Fort Blunder

Stumbling my way around the impressively dangerous ruins of Fort Montgomery, as my presence disturbed hundreds of Pigeons that are now the fort’s permanent residents, I was nothing short of awe inspired. Though only 1/3rd (give or take) of the fort actually remains, it was immense in anyway you can measure it up. Stone and brick walls several feet thick, uniform archways framing collapsing brick ceilings and leafy hardwood trees lead into cavernous casemates that entombed a dank chilliness that left residue on the aging stones, regardless of the out of seasonal 80 degree fall day that we chose to explore.

For being an abandoned relic relatively hidden in plain sight and yet, out of the way, it’s evident it receives a lot of foot traffic. Its arched hallways have almost no wall space left intact, covered by layers of graffiti, going back to as early as 1971. Or – the earliest we were able to find at least. Countless names, cultural expressions, slanderous accusations of obvious enemies and the occasional term of endearment could be read as you wondered around the property, which was pretty stimulating and could easily stand out alone as part of the experience.

Fort Montgomery was quite the fascinating place – something that I could explore, but in a sense, never be able to relate too. It was built during a time of when America had real fears of being invaded by the British via Canada, and our independence was actually in jeopardy.

But despite the resilient bones gently losing their will to fight mother nature, the fort has a rather underwhelming and ironic history, which would explain it’s rather unintimidating nickname, as far as forts go.

Its location was strategic, where Lake Champlain empties into Quebec’s Richelieu River, right on the Canadian Border between New York and Vermont. Construction on the unnamed fort began in 1816 and called for an octagonal structure with 30-foot walls. However, when President James Monroe visited the location in 1814 to see how the progress was going, he discovered they had made a huge mistake. Because of survey errors, the fort was inadvertently built in Canada. Oops. The resulting mistake lead to the fort’s nickname, Fort Blunder, which carried on into the 21st century. Construction was immediately halted and the fort was abandoned.

After much dispute between Canada and the United States over the sloppy boundary agreements and who owned what, the Webster-Ashburton Treaty of 1842 finally would resolve the problem for good, annexing Island Point – the location of Fort Montgomery, as part of the United States.

It was decided again that a fort should be constructed there, and in 1844, laborers broke ground on what would be known as Fort Montgomery. Fort Montgomery was a “third system” fort, or, one of the forts that were being built along the Northern frontier. Work on the fort was continuous through 1870, as the civil war raged on and another fear of a possible British invasion (the bad type) had everyone panicking.  And when the Saint Albans Raid happened in 1864, that fear seemed very reasonable now.

During the 30 year construction period, the attention to detail was immaculate – nothing was left unplanned, and with cutting edge military tactics and a round-the-clock labor crew of 400 of the best stone cutters and masons working at the site, it was intended to be a showpiece, a symbol of brazen resilience.

The fort also had a rare feature that only 9 forts in the United States possessed at the time; a moat. With the moat dug around the fort, it was situated on it’s on private island, with a drawbridge and a stone causeway it’s only land entrance. The moat can still be seen today, though, now filled in with layers of mud and runoff, with the creeping forest getting ever closer to ramble down it’s dirty stone retaining walls. The drawbridge also had a very unique feature – it acted essentially like a seesaw, being able to teeter on both sides with a central balance point.

Though it was intended to house 800 men, the fort never actually saw battle, and was really only used as a form of visual intimidation at the border – allowing your mind to really do the rest. One man manned the fort, and lived in a caretaker’s house nearby. Because the fort never saw battle, some surmise that this was also the reason why it was bestowed the notoriety of the nickname “Fort Blunder”. However you look at it, both of these huge mistakes are fitting reasons.

The fort officially went defunct in 1926 when it became obsolete, and the government sold it. Residents of Rouses Point took it upon themselves to salvage material from the fort, considering it was great material, and most importantly, free. Stone, brick and wood were used for construction projects all around town. Houses, sidewalks and retaining walls can still be seen today that incorporate a little Fort Montgomery in them. My friend, who is also an adventurer and who was playing the role of tour guide that day, said that he remembers someone in Alburgh he knew with original wood from the fort inside their farmhouse.

The fort was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1977, and today, the property is actually for sale, and as far as I know, it hasn’t received any offers. Admittedly, the remains of a 19th-century fort in your backyard would be a far cooler feature than lawn gnomes or pink flamingos. While tromping around the overgrown grounds, we were discussing other great uses for the property, like a great outdoor music venue location.

My friend was the perfect tour guide. He used to come here back in high school, along with many of his friends, back when the fort was really forgotten. They had paintball matches here, which seems like an ideal location for such activities, and just generally hung out underneath the brawny yet ethereal stone archways. Countless area kids (and adults like myself) would also hangout there, as evident by the plethora of graffiti and Natural Ice cans left behind. Modern day relics. Walking around, he knew many of the names spray painted on the walls. One person in particular he recalled getting hit by a train when she was walking her dog years ago. Less poignantly, he also pointed out where his high school band rebelliously self-promoted themselves on a wall inside.

The ruins of the fort were disorienting, something else I didn’t expect. The place was so overgrown, that there were times while exploring the upper levels, that you actually perceived as just a walk in the woods, until you looked over and noticed you were actually 30 feet in the air, above a row of arches vanishing into thick vines and forests shedding their Autumn jackets. At times, literally climbing up earth banks to get to the second floor, you notice a black hole beneath your feet, with crumbling bricks falling into the dark and the deep below, reminding you that you are on a man-made structure.

And of course, walking through the airy hallways as the fragrant breezes blasted through the windows, countless Pigeons would swiftly bolt down the hallways, coming very close to smacking me in the face. Sort of an Alfred Hitchock type of situation, except, this was real.

Walking back across the moat and down the access road – which was no more than a 4 wheeler trail at this point, we noticed the old trees that lined the path had white chalky residue over their aged bark, evidence of the water levels of the lake. The lake was incredibly low this Fall, some of the lowest we’ve seen it we both agreed. It was sort of strange to see those marks well at waist level as we walked by.

“Fort Blunder” certainly added another layer to my prowess, an intimidating ruin that was both venerable and deceitful. But honestly, I enjoyed hearing the stories from my friend and his personal accounts there far more than it’s faded history – it somehow adds an entire new layer of mystery and character to it – something that is a little more tangible to me as I trudged through piles of dead leaves on the way back to the car.

I can’t help but think. What will archaeologists be able to uncover about our time in the distant future, and what will those things say about us?

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Throughout the fort, there was this sort of undulating stone used, with ambiguous patterns found in their surface. Me and my friend speculated they might be fossils from the Champlain Sea, which once covered the area we walked on over 480 million years ago. If these fossils can be found in Isle La Motte, which is nearby, it may be possible that the same rock was quarried and used in the fort walls. Or, so we assume...
Through-out the fort, there was this sort of undulating stone used, with ambiguous patterns found in their surface. Me and my friend speculated they might be fossils from the Champlain Sea, which once covered the area we walked on 480 million years ago. If these fossils can be found in Isle La Motte, which is nearby, it may be possible that the same rock was quarried and used in the fort walls. Or, so we assume…

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A feature of the fort I liked. It once had duel stone spiral staircases linking top to bottom. Today, both have collapsed, but the remnants of some steps still remain, retaining their circular motion down curved stone walls. One of them (not this one) was filled with so much earth and compost that it was still usable for a trip up and down.
A feature of the fort I liked. It once had duel stone spiral staircases linking top to bottom. Today, both have collapsed, but the remnants of some steps still remain, retaining their circular motion down curved stone walls. One of them (not this one) was filled with so much earth and compost that it was still usable for a trip up and down.

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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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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

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Railroads and Silos

It was an icy Winters day as me and some friends drove through the Champlain Islands; destination unknown. It was one of those situations where we were seeking a place to explore, hoping to find some inspiration and intrigue in the brown fields burned by the harsh blue skies. In the Winter, the Champlain Islands loose the comfort and allure brought with the Summer months, vanishing with the shivers and darkness of the later half of the year as if it were a completely different place.

Not having any real luck in the islands, we crossed the Alburgh bridge into New York, the sturdy ruins of Fort Montgomery were not being pitied by the season as they were battered by the choppy and relentless waters of Lake Champlain.

For a region with such an extraordinary history and important connection to the rest of the country, a surprisingly large amount of it has been buried (metaphorically and literally), the occasional historical marker is scattered across the geography, hinting at what once was.

Rouses Point, New York has always been a heavily trafficked locality thanks to it being a portal into Quebec. It’s where the dotted border lines of New York, Vermont and Canada all meetup, as well as Lake Champlain and Quebec’s Richelieu River, which were the area’s original super highways before the interstate systems were built.

Automobile, rail and boat traffic is all siphoned through the gateway community, and because there are always nuances, that also includes the more illicit of things, like rum runners, smugglers, the underground railroad, and a few wars fought by the British and the Americans skirmishing on Lake Champlain over the past hundred years. Seriously, Rouses Point was such a noteworthy place that the feds financed a fort to be built at the mouth of the Richelieu just in case British troops wanted to invade us through Canada. Only, the United States was a much younger nation then, which meant that no one knew exactly where the border was, and the fort was accidentally built in Canada, later returned to the U.S, and never actually used. It was eventually partially salvaged for parts, and a lot of the small village was built up with the bricks, stone and wood salvaged from the brawny structure. From what I was told, the present day village offices were built on top of a former prohibition era dumping site of all the paraphernalia that was confiscated. Today, a drive through Rouses Point is mostly simple wood frame houses, moored sailboats and a Dollar General, a ubiquitous find in Upstate New York.

The village really did well for itself when the Delaware and Hudson Railroad decided to build passenger and freight facilities here and a rail yard to accommodate. Though Rouses Point is a pretty obscure community overall today, just outside the village limits are the remains of the oldest and last remaining Delaware and Hudson roundhouse turntables. Being battered by fierce winds, our trip here was short as the numbness in my hands began to outweigh my increasingly diluted curiosity. What can I say, I hate the cold.

This building was formerly used for washing down the rail cars

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Interestingly enough, most railroads, the D&H included, didn’t bother to wash their steam locomotives. Every so often, they would go over them with a mop soaked in kerosene to make them shine, but that’s about it. Roundhouses were built in the steam era as a way to store and maintain the locomotives, as well as repair and prepare them for their next trips. Other buildings on the site would be a coach shop, which was used to repair passenger stock, a cooling tower which was used for fuel, water tower for water, and in some cases a freight house where less than carload items were sorted and shipped out.

So, what is the reason that so many roundhouses are now abandoned?  In short, diesel engines need much much less repair than steam engines. When the steam engines faded away, so did the roundhouses.

This building was used for holding freight.
The original roundhouse

Alburg is a 45th parallel town, and one of a handful of Vermont communities that have found themselves in a weird moniker contention, where the United States Board on Geographic Names decided that they needed to standardize place names around the country in 1891. Every city or town ending in ‘burgh’ had their H dropped, pretty much so the mail would go to the right places and to make them easier to write on federal documents.

Well, over a hundred years later, a few Vermont towns decided that the dropped consonant was something to get up in arms about, with a few bringing it back, and the other few not caring that much.

Back across the bridge, in the pancake flat farmlands of the Champlain Island archipelago, the landscape is dotted with trailers, sagging farmhouses done in vinyl siding, and silver silos that reflect the coarse December sunlight from their gleaming surfaces.

There is a rural road off of Route 2 called Missle Base Road, a moniker that supports the notion that this cul-de-sac is different from other Alburg byways . Whether or not it’s misspelling is a VTrans blunder or intentional, it’s sort of a weird road name in a region that only has a sheriff to bring down the law. That street sign is overshadowed by a much larger and more intimidating sign. In fading lettering, it sort of reads “Stop! Authorized Personnel Only Beyond This Point” in attention grabbing orange, while even more faded text behind it once read “Town of Alburg” (spelled without its H)

A drive down bad tarmac puts you dead ending in front of 2 rusted Quonset Huts, a chain gate, construction equipment that has seen better days and a dune of road salt. You’re looking at the Alburgh town garage!
But the Quonset Huts give its past away. Underneath the salt pile is the reason for the huts construction; an atlas missile silo.

This is the site of one of Vermont’s 2 nuclear missile silos. But you’d never know it. Towards the back of the property, a rusting pile of junk and a dune of road salt sits on top of the closed silo bay doors, each concrete door weighing 45 tons, enclosing the dark dripping confines of the flooded silo below.

Peering down the silo today would be a wondrous gaze into man’s eternal battle with evil and glorious ruin, but if you had peered down this shaft in the early 1960s, you would have been gazing at the tip of a nuclear missile.

In the 1960s, the military was scrambling to build defenses against the potential of a nuclear apocalypse that the Soviet Union was scheming, with the Soviets doing the same thing with the role of the villain reversed. The Army Corps of Engineers constructed 12 sites in a ring around the Air Force base in Plattsburgh — 2 in Vermont, 10 in New York, and absolutely no expenses were spared, with each site costing between $14 and $18 million to build, each one coming with a brazen claim that each could withstand a direct nuclear attack.

But these mysterious and aggressive projects were quite a feat to build. Many workers died during their constructions, with urban legends reciting that some unfortunate souls became entombed in the concrete silo walls they were hired to produce. The thought of the cold walls and dark depths of the missile silo as someone’s last vision is an image is a poignant one.

Ironically, despite the large expenses invested in these agents of destruction, the pulses of these missile silos were short lived, only active from 1962 until 1965, thanks to leaps in progressive apocalyptic technology. To add to the uncertainty, many were disputing afterward whether the missiles would have been able to hit their targets, and even be able to lift off the ground.

But they left a lasting impression on the landscape. However today, they hold contaminated waste and shadows smothered with valiant ghosts.

Each launch site constructed included two Quonset huts, a utility shed and an antenna that could detect a nuclear attack up to 30 miles away. The silo itself was 52 feet wide and 174 feet deep, encased in a shell of incredibly thick and durable concrete.

After their demise, the sites were abandoned. Ownership was now the burden of their communities, including this one, which was, uh, gifted to Alburgh, who turned it into their down highway department headquarters and dumped road salt over the perforation. Others were looted, some were sold to private investors and military enthusiasts. According to lots of testimonies over the intervening decades, most of them flooded to some degree.

Because everything has a market, interest in these intriguing properties has picked up in recent years, thanks to curious buyers who see the old silos as great “fixer-upper” projects, especially for private homes. But due to their deteriorating conditions, these sites require a buyer with a lot of money, patience and time. One of the former sites, in Champlain, New York was found and purchased on eBay. The new owner plans to clean it up and live in the remaining Quonset hut, and possibly in the launch control center. Taking his project a bit further, he has created an intriguing website which tracks his progress cleaning up the site, and gives everyone else a cool and rare look into these fabled locations.

Alburgh’s site wasn’t phenomenally interesting, but I still thought it was cool. I snapped a few photos of the Quonset Huts, because that’s more interesting than a photo of a pile of salt. I’m pretty confident in my assumption that the town won’t be opening up those blast doors anytime soon, so it’ll have to do. A town garage that doubles as a weird monument to humankind’s strange tendency to destroy itself. 

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As of 2015, it looks like the street sign was spell checked, but Google maps still uses the misspelled moniker for the road.
As of 2015, it looks like the street sign was spell checked, but Google maps still uses the misspelled moniker for the road.

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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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Rabbits, Rowboats & Roosevelts: Lake Bomoseen’s odd history

The largest lake entirely within Vermont’s borders, Lake Bomoseen in western Rutland County measures 9-14 miles long (depending on who you ask). It extends from Lily pad choked swamp lands in the small town of Hubbardton to the north, expanding into a broad center complete with an island, before narrowing into a slim passage way running just slightly below the interstate type highway of U.S. Route 4 to the south in Castleton.

And there is something compelling about this lake. Speaking to a few people about it along its shores, they all somewhat described they felt a strong pull to the lake – some sort of inexpiable connection of fondness towards it. And with the lake’s storied history with layers that are piled on more compactly than the slate piles crumbling into the lake on the west shore, it isn’t that difficult to understand.

(via CardCown.com)

The name Bomoseen is an Abenaki word which translates to “keeper of ceremonial fire”. The Taconic Mountains, which make up the rolling hills that run along both sides of the lake, are the slate-producing region of Vermont, and the area’s history parallels the rise and fall of Vermont’s slate industry. The area surrounding the lake contains several quarry holes and their adjacent colorful slate rubble piles as reminders of this period, many you can see tumbling down the western shores of the lake – a bizarre and stark contrast to the otherwise gentle landscape around it. Across the lake, you can still witness the overgrown cellar holes of the ghost town of West Castleton, a product of once prosperous times, now a landmark to what once was.

Weird Waters

If your into ghost stories, Lake Bomoseen have an interesting one. The story goes that one night in the 1800s, 3 Irish slate workers from West Castleton obtained a rowboat and decided to row to a tavern on the east shore to entertain themselves. But they never showed up. The next morning, their rowboat was found floating empty on the open waters of West Castleton bay, but no trace of their bodies were ever found. Locals say that on certain moonlit nights, the phantom rowboat can be seen moving effortlessly across the waters of Lake Bomoseen, making no disturbances in the water.

But if phantom rowboats don’t grab your attention, this mysterious body of water has a far stranger tale woven into its web of folklore. Towards the north end of the lake is a surprisingly undeveloped island (apart from an estate on the very southern tip). The island is long, densely wooded and rests a mere 30 feet away from the lake’s North West shore. But this island is known for something far more mysterious than its idealized lakeside real estate. It is here where Vermont’s entire population of giant rabbits are said to reside. As the name implies, they are distinctive because of their size, and more noticeable, their glowing red eyes. But how did the entire population of this elusive sub culture become to be contained on such a small island in Lake Bomoseen, and why?

I turned to Joseph Citro’s The Vermont Monster Guide for an explanation. In a pure Darwinian principle, they somehow hopped the 30 foot jump from island to mainland, and couldn’t get back. The bigger rabbits were the only ones who could make the jump, leaving the biggest of the big trapped on the isolated chunk of land in Bomoseen’s murky waters.  What happened next however wasn’t so bizarre; they did what rabbits did best, and multiplied.  As the years progressed, they became bigger and stronger. Legend has it that some have seen rabbits as large as Volkswagons and Saint Bernards somewhere amidst the dense evergreen foliage that climb the shores.  But these rabbits are by no means new phenomenon. As a matter of fact, the Abenaki may have in fact told tales of these oversized rabbits on the island. And today, it is not uncommon to see curious campers and adventurers boating and kayaking around the island trying to catch a glimpse of these unique cryptids – and as far as we know, they are harmless. Perhaps it comes as no surprise that residents began calling the narrow landmass Rabbit Island.

If giant rabbits and rowboats piloted by unseen forces aren’t good enough for you, Lake Bomoseen has another surprise, one that is concealed by the largest existing entity on the lake – it’s waters. And if the legends are true, this will definitely bring you a dose of rigor…

Around 1986, a man and his wife were fishing on the lake in their seventeen foot boat, when they saw an extraordinary creature moving beneath the water’s surface. It looked like a giant eel. The description created a picture of something eight to nine inches in diameter, and an astonishing twenty feet long! Well – they said it was longer than their boat anyways. Not wanting to attract the USO with their fishing bait, they reeled in and headed quickly back to shore.

So, is there really a giant eel lurking beneath the waters of Lake Bomoseen? Surely something so massive and so distinctively intimidating would have been seen by others? Not so much. As a matter of fact, this was the only sighting I was able to dig up, meaning either it was a one time phenomena, something far more innocuous, or maybe, people are just keeping quiet about it. After all, Vermonters are pretty good about keeping secrets…

State wildlife biologists weighed in on this, and said that generally, the size of eels can vary greatly, but it’s entirely possible that they can reach up to around five to six feet in diameter and weigh around fifteen pounds, and, they speculated that it was entirely possible that larger ones could exist in larger landlocked bodies of water. But Bomoseen, the lake in question, well, they sort of left that answer somewhere in the smoke.

(via CardCow.com)

A Famous History

Lake Bomoseen has been drawing tourists to its shores long before the year round camps and state routes began to ring its shores. As early as 1870, Lake Bomoseen began to establish itself as a tourism getaway. The Johnson farm, on the north end of the lake was said to be the first location around the lake to began hosting summer guests around this time. To reach the Johnson farm, guests crossed a float bridge, which actually did float on the surface of the lake. Still referred to as the Float Bridge, it now does just the opposite of float, as it’s fixed sturdily to land with granite, concrete and steel. Just take Float Bridge Road, still in existence at the north end of the lake.

Over the next couple of decades, more hotels sprang up around the lake. Even the ruins of nearby Hyde Manor brought guests to the lake by stagecoach.

Over time, something else began to make their appearance along the lakeshore as well; summer camps. One of the most famous was on Lake Bomoseen’s largest island – the secretive and elite Neshobe Island, which had a reputation that helped establish the aura of mystery for exclusive clubs and societies.

Purchased in the 1920s by Alexander Woollcott, author, actor and New York Times drama critic, the cottage and island became a retreat for the Algonquin Round Table, a group of journalists, editors, actors and press agents who met regularly at New York’s Algonquin Hotel starting in June 1919. Summer weekends were said to consist of cocktails and croquet on the island with Woollcott as host, and catered to notable guests such as President Theodore Roosevelt – who could be seen landing his seaplane on the lake during his arrivals.

The island was said to be beautiful, with rolling topography, mixed woodlands and miniature meadows filled with wild flowers. While local Vermonters left the islanders to their own business, it was the tourists who tried to invade their privacy (or so the accounts claimed). That was, until comedian, film star, and visiting guest Harpo Marx put a stop to it. One day, as a boat full of rowdy tourists invaded the island’s private beach for a picnic, Marx stripped naked, smeared himself with mud, grabbed an axe and ran down towards the startled tourists hollering and making animal noises. They never came back.

Today, the grand resorts and private clubs are gone, succumbing to disastrous fires and the changing times, and the lake has given way to a more dominating landscape of summer camps and private homes. But the lake is still quite active, and is just as beloved as it was a century ago. An official stop on Vermont’s Stone Valley Byway, and lined by several beaches, a state park, a popular golf club and lakeside restaurant that offers dock side conveniences (after all, Bomoseen is a boating lake), Lake Bomoseen still draws several crowds that all share a mutual love of the lake, but undeniably, a lot has indeed changed.

Below is an interesting video of Lake Bomoseen’s history, if you are so inclined.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=RIB4hfAvwrQ]

 Left Behind

Just south of Lake Bomoseen, where the road breaks from the shoreline for the first time, and the landscape returns back to woods, is a small and rotting remnant of Lake Bomoseen’s tourism heyday of yesteryear – an abandoned mini golf place. The faded and weathered sign over it’s sloping rental building reads “Bomoseen Golfland” with a rather creepy looking clown as its official mascot, something that conjures more of an image of sinister intentions than a round of mini golf.

Though I don’t know any of the history behind this small mom and pop operation, it most likely functioned during the mid 20th century and provided passing tourists and summer campers with some cheap fun for a few hours, and closed when the region’s tourism trends changed. Today, the ruins can still be seen from the side of Route 30, now desolate, weed ridden and forgotten, the water logged AstroTurf’s awkward green color a sort of gross presence to the otherwise natural landscape around it.

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Overall, I spent a total of 10 minutes wondering the moldy grounds of Bomoseen Golfland. It wasn’t the most interesting place I have ever visited but it was creepy enough. The dilapidated wooden building with its peeling paint sat underneath a sky of broken lights,  smashed over the sad remnants of each mini golf obstacle. But it certainly is a monument to classic roadside Americana and a simpler time. And for that, I’m thankful I had the chance to visit.

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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

The Broken Tower

Winooski is a brawny old mill town built intentionally on a series of cascades on it’s namesake river that would power the woolen mills that built the city, and a prevalent French Canadian populace that affixed their surnames to street signs and brought down francophone media from Quebec. The textile mills both lifted the city up, and then let it fall when the industry went bust. The flood of 1927 was particularly harsh to business, when swells of rapid brownish watery destruction decimated most of the buildings along the riverfront. The mills never recovered fully, and went from the state’s largest employer, to limping along rather awkwardly until 1954 when they shuttered for good after they no longer landed government contracts when new synthetic fibers became the future.

The town was bruised for decades afterwards underneath economic blight, higher rates of poverty, and a humbling lack of identity. In the late 1970s, the one square mile burb made news when it ambitiously decided it was going to build a glass dome over the city to keep down the costs of heating prices in the winter, and partially for a publicity stunt inspired by a town meeting with lots of wine. That idea surprisingly almost happened, but was coffined in the 80s, when the Reagan administration came into power and decided that there were better things to spend money on.

A few more decades later, Winooski once again made headlines for another construction project; brazenly undertaking the largest downtown redevelopment project in state history, which simultaneously included the construction of a controversial rotary that was oddly blueprinted on a hill. It was intended to lessen traffic congestion where routes 2,7 and 15 met downtown, but instead confused and upset certain commuters and Winooski-ites, earning it the bad for business nickname “the circle of peril”. But their massive scale improvement project seemed to work, and years later, downtown Winooski has filled in with some of the best eateries in the Burlington area, a pretty enjoyable microbrewery and an awesome indie music festival which brings all sorts of converging artists into town.

Brawny industrial towns like Winooski have had their rises and falls, but if there is one good thing about old mill towns, is that their lasting impression comes in the form of admirable architecture. More precisely here, it’s spacious and handsome brick mills. Most of the old mill buildings have taken on new lives as very nice mixed office and apartment space, but a small vestige of Winooski’s raw and unrenovated industrial past can still be seen, if you know where to look.

Sulking behind the expansive brick edifice of the Woolen Mill, down in a recessed area of scraggly trees and the graveyards of stagnant mill ponds once formed by water entering through the low stone tunnels now being filled in by erosion, sits the crumbling remains of a brick tower.

 

These dangerous ruins were enigmatic to me, as I know practically nothing about early twentieth century mill operations, so with the help from my friend who was also the one who took  me here, a little research was done and was able to shed some light on what this tower once was.

Basically, there is a large intake pipe at the top of the tower. Using gravity, the water flows from the river to the top of the tower.It then is diverted downwards into a turbine where the rushing water turns a wheel before being used for power generation. This turning wheel would have been connected to a shaft that ran into the mill to turn and power the equipment. After 1930 however, the turbine would likely have been repurposed, so instead of using water to create mechanical energy to turn the actual machines, the machines began to use electricity  So the turbine would have been repurposed. Instead of turning a shaft and going into the mill, it turned a shaft that turned an electric generator and this power would have supplied the mill.  Or, something perhaps very similar to the diagram below. (If you are using this blog for any sort of essay information, I encourage you to find a more reputable source)

Fairmount_Water_Works_Jonval_Turbine_Cutaway

Sure enough, there were the remnants of additional pipes and tunnels that formed a broken trail from this spot over to the bridge where the water levels were higher, making this a very plausible description of how this tower might have functioned.

But by looking at the crumbling, and rusted ruins today, they keep their secrets far from your presence, besides the strikingly obvious – this place is dangerous. The tower had made its mark on this part of the property since it’s construction, its shadow forever burning its impression into the wet ground around it, but a few more winters may finally bring this decrepit place down into the muddy recesses of the foul mill wastelands below it.

A surprisingly warm day for December 2nd in Vermont, I probably could have gotten away with just a flannel or a hoodie, but chose to bring a more protective layer just in case. And I’m glad I did. As we shambled over piles of soggy ground and driftwood to the arched entrance, the inside of the tower was noticeably colder – the air was dead inside. There would be no “safe” traveling, so much had fallen that we were constantly crawling over untold amounts of dirty bricks covered in slime and rust, underneath piles of the rotting wooden floors above that had long collapsed below.dsc_0209_pe

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Now this is where things became interesting. We climbed further inside the tower, and saw just what we were up against. Behind the massive bulk of debris infront of us, were very narrow crawl passages that hugged the dripping and filthy walls around the tower. To get inside any further, it would require us to squeeze through them. But to get there, we’d have to scale a 6 foot drop to a level below us, onto a series of rusted steel I beams that were glistening with ice, rust and slime. One wrong move, and a sprained ankle would be the least of your problems, as your body would tumble down into a dark rocky cavern beneath in a world where no one would hear your cries for help. Did we want to take this risk? Yes. So one by one, the both of us hoisted ourselves down the 6 foot drop, using the cold and dirty brick foundations as support, the bricks crumbling to dust in our hands.
Now this is where things became interesting. We climbed further inside the tower, and saw just what we were up against. Behind the massive bulk of debris in front of us, were very narrow crawl passages that hugged the dripping and filthy walls around the tower. To get inside any further, it would require us to squeeze through them. But to get there, we’d have to scale a 6 foot drop to a level below us, onto a series of rusted steel beams that were glistening with ice, rust and slime. One wrong move, and a sprained ankle would be the least of your problems, as your body would tumble down into a dark rocky cavern beneath in a world where no one would hear your cries for help. Did we want to take this risk? Yes. So one by one, the both of us hoisted ourselves down the 6-foot drop, using the cold and dirty brick foundations as support, the bricks crumbling to dust in our hands.

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At this point, our excitement had gotten the better of us, gawking at the incredible textures to photograph, the industrial gears frozen in rust and time as the shadows became wild. The inevitable and comic question of what the cold slimy substance our hands were touching was mentioned a few times, as well as how surprised we were that we hadn’t ran into any animals yet – these dark and cavernous ruins would make the perfect home for a mischievous creature.

Turning to the realization that we had spent an hour or longer (most definitely longer) inside a dank crumbling tower, and we were beginning to feel the effects. My hands were numb, and we were more than filthy. “I think it’s time we head out” I said. But it was then I realized exactly how much work we went through to get to our current position, and all that clambering and wedging through those tight damp spaces back to the entrance just didn’t excite me. “Think we can fit down there, and climb out that way?” I asked, pointing to the dark area below the steel beams that suspended us above the pit. Below us, was a crumbling shadowy world of filth and fallen bricks, with a tunnel type entrance out to the former mill pond. Going out that way would save us a lot of time, if we could make it. “We’re not 16 anymore” I jokingly called up to my friend – I am not nearly as limber as I was. Down there, it was so cold, icicles were forming on the pipes. “I’ll give you $5 if you eat one of those” my friend called above me. I declined the offer to fatten my wallet and made my way out. He soon followed.

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me
Self Portrait. Here, you can get a good idea of perspective, from where I climbed down and where my friend was standing.

It’s incredible to think about the ingenuity and complex systems behind how these mills harnessed the natural water power of the falls. Today all that remains of Winooski’s industrial legacy are the buildings, a few relics in a museum, and little else. The Winooski skyline as viewed from Burlington is a great picture and one of contrasts, the Champlain Mill and the new downtown symbolically rising next to it.

Nearby, on the rocky ledges of the Winooski River Gorge, there were a few more sites of interest, so before we wrapped up our adventure, we took a short ride from Downtown Winooski to Colchester.

The Walls

Years ago, you had to stumble your way along a riverbank of roots, swamps and thick northern jungle to reach this cool urban locality. Nowadays, there’s a path and a designated natural area that brings you here, which in a way is sort of a bummer.

The area underneath the interstate bridge that spans the Winooski River in Winooski city is colloquially called “the walls”, a youth minted term which is most likely a reference to the humongous concrete pylons supporting one of the busiest bridges in the state overhead. Those pillars are sprayed with some of the best graffiti and spray paint art in the state. In my humble opinion anyways. The robust and colorful artwork is always evolving, with some tags in seemingly difficult to reach places that conjure more questions and hint at the engines and the love of those who do their thing here.

I’ve met some local taggers down there before on a summers afternoon years ago. Most people you run into are friendly folk who will strike up a conversation with you. The other half are either people like me, or teenagers who are smoking swisher sweet cigars they got from the local Maplefields convenience store having fires along the beach areas. The area is a neat one, which is undoubtedly why it draws so many eclectic folks. It’s isolated and a bit of an inconvenience to get to, with thick vegetation, sandy river bottom beaches and the gradual limestone rises of the Winooski gorge giving it a dislocated feel from the pulse of Burlington, but never too far from the hum of the highway.

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There is an abandoned hydroelectric station amongst the ledges and evergreen forests of the gorge walls, but as we found out, access is almost impossible, and unless you want to risk a security encounter and some torn clothes as a result of climbing a very sturdy fortified fence. As I later found out from someone, if we had dared to climb down into there ruins, we would have been met with several feet of rapid flowing river water and foul mud that now flows freely through the complex. In this case, it was best just to admire it from a distance.

An area landmark, and a cool one at that, a double railroad trestle bridge spanning the turbulent waters of the Winooski Gorge.
An area landmark, the double truss railroad bridge spanning over a ledgy oxbow river bend in the Winooski Gorge. Locals mistake this impressive feat of engineering as a haunted trestle, where a little girl was struck and killed by a train in the 60s. But that’s actually another truss bridge down the river a ways, crossing into Burlington’s intervale. It’s called “the blue bridge” because according to legend, the girl’s ghost hangs around the bridge and is a pale blue, like an oxygen deprived corpse. If the real blue bridge wasn’t weird enough, I’ve heard tons of stories of sketchy characters who hang out on the bridge. I once ran into a young couple (I assume) dressed in dollar store magician and assistant costume, with top hat and plastic wand, sitting in the middle of the train bridge and quarreling. I’ve seen them 2 additional times afterward. That’s an old ghost story though, not one I think many younger Winooskians are aware of nowadays. It’s easy to see why the double truss bridge would be the assumed monument to tragedy, given its striking location and unique construction. Just make sure you’re not eligible for a statistic if you decide to walk the tracks.

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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

Nostalgic Route 9: Abandoned Motels, Vintage Signs

Recently, I had my inaugural voyage to the Adirondacks of Upstate New York, an area I’ve became quite interested in. Lake Champlain, the massive body of freshwater roughly 500 square miles in size, forms the boundary between Vermont and New York, and with a limited amount of crossings to the next state, as well as a lack of reasons for your blogger to go visit, the state of New York was practically an unfamiliar exotic world to me, an undisputed disparity from the weird bubble that is Vermont. One of the most common things I hear flatlanders say about Vermont, is something like; “man, do you have any idea how weird Vermont is? Seriously, you guys are like a cult up here. It’s almost like you don’t belong in the rest of the United States”, and sometimes they eye me with momentary awe. And I’m immensely proud of that.

The Vermont side of the lake is gentler and up kept, while the New York side is wild and grungy, wallowing in its nostalgia. Boulders and forests slide into the lake, bordered by rural stretches of crumbling highways and tumbledown homes. The Adirondack experience is a multi-faceted one – a region that doesn’t give up all its secrets, but doesn’t hide its scars. A place that’s vast, desolate and intriguing.

Meeting up with a good friend who is familiar with the region, he agreed to show me around some of his favorite haunts on a rather pleasant November day. Crisscrossing the region’s roads in the most inefficient manor possible, we decided to dedicate our escapade to a particular hue; the scores of old motels, vacation cabins and awesomely unkempt vintage signage and their visage of deterioration.

Everything related to this goal can be found along U.S. Route 9, where much of the area’s notoriety once came from. The route cuts through this huge region in a north south direction between the Adirondack Mountains and Lake Champlain. At one point, Route 9 was the original superhighway to the North Country before the Adirondack Northway, also known as Interstate 87, was built. In Route 9’s well traveled heyday, it was crawling with people tromping through its roadside attractions, curio, and motels which made lasting impressions in some tangible way. Today, a journey down Route 9 is more of a reflection of one of the more grimy truths of reality; impermanence. It’s now a desolate and forlorn drive through almost uninterrupted miles of forest, which is often sick and scraggily looking, as the Adirondack Northway carries most traffic now. But it’s a fascinating drive to me.

The landscape changes dramatically from the unanimated city of Plattsburgh and neighboring town of Keeseville as Route 9 heads south towards the tiny town of North Hudson and the ruins of Frontier Town, a frontier themed amusement park that was once the blood and pride of an otherwise easily missed town. The areas around Plattsburgh and Keeseville are lined by mid century motel establishments and their gimmicky retro signs complete with wondering arrows, neon lights and sharp angles; all designed to capture the travelers’ attention. Further south, unvarying one room wooden cabins are scattered in the midst of otherwise scraggly fir forests and increasingly long distances of highway with no signs of life for miles. Depressed hamlets like Lewis and New Russia spring out of the untamed forest like some sort of northern mirage, but are easily forgotten within minutes.

We decided the best route to New York would be The Grand Isle Ferry. From there, it would be a short drive down Route 314 to the destination Route 9 in Plattsburgh. The winds were incredibly fierce, the lake was choppy and full of whitecaps. Because of this, the ferry ride over was twice as long, as the captain attempted to navigate the rough waters safely, the boat viciously rocking back and forth and the waves spraying over onto the deck. For the fun of it, we got out of the car and attempted to get a few pictures of the rough conditions, but my, uh, sea legs had 25 years of inexperience working against me. The boat was rocking so badly that it was almost impossible to gain my balance. Admitting defeat, it was back in the car for me.

The choppy waters of Lake Champlain from the Grand Isle ferry.
The choppy waters of Lake Champlain from the Grand Isle ferry.

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While taking pictures of this sign, the owner of the motel happened to be walking by, giving us a strange look. To relieve some of the tension, we told her we liked her sign, and asked how old it was. She scratched her head in thought, and said it's been here since the mid 50s.
While taking pictures of this sign, the owner of the motel happened to be walking by, giving us a strange look. To relieve some of the tension, we told her we liked her sign, and asked how old it was. She scratched her head in thought, and said it’s been here since the mid 50s. “I can’t believe you guys want to take a picture of it” she said laughing.

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Out of the city limits now, Route 9 returns to stark wilderness. With the motels of Keeseville now gone, the desolation is now occasionally broken by crumbling roadside cabins shrouded in growth, with a decaying sign out front, their paint long faded and neon tubes hanging loosely around the sides.

Cabin Set #1

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Cabin Set #2

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These cabins were practically in someone's front yard.
These cabins were practically in someone’s front yard.

Cabin Set #3

I found these to be interesting because of their unique hillside perch – and their remote location – there was nothing else around for several miles, making me think that these were sort of a “last chance” affair.

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Now the landscape changed again from the cramped rustic abandoned cabins to abandoned motels.

Abandoned Motel #1

This abandoned motel seemed to be relativity up kept, its dated architecture looking almost as crisp as its heyday. The lawn was kept mowed, and the owners lived across the street in another former motel, which I suppose wasn’t very surprising.

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Abandoned Motel #2

This motel was more desolate then the first one, done in a kitschy in a rustic log theme, which was inspired by the defunct amusement park, Frontier Town, which was just down the road. The crumbling parking lot had almost returned to a wild state overran with weeds, and the long front porch was becoming encroached with fir trees growing slowly inside it. This was the first place we noticed that hosted transient people. Some of the rooms had been broken into, and the obvious signs of human presence were everywhere, but thankfully none were around when we arrived.

An abandoned playground weighed down by the desolation of the forest.
An abandoned playground weighed down by the desolation of the forest.

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Frontier Town

Down the road is the uninteresting town of North Hudson, nothing more then a collection of ramshackle homes and trailers amidst the scraggly woods. But years ago, North Hudson was home to one of the most beloved tourist destinations in the Adirondacks; Frontier Town.

In 1951, an enterprising man named Art Benson chose the woods of North Hudson to be the home for his new vision; a theme park that would bring the wild west to upstate New York. He had no income, no background in construction or anything related to running a theme park, and yet, with ambition and bearing his charismatic personality, he managed to pull off one of the most beloved tourist traps in the Adirondacks. Decorated like a primitive frontier town of the 19th century and amusing it’s guests with interactive dioramas from folklore, popular culture and history, the park continued it’s role as a compelling spectacle until 1983, when Benson sold the park to another development firm, who closed the park in 1989, and reopened it shortly after with new attractions to try and lure more people to make up for the park’s dwindling audience. By 1998, Frontier Town closed for good, after being discombobulated by dropping finances and the latest victim of changing trends; the new notion that it was now dated and politically incorrect.

The vast property was seized in August 2004 by Essex County for past-due property taxes. Today, the park is a humble collection of ruins rotting in the woods, or along Route 9, which is where the main entrance was. The property is skirted by a collection of abandoned motels and restaurants that now look rather out of place in town.

There have been a few special interest groups organized with the goal to restore Frontier Town, and have it labeled as a historic landmark. But so far, none have been successful. Nearby the property is the seedy Gokey’s Trading Post, which has a few pieces of Frontier Town memorabilia for those looking for some nostalgia.

To read more about Frontier Town, you can click this link to be taken to my blog entry on that.

Abandoned Motel at the entrance to Frontier Town
Abandoned Motel at the entrance to Frontier Town

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Those swanky chairs.
Those swanky chairs.
this motel also came with a simple playground for the kids, which admittedly looked more disappointing than fun
this motel also came with a simple playground for the kids, which admittedly looked more disappointing than fun
From the motel parking lot, one of the remaining buildings of Frontier Town could be seen - a former restaurant and gift shop against the late Adirondack sun.
From the motel parking lot, one of the remaining buildings of Frontier Town could be seen – a former restaurant and gift shop against the late Adirondack sun.
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Driving through abandoned roads still adorned with battered street lamps and the ruins of the remaining buildings is an eerie experience. Years ago, this area used to be packed with tourists, noises and life – today the only sounds are the mountain winds and the hum of traffic from Route 9.

DSC_0048_peSide Note: There is a ghost town in the mountains behind Frontier Town. If you’re curious, click on here to read about it.

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In addition to the numerous motels, cabins and restaurants that are abandoned here – we found out that the interstate exit that once served Frontier Town was also abandoned as well. This abandoned Citgo station sat a few yards away from the exit ramps. Here, a poor traveler pulled into the parking lot and was panicking. “Hey guys, do you know where a gas station is?” We told him there was on in Schroon Lake, 10 miles down the road. His face dropped. “shit. I don’t think I can make it” he sighed. We watched him pull out and turn onto Route 9. I hope he made it before it was too late.
Abandoned at Frontier Town
Abandoned at Frontier Town
Abandoned at Frontier Town
Abandoned at Frontier Town

Frontier Town is such a large property that I would need to devote an entire day to see it, which I hope to plan.

“Dysfunction Junction”

Heading back up Route 9, we drove through a unique, bizarre intersection at Routes 9 and 73 in New Russia, a hamlet of Elizabethtown. When Route 73 hits Route 9, the lanes split off in separate directions, crossing each other in a crazed and seemingly random pattern before coming together again. Everytime I’ve driven through it, I’ve wondered: why does this intersection exist? And the first few times – Where do I go?

A chance find on a Google search provided me with some answers. The locals call this “Dysfunction Junction”. The intersection was built in 1958, using a design that has been instituted (with slightly variations) in other areas of the state. The design is a “bulb type-T intersection” that “favors the heavier right-turn movement from the upper to the lower left leg of the intersection. Sight distances are excellent and approach speeds are approximately 40 miles per hour.”

So why was this design chosen for this spot? We have to go back to Route 9’s heyday as the main artery from Plattsburgh and points South. Before the Northway was built, Route 9 suffered far worse traffic congestion as it does now. Before the construction, a simple stop sign was in place, which overtime was unable to handle the flow of moving traffic. The design allows Route 9 traffic to flow through without stopping, while anyone continuing on 73 would have to wait. Today, they’d probably build a roundabout instead. While this design may have made sense in the 1950s, today’s traffic patterns have changed. But not everything thinks it’s a bad design. “If you just follow the signs, you’ll be alright” says one indifferent local.

Photo: Adirondack Almanac

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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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Emily’s Bridge?

Perhaps no other haunted location in Vermont is as fabled as Emily’s Bridge, and it’s arguable that because it’s a covered bridge, this storied construction turned celebrity is distinctively a Vermont monstrosity.  Look in any book of ghost stories and local lore written in the New England area, and Emily’s Bridge is almost sure to be included.

Growing up, I heard the legends of Emily’s Bridge, as most kids did. And as a curious teenager, I made a midnight expedition to the bridge as many other teenagers did, all hoping to catch a glimpse of Emily’s ghost and perhaps, witness her sorrow and fury firsthand. But the only monstrous thing we saw were other disrespectful teenagers in large numbers, partying and drinking at the bridge. My Emily’s Bridge interest died almost as soon as it started.

To put things in perspective here, let’s start off with the legend that started it all. Emily’s Bridge actually has an official name; The Gold Brook Bridge, but most Vermonters forgo that for it’s more popular nickname.

At first glance, this rustic and unremarkable covered bridge looks like the myriad of other similar bridges found in Vermont and New England, it certainly doesn’t look “haunted”. Built in 1844, this simplistic, one lane 50-foot span is the oldest covered bridge in the country. It’s builder, John N. Smith of nearby Moscow, an obscure hamlet within the town of Stowe, bragged that it would last forever. Perhaps he was right. But this bridge is infamous for its resident ghost rather than its historical and structural accomplishments.

So who is Emily, and why does she haunt the bridge? That seems to remain a mystery because no one is quite sure of her identity. The most commonly told story is that Emily was a young Stowe woman in the 1800s who fell in love with a man who for reasons unknown, her family disproved of. Her family forbid her to marry. In retaliation, the two love struck teenagers decided to elope on The Gold Brook Bridge at midnight.

Emily made it to the bridge and waited. The appointed hour came and went, and the man never showed up. She was devastated. She couldn’t go back home, everyone would find out what happened, and she would be humiliated as well as heartbroken. Seeing no other way out, she hanged herself from a rafter on the bridge. Now in spirit form, her bridge haunting occurrence apparently decides to bring terror and tomfoolery to certain folks who pass through the bridge. She’s still waiting for her long-departed lover, getting angrier and more despaired by the year.

Emily’s Bridge seems to be a sore subject for many Stowe residents, and quite honestly, I couldn’t think of many towns that a haunted covered bridge could be more out of place in.

Stowe is a small town that was rolled over by wealthy out of staters (known by Vermonters as “flatlanders”), because of it’s reputable ski resort on the lofty slopes of Mount Mansfield – Vermont’s tallest elevation.

The road that leads up to the resort is state route 108, which is lined with pricey alpine themed hotels and tourist attractions, before wedging through Smugglers’ Notch, a rocky mountain pass with a 200 year old history of titular smugglers, and more recently, tractor trailers and tour buses getting stuck up on the narrow switchbacked road despite the tons of signs telling larger vehicles not to drive there.

While Stowe likes the attention gained with the tourism industry, Emily’s Bridge draws the sort of attention many residents could do without. But, the two are hopelessly tangled up in one another.

That being said, I had already decided not to include the story of Emily’s Bridge in this blog. I didn’t want to write about the same Vermont stories that I found were in almost every book on weird things Vermont. I wanted to be different. But that was until I found myself having coffee with author, folklorist and friend Joseph Citro.

As par usual, our conversation turned to the bizarre very quickly. As the waitress came over and topped off our coffee, the steam instantly fogging my glasses, Joe looked at me with musing eyes. “Chad, you know the story of Emily’s Bridge, right?” He sort of laughed at his own question after he had asked it. Of course I had.

“Yeah Joe, hasn’t everyone?” I returned, snickering myself. “Ok, but do you know the real story behind Emily’s Bridge?” I took a sip of my coffee and looked at him, my attention grabbed.

This is where the story got good, in my own opinion. As it turns out, not only was Vermont’s most infamous ghost story a well-spun yarn, but he happened to know the woman who created the story. When all was said and done, I found the real story of Emily’s Bridge far better than the conventional one.

The story of Emily’s Bridge doesn’t go back to the 1800s, but rather much more recently, in the 1970s. A woman by the name of Nancy Wolfe Stead claimed that she was the one who created the story of Emily to scare local youth. There was a swimming hole somewhere near Stowe and Morrisville. She remembers making up the story of the bridge to amuse the kids. At the time, there was a huge surge in the occult and the paranormal in the flypaper that is popular culture, especially with films like The Exorcist that had recently debuted. She was also the one who came up with the name Emily.

Curiously enough, a little digging uncovered that no information about any Emily has been found prior to 1970. What Nancy probably didn’t expect however, was her story to grow in popularity. It soon spread far beyond the limits of Stowe. It is quite possible that the story of Emily’s Bridge became fixed in paranormal concrete when a woman named Valerie Welch started “Stowe Tours” and the bridge, and Emily, became part of the presentation.

I reached out to the Stowe Historical Society for answers, to see if they could offer anymore incite into Emily’s Bridge and the story behind it. A few days later, I received a friendly reply from a woman named Barbara Barawand. Now, the pieces of this complicated urban myth were slowly coming together.

Interestingly enough, there are no records of anyone named Emily dying on the Gold Brook Bridge. But, a tragedy did take place there. It happened around 1920 when a little girl fell off the bridge and died when her skull was dashed off the boulders below. There are reports from people who have had tea with an elderly woman who lives near the bridge, and she remembers when the accident on the Gold Brook Bridge happened. She was about 10 at the time.

To make things more interesting, the Gold Brook Bridge may not even be the “real” Emily’s Bridge. There used to be another covered bridge just down the road near the Nichols Farm near Route 100, until it burned down in 1932 and was replaced by the current concrete span still in use today. There were brief records of a death happening on the old covered bridge, but the details were lost with time. Could this have been the real Emily’s Bridge? Barbara suggests that if there is a ghost, it is a possibility that after the bridge burned down, the ghost sought refuge upstream in the Gold Brook Bridge, which is now Stowe’s last remaining covered bridge. Or maybe, the legend was simply transplanted to the other bridge.

It seems the story is just that, and the legendary bridge which has burned itself into memory of many isn’t the location it is most identified with. But there is more to this story. Reports claiming Emily’s Bridge was haunted didn’t manifest themselves into local folklore until around 1948, many years after the aforementioned suicide of Emily. The bridge became known as “the haunted bridge” but the story of Emily didn’t exist. So if the bridge had a reputation then, perhaps visitors were getting frightened by something entirely different? If so, what was it?

In addition to my growing research, I found that there are also various accounts of why Emily’s ghost haunts the bridge. In no particular order:

(1.) She hanged herself after her boyfriend failed to show up for a midnight rendezvous

(2.) On the day of her marriage she was trampled to death by runaway horses

(3.) She was on her way to her wedding,  her horse bolted, threw her out of the wagon (or off its back) and she fell to her death on the rocks below the bridge

(4.) Emily was fat, unattractive, middle aged and pregnant. Her boyfriend jumped off the bridge and died. Later Emily had twins who soon died. Brokenhearted Emily threw herself off the bridge and died.

(5.) Her boyfriend fell in love with another girl, and never showed up at the bridge, humiliating her.

(6.) After Emily began dating her lover, she became pregnant. Excited to break the news, she told him to meet her at the bridge. But he didn’t take it the way she expected, and was furious. Emily was humiliated and broken hearted, and venomously told him that if he left her, than she would tell everyone in town. At her threat, he acted hastily, and murdered her on the bridge to silence her forever. Some stories say he left town, and other stories say his guilty conscience got the better of him and he committed suicide.

But if this is the case, there would have had to be an eye witness who saw these events unfold on the bridge, or how would these details be known? As far as I know, there were no witnesses and no reports were ever made of a murder on the bridge.

And perhaps there are even more stories then that. I’m sure there are, but no one can find any real history to back any of this up, so the tales will continue to morph.

And if this wasn’t enough to ponder, I also want to bring another question into the light. If Emily did in fact commit suicide on the bridge, how would she have done so? The rafters of the bridge are a good height from the wooden planked floor. She would have had to make somewhat of an effort to climb onto one. And if she did, wouldn’t that have meant that she brought rope with her to do the job? To my knowledge, there aren’t all that many discarded coils of rope found near the covered bridge…

So, with all of this new information, how can all of the claims of paranormal activity that supposedly happen on the bridge be justified? Remember, the legend of Emily was proven to be nothing more than a hoax.

Knowing that information really makes me curious however. What could possibly account  for all of people who have all claimed to have run-ins with Emily on the bridge? All of these encounters that have been reported are various, and range from benign to terrifying.

The most common occurrence are photos taken by tourists that fail to come out, or perhaps the photographer will notice that the pictures include puzzling, blurry blemishes that weren’t present when the photo was taken. Some even have photos that are said to include the ghostly image of a girl standing in front of the bridge who was not there at the time of the photo. Others have seen inexplicable things like flashing white lights with no traceable source. Others hear a disembodied voice coming from nowhere, uttering words that can’t be understood. But in the rare occasion the voice can be understood, it has been said it sounds like a woman crying for help.

Some occurrences are more aggressive, perhaps even malevolent. Hats are whisked away on windless days. Temperatures in the bridge are known to be inexplicably warmer or colder then the temperature outside. One famous tale includes one man witnessing his windshield fog up on its own, and hand prints appearing on the windshield, but no one was around to make the prints. Encounters get far more violent. In the old days, horses crossing the bridge would unaccountably bolt in fear as phantom bloody gashes would appear on their bodies that were possibly left by ghostly nails. When horse traffic was replaced with the automobile, their paint jobs would be ruined by the same invisible claws. Even people have reported being scratched!

One group of teenagers even go as far as claiming they saw Emily. As they parked their car in the bridge, they said the form of a woman appeared in front of their car and began to approach them. Terrified, they scrambled to lock their doors. She stood outside jiggling the door handles for a few minutes, trying to get in. With no luck, her form eventually dissipated into the night air.

Other weird things have said to happen in and around the bridge. Gold Brook, a beautiful rocky brook that runs underneath the bridge may have some sort of bizarre property attatched to it as well. Some claim that on certain days, phantom music, which is said to resemble windchims or the soft strumming of a harp is said to come from underneath the bridge, but when curious listeners go to investigate, they can’t find the source of the music.

What’s going on here, and what can we make of all this? Could it really be Emily? Or perhaps another ghost who died on the bridge along time ago? Perhaps author Joseph Citro guessed best, when he lumped Emily’s Bridge into one of Vermont’s few “window areas”, or, geographical areas with strange supernatural properties, where unexplainable  occurrences are said to manifest, and maybe even portals to other worlds are said to reside. Or maybe it’s just the product of over active imaginations inspired by curiosity and an infamous urban legend?

There is no concrete answer, and no way to know just for sure. The story of Emily’s Bridge and the countless other historical facts, variations and paranormal claims from many people are so large in numbers and so conflicting, that it is almost impossible to pick at the pieces. So in the end, it’s up for you to decide.

One thing is for certain however; Emily has became immortal, whether she actually existed or not.

** I’d like to sincerely thank Barbara Barawand from the Stowe Historical Society and Joeseph Citro for inspiring me to write this entry, and for providing me with this fascinating information.

Links:

If you’re curious, Emily’s Bridge actually has an official website. Or, as official as it gets anyways.

The official website of Emily’s Bridge

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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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Picking At The Bones

As the chill in this season sputtered and spit outside, I was comfortably warm inside the car as we headed on a 7 hour drive from the Burlington area to unfamiliar territory. But my friend grew up in this part of the North Country, and was playing tour guide today. It felt nice to get out of Vermont and see new places I was completely unfamiliar with, leading on with nothing but my curiosities and perceptions as the untamed mountains and silent swampland hinted at its secrets and its troubles. But as the hours passed and the surroundings became increasingly different, conversation began to slip away and I became haunted by the hardscrabble landscape. Unlike Vermont, with its tamed meadows and gentle hills, this region was wild and more unkempt, with less open land and grungy backwoods towns where you can taste the desperation, isolation and hardships in its blood – all turning towards the riotous color of the Autumn hills and ledges which literally fought with the roadside for dominance over the landscape.

“So, where are we going?” I asked after a lengthy amount of time. “Not sure yet – I was sort of just hoping we’d find a place as we drove by and check it out from there”. At that point I had to laugh to myself. Here we were, driving sort of aimlessly through sprawling mysterious woodland with no set goal in mind. If I was with anyone else, I would have been a little doubtful at this point, but I trusted his wisdom fully. Now that I thought of it, it had been at least 30 minutes where we hadn’t so much as passed a house, trailer, or even a set of power lines. Few places in Vermont could compare to the loneliness and isolation here. The Northeast Kingdom perhaps. But here – this was truly wild land.

But his point was valid. The further we got from Vermont, the more abandoned buildings sat along the roadside. It was now more common to see an abandoned house as opposed to one that is inhabited still. And the ones that were lived in perhaps would have been better abandoned.

By now it was getting late, and we still had yet to find a location that would be possible to explore. I could tell the same thoughts were weighing on his mind as well. “Shit, it’s getting late” he said, realization in his tone. “Any ideas?” There was a moment of silence before we passed a directional sign. One of the communities listed he recognized, and his face lit up. “I think I have an idea – you’ll like this” he promised, as we made a sharp turn on another winding back road.

Of Mountains and Mines

After another 20 minutes or so of twisting, stomach churning turns and an indistinguishable landscape of scraggly fir trees, the road took a sharp drop down a rather steep hill, below us stretched the rooftops and church steeples of a small village. He slowed the car down for a second before progressing further into town, and pointed out his window. Several hundred feet below us in an unforgiving mountain valley sat the large crumbling ruins of an abandoned iron ore mine, it’s rusted tin facades and broken windows slowly loosing the struggle against mother nature.

With a little research, I was able to find out about the mine and the town. In 1827, rich Iron Ore deposits were discovered in the area and soon mining operations began to tunnel their way into the hills. Almost immediately, the mining operations ignited a regional economic boom as railroad companies were lured to town, bringing several immigrant workers with it. Soon, the town shed it’s small town skin and became a center for regional commerce. Many grand mansions climbing the steep hillsides were constructed by the mining company’s more prominent employees and a stately downtown was built, bringing some civilization to the unkempt mountain wilderness.

The busiest period the mines saw was during World War 2 when a great deal of material was needed to build Army aircrafts, making iron demands high and working conditions that would turn fingers to dust. Workers soon began laboring around the clock. The mines became so large that it was said that it took miners an average of an hour and a half to be transported in mining cars from the surface to their subterranean work site.

After the war, several economic depressions and the opening of larger and more prosperous mines out west brought an end to the mining boom, something the area never recovered from. In 1971, the mine closed its doors for good. And now ironically, what was responsible for building the town had also killed it. Today, the looming decrepit edifice of the mine still haunts the heart of this town. Crumbling and brooding mansions and vacant storefronts serve as fleeting memories of nostalgia. With not much of a tourism draw, the town may have a long and slow recovery ahead of it.

For whatever reason, I always recall a peculiar story about this town when I drive through it. Dated in a relatively recent newspaper article from 2012, it talked about a mysterious middle aged man who once drove around town in a black Toyota pickup would ask people he would run into if they wanted to purchase some steak of chicken from the back of his truck, origins both unknown and ungiven. A police report was eventually filed, and as it turned out, the same guy reportedly broke into someone else’s house who also had a run in with the mysterious gentleman and refused to buy any meat.

This leaves a lot of questions about the suspicious meat. What kind of meat? Stolen Meat? Who knows I guess. As far as I know, no one seems to have complained about any further incidents…

Back to my story.

Fading Light

With the mine in sight, the question was, how were we going to get there? We had been driving for so long that we were working with 2 hours of remaining day light, if we were lucky. The mine’s location was also hidden (perhaps deliberately) from the center of town. There were a few dirt roads with tumbledown houses scattered around the property, but none lead us right to the front gates. But as my friend informed me, that was probably for the best.

An elderly gentleman and retired police officer has taken it upon himself to self righteously patrol and monitor the perimeter of the property and the mines themselves. Though he has never had an encounter with him, he had been warned to avoid him at all costs.

As it turns out, he was a fabled local character, known for his imposing – if not psychotic behavior. He carries a gun at all times and won’t think twice about calling the local police and the state police. So it looked like we’d have to backtrack through the woods, and see if we can get onto the property that way. The security forces here were infamous for prosecuting trespassers within the fullest extent of the law possible, without exceptions, so we took every precaution we could.

Walking up a steep clay bank with trees battering our faces, my camera gear weighing me down a bit, we finally reached the now defunct railroad bed that cut through the woods towards the mines. “If we follow this, we should come out right behind it” my friend informed me. He seemed a little unsure about this, but I figured it’d be easy enough to get back to the road if we failed. So off we went, constantly swatting at the low tree branches that hung their claws over the old railroad bed. That must of been a comical site for a stealthy deer hunter. 2 lumbering guys with a good amount of camera equipment awkwardly stumbling through the woods.

After 20 minutes of walking or so, we were met with a surprise. We stood at the top of a rather deep trench, with steep clay banks and a tangled mass of weeds, rocks and sludge at the bottom. It seemed like it was the work of some sort of flash flood, and it was a very strange coincidence that it just so happened to follow the perimeter of the abandoned mine. We knew we’d have to climb down and climb up the other side if we wished to continue.

On the other side, we continued walking the old railroad beds, the sun was now beginning to set behind the mountainous piles of tailings at our sides. Then suddenly we saw something ahead of us, the silhouette of rusted pipes that stretched far above ground level. We had arrived. On the left of us was a small cinder block cabin, with rusted mesh work drilled over its broken windows, almost ensnared completely by the fall foliage. Inside the crumbling shack was a magnificent old scale which sat alone in the shadows. Above me was the rusted husk  of some sort of steel building that was suspended far above my head, with only a dangerous rusted ladder as access. As it turned out, it was far too unsafe to climb on, so I stayed on the ground.

the washout had exposed old rusted pipes that were left exposed and dangling over the gap. climbing up and down the banks was terrible, as the earth kept sliding beneath our feet.
the washout had exposed old rusted pipes that were left exposed and dangling over the gap. climbing up and down the banks was terrible, as the earth kept sliding beneath our feet.

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Just ahead was another interesting find – a large pile of discarded twisted scrap tin was left littering the side of the trail, stretching ahead of us for an impressive distance.
Just ahead was another interesting find – a large pile of discarded twisted scrap tin was left littering the side of the trail, stretching ahead of us for an impressive distance.

A few yards down the trail and the looming shapes of the mine buildings began to take form, towering far above my head, their colors almost lost to the heavy purple skies above. This was far larger then I had thought it would be. Now my excitement was growing, there was so much to see and so little time. Not wanting to feel rushed, but wanting to try to get as much shooting in as possible, we began to investigate. The rusted tin, weathered cinder blocks and massive round silos all competed for attention. Each building was very large, the broken windows allowing some of the darkened interior to bleed out. It was almost overwhelming. Which one first? Do we go inside now, or do we walk around outside a little more and get exterior shots? Now a new thought entered my mind. The woods had grown into a startling stillness that I had never heard until then. The entire property was silent, the only noises were the wind occasionally blowing some rusted tin which echoed through the industrial catacombs of the interiors. It was an imposing place. Trudging cautiously, we made our way up to a rusted steel door that was left ajar. That was going to be our entrance inside. However, when my friend opened the door, a large steel pipe that had been propped on the top fell downwards and smashed against the hard concrete floor below, making a thunderous sound that danced through the empty warehouses and rusted steel catwalks. I bet every hunter in the area heard that noise. The worried look on my friends face told me something was wrong. “It’s a booby trap” he told me in a whisper. “That guy I told you about, he set up booby traps to ensure people won’t trespass. shit!” Though I didn’t say anything, I had to admire his cleverness. A sound that loud he would have undoubtedly heard. I expected within a few minutes we’d hear the roar of an ATV coming our way, accompanied by a guy who just might kill us. We waited with hushed breath, not making a move. And no one came. Coming to a mutual understanding, we tried the door again, this time letting the giant metal pipe down gently and quietly as possible. The second time proved to be more successful, and we quickly yet carefully darted into the shadowy interior.

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The adrenaline tapered off as we soon became one with the growing shadows of the night, the only company was the giant rusted machinery and the ghosts of the past that still lurked around – some for haunting, and some aching to be missed. There was a lot to photograph inside, you couldn’t help not be overwhelmed and anxious. Rusted pipes forming great geometric angles, filthy broken windows letting in mixed amounts of fading light, giant rusted gears and wheels and the skeletons of old converter belts that branched out into the bowels of the complex. It was simply fascinating.

And that’s when we heard it. The indisputable sound of a firing engine somewhere at the top of the hill. The low but aggressive humming went on for a few minutes as we waiting in the shadows, trying to assess the situation. Then, silence. Not wasting another minute, we creeped back out the door and scanned the area. We saw no one. At this point the sun was setting, and we knew we’d need any remaining daylight to get back to the car.

As we made our way out, we heard another sound. The sound of a barking dog carried through the hills and dales, fading into the evening. That was never a good sign, so we immediately began our hike back down the tracks. At this point, we weren’t sure if we were hearing a hunting dog, or a tracking dog. We couldn’t exactly tell where the barking was coming from, so all we could do is cautiously and hastily press onward towards the car. The barking grew louder and closer, but we still couldn’t pin point where it was coming from. We began to walk faster, now strenuously scanning the woods in vain hopes to find it before it found us. Then, to make matters more interesting, we heard yet another sound. This one was long and filled with sorrow – its haunting bellows burned through the trees. I had no idea what it was, some sort of Wilhelm Scream being carried from somewhere out of sight. It was certainly enough to leave a bad feeling over my trembling skin.

Close Encounters

After a long grueling hike, we finally made it back to the car, and just as we thought luck was on our side, we heard the sound of an approaching vehicle. Pulling out from behind the trees at the top of the hill, the large Ford truck gained speed before parking directly in front of our car, blocking us in. Wasting no time, a late middle aged man got out, wearing a baseball cap, a faded flannel and some jeans, and he immediately began to get confrontational.

“Just what the fuck do you think you’re doing here?” He spat. “This is private property, you’re all trespassing, and that’s a criminal offense” He was all spitfire, his eyes deep set and intimidating. I already knew, this was the guy I had heard so much about.

My friend and I cautiously and slowly explained ourselves, trying to dilute the situation. “We’re photographers” I stated as, trepidation began to set in, but he remained silent, never breaking his accusatory stare. “We were interested in those old railroad tracks over there and the foliage. We’re sorry…we didn’t realize this was private property, there were no posted signs…”

He interrupted. “Trespassing is trespassing. There doesn’t need to be any signs. In New York, walking on anyone’s land is trespassing. You know, I’m buddies with all the state police up here, I can just call one of my buddies now and have your car impounded. Better yet, you fuckers can all spend the night in the Moriah Jail” Again, we calmly stood our ground and tried to diffuse the situation. In events like this, I’ve learned that the best tools are how you conduct yourself. Try to appear friendly, transparent, and interested in whatever they had to say, while not making them feel threatened or in danger. If you can make the confrontee feel valued and important, there is more of a chance that you get to walk away from the situation with little to no consequences.

After several back and forths between us, his eyes turned to our cameras. His anger had subsided a little bit, but not by much. “You guys like taking pictures so much? Ok – I’ll give you something beautiful to shoot” We stared at him, now caught off guard, the anticipation was horrible. What was going on?

“Head down the road, take a left at the four way, then take your third left, and go about a mile down that road. There’s a hill there and you can see across the lake and into Vermont. You can even see the bridge from there. Best view in town. If you like taking your fucking pictures so much, you should go there”

We smiled at him and thanked him for the good idea, and for a brief second, a small smile crept on his face, only to vanish just as quickly. “Yeah, well, get out of here and go take your pictures. Don’t let me catch you here again” he snarled, trying to be intimidating again, and took off in his truck, speeding back up the hill, until we lost sight of it around a curve.

As it turns out, we only were able to see about 1/5th of the property. Fleeting daylight, under preparation and suspicious noises all contributed to a hasty retreat, and given the circumstances, we sadly decided not to plan a return trip. But something positive was gained here, hopefully making our future trips successful with the added knowledge and experience that were gained.

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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 Elgin Springs Remedy

In 1850, Hiram Allen would discover Elgin Spring on his property near Vergennes, and knew he had found a way to turn a profit during the spring hotel craze of the antebellum age, a popular therapeutic treatment at that time.

He built an elegant Greek Revival addition onto his cottage style farmhouse and turned his property into a boardinghouse, located on the crest of sloping pasture lands, with a beautiful view fading into the rugged Adirondacks in the distance.  The waters from the spring were peddled to patrons for their supposed medicinal properties, and among many things, were said to “purify blood”.

An analysis of Elgin Springs written in 1889 describes the springs to be so perfect in character that they were encouraged to be comparable to other famous springs across the globe.

“The analysis of Elgin Waters” – May 1st, 1889
“The analysis of Elgin Waters” – May 1st, 1889

But as with most health crazes, it came and went. The business prospered for 20 years until 1870 when it closed for good. After that, it became a private residence and changed hands until the 1970s. By then, the house had been deteriorating due to neglect as the years passed.

The town of Panton eventually condemned it, which is the reason for its abandonment. The current family who owns the property used the house for salvageable materials – selling off pieces of the house to people that wanted period details for their own house renovations. They have apparently been approached a few times by curious people wishing to purchase the property, but the family doesn’t wish to sell it.

Today, the people who used to sing their praises here have long been dust and bones, and a walk around the property is waltzing through memories, playing those sad songs like they were alive.

It was a white hot Vermont afternoon when I came across this wild abandoned house. Everything was in bloom, the plants wearing a brilliant green that was under competing blissful cerulean skies. The house sat pretty close to the wide shoulder of 22A, a thunderous roar of cars coming at a constant pace, traveling the long distance between Vergennes and Fair Haven. But we might have otherwise been in another world, the thick amount of foliage that had began to grow over the house provided ample invisibility from passersby. It was a magnificent house, it’s elegance still golden. Though what had been left behind was sparse, there was just enough for the imagination to latch onto.

Though it was once a hotel, it was the bones of a private residence I was exploring. The ruins of the interior retained all its original character, and though what had been left behind was sparse, there was just enough for the imagination to latch onto.

The whole place was practically being ensnared by vines and trees, adding a surrealistic quality to its decayed beauty. It was almost like mother nature was trying to demolish this place herself, saying its future was gone, using her roots and plants to pull this house down towards the earth, reclaiming what was once hers.

The springs that brought folks out this way over a decade ago were nowhere to be found either. Though I wasn’t that familiar with the property boundaries and was more concerned about getting caught trespassing out in the open.

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The Carriage Barn
The Carriage Barn

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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

 

The Walloomsac Inn

It’s a point of pride for a community to be able to call themselves the home of something, or boast themselves as a standout locality. Bennington’s tourism slogan bills itself as “Where Vermont begins”, and that’s pretty accurate. The sizable town is located on the right angle that creates Vermont’s southwest corner, 6 miles from both the Massachusetts and New York state borders on U.S. Route 7, the most traveled road in the state.

Bennington is the type of town that probably prefers to be known for its verdant scenery, state-mandated lack of billboards and quaintness with a pricey college and liberal vibe. But more cryptically, it’s also another gateway – to the state’s fabled Bennington Triangle, a vast area of mountainous wilderness to the northeast of town where people have been known to disappear without a trace. Though the “Bennington Triangle” won’t appear on Google maps or a Rand McNally atlas, Old Bennington certainly will.

The area of town known as Old Bennington is just that – it’s the oldest settled part of town, and an official historic district located on state Route 9 west of the present day Downtown. Probably the most identifiable landmark in a neighborhood of colonial-era homes, old burial yards and white picket fences, is a brooding structure towering behind a veil of trees and creeping vines. This locale upholds as my favorite sight in town. Maybe because it looks like it doesn’t belong right in the epicenter of the tourist hub historic district that prides itself on aesthetics, or maybe it’s because it holds a great mystic to it.

It’s sagging porches and balconies and weather-beaten wood facade with crooked shutters conjuring a wistful image that carries the weight of its ghosts. The building successfully drew my attention, and apparently every other passing car, as many slowed down in front of me to take a better look at the place before speeding up back to the legal limit and heading down the hill towards downtown. So, what is this place? Its appearance is so galvanizing that it’s impossible not to go woolgathering when you gaze at its gray entropy and wild vines against the idyllic clean whiteness of the clapboard church that sits just at the other end of the corner.

You’re staring at the ruins of The Walloomsac Inn, once a venerable hotel with a storied legacy, now an intriguing eye magnetic corpse that mystifies and takes your attention successfully.

However, despite appearances, it’s not abandoned. The family who owned the hotel in the last years of its life, still live there. I recall hearing a story where, years ago, a writer for the Bennington Banner ventured to the front door to check the place out, and was not so pleasantly surprised when the owner greeted them.

So, what’s the story here? The Bennington Museum website turned out to be a great source of information. The hotel has the distinction of being the oldest in Vermont, something most people would probably never guess. Dated back to 1771, the mystery immediately begins with its construction. Popular wisdom states that it was built by Elijah Dewey, son of Bennington’s first minister, but others have said that claim is false, leaving it up for speculation, but from my research, the inn was first run by the Dewey family. The original structure still stands today, the part directly facing the cemetery, which also happens to be the part of the hotel that is still currently inhabited.

In 1818, the inn was purchased by James Hicks and his family and became known as Hicks Tavern. The tavern doubled as a stagecoach stop, and because the journey to and from New York was a long one, taking around four days to complete, its location proved to be good for business. Hicks eventually enlarged the building in 1823, adding the third floor and installing a ballroom on the second floor.

The Inn grew in popularity until 1848 when the railroad came to the region, ending stagecoach travel. While many herald the railroad as a cause for celebration, Bennington was served by something called a “corkscrew line”, operated by the Rutland Railroad, which is as terrifying as it sounds. The stretch of tracks were known for their “spectacular derailments“, which probably weren’t as celebrated. The inn was purchased by George Wadsworth Robinson, who changed its name to Walloomsac House, after the river of the same name which runs nearby. But business was never quite as successful as it was during the stagecoach era, when travelers would arrive at its doorstep, so in a vain effort to attract summer visitors, Robinson constructed observatory towers on nearby Mt. Anthony, which would have offered impressive views of 3 mountain ranges; The Greens, Berkshires and Taconics. Unfortunately, the mountain’s high winds often blew them over and because putting people’s lives at risk is bad for business, the idea was abandoned. Eventually, the hotel changed hands again, this time it was bought by Mrs. Mary Sanford Robinson and her brother, Samuel Sanford.

In 1891 Sanford hired a proprietor named Walter Berry, who after five years was able to purchase the inn and it has been owned by the Berry family ever since. Walter Berry decided to expand the hotel, and added the large three-and-a-half-story addition on the rear of the original building, which is probably the most photographed part of the hotel.

The hotel operated sluggishly until around 1996, the property closed for good, and time has sadly not been kind to it. I spoke to a few people who recall staying there during the 80s, and gave me descriptions of the place being dusty, run down and musty, with sort of an uncomfortable feeling attached to it.

If this blog has been able to prove anything, it’s that things fade with time and neglect – the Walloomsac wasn’t immune to that rule, and continues to deteriorate for all to see. The current owners most likely can’t afford the massive bill to fix it up, and state historic preservation regulations no doubt have provided a massive obstacle to deal with, but its state of limbo is a rather curious one. The information on the internet is surprisingly sparse.

I can only imagine what the inside must look like. Are there dark and musty hallways and ancient guest rooms covered in dust and disarray? Does sunlight swirl through the gaps in the broken shutters, making linear patterns on the dirty walls? Or perhaps it has been renovated and cleared over the years, leaving only the shell? Or maybe, the grungy outsides are hiding a lavish interior, which would be a great joke and a lesson on judgment all in one.

A friend of mine, who has an obsession with the old hotel, had stopped in Bennington in May of 2015 and wrote me an email with some further clarification about its condition.

The hotel’s current owners, descendants of the Berry family, are merely following instructions of the family will, which stated that no one is to touch the building, and to leave it as is. But, it seems they may have took it a little too seriously! While it may look like it’s going to collapse, another bit of research revealed that underneath the wry expression of its decrepit clapboard siding, the hotel is actually made of brick underneath, which is why the building is showing almost no sign of slumping or bowing into a shape that would rattle a state inspector. That was something that amazed me on my first visit.

While the old hotel, rotting in the middle of town, has a pretty storied history behind it, I sort of enjoyed the place more when it was enigmatic to me, and left my mind to its own devices.

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View from Route 9. The original 1771 structure (with front porch) and the newer addition in the back left.
View from Route 9. The original 1771 structure (with front porch) and the newer addition in the back left.

I stopped by again during summer’s last days of 2016 and got some more photographs. I will never object to making a jaunt here for a photo opportunity, it’s one of my favorite haunts in Vermont, and that day, a storm I was racing just happened to catch up with me outside, giving the place, and my photographs, some great atmosphere.

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Years ago, I had the pleasure of befriending Stuart Clough in an urbex related Facebook group. We both had similar interests and personalities and just clicked. I long left that group because of the childish drama that seems to run through the veins of the exploration community, but I’ve kept in touch with a few great people, including Stuart. He is also interested in the Walloomsac, and actually got his hands on an old book that featured both its history and photographs of the inside! He graciously scanned the photos and sent them my way, which I was incredibly excited about.  Thanks Stuart!

The Most Interesting Statue in Bennington

A passing thunderstorm was making its way over The Green Mountains, and the air became noticeably cooler, as a pungent earthy smell rode the winds that blew. The Walloomsac Inn underneath dark thunderheads certainly looked like the stereotypical haunted house.

Back in the car, myself and a good friend joining me for a road trip headed back towards Route 7, but stopped when we saw a startling statue in front of the Bennington Museum that looked all kinds of infelicitous. We pulled into the parking lot to get a better look, and I had no idea what I was staring at. A giant bronze statue of Abraham Lincoln with his green-ish weathered hands placed on the head of two naked companions, one of them a small child. What?

I’m sure there had to be a story here. Later on, Seven Days would come to my aid and answer the question behind this puzzling statue. As it turns out, the sculpture, designed by Clyde du Vernet Hunt, was actually intended to be more uplifting rather than suggestive.

In a nutshell, the two people kneeling in front of honest Abe were taken from two other sculptures he had commission earlier, the boy came from a piece called “Fils de France,” which depicted a naked boy gazing into the distance in his own reverie, was supposed to symbolize France’s rebirth. The girl came from his piece, “Nirvana”, which is said to represent “spiritual emancipation from passion, hatred, and delusion.” The figure of Abraham Lincoln was sculpted in 1920, and he made the unfortunate decision of combining the three pieces together, thus creating “The American Dream” – the official name of the sculpture. Maybe it’s just me, or maybe Clyde really missed the point he was going for.

The statue has become a landmark, but probably not like the artist would have wanted. Instead of a symbol for the virtuous, it acts as a novelty to teenagers who take their pictures with it. But I suppose, art is subjective.

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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