were these stone chambers used for? Some speculate they were tombs, a place to leave the dead to be returned to Mother Earth.

Many of these constructions have some sort of astronomical significance and have been savvily placed to align almost precisely with the vernal equinox or winter solstice.

They’re also pretty similar to traditional Celtic dwellings in Ireland or the British Isles, minus the thatched roof and instead, New England-ized. Some were found to even have chimneys, or, openings in the stone roofs. Could they have been Celtic explorers attempts at homesteading here?

Other chambers offer ways that the past can speak to us in the modern world, but their messages are often hard to decipher, raising more unanswerable questions and scrutiny than not. Ogham/Ogam, a dead ancient Irish language, has been found etched in the very stones that these chambers were constructed from. One inscription was translated as; “Precincts of the gods of the land beyond the sunset”. Could this be Vermont’s original name?

We’ve already debunked the conventional unwisdom of Columbus and later the Pilgrims being the first to set foot around these parts, and are continuously finding evidence of Viking settlements, so why not add the Celts to our visitor roster?

In Vermont alone, there are a reported 200 of these stone structures scattered around the state, with possibly more that have yet to be discovered, and others which have already shook hands with their mortality.

I was on some message boards doing some research on ancient Vermont stuff, and one commenter from Windsor County had written that there was a stone chamber on his property, but some rowdy kids trespassed and pulled a stone out of the wall that they thought had Ogham on it, and later, the whole structure collapsed. I can see why some people aren’t into the idea of these oddities being ancient, because of the disrespectful visitors they can draw. As an oddity-hunter and explorer myself, this is why I almost never give out the locations I visit, because sadly, you can’t trust people not to ruin things. But the biggest cause of death for these sites is actually by construction projects. Often, they have been purposely razed to make way for cheap cookie cutter housing developments or a farmer wanting to expand their hayfield.

But despite all this, their existence remains largely unknown to most Vermonters, and more shockingly, it seems not many are interested in studying them, creating roadblocks to discovering exactly what they are. And any assumptions a curious adventurer may come up with in the throes of wanderlust are meant with the silence of the forests, and the chilly winters coming down your neck. But despite the chills, the fires of my imagination were inspiring me that day when I headed down towards Southern Vermont to see if I could find some answers for myself.

It were these winter chills and the harsh glow of the dying November sun that slipped under my skin as I stepped out of the car. My feet crunched across field grasses and around muddy stream beds as I made my way up the hill. I knew the location of one of these mysterious stone chambers, and I was on a mission to find it. But it seems while I was seeking one mystery, I stumbled into another one. Just where the heck was it? I had vague directions, but underneath the brown leaves that coated the forest floor, everything was indistinguishable. There was no large mound and no doorway. The sun was beginning to sink behind the looming shadow of Killington Peak, and it was getting colder. After awkwardly combing the woods for 20 minutes, I decided to head back to the car, feeling my stomach sink a little.

Not wanting to admit defeat, I decided to utilize a great Vermont resource; the town clerk’s office. And I seemed to be in luck, as my question raised enthusiastic responses from the people inside, as they crowded around the front desk. As one person created a hand drawn map for me, another was passionately giving me directions in a fashion that can only be described as Vermonty.  “Head up the road a ways until you get to the old McIntosh Farm, not sure who owns it now…anyways, you’ll notice a field is on your right-hand side after you pass where the schoolhouse used to be, but if you hit the old snowmobile trail, you’ve gone too far and have to turn around…”

Heading back up into the hills with my new directions, I was going to give it another shot. And as it turns out, I was almost right on top of it to begin with. This time, I noticed it, barely. A small hole in a rolling mound of earth just at the edge of a field. As I walked over, it became clear what had happened. The “hole” was actually the entryway I was looking for, filled in with years of erosion and leaves that had fallen in front of it. A few kicks with my foot widened the claustrophobic entrance, but not by much. It was just enough for me to crawl into. But I was hesitant. Were there animals inside? And just how stable was this place? But perhaps what was unnerving me the most, was the weird feeling it was giving me.

As I watched the clouds overwhelm the evening sun, It was strangely bittersweet. I was happy I had managed to find it. It seems like in a few years, this dome is in danger of becoming buried by mother nature, another thing long lost. It seemed so simplistic, a simple stone igloo structure, and yet, the work that went into making it was incredibly labor intensive. I felt like I had a brief connection with something that was much bigger than me, and yet, it seemed vacant, like a tomb – nothing breathed there in the cold.

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You can see just how small the opening was next to my cold and intrigued self.
You can see just how small the opening was next to my cold and intrigued self.

In 2016, I tracked down another chamber with a good compadre, and made a 2-hour drive to do a little investigating. Ancient Vermont enthusiasts know this particular chamber pretty well, and as we found out, so do other people. The earth floor was uncommonly flat with a chimney-like opening towards the back surrounded by notable stone slabs that made up the ceiling with hefty masses, that were aligned together and supported almost precisely. I read that some explorers and archeologists had found subterranean chambers, or spaces underneath some of these chambers, their entrances hidden by stone slabs on the floor. There was a debris pile in the back below the chimney that I started to pluck a few stones from, just to see if this was one of those chambers. It wasn’t.

Many of the stones were carved up with prior visitors in modern day English, but we did find a few obscure linear patterns and scribings that, may have been done by a previous tourist, but seems a little weird in terms of what is normally graffitied in these sort of locations. We were able to pull up Wikipedia on my friend’s phone and tried to dabble in cryptography for a bit, seeing if any of these hieroglyphs were anything close to Ogam, but there were no confident matches I could make.

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There are plenty of different theories and research compilations done about these stone chambers. Here are a few good ones if you’re interested in further research:

Vermont’s Stone Chambers: An inquiry into their past 

Vermont History: Stone Chambers

Lost History: The story of New England’s Stone Chambers

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To all of my amazing fans and supporters, I am truly grateful and humbled by all of the support and donations through out 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.

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!

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

Donate Button with Credit Cards

Mysterious Snake Mountain

Fog shrouded the barren farmlands as icy winds sputtered and spinned outside the car as we moved down Route 22A through the flats of Addison County. There is something about late Fall, the odd transition period of old and the rebirth of Spring that is strangely ideal for adventuring. There is a certain melancholy about this time of year that rides the winds that blow in off the lake, something that a good adventure can temporarily alleviate. Things are more vulnerable in the Fall, and more raw. These thoughts were confirmed as the hulking and lengthy form of Snake Mountain loomed ahead in the fog and cold rain.

There is something mysterious about Snake Mountain that is conjured by its isolation. Sitting right in the middle of otherwise pancake flat farmland in the heart of Addison County, the sprawling monadnock raises a lofty 1,287 feet above the valley below – its craggy ledges the only surface that managed to capture the sun’s warming gleam. It’s not a widely recognized area. As a matter of fact, not many seem to know you even can hike the mountain, making it all the more alluring.

Snake Mountain is the focal point of the 1,215 acre wildlife management area of the same name, forever protecting the mountain and a 9500-year-old kettle lake known as Cranberry Bog, which according to the fish and wildlife department, formed shortly after the retreat of the last glacier in Vermont. But it’s a discrete area, one that isn’t clearly marked and still remains uncongested by mobs of tourists.

When I was younger, I was told that the dense and disparate patch of wilderness used to be called Rattlesnake Mountain, and its ledges and boulders were home to the only venomous reptile in the state (which isn’t true – Fair Haven’s Rattlesnake Ridge is bestowed that honor). But if the strange urban legends are true about this enclave of no man’s land in the middle of the county, then there are far more sinister things that haunt the wooded slopes and bogs. Snake Mountain is also reportedly home to a strange cryptid dubbed as “The Black Beast of Snake Mountain”, which supposedly stalked the slopes and terrorized unsuspecting farmers back in the 1920s and 1930s.

Though I couldn’t find a description of this brazen creature, it was said to lurk behind barns and houses that surrounded the mountain, and if encountered, its said to be savage. According to The Vermont Monster Guideone woman was attacked by this elusive creature one night while driving home after a visit with a neighbor.  It began to chase her vehicle as she panicked and began to pick up speed down a winding road that carved along the base of the mountain. To her surprise, not only was this thing managing to keep up with her car, it was catching up! Not wanting to get in a car accident, she pulled off into the first farm she saw, and it wasted no time in jumping on top of her car and began to claw at the roof. Now in hysterics, she did the only thing she could think of; she wailed on her horn. The noise grabbed the attention of the family who owned the farm, who soon appeared on the front porch in curiosity. But as soon as the floodlights were turned on, the women ran back into the house screaming at the first sight of the terrifying encounter. The men ran in shortly after to grab their guns, but when they came back outside, the animal had vanished into the Addison night.

The stories continue. Another account reported it would also jump down from tree limbs and scare children working on nearby farms. Every attempt to shoot at it was a failure, it would always vanish successfully, leaving nothing but shaken onlookers and a terrifying memory. It seems the mysterious Black Beast faded into memory and folklore, and to this day no evidence exists of what exactly was terrifying isolated residents back in the 1920s.

And now, here I was underneath gloomy grey skies battered by chilly winds and rain, staring up at my destination. The summit appeared more distant and forlorn underneath the shifting clouds that wouldn’t open up the sky. My only thoughts at the moment were how my coffee didn’t seem to be working. Although the lore about the mountain was wondrous, that wasn’t why I was there. There is also a human mystery about Snake Mountain, one that was palpable underneath shedding foliage and autumn stillness.

At the entrance to the hard to find Wilmarth Woods trail, sits an old building that looks like it may have served a nearby farm at one point, or perhaps a very tiny one room schoolhouse. Though it has been boarded up, the strange urban legends I’ve heard still swirled in my head. Stories of people peaking through the windows and seeing dusty mason jars filled with odd colored liquids and cryptic contents floating lazily inside them were alluring and most likely far fetched. Regardless of the accuracy behind that claim, the boarded windows ensured I wouldn’t be finding any answers today.

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Embarking up The Wilmarth Woods Trail, it winds its way through thick brush, past the remnants of ancient mangled farm machinery and eventually follows the rather broad and rocky remnants of an old carriage road that snakes its way up the rocky hills and silent forests – the pungent smell of wet leaves and mud hung heavy in the air. Though my starting point was sluggish, I soon couldn’t help be taken by the beauty and therapy of the forest.

While trekking through the woods, they begin to tell a seperate story, adding to the mountain’s cryptic reputation. The birch stands at the base of the mountain are covered in ambigious tree carvings – it seems that every bored teenager in Addison County has made it to Snake Mountain to carve the name of their loved on into a tree, or to tell the world that they were there. Some carvings were remarkably old, dating back almost 30 years. These youth hieroglyphics are cool to see and read as you make your way up the slopes. 

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The carriage road continues to playfully climb the mountain and dip through shadowy dales until it reaches a particular point of interest at the summit – the reason for the carriage road’s existence. Sitting on top of magnificent views of Addison County and the rugged Adirondacks in the distance lies a crumbling concrete slab that buts right up to dizzying ledges. This is the foundation of the former Grand View Hotel. Built in 1870 by Jonas N. Smith, this hotel was built during an era when many mountaintops across the Northeast were being developed into resort properties, offering fresh country and and grand views to its eager clientele. Some even claimed that fresh country air would be an ailment to whatever health issues that were plaguing you. Because of the hotel, Snake Mountain became briefly known as Grand View Mountain. In 1925, the hotel was ravaged by a fire, leaving a smoldering pile of ruins scattered along the wind swept summit. Today, the foundation and steel rods that held the building in place are still visible, along with some of the best views anywhere.

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The weather worn foundation of the former Grand View Hotel and Champlain Valley splendor in the background.
The weather worn foundation of the former Grand View Hotel and Champlain Valley splendor in the background.
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One of the original pipes, its jagged stump still protruding from the foundation surface
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The small town of Addison, visible through the mists upon Snake Mountain.
Snake Mountain Panorama
Snake Mountain Panorama

From up here on the top of Addison County, a strange silence climbs into your head. Your thoughts become more lucid, and you get a strange sense of scale as you look at the patchwork fields and gleaming silos below you. The strange connection of you being apart of this uncertain game called life which is played at the bottom of the ledges at your feet, and loneliness up there in the deep. Snake Mountain offers a great excuse to get out for a easy and rewarding day hike. And there is no better therapy to what ails you than nature.

Links:

More about Snake Mountain via The Fish and Wildlife Department. 

How to get there:

From either approach on Route 22A, make a turn on Wilmarth Road. Follow it the short distance until it intersects and ends with aptly named Mountain Road, which runs along the base of the mountain. Take a left, and follow Mountain Road a short distance until you see a dirt parking lot to your left. The Wilmarth Woods Trail head is just before the parking lot on the right side of the road. Look for the dilapidated red building.

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