Off The Beaten Path in Southern Vermont

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

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

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

Somerset

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Glastenbury

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Middie Rivers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Forks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Things worth mentioning:

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

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

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

—————————————————————————————————————————————–

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

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

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

Donate Button with Credit Cards

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

The Franklin County Wolf Monument

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—————————————————————————————————————————————–

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

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

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

Donate Button with Credit Cards

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

Hogback Mountain and A 100 Mile View

Queen Connie

Vermont’s roads are pretty regulated, so there isn’t much here in terms of weird or kitschy personalized properties that people like to put into the broad category of roadside Americana – which includes a perpetually growing compilation of the same genre (nonstandardized) but vary widely in sentiment and imagery.

But, that doesn’t mean obscurities can’t be found along Vermont’s byways. Take the tiny farm town of Leicester, whose most famous denizen can be seen lumbering over the small oval-shaped lawn of Pioneer Auto Sales, right along the side of Route 7 either before or after you approach the tiny village center – which is pretty much an intersection with a few houses and a newly reopened gas station that now has a growler filling station.

“Queen Connie”, which it’s sometimes referred as when it’s not called “that big gorilla holding the VW bug”, is a huge 20-ft. tall, 16 ton, concrete ape, holding up a progressively rotting Volkswagon Beetle in one of her upraised arms, while the other arm is stretched out, palm upward, acting as a place where someone could grab an uncomfortable seat and a gimmicky photo opportunity.

But how did something like Queen Connie end up in aesthetic conscious Vermont? And what’s the story behind it? Actually, the answer is pretty straight forward – according to what I was told anyways. The owner of the car dealership had commissioned local artist T.J. Neil to do some concrete work around his pool at home. He was impressed with Neil’s work, and casually suggested another project; to do something cool to spruce up his business. Neil surprised him by suggesting a hyperbolized gorilla – his only reason was because he wanted to see it holding up a car. In 1987, Queen Connie was constructed using steel reinforced concrete, and she’s been observing activity on Route 7 with a disgruntled facial expression ever since, and for Vermonters who are into the weird, might be one of their first forays into oddity hunting.

Though I’m glad Vermont isn’t carelessly overdeveloped like other states, emblems like this are a pejorative thing to build here in the present tense, so it makes it all the more enjoyable.

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Your blogger and local weird worker, posing for a photo.

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Up The Molly Stark Trail

I was heading down to explore parts of southern Vermont with a friend. My summer turned into a lot of stress and setbacks, and I felt like my life was becoming as standard as my white apartment walls. My prescription was a long drive, and the lure of autumn’s sway just makes road trips better. Passing through my favorite town of Wallingford always cures a frown on my face, and as we got farther south and the trees began to turn gold in the hills around Mount Tabor and Dorset, I enthusiastically recalled a defunct marble quarry I hiked to last summer.

Route 7 turns into a limited access highway through most of Bennington County, until it reverts back to full access in Bennington and brings you right into its historic downtown district, the center of town being where it intersects with state route 9. I took a quick jaunt up the hill to the Old Bennington neighborhood to take a few photos of one of my favorite buildings in Vermont, The Walloomsac Inn, then ventured up route 9 eastwards into the mountains.

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The Walloomsac Inn, my favorite haunt in Bennington.

Route 9, also known as The Molly Stark Trail or The Molly Stark Byway as the state issued scenic byway signs tell you –  is one of my favorite drives in Vermont, and the same sentiment could probably be said for quite a few other people. It’s an extraordinary road to gawk at through the windshield of your car, and even better when you’re stopping to get out and look around. The mountain road twists and turns through the innards of the national forest and gains elevation and grade pretty much as soon as you get beyond Bennington’s limits as it starts to climb the first of many hills and parallels the boulder filled Walloomsac River. To be honest, lots of things on this road vie for your attention.

A sense of awe and anticipation builds in me when I see a trademark brown and white national forest sign, telling drivers that there are various access spaces to Vermont’s Green Mountain National Forest for the next 15 miles or so. That includes the massive Glastenbury wilderness, one of Vermont’s largest undeveloped areas, but more known for the titular defunct town and about 2 centuries worth of weirdness that culminated on its many slopes and took off like a contagion shotgun blast into paranormal sensationalism. But it”s hard not to be fascinated by the large expanse of wilderness. The huge area holds ghost towns, a slew of trails and forest roads, man-made feats of engineering, and plenty of mysteries. Just ask the Geocaching community.

We passed through forested Woodford, the highest town in elevation in Vermont at around 2,215 feet, then descended into Wilmington. Which is where I unintentionally found some local curio. A green 1915 iron truss bridge first caught my eye, because it was obviously abandoned, as indicated by all the trees growing through it. The underwhelming replacement was a simple concrete and steel span that bridged the river inches away. As I was gazing at the bridge, I noticed a strange white sign across the bridge that was put up on a small weedy embankment that welcomed me to “Medburyville”, and gave me a precise census of 31 people and 26 pets who I guess lived somewhere nearby in the rural area.

I was at a loss here. The area around the sign was pretty much an undeveloped light wilderness area, and I knew that we had already crossed the Woodford/Wilmington town line. I’m a pundit on Vermont geography and had never heard of Medburyville before, so I was pretty curious. What was/is Medburyville? A local parody or some kind of irony? A name of an obscure back road Wilmington neighborhood?

My camera was acting up, so looks like Google street view will have to suffice for an image of the sign.
My camera was acting up, so looks like Google street view will have to suffice for an image of the sign.

I was curious if there was a mystery or story here, so I sent an email to the Wilmington Historical Society. In their reply, Julie Moore explained that Medburyville was a village in Wilmington, but was erased when the Harriman Reservoir was constructed for the purpose of flood control. There was a mill, several houses and a railroad line that ran through the area at one point.

Today there is only a small aluminum sign that raises more questions than answers. Just a few feet from what was/is the Medburyville area is a narrow arm of the aforementioned reservoir, which is experiencing pretty low water levels lately so it was more sandbars than water when I drove by. Local lore has it that when the reservoir is low, a slimy church steeple from the former village is exposed, but I didn’t see anything that day that looked out of place in a reservoir.

Another obscure footnote is that there once was a placename along the reservoir that had the post office address of “Surge Tank” – a name of a temporary settlement that sheltered the men who built the Harriman Reservoir dam that had it’s own recognized post office. The post office also moved around between Readsboro and Whittingham – depending on wherever construction was happening. I still see Surge Tank sometimes on obscure place name lists. Like Medburyville, Surge Tank is long gone, and without a sign to commemorate it.

Back on the road, the forests occasionally break up a little and you got a positioning glimpse that you were right in the middle of the green mountain chain. Unlike some parts of Vermont where a high elevation isn’t surrounded by other mountains and instead reduces off into valleys, the mountains around Wilmington and Marlboro stretched as far as the vistas, with various 440 million-year eroded summits slanting into other rounded domes. A few “runaway truck ramps” with large yellow signs and rhythmic blinking lights were a reminder that the undulating byway had the potential to be more dangerous than scenic for other drivers, and judging by the scars and pit marks in one of them, it had been used recently.

The “100-Mile View”

But it was the so-called “100-mile view” in Marlboro that was the most impressive. I’m not sure if that name is superlative or not, but I suppose it doesn’t really matter because the view is awesome. From a large wooden deck with coin functioning viewing apparatuses for the tourist crowd, you can see what’s left of southern Vermont before it transitions into the Berkshire Hills, and the bumps of southern New Hampshire, including Mount Monadnock.

One of the ramshackle old lodging cabins from a deceased ski resort, which I was about to hike to, sits on the edge of a drop off below the overlook, and might be one of the most photographed site among the sights. I took a walk down, and there was a laminated sign taped to the twisting floorboards telling people like myself to keep out – it’s not actively maintained (as evident by the peeling paint) and can be dangerous if the building decides to tumble down the hill. But I was able to get a shot through a dusty old window along the side and gaze curiously at a few items of older furniture left inside.

I live in Vermont’s largest city, and dig the scene there, but sometimes my hometown is just too oversaturated with people for my taste. I really ache for having access to land like I did when I was younger, where I could go 4 wheeling and hiking and just let out the things storming in my mind. So my predilection was that I could sit on that porch all day or night and gaze off into the distance in my own reverie, listening to Gregory Alan Isakov albums. 

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It seems like I was racing storms all day as I traveled around the state yesterday. They finally caught up with me at the top of the Molly Stark Trail, one of Vermont’s most scenic byways. Someone once told me how the few street signs (mostly stop signs) in Greenland’s research bases and camp cities are completely coated with stickers. It’s a way to get the story of its visitors or inhabitants. Where you’re from, what you like, what you stand for, etc. I thought that was pretty cool, and remembered that when I saw the guardrail that hemmed in the road atop Hogback Mountain. Though that’s not quite the case in Vermont, I’ve seen a few guardrails covered in visitor mementos, many just confessing fannish love for various companies or organizations, alongside sharpied graffiti, names and dates. Appalachian Gap on state route 17 has a similar theme.

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The cluster of tourist buildings that sort of delineate the maximum height of land between Bennington and Brattleboro were all once a part of Hogback Mountain, a defunct ski area cut out of the slopes of Mount Olga which has mostly been recovered by nature.

Hiking Around Hogback Mountain

Hogback was one of the longest lasting family owned traditional ski resorts in the state, and arguably is one of the best lost ski areas in Vermont to explore, though you’d probably guess either of these things while driving by the few diminutive red buildings sitting in tangled underbrush along a slight rise above the wide shoulder of route 9. You’d probably never guess the property was even a ski hill unless you were able to catch the white lettering affixed to the former first aid building that reads “Hog ark Ski Area”, which in all honestly would be a memorable name for a functioning ski hill.

I decided to walk down from the overlook and have a look around at the property. Good thing I wore jeans – the land was wild with tangled undergrowth, and most likely, ticks. Having been bitten by one a month ago, I didn’t want to go through that debacle again. A few old buildings, the rusted bones of an old lift line and a squint-to-make-out overgrown ski trail could still be traced.

Vermont is the land of skiing (and snowboarding) and our pioneering ski hills ranged from extremely plain rope tow affairs to more detailed mom and pop establishments.

If you’re a New Englander, I’d say we’re pretty lucky to have a great site like the New England Lost Ski Area Project. Between that and the book Lost Ski Areas of Southern Vermont by Jeremy K. Davis, I got a startling impression of how many ski areas we once had just in the lower part of Vermont, and how many of them have been, well, lost.

Hogback Mountain itself seemed to be something special. The ski area warranted a pretty long chapter in Davis’s book and a long entry on NELSAP – considering other areas had merely a few sentences. It has a lot of history, so much I had to condense it a bit for the sake of keeping people reading this blog post.

The truth seemed to be that Hogback was envisioned by a community of people who loved skiing, and the consequences were real. Hogback opened for the 1946-47 ski season on prime real estate owned by Harold White, and was operated by the Hogback Mountain Ski Lift Company out of Brattleboro, as well as several of the families who owned the various businesses along route 9, like the White’s who owned the gift shop, the rental shop, the Marlboro Inn and other rental properties. The Douglass’s who were involved with the ski shop, and the Hamelton’s who were involved with the skyline restaurant.

It featured a Constam T-Bar which could move 900 skiers an hour and was the highest capacity lift in the country at the time. Old brochures and trail maps promote the ski hill’s location in Vermont’s “snow belt”, a high annual snowfall area of the Green Mountains which at the time, received an average of 120 inches. The Vermont winters of today are a bit more disparate.

Hogback’s highest elevation was about 2,400 feet (the base area being at around 1,900), which helped preserve the natural snowfall much better than lower area ski hills, which made it so beloved. I observed some older trail maps, and discovered that Hogback had a unique layout. You’d begin your day along route 9 where a hotel, gift shop and Skyline Restaurant were, and ride a rope tow to the practice slope, but intermediate or expert level skiers would have to transport over to a different face of the mountain to access the main T-Bar and more advanced trails.

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A trail map from the 1970s -Hogback Mountain had 12 trails to ride on. To give you an idea of the weird layout and a wayfinding point: number 21 is the first aid building, and below it is Route 9. The first aid building is abandoned and still visible from the road today. That is also where the practice slopes/beginners area was. The more advanced trails were over on another side of the mountain, where numbers 3, 4 and 6 are.

Over the years, the laid back ski hill caught enough popularity from a top notch ski school, excellent snowfall and a gorgeous mountain where skiers would admire spruce trees crusted in snow. In the 50s, it started to expand, and would continue that momentum through the 70s. More trails were cut down the slopes and made easier accessible by a Pomalift and the addition of 4 more Doppelmayr T-bars. There was also a Quonset Hut brought to the property that served as a ski-in snack hut.

Seriously, this place was a big deal. A lot of the history or accounts I read about the mountain was that plenty of southern Vermont kids learned to ski here. It also helped develop a local interest in ski races and became home to the Southern Vermont Racing Team. If a nearby community, like Brattleboro, had an outing club, they probably went to Hogback. The mountain developed a pretty enthusiastically devoted fanbase. The ski school changed instructors a few times over the decades, each new presence contributing to it in their own way.

One of my favorite images I found of Hogback. Love the front of those old cars parked along Route 9, with equipped skiers ready to ride. The hill was literally along the roadside. | Photo: UVM Landscape Change Program.
One of my favorite images I found of Hogback. Love the front of those old cars parked along Route 9, with equipped skiers ready to ride. The trails were literally along the roadside. | Photo: UVM Landscape Change Program.
People on skies at Hogback, circa 1953. I read stories about how wooden shacks were built around the property and used as warming huts, with pot belly stoves inside burning wood continuously. There were signs nearby warning skiers not to get too close. Several learned the hard way when the back of their nylon packs had melted off. | Photo: UVM Landscape Change Program
People on skies at Hogback, circa 1953. I read stories about how wooden shacks were built around the property and used as warming huts, with pot belly stoves inside burning wood continuously. There were signs posted nearby warning skiers not to get too close because of the heat. Several learned the hard way when the back of their nylon packs had melted off. | Photo: UVM Landscape Change Program
Skiers getting on a T-Bar, circa 1956. | Photo UVM Landscape Change Project.
Skiers getting on a T-Bar, circa 1956. | Photo UVM Landscape Change Project.
Skiers waiting in line. Sometime vaguely between 1930-1950. | Photo: UVM Landscape Change Program
Skiers waiting in line. Sometime vaguely between 1930-1950. | Photo: UVM Landscape Change Program
T-Bar lift, circa 1948. | Photo: UVM Landscape Change Program.
T-Bar lift, circa 1948. | Photo: UVM Landscape Change Program.

But towards the 1980s, snowfall began to change to a lack of snowfall. Between not enough natural snow to ski on, rising costs of operation and increasing competition from bigger resorts that were becoming more common on the scene in Vermont mountains, the small mom and pop ski hill eventually couldn’t compete. Hogback’s story is similar to most of Vermont’s lost ski areas. Not being able to compete or stay consistent, most of them became fading ghosts.

Abandoned ski hills are interesting real estate. What do you do with them? Some have subsumed away in the caprices of nature and others re-opened or became private operations. In Hogback’s case, the Vermont Land Trust and a group of adamant people worked pretty tirelessly over the years to secure the funds to purchase and secure the land to save it from becoming a condominium development with a marketed quintessential nature-esque type of name. The purchased acreage was then transferred over to the town of Marlboro, and the cool Hogback Mountain Conservation Area was the result. It’s now glorious protected land, with an abandoned ski hill in the middle that Vermonters can enjoy.

Some of the old ski trails are still maintained and pruned, so hikers, snowshoers and cross-country skiers can still enjoy them. Though, for me anyways, I found that finding those trails was a bit of a challenge.

To my delight and surprise combination, if you bushwhack through some waist-high tangle weeds and growth, you can still find some of the old ski trails, which were still hikable! Well, it’s subjective I guess, but I thought it was achievable. Using the linear rusted cables of the former chairlift as wayfinding points, I decided a short early autumn hike was a good idea. The trail oddly cleared out the farther up I climbed, until both the trail and the lift sort of ended in a blissful and fragrant silence. I was a little bummed I didn’t find an old chairlift or more paraphernalia. If I had gone up farther, I would have eventually stumbled upon the Mount Olga fire tower, which I’m told had splendid far reaching views. You can get there far easier than scrambling up Hogback Mountain, by hiking over via Molly Stark State Park. 

My list of places to visit in Vermont alone is so long, it’s hard to cross stuff off of. I’ll get up there one day.

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There were still old ski poles left behind in the first aid building
There were still old ski poles left behind in the first aid building

—————————————————————————————————————————————–

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

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

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

Donate Button with Credit Cards

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

 

Time Will Tell

Everything changes, a truth that I’ve always fought a stubborn battle with. This town, once rolled over and turned into a sought after destination built around its exploitable mineral springs, has since witnessed its appeal, it’s many hotels, and it’s identity all become ghosts.

In the 19th century, natural springs were discovered in a hollow near town that had high levels of sulfur, magnesium, and iron in them – which were thought to have medicinal properties if mixed just right – that exact recipe changing quite a bit over the intervening mineral springs craze period, depending on what serial publication you subscribed to. Some even professed that these waters were the equivalent to the fountain of youth. The village capitalized on that, and its efforts were successfully rifled.

In a time period in America where a sizable roster of traditions and foundational history were sparked and now only largely recalled – it’s main drag eventually became dressed up with handsome grand hotels that you’d expect to see from that era, many rising above 4 stories and wearing broad porches and clapboard facades as its reputation swelled to an estimated 10,000 visitors coming in every summer, including the likes of the Vanderbilt’s, which is a name everyone loves to tote about if they had any relation to their area.

Business and tourism stopped coming around during the roaring 20s and the depressed 30s, but after World War 2, the diminutive village was rolled over again by the Jewish community of New York City, who brazenly decided that if they were going to face discrimination in the area’s existing vacation towns, than they’d make a place of their own – and with the natural springs and a bunch of existing hotels and infrastructure, the village was opportune for investment.

But the area and its springs were recanted by the 1980s, and it’s increasingly run down appearance as well as the construction of an interstate highway miles north that moved traffic away from the village, only helped to make it forsaken. What hasn’t been torn down today of those aforementioned hotels were left to transition into decrepitude, and strangely memorialize a haunting tradition of wreck that has plagued more than this town. The village today is pretty archetypal small-town America, it’s just littered with a surprising number of abandoned hotels that mark time and make us pause. Unlike many small towns out east – it was built using the grid system like you’d find a city or planned development to be oriented like. That arrangement accounts for the number of bathhouses and hotels that were once packed in the ravine the community sits in. But today – many of these bygone structures have been torn down because of how dangerous they got, leaving many of the “blocks” as wood lots occasionally interrupted by a stop sign. I liked all the patches of forest in between some pleasantly up-kept old houses, it gave the area lots of character.

I had traveled a few hours out of Vermont to explore one of the remaining ruins, a forsaken property ensnared by sickly looking pines that were once intended to landscape, now left to their own devices and slowly intend on consuming the unattended street the large structure molders on.

From what I was able to dig up, it was built around 1927 as a sister hotel to a much more opulent establishment behind it, now also in ruins. But, this was intended more as a long stay property. Guests here would rent rooms by the week or month. When you checked in, you were given two sets of keys. One for your room, and another to a kitchen unit across the hall. It seems most floors, apart from the fourth floor had them. This may have also been an afterthought – as a desperate attempt at a creative solution when business began its slow descent and they found themselves with a surplus of hotel rooms that weren’t generating profit. It seems that the business kind of limped along towards its later years, in a weird fluctuating state of wondering if it was alive or dead, just barely making it into the 21st century before closing in 2004.

Having a bummer of an experience a few years ago at another abandoned hotel in this town when I was chased away by a very disgruntled woman who power walked out her front door with four dogs on a leash and howled at us a reminder of how we were trespassing, I was really hoping for a good experience this time around.

Meeting up with a good compadre from my college days, whose meetups always seems to happen inside a smelly abandoned building of some sort, we set off for an adventure.

It started off awkward, which turned my nerves up a bit loud. This is the kind of burb that everyone takes the time to look at you suspiciously or slow down their car when you walk by if you’re not a local. But after getting off the main drag, things got pretty quiet, and though it was already a hot and sultry evening, there was a slight breeze that brought the perfume of wildflowers. I read somewhere that the springs still made the town smell like “rotten eggs”, but I didn’t detect that at all. I’m a little sorry I missed the springs themselves because I was later told that there is a dipper handy at the sulfur springs near one of the old bath houses, and you can still sample them today.

Getting in proved to be a bit more challenging than anticipated. But then again, I did say I wanted an adventure. After climbing up a wobbly and very evidently out of code fire escape while doing some acrobatic maneuvers that might have vaguely impressed a free climber, we found ourselves stepping carefully over the threshold into a completely different atmosphere.

The silent interior immediately began to smother us with its festering rot, exhaust from its past and advancing water damage. The floors ebbed and groaned beneath our feet as our boots sank into the stretched, threadbare carpets. We actually spent a good 5 minutes or so debating whether we actually wanted to enter or not, because the floors were so deceptively sketchy. This was not the kind of place you wanted to find yourself injured and incapacitated inside of. But, because you’re reading this blog post, that means we decided the reward was greater than the risk.

Once we got away from the northern section of the building, conditions were surprisingly disparate. Rooms were strange time capsules, in decent states of preservation. It was fun scrutinizing over mid-century furniture, beds, rotary phones and even nob television sets that could still be observed, and better yet, mildly free of vandalism. Clothes, blankets, bars of soap, and other miscellany had been left behind. Most of the doorways had transoms, another feature which you don’t see in modern construction. Many of the bathrooms didn’t have bathing facilities though, and the ones that did were only stand up showers. I read that patrons would do that at the springs, I guess.

There was a heaviness to the place that I just couldn’t describe. Me and my friend both exclaimed that our good moods grew cold and were replaced by a feeling of depression. The narrow hallways, cramped rooms and perpetual shadow that fell on the building built a rather grim atmosphere that looked so gone and hollow, only reinforced by its ugly outdated decor that seemed to bring a big broken heart of an existence.

I had heard from a few other friends and explorers that his hotel was shockingly preserved, thanks to it being very unknown in the emergent “urbex” frenzy of the internet. I even saw striking pictures online of a clean front desk with house plants still sitting on its countertop – it made the hotel look like it was simply closed for the weekend as opposed to years. But when I tromped around, it seems that this place too eventually fell victim to the less respectable aspects of human nature. Entire stretches of authentic tin ceiling, a feature of old buildings which I really love, had been pulled down. We didn’t see it on the floors, so I assume it was scrapped and sold for cash. Decor like light fixtures, an ugly yet obligatorily photographable landmark piano and the front desk had been clobbered. Some features, like an original old fashioned elevator with grate doors and a brawny yet ornate safe was still more or less in great condition and tucked away in the dark innards of the hotel.

But it was the relics from the place’s operational days that gave us a weird impression. Though we were only amateur archaeologists, we had noticed there were several signs that had been taped to walls around the hotel, all handwritten by the same person. The signs, now water stained and curling at their corners, were either yelling at guests or yelling at employees, with words like “no” capitalized and triple underlined, which added a bit of discomfort to the place. I have no idea what sort of place this was in its heyday, but finding all these signs made me assume that in its last days, it seemed like a drab, down on your luck sort of experience. I bet Anthony Melchiorri would have made a disapproving beeline towards the general manager’s office if he read one of those signs.

Every level up the grand staircase was a bit more to bear. The fourth floor was nauseating. It was 92 degrees outside, but upstairs the mercury was boiling towards 100, and the air was stale and fetid, making our breaths labored and my eyes water. Hornets seemed to have colonized the upper levels, coming through structural instability and it’s broken wooden windows. Plenty of them were swarming around us as we attempted to explore the upper corridors.

We wound up putting some arm muscle into opening one of the old wooden windows, which hideously groaned in their frames and sent a dusting of grit and lead paint down on our shoulders, but the fresh air coming in from outside was wonderfully refreshing. Far more than it’s view. We appeared to be looking at the inside of the “U” shape of the building, and from that perspective, we could see just how bad the exterior damage was. To my disorientation, it was still pretty bright outside. The inside gave no impression of that due to just how dark it was already getting. As we descended back down the stairwell, I could see the crumbling form of another abandoned hotel from the dirty windowpanes, just over the treeline. This may be one of the only places I’ve visited where you can see more than one abandoned property from another abandoned property.

We left when the shine of the sun wasn’t reaching its way in anymore, and the black vibes came. The talked about restoration of a grander hotel just north of it suggested completely razing this property in its new set of plans, for a parking lot. Structurally, I think the only sensible move would be to demolish it. Though I’m all for preservation, this building is now far too gone. But these rumors have been circulating for years, and the hotel still stands.

I really needed this explore. I needed to get revved up about something and be underneath a spell that only the intoxication of an adventure can bring my way. If you’ve seen my Stuck in Vermont video interview, I talked about how and why this activity, this hobby, is meaningful to me. And this road trip really served as a valuable reminder. I had been losing my wits underneath suffering some terrible anxiety the past weeks, and this was such a relief.

Exploring educates me about several things, and often the stories and nuances of the places featured in my blog parallel the human experience. At least I find. Like the atmosphere of a place you explore affecting you, we are imbibed by our weather, as are the people around us. I flourish in the presence of passion and love, and when I’m doing my thing, I wear that grin and those cherry bombs on my sleeve for all to see. I’ve learned that anxiety doesn’t get me anywhere, but I feel it anyway. Sometimes, like this hotel or other places finding themselves inducted into the fables of the fallen, you can’t be entirely responsible for your own fate. And maybe most prevalent, life always moves on and our stories are always more connected than distance implies. There’s a story to every corner of these places.

Post card prime, date unknown. via cardcow.com

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

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Cemetery Safaris and Green Mountain Memento Mori.

Legacy is one of those nouns that we as humans are all united by. While all of us will leave some sort of mark behind, many of us mull over just what that will be. How will you be remembered?

Some of us make our mark in life through death, and on rare occasions, certain people achieve beyond that and find themselves exhibitioners of the long sought after status of immortality. Humans have collectively been searching for ways to cheat our other unity as a species since we first came into existence; death. And I have to say, we’re a pretty creative bunch, and have gone about it in a variety of forms that are sure to keep anthropologists and storytellers like myself pretty busy with the secrets that they keep. More interestingly – it’s actually been achieved before, but not quite in the way that we might have expected it, that is, it was successful after the postmortem.

Sometimes these surviving inclusions of this manifesto can be found in your local cemetery, memorialized in crafted monuments and in the psyche of regional denizens until enough time has passed for history to forget – if it ever does. Often, someone’s final resting place is our immortal legacy, and what has been left behind is what lives on for generations after our physical bodies return to the earth we’re buried in. The same concept can be said for the forsaken places I explore.

Vermont isn’t short of memorable memorialsm, a few of which I’ve highlighted in this blog post. Ethan Allen’s landmark grave in Burlington is a soaring vanity project of the state’s most pronounced hero, commemorated with a giant spindly pedestal topped by a rather valiant looking life sake statue of Allen himself, standing his limited ground mute and stubbornly. But the real mind boggle is that no one is sure if Ethan Allen is actually buried underneath his own monument, and if he’s not, where did he wind up?

Thanks to a 19th century Middlebury millionaire who was striving to start a cabinet of curiosities to aww his wealthy friends with, there is now a 4,000-year-old Egyptian mummy buried in Middlebury’s west cemetery. And, there is rumored to be a forgotten cemetery near Fays’ Corners where all of its inhabitants unintentionally became members of the exclusive club of dead remembered as they wound up as opposed to who they were, at the end of their line. The cemetery was long ago removed by a local farmer who wanted to expand his haying field. The graves were later returned, or at least re-propped back up, but the farmer had forgotten their original orientation, so he lined them up alphabetically. Today the tiny bone yard is shrouded in shadow light cast in all directions by the woods that have reclaimed the surrounding land.

In Middlebury's West Cemetery, a innocuous headstone has some rather strange markings. For example, the date of death is 1883, B.C! An error on the stonecutter's part, right? Nope. This is the grave of Amun-Her-Khepesh-Ef, Vermont's only royal figure, the 2 year old son on an ancient Egyptian king. But how did he wind up in Addison County? We have Henry Sheldon to thank, who over a century ago bought the mummy from a dealer in New York. A wealthy man and local oddities collector, he wanted the mummy to be the focal point of an ostentatious cabinet of curiosities he was building. But the mummy was in worse condition than the dealer said it was in, so he wound up disappointedly stashing it in his attic. It was rediscovered in 1945 by a curator of the related Sheldon museum. George Mead, head of the museum's board of directors, decided the best thing to do was to give the mummy a Christian burial by cremation and then buried the ashes in his family plot in West Cemetery, kinda like an adoption.
This is the grave of Amun-Her-Khepesh-Ef, Vermont’s only royal figure, the 2-year-old son of an ancient Egyptian king. But how did he wind up in Addison County? We have Henry Sheldon to thank, who over a century ago bought the mummy from a dealer in New York. A wealthy man and local oddities collector, he wanted the mummy to be the focal point of an ostentatious cabinet of curiosities he was building. But the mummy was in worse condition than the dealer said it was in, so he wound up disappointedly stashing it in his attic. It was rediscovered in 1945 by a curator of the related Sheldon museum. George Mead, head of the museum’s board of directors, decided the best thing to do was to give the mummy a Christian burial by cremation and then buried the ashes in his family plot in West Cemetery, kinda like an adoption.
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Fays’ Corners Cemetery, photograph by Kali Yuga. Used with permission.

“Black Agnes”

But perhaps one of the most infamous grave sites in Vermont is the monument of John E. Hubbard in Montpelier’s Green Mount Cemetery. But it’s the curse that is attached to his monument that has earned its reputation with paranormal aficionados who chase such tales, and gave me a reason to visit it’s whereabout graveyard. As a matter of fact, my own interest in the idea and mystic of curses began when I heard the story of Montpelier’s “Black Agnes” when I was a child.

Green Mount is located on the outskirts of Montpelier. The cemetery crawls 35 acres up the side of a rolling hillside that runs parallel to the Winooski River just outside the nation’s smallest capital city. You’ll know you’ll there when you see the rather large Gothic stone freestanding arch that marks the entrance.

Green Mount began as a bequest of a local benefactor, who purchased 35 acres in 1854 so the city could bury it’s dead on a nice piece of land, at a time when many existing New England cemeteries were reaching capacity and communities were looking for alternatives outside the city limits. The cemetery is on a gentle slope that rises above Route 2/State Street and overlooks the meandering Winooski River and it’s fluctuating moods; it’s monuments and entombments underneath the shade of old hardwood trees. I couldn’t help thinking of this song when I strolled through trying to find my oddity.

The affor-referenced Hubbard was a local philanthropist and celebrity, and his ideas saw that he spent much of his life in controversy, before dying in 1899. Hubbard’s aunt who died a decade before him, wanted to leave her sizable fortune of $350,000 to the city of Montpelier – about 9 million in today’s money – asking it go towards financing a new library and part of the construction of the front gates and a chapel at Green Mount Cemetery. But Hubbard decided to contest her will and squandered her fortune all for himself. In addition to arguing that his aunt wasn’t “of sound mind” when she wrote up her will, he also allegedly bribed city counselor members not to fight him in court. The whole fiasco struck Montpelier-ites as strange. Hubbard wasn’t exactly short on cash, and that move easily made him a detested citizen of Vermont’s capital city.

But after his death, the Montpelier Argus and Patriot reported the contents of his will, and were surprised to learn that Hubbard generously gave the city $125,000 for a new library, $25,000 for a chapel and gates at Green Mount Cemetery, and $85,000 to establish Hubbard Park, the tree clustered hillside that rises above the state house. Hubbard seemed to be a misunderstood gentleman of some perplexities, that were only beginning to unravel after his death. And those include his death itself. Local lore still permeates today that Hubbard jumped off the stone lookout tower in the titular named park and committed suicide, regardless that the tower wasn’t completed until well after his departure.

Austrian sculpture Karl Bitter was commissioned to cast this rather fraught looking bronze statue for his grave site – a shrouded figure that seems to be in a perpetual state of sorrow. Though over the years it has weathered and turned a greenish hue, it is still just as captivating in its transformation. While some say that the monument was supposed to be the Virgin Mary, the anatomy was actually intended to be male. After it’s installment, the memorial almost immediately became a local curiosity. In an interesting account I was able to find; Mrs. Sumner Kimball wanted to buy an even-tempered horse in 1902, and she thought a good test of its calmness would be to bring it to Green Mount Cemetery and take the horse to Hubbard’s grave. As she told the seller; “if she don’t shy at that, I’ll take her.”

But perhaps it’s what we don’t know about this solemn grave site that is the most baffling. The grave is more known by its official yet inexplicable nickname; “Black Agnes”, but no one is quite sure who coined the nickname, or why. And perhaps more puzzling is the frightening curse attached to it.

However this grave site became the instrument to a curse is most baffling. There is no information on the origins of the curse and when its nasty thorns began growing in urban mythology. Legend has it that if you sit on the statue’s lap, (some say it has to be at night, while others argue at all), you will suffer terrible misfortunes, and possibly even death. 

The most popular accompanying urban legend tells the story of three local teens from an area high school who all decided to put the curse to the test and visit Black Agnes one night. Illuminated by the light of the full moon, all three of them sat on the statue’s lap as the witching hour approached. After nothing happened, they all piled back into the car, feeling bravado in their curse debunking accomplishment. But within one week, one fell down a flight of stairs, breaking his leg. One was hit by a car and the other drowned when his canoe capsized in the Winooski River. Maybe it was just a coincidence that all three incidents were apparently less than two miles away from the statue at the time. Or at least that’s what the story says.

Needless to say, this narrative has made the statue a local landmark, and a hot spot for curious teenagers either looking for a thrill or asking for trouble.

After doing a little further investigating into this curse, I found that Hubbard’s monument isn’t unique. Karl Bitter had sculpted a few similar prototypes, and exhibited one at the 1904 World’s Fair. He called his creation Thanatos, which was inspired by the Greek personification of death. There are also a few surviving examples of Thanatos still existing in other cemeteries nationwide. So I guess the metaphor here is that sitting on Hubbard’s monument is the equivalent of sitting on the lap of death. Sure, that’s creepy and emblematic, but not enough people are aware of that information, making the curse a lingering mystery still.

Whether you believe in curses or superstitions or not, a lot of people aren’t taking chances. I’ve spoken to a few people about the statue, and there have been those who outright scoffed at the curse. But when I asked if they would sit on the statue’s lap, they hesitated and eventually admitted they wouldn’t. Is there something to this curse business? I suppose one may never know, unless you’re brazen enough to plop down on Black Agnes’s lap yourself.

Youtuber Ian Burnette made a short video for the Green Mountain Film Festival’s 48 Hour Film Slam in March 2013 which partially features a cameo of Black Agnes, and my good friend and frequent accomplice to my adventures, Eric Downing. Curse or no curse, the story is compelling enough to continuously inspire people and create other monsters.

Whether you believe in the business of curses or not, it is true that the dead can kill you, and they don’t need a creepy story or supernatural mojo to do it. Old civil war era cemeteries like this one have a secret that is literally just raising to the surface. These old graveyards may be leaking toxins, or, the arsenic used in old embalming fluids, into local groundwater. Two centuries ago, it was customary to have a wake for the deceased which could last several days to a week, depending on who you were, and the family didn’t want the body decomposing while it was laid it out in their parlor, so they were pumped full of arsenic to preserve them until the visitors stopped coming and they could be put six feet under. Arsenic was eventually banned in the early 1900s because of its toxicity, but enough corpses were pumped full of the stuff to leave a lasting effect, the real dangers being that today, many of us – especially who dwell near cemeteries, know little about arsenic or it’s dangers.

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I visited in 2011, heading back up to college after spring break. I declined sitting on his lap.

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The Bowman Mausoleum 

If you wish to visit with Cuttingsville’s most famous denizen, you can find the stoic man of mystery in the village’s only cemetery that is directly across Route 103 from an attractively restored Queen-Anne style Victorian mansion that he once referred to humbly as his summer home. 

I’m talking about John P. Bowman. The real Mr. Bowman is long deceased, but a poignant, life-sized monster of masonry is an exact effigy of the intriguing gentleman, and can be found lurching along a hillside cemetery that rises slightly above Route 103.

I first became antiquated with Mr. Bowman as a child. I saw him whenever we would venture down to my deer camp in East Wallingford for a weekend. His mansion was a rather faded, spooky old place which was then an establishment called “The Haunted Mansion Bookshop”. I had no idea that the name wasn’t just a gimmick, the mansion was, and maybe still is presently, purported to be haunted.

But it was what was across from the old mansion that really drew my attention as a young boy; the somber granite mausoleum with a grief-stricken, proportionally accurate statue of Mr. Bowman frozen in mid kneel along the steps that leads to it’s gated front entrance, depicted wearing a 19th century mourning cloak as well as clutching a key and a wreath in his hands – his blues reflected in the grays of his marble eyes that purposely gaze at the family tomb. Even as a kid, I knew there was something, well, a bit different about the Bowman mausoleum. And as I grew older, I realized that quite a few other people seemed to share my sentiment towards Bowman and his estate.

John Porter Bowman was born in neighboring Clarendon in 1816 in an area of town referred to as Pierces Corner, which today is practically little more than the intersection of state routes 103 and 7B. Educational opportunities were limited for Bowman, but his ambitions landed him employment at a Rutland tannery at the age of 15, where he spent five years learning the art of turning animal hides into fine leather, before leaving to start his own tanning business near Cuttingsville. In the early 1850s, he became so well-liked in the local community that he was either coaxed or self-inspired to run for a seat on the Vermont legislature. He won.

But he much preferred  business over politics, and in 1852, moved to Stony Creek, New York in search of opportunity. And he found it, in the form of a 6,000-acre plot of Hemlock forest, where he started a far more ambitious tannery business. The civil war brought great fortune to Bowman, as there was a huge demand for boots, saddles and other leather made wartime paraphernalia. He hired dozens of people, became a venerable figure of the region, and eventually fell in love and married Jennie Gates from Warren, New York. They ambitioned to building a grand summer home in his home state of Vermont where they could raise a family.

While he prospered financially, his personal life didn’t fare as generously. The couple’s first child, their daughter Addie, died as an infant in 1854. Their second daughter Ella survived much longer, but perished in 1879 at the age of 22, when she eventually succumbed to an illness she was fighting. Not long after, in 1800, Mrs. Bowman followed their daughters to the grave.

The agonized Mr. Bowman sought to find some relief. Shortly afterward, he hired labor crews and sent them to Cuttingsville, Vermont to begin construction on that aforementioned lavish Victorian summer home that his family would now never get to see.

During this time, he became obsessed with death; perhaps as a way to cope with his loss, or maybe influenced by the rise of spiritualism. He drew up additional blueprints to his Cuttingsville compound. Now, they would include a grand Neo-Egyptian mausoleum which would become a monument to his departed, and a local tourist attraction.

The colossal project took over a year to complete, and was the creation of 125 sculptures, stone cutters and laborers, the final cost exceeding $75,000. Construction of its facade ordered 750 tons of Vermont granite, 50 tons of Vermont marble, over 20,000 bricks and over 100 loads of sand. And they did a great job; the robust structure still stands proudly along the roadside, almost looking as if it was brand new construction given the great shape it’s in. But it may be the ghostly statue of Mr. Bowman that is the crypt’s most startling piece of artistry. His cloaked figure, clutching that wreath and key, kneels down on the front steps, peering at the front gates.

In 1887, he sold everything in New York and moved to his new digs in Cuttingsville, broken and alone. According to a few accounts, he would make it a point to look out the window each morning and gaze at the family crypt, a ritual he would keep until 1891, when he finally died, alone and sad, forever becoming a figure of misery.

He had no heirs, and no one to leave the house too. He was wealthy enough where he was able to start a trust to take care of his property long after his death. And this is where things get weirdly fascinating.

Though no actual documentation offers proof of this, the story goes that Mr. Bowman left some peculiar details in his will, where he willed his servants to prepare a freshly cooked dinner every night, turn on the gas lamps and turn down the bed-clothes, as if they were expecting Mr. Bowman to return from the dead and walk through his front door. The strangeness continues to morph. Somehow, the mansion began to inspire myths of phantom crying babies, wispy and frail phantoms moving silently down the halls, and even a secret spot where a vast amount of money was hidden by Mr. Bowman himself, still unfound and within the walls, or under a floorboard, or something…

The hidden treasure is more easily debunked. Though Mr. Bowman instructed that none of his property or belongings should ever be sold, by 1950, the deceased millionaire’s extensive fortune finally was depleted, and the trust went bankrupt when the coast of up-keeping the large property became too much – so all of his paintings and furnishings were auctioned off. If there was any amount of cash left behind, it was probably spent well before that time. The claim of a crying baby is curious to me, as no children ever lived in the house.

Some even claimed that Bowman’s large statue inexplicably came to life, and could be seen slowly walking around the cemetery at night or gazing at his mansion across Route 103. Other stories I heard in passing was that local kids claimed that if you visited the statue at night, his eyes would move and follow you, or even blink. A July 27th, 1950 article printed in the Rutland Herald offers some amusing incite. the wife of a long time caretaker admitted to the interviewer that people kept pressuring them for spook stories about the place, until her husband who had had enough, said: “if they wanted a story, I’d give them one”. While that isn’t necessarily condemning evidence of all of this being nothing more than yarns well spun, it certainly makes me wonder.

If these claims are true, I wasn’t fortunate enough to witness any of the bizarre phenomena while I visited on a beautiful Spring afternoon. But the Bowman statue and tomb are both incredible works of art and craftsmanship.

I can see why his statue would make someone uncomfortable, though. The well-captured expression of his eternal grief is pretty evocative.

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The handsome Bowman mansion, restored and called “Laurel Hall” – as seen from the front steps of his across the street mausoleum. I would have snapped a better picture, but all of my weird detours had made me late and I needed to rush back to Burlington.

Grave With A Window

New Haven’s Evergreen Cemetery is more or less unremarkable, as far as cemeteries go I suppose. That is, apart from one entombment. Among the faded and weathered headstones that are eternal witnesses to the passing generations and the turning of the seasons, is the grave of Dr. Timothy Clark Smith.

Walking through the cemetery, you’ll notice a mound of earth roughly 4 feet in height. On the top is an unremarkable looking square slab of Granite, which really doesn’t allude to the fact it’s supposed to mark a corpse’s final resting place. But upon closer investigation, you’ll realize that there is something more to this seemingly innocuous block. In the dead center of the granite slab is a Plexiglas window. Stained with years of condensation and scratches from the sputtering seasons and many other curious visitors, you find yourself peering down into an eerie undertone blackness underneath the ground your standing on. What is this?

During the 17th century, there were a number of premature burials, enough to make the general public a bit uncomfortable. Medicine was still in it’s momentum of advancement, and as a result, an unfortunate number of patients had a sleeping sickness, or a state of illness that could make the victim appear to be dead, but later to awaken in a cold, dark grave, very much alive. Medicine has thankfully came a long way since those days, and today, we know this strange state of sleep as Narcolepsy.

The horror stories continue. There have an unfortunate number of terrifying accounts in which bodies were accidentally dissected before death, and a few cases in which embalming was started on the not-yet-dead. Not surprisingly, urban legends of people being accidentally buried alive began to surface and spread. Legends tell of coffins opened to find a corpse with a long beard or corpses with the hands raised and palms turned upward, their fingers worn down to the bone as they literally tried to claw their way of their tombs, scratch marks being found on the wooden lid of their coffins.

To stretch the imagination further, Some superstitious old New Englanders didn’t blame these horrifying accounts on premature burial. Instead, they blamed the most logical answer they could muster, the victim had to be a Vampire. Evidence of unfortunate souls being found in a different position after unearthing their graves, with bloody stumps for fingers scared people, and the evidence was used to inspire famous tales as Rhode Island’s Mercy Brown, who innocently became the most infamous Vampire in New England history.

A well-respected man, Timothy Clarke Smith, born 1821, could boast a rather long list of accomplishments in his life. Among many things, he was a schoolteacher, a merchant, a clerk for the Treasury Dept. and obtained his degree as an MD in 1855, which led to his position as a staff surgeon in the Russian Army. But the good doctor also ruminated over those postmortem horror stories and developed a fear – not of dying, but of not being dead. He was terrified at the possibility of being buried alive.

That sentiment wasn’t unique. It was happening so often, that some swindlers decided to cash in on it, and create a market for “safety coffins”

These new models of coffin included glass lids for observation, so people could see in, or out. Ropes from the inside of the coffin were attached to bells fastened on the surface, so that if the poor soul were to wake up six feet under, they could ring it in a panic and hope someone is nearby enough to hear it – which is said to be where the popular sayings “saved by the bell” and “dead ringer” originated from. Breathing pipes were also constructed to run air into the coffin, to sustain the misdiagnosed corpses until they could be rescued.

Dr. Smith was going to make sure this wouldn’t happen to him, and gladly paid up for such an arrangement, which he was buried in at the time of his death in 1893 and has no doubt overshadowed any of his other noble life pursuits. Beneath a grassy mound of earth in New Haven, a tomb was constructed with a six-foot cement tube that protruded the surface into a 14×14 inch piece of Plexiglas. This was to allow groundskeepers or visiting family members to check in on him, just in case they saw his disgruntled face staring up at them through the window…

For extra protection, a bell was supposedly placed in his hands that he could ring in case he woke up. But who could hear a bell under 6 feet of earth? And If he were alive, how long would the oxygen really last?

According to old records from the cemetery sexton, the burial vault has two rooms. One for Dr. Smith (with the window) and the other for his wife. The burial vault is arched with stairs (capped by the stone in the lower front of the mound) and leads to the two rooms, with the viewing window at the top of the shaft.

People from years ago claim to have peered down the window and stared directly at the skeletal face of Dr. Smith, along with a hammer and chisel placed on his chest. But today, you can barely see anything through the condensation that has occupied most of the glass surface, which may make the trip slightly disappointing for some visitors.

If you wish to see this literal monument to a man’s insecurities turned extraordinary tourist attraction for yourself, take Route 7 to the small farming community of New Haven, and make a turn on Town Hill Road. The cemetery will be about a mile or two down the road on your right, just look for the rather large mound of Earth right by the entrance and the square slab dead on top. You can’t miss it.

Here is a neat visual of what your money might have gotten you – should you have decided to purchase one of these special graves. It seems that this model comes with what looks like a periscope, but in actuality, the person buried could spin the handles and it would turn above, letting who ever came and checked on the cemetery that the person moved.

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“A dreamless sleep, emblem of eternal rest”

I once heard a theory that it’s better to have an interesting headstone than to have been an interesting person, because the headstone will be around for much longer.

While I think that theory is open to interpretation, in the case of Lyndon Center’s G.P. Spencer, he certainly left his mark, where even after his passing, he remains a well-remembered figure with his grave pointing an accusatory finger at Lyndon denizens, long after the others that weren’t so kind to him have turned to dust and vanished into fading records.

The story as I know it goes that Spencer, born 1825, was a proudly stubborn atheist in Lyndonville, a suspiciously treated minority absorbed into a larger population of hardscrabble northeast kingdomers that identified as being religious in one way or another. Unlike today’s more tolerant attitudes and Vermont’s time-tested reputation for being far less religious than the rest of the country, the folks of town shunned Spencer.

A stone cutter, he decided to fashion himself a grave that would spitefully give himself the last word in the form of a wrap around epitaph which has weathered to points of illegibility. So I had to look it up.

His epitaph reads; “science has never killed or persecuted a single person for doubting or denying its teaching, and most of these teachings have been true; but religion has murdered millions for doubting or denying her dogmas and most of these dogmas have been false.

All stories about gods and Devils, of heavens and hells, as they do not conform to nature, and are not apparent to sense, should be rejected without consideration. Beyond the universe there is nothing and within the universe, the supernatural does not and cannot exist.

Of all deceivers who have plagued mankind, none are so deeply ruinous to human happiness as those impostors who pretend to be lead by a light above.

The lips of the dead are closed forever. There comes no voice from the tomb.
Christianity is responsible for having cast the fable of eternal fire over almost every tomb”

G.P. Spencer died in 1908, and Lyndon locals immediately began fighting his headstone’s placement in the cemetery which today can be found at the end of a dirt driveway that the village boldly named “Heaven Lane”. They lost, and you can still observe it today. A monument to a man who stood up for his beliefs, and maybe a good example of an archetypal Vermonter; stubborn, not spiritually inclined, and having a sense of humor – depending on who you ask I guess.

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The interesting grave topped with a curious sleeping baby, which may be a metaphor, is located in the only cemetery in tiny Lyndon Center. It was just a short yet freezing walk down College Hill from my dorm at Lyndon State College to snap a few photos of it, then retreat back to my room in search of coffee.

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Vermont’s Immortal Man and Frozen Hill Folk?

There is an old Vermont anecdote that pertains to cemeteries. When passing a graveyard, the joke is to ask “how many dead are in this cemetery?”, with the correct answer of course being, “all of them”. But this “dad joke” of a punchline recently took on a new weight with me.

Not long ago, someone told me offhandedly that they found a peculiar grave in a cemetery near Montpelier – which according to this gravestone and a viral post in the Vermont subreddit page, there is a 157-year-old man (and counting) living somewhere in Vermont. What?

The Montpelier and Barre region seems to be a bulls-eye for some of the state’s most interesting memento mori, which may be one of the many reasons why some Vermonters refer to their capital as “Montpeculiar”. Included in this interesting region’s points of interest is Barre’s celebrity Hope Cemetery. Barre-ites discovered over a century ago that the city was literally built on top of a mother lode of a valuable granite vein that was so robust and unique, it’s incredibly resistant to deterioration, discoloration and great for construction projects. That stone made the town so famous that it drew sculptures and stone cutters from around the globe – a good chunk from Italy due to sour economics back home. As the city’s residents died, the locals did what they did best and sculpted some very interesting monuments in their honor that now proudly decorate the cemetery off Maple Avenue – the commemorations ranging from incredible works of funerary art to the kitschy.

Regardless, the thought of an “immortal” man in the capital region only amused me more, as this wouldn’t be the first time that this trope has played out in this part of the state. Over a century ago, it was sensationalized in the Washington County region in 1887 when an article was published in the defunct newspaper, The Montpelier Argus and Patriot, in which was a compelling and startling tale of poor Vermont hill farmers keeping their loved ones alive through the grueling winters by inducing forced hibernation, via some strange Yankee magic, which emanated like a contagion shotgun blast from the hills.

In the strange account told by a mysterious first and one-time only contributor known as A.M., he dug up the story in the pages of his uncle William’s journal that told a rather gothic and macabre series of events said to be practiced deep in the Vermont hills north of Montpelier. Wretchedly poor Vermont hill farmers had contrived a solution ensuring that the weakest and most vulnerable members of their family could survive the state’s grueling winters without straining the already meager food rations. Life in Vermont’s mountains was hard, and often death came early.

The chosen participants would drink a special potion – the ingredients a closely guarded secret – and would then be placed inside a large pine box that would be lined with straw, before a wooden lid was placed over it and weighed down by rocks to keep predators out. Once the winter freeze came, the buried family members would literally sleep out the winter in a frozen state. When the Spring thaw softened up the ground, they would be dug up, placed in a steaming bath lined with Hemlock bows, and as their muscles twitched and color came back to their pallor, they would be ready to face the summer with vigor. In theory anyways. And according to A.M., his uncle not only knew about it, he was invited to watch the process, and he transcribed all that he saw in his journal, documenting the bizarre.

At the time, The Montpelier Argus and Patriot had the most circulation of any of the state’s newspapers, meaning that plenty of Vermonters must have been horrified by it, but even more tantalizingly, no follow ups about the weird story were ever printed, nor were any letters to the editor. The strange tale probably would have vanished into obscurity if it wasn’t for a Bridgewater gentleman accidentally finding the newspaper article clipping tucked away in the scrapbook of Hannah F. Stevens,his mother, 52 years later.

On May 24, 1939, the Rutland Herald revived the old yarn and printed A.M.’s story word for word, and explained that no one knew it’s source. Interest immediately picked up. The Boston Globe published something on it 4 days later, and it was forever stuck to the flypaper of New England folklore. Yankee Magazine, The Farmers Almanac,  and Vermont Life soon followed, attempting to cash in on the public’s desire to satiate their thirst for this baffling story.

Eventually, writer and lecturer Roland W. Robbins had managed to track the story’s origins in the winter of 1949-1950, and was finally able to give A.M. an identity; Allen Morse, an untypical dairy farmer from Calais who was born in 1835 and died in 1917. Morse’s granddaughter, a Mrs. Mabel E. Hynes of Agawam, Massachusetts was able to reveal more of the mystery. She recalled him telling her that story several times growing up, perhaps influenced by his interest in spiritualism like many Vermonters of the time. Before the distractions of technology, Vermont farmers entertained themselves by “yarnin”, or, seeing who could tell the best lurid tall tale. Allen Morse had considerable talent, and his brother in law William Noyes, aka Uncle William, would often have rounds against one another and test run their tales at family picnics. Morse’s account of the frozen hill folk was his matchless achievement.

But it wasn’t him that submitted the tale to paper, he never even wrote it down. It was Mrs. Hynes’s mother, who in 1887 was working for the The Montpelier Argus and Patriot, and secretly arranged to have “grandpa’s yarn” published on Morse’s next birthday, December 21, 1887. Morse was delighted, and was glad that they had kept his identity a mystery, for anyone that knew him would have labeled it as a hoax immediately, which may have very well put a moratorium on this great regional folk tale. It became so compelling that even the highly respected journal Scientific American picked up on it around 1900. Other scientists were interested into researching just how peoples’ bodies would respond and survive to lower temperatures, and eventually, Cryonic Societies began forming around the country, all interested in the feasibility of resurrecting frozen humans entombed in capsules chilled to -321 degrees via liquid nitrogen.

Regardless of its faux origins, this cryptic fable left an enduring footprint on local culture that is still spoken about today, especially after being revived again when author Joseph Citro retold the great tale in his book, Green Mountains Dark Tales, and later in Weird New England, which was where I discovered it. But as for the grave of Mr. Edward McNalty, Could some Yankee mountain magic actually be at work here?

Taking a drive through the bustling crowds of Downtown Montpelier and up a pothole chocked road into the hills to the cemetery in question, I found the telltale gravestone. Edward McNalty. Born 1857. Died…

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There it was. So, what’s the story here?

As much fun as it might be to romanticize about an immortal being existing in the mortal grind somewhere in Vermont (after all, New England isn’t a stranger to disturbing tales of immortal men and their misdeeds – like New Hampshire’s dreadful Dr. Benton, one of my favorite regional narratives),  the actual story is planted firmly in logistics. As it turns out, according to the limited information I was able to dig up, the mysterious Edward McNalty was born in Moretown, Vermont in November of 1861, not 1857 – they made a mistake on the headstone but it was never corrected. He would eventually enter the workforce as a railroad section man. Edward would marry Illinois born Rosetta Smith on January 7, 1896 at the age of 44, and settled in Washington, Vermont, according to the census of 1930. For both, it was their second marriage, and this marriage produced no children.

Edward died of pneumonia in Montpelier on December 28, 1935. Because his second marriage never bore any kids, his children from his first marriage decided to bury him next to their mom as opposed to his second wife, which explains the missing date of death on the headstone.

And at the end of the day, this amusing gravestone at least offers a good story, and maybe will spark the most curious of imaginations.

A vignette into early Vermont life.

Sometimes, cemeteries can give us clues into our past. Three barely discernible graves deep within the national forest of Chittenden greet you by surprise within the weeds, and are the only things left to tell whoever is passing by that there was once a town here over a hundred years ago.

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This impressionistic headstone found in the vanished town of West Bolton tells the observer how dangerous childbirth, or being a young child could be in Vermont over a century ago, and how much death early Vermonters were actually accustomed to. Thanks to advances in modern medicine, people are living longer lives nowdays.

To finish this entry off, I wanted to include one of my favorite cemetery tombstones I’ve came across so far. Embarking on a random road trip with friend and talented local artist Sam Balling, we traveled the beautiful state route 125 up over Vermont’s green mountain spine which brought us through tiny Ripton, which local lore says its name comes from its land being “ripped” from other Addison County towns to form the new town, but it’s name less interestingly comes from Connecticut, relating to the first named grantee. The town averages an elevation of near 3,000 feet and is surrounded by mountains. Heading towards Middlebury Gap, a pass between the mountains that allows motorists to drop down the other side into Hancock, there is an old cemetery near the Robert Frost Wayside Wilderness of the Green Mountain National Forest. The small burial ground is interspersed with old gnarled trees and centuries-old gravestones that jut from the pine needle fallen earth like broken teeth wearing the different hues of aging. In the background, stark gray ridge lines barren and almost foreboding in their late autumn death, hemmed in the cemetery in isolation.  I loved it.

This simplistic headstone illustrates the tragic demise of two brothers and strangers in detailed brevity. Winfield H. was killed by an overturned load of lumber, and Perley H. was killed by the explosion of a cannon, a vignette into how different, and deadly life was for Vermonters settling up in the mountains over a century ago.

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Ripton, VT

Sometimes having a peaceful, out of the way location can also be a place’s undoing, especially when for whatever reason, it inspires spectral fodder and monstrous legends. But I’m always very interested in these tales that surpass strange. If you’re curious about more local lore involving cemeteries (or indirectly involving cemeteries), check out an older blog post I wrote up years ago, featuring two stories that saw the glow of a computer screen for the first time when I wrote them down.

While we’re on the topic of cemeteries, here’s a link that I thought was very cool; Atlas Obscura’s Guide to Cemetery Symbolism

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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 throughout the years that have kept Obscure Vermont up and running.

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

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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Ephemera

“Wow, how does a place like this even exist?” mulled my friend aloud, lost in her own luminous reverie. I had seen photos of this beautiful dereliction online, but I was just as awed, as the stagnant cold inside stung my hands.

The early morning wintry cold was still hanging over the misty hills of Bolton flats in a hundred shades of blue as we departed for southern New England. While we drove we sat in silence, with heated seats, coffee and the wonderful sounds of Caspian coming through my iPod. After a few hours, Vermont’s brown frozen hills gave way to eight lanes of interstate traffic and lots of Dunkin Donuts signs.

Thirty-two years of fluctuating New England weather and zero upkeep had rotted out the drafty interior. The metal stairwells became stretches of rusty spiderwebs, some were completely untrustworthy. The snow that fell through between broken roof was so loud that you would have thought it was thundering outside. The thick brick walls oozing with slime and glazed by ice blocked cell phone reception pretty well. I received a few texts sent by my friend asking me where I was, hours after she had sent them and on the road back to Vermont, which I guess meant that contact in case of emergencies would have been pretty unaccommodating.

The complex appeared to be a utilitarian and symmetrical layout of two large spaces adjoined by a central row of offices, bathrooms, and mechanical areas. But upon closer and intimate inspection, I was actually more and more surprised at just how many rooms and levels there were, packed in by a labyrinth of confusing staircases and elevated runways. Some spaces were more or less original to their inaugural construction at the turn of the last century, and in the throes of the shifty ways of time, more were accommodated. There were quite a few dank 1970s office spaces put up hastily in areas that contained the infamous giveaway vinyl wall paneling and drop down ceilings, all which were accordion-ing now thanks to precipitous moisture. Some spaces were utterly unidentifiable under the entropy, with collapsing floors and sketchy staircases that lead into ambiguous soggy blackness above. But it was the two main rectangular chambers and their brawniness of broken glass and steel that I was interested in. These cavernous spaces had quite the compendium of artifacts left behind; from magnificent and remarkably intact machinery, actual steel rails still embedded in the floors, to just about anything you can fathom that had somehow found it’s way inside and subsequently left there to waste away. There’s a lot for a person to think about as they walk along the crumbling floors inside this illusion of another world. Just watch out for nails. There are plenty to step on.

The most interesting of things left to rediscover was the extraordinary amounts of sordid books, paperwork and filing cabinet miscellany (and their accompanying filing cabinets) that had been left behind. I’m talking entire floors filled with wall to collapsing wall of old records mummified in decay. Most of the paperwork was illegible, but the oldest date I was able to find was 1931. Another friend and explorer had joked that a photo of mine was the literal embodiment of “squishy”, but as of now, no destination has been able to surpass The Pines Hotel as my “squishy-est” explore, though this place is definitely a contender.

Though we live in a world that has largely been explored, mapped and reclaimed, these human-made spaces become utterly fascinating after their functionality ceases to exist. The mystery continuum of their inner spaces become sort of last frontiers, as nature begins to reclaim everything that has been forsaken by us, transforming these spaces into something incredible. It’s on these explores that I like to attempt a little amateur forensic archaeology, and try to pick at the bones.

The suburban New England town I traveled too became the chosen plot of land for the formerly prestigious Boston & Maine Railroad to build their rail yards and repair/manufacture shops in 1913. What is considered to be one of American’s oldest suburbs was built up in the adjacent area to accommodate the growing need for laborers, many of the garden enhanced neighborhoods eventually were built up over old track beds that were once spur lines leading back towards the roundhouse, depot and loading docks. The continuously shape-shifting property grew to massive scales as the railroad industry became a future facing wonder, as growing mill towns and their populations created a ravenous market. That is, until the automobile became de rigueur.

The popularization of the automobile and the trucking industry seems to be the harbinger of death for a good amount of the ruins I visit, and this seemed to follow the same storyline, as both the automobile and leveling of the same manufacturing that created the demands for the railroad, murdered it. The railroad had grown so much during its boom years, that it went into unpayable debt for the miles of tracks they laid and smaller companies they acquired in the throes of good-natured greedy competition. Towards the latter half of the 20th century, the railroad industry indignantly stepped back into a darker corner of civic and popular culture, and the massive campus was now useless.

The B&M went bankrupt in 1970 and despite efforts to reorganize and restrategize, became a ghost by 1983, when it was bought by another regional rail company. By 1984, the complex was abandoned altogether because all that space simply wasn’t needed by the diminishing industry. But, not before they left a naively irresponsible legacy of destruction and negligence behind them, as the massive yards were also used for toxic waste dumps and a place to haul train wreck shrapnel over the years, which earned the place an official designation on the Superfund site list, a bone of contention that isn’t even expected to be taken seriously until 2031-ish because like everything else, the EPA doesn’t have the money. To the locals understandable displeasure, there was quite a bit of opacity about their houses abutting a literal toxic waste dump – information which wasn’t even made widely public until some neighbors did a little digging in the late 80s when a pervasive chemically smell began to waft through side streets near the industrial park, and became an uncelebrated normal.

I was able to find a few articles on the local public radio website that explained that the entire 553 acres are so swamped with pollution – ranging from asbestos, arsenic, cadmium, lead, selenium, petrochemicals and wastewater lagoons that it not only earned a spot on the national Superfund database list, but it’s one of the worst in America. “You couldn’t leave your house to go out and even have a nice barbecue because the odor was so bad”, said an interviewed resident recalling how bad it was a few decades ago. To makes things more apprehensive, The EPA says human exposure risk is still “not under control”, though it seems far more controlled today than when the report was written. I guess I can cross off walking around a toxic waste site off my bucket list, regardless of the fact it wasn’t on my list.

Today, most of the former property has been reincarnated as a shabby looking industrial park. The largest railway in New England has it’s main headquarters here still, that sits directly in the decrepit shadow of the abandoned shop buildings I was walking around, among a few other places with no-frills signage and creepy vacant looking front entrances. That being said, this is still an active industrial park, with employees, cops, and on my visit, guys who operate plows, that are present on a daily basis. Unlike me, who technically has no reason to be here other than curiosity. The rail lines that hem in the property are also still in use, and some of the industrial businesses in the park receive rail traffic.

There is always a certain reward to risk ratio that I use as the dichotomy or gauge of how I treat my explores. On this trip, my friend and I and my friend decided to simply walk towards the buildings with our cameras, as there was no way we could get inside without someone seeing us, and I didn’t drive through three states just to turn around. The man in the plow noticed us as he was relocating a snow drift. We all mutually nodded our heads in affirmation and confidentially walked inside. We were exploring for four hours or so, and the cops never came, which was great, because this fascinating locale has easily turned into one of my fondest explores. This is one of those places I could return to multiple times and have a different experience at.

But I wouldn’t take that one fortunate opportunity for granted. I know a few people who have been dragged out by the powers that be before, which is why brushing up on trespassing laws in other states isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Until some serious clean up and the accompanying scrutiny happens, these hulking and fetid ruins and all their soggy decay are more or less, in limbo.

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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. Seriously, even the small cost equivalent to a gas station cup of coffee would help greatly!

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

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

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Underneath The Ground

Vermont’s visage is one of scenic mountains and an eye magnetic lack of industry, which makes the state a notable contrast from its neighbors. But a few decades ago, our Green Mountains were combed with industry that depended on the state’s naturally occurring topography and it’s profitable innards. Many of the state’s rural areas have once been cannibalized for their precious commodities that lay underneath the ground, and if you look below the surface, many small communities still bear the scars from irresponsible practices and their related pollution.

No one is quite sure how copper was discovered in Vermont, but according to hazy hearsay, it’s inception to the state economy was pretty much circumstantial. Legend says that farmers and landowners in what’s now Orange County began noticing the indicatory rusty discoloration in snow drifts on their properties while out tapping Maple trees or out while fox hunting towards the late 1700s. That discovery ensured that a few decades later, businessmen were compelled to begin mining for copper in Vermont’s newly emerging copper “belt”.

Though the boom was contained in a pretty small area limited to southern Orange County, its mines became fabled for a brief time for their voluminous outputs that took insufferable work to tease out, one of them becoming the largest copper producing mine in America for a brief time.

Vermont’s copper belt, in Orange County | USGS

The northernmost was the Pike Hill mine in biblically named Corinth – the old name said to be chosen because of its establishment and reputation, so any new settlers would get the idea that the wilds up that way would be accommodating and amiable to them. Another guess is that it came from a village in old England, only, no settlers were ever recorded to have connections to that one, and the UK’s Corrinth is so small that even modern atlases don’t always pick up on it. As for Vermont’s Corinth, though, a lot of other United States’ Corinths were said to come from this one!

Not much remains of Pike Hill’s mine, except for a few scattered stone foundations and a very orange hillside scarred up by 4 wheeler trails off a tight dirt road.

Corinth town clerk Nancy J. Ertle answered my email to her ebulliently.

“I live up by the mines and actually have been in them. Which is really cool! We go in in the winter when the water is frozen and you can walk on ice since the shafts are full of water.” I’ll have to stop in and chat with her in person next time I’m in the area.

Vershire’s Ely Mine was said to have a more intriguing discovery. It was said that as early as the late 1700s, inconspicuous trails of sulphury smoke and fireballs were seen over the forests of John Richardson’s farm on Dwight Hill in Vershire. But it wasn’t until after a rainstorm in 1812 that would clear up any speculation, when his daughter Becky stepped on and sunk up to her knee in a mound that looked like a “burnt outcropping” while walking the property. Realizing she was stuck fast, she began to holler for help. When she was pulled out, her leg was found coated with an orange mud and the hole filled with an odorous sulphury mess.

Encouraged by this colorful evidence, in 1820, a group of local farmers got together and formed The Farmers Company and began purchasing mineral rights in the area in order to produce copperas. By 1833, the aforementioned Richardson farm was surveyed by an Issac Tyson, described as “probably the leading industrial chemist of the day”. Tyson was the first to attempt drilling at what would be known as the Ely mine. Around 1833, he started boring an adit (a horizontal tunnel) to intersect the vein from the southern side of the hill, but two years later and ninety-four feet without striking ore, Tyson’s partners lost faith in the project (possibly influenced by the financial panic of 1834) and pulled out despite Tyson’s protests.

But by now, the tantalizing word that copper was underneath Vermont’s hills was out, and more people wanted in. In 1854, The Vermont Copper Mining Company was created and immediately picked up where Tyson left off. They purchased the property for $1,000 and ironically, they only needed to dig an additional four feet in Tyson’s discontinued adit to strike the vein he was looking for.

One of the original investors in the mine was a New Yorker named Smith Ely, who would eventually take control over the mine and company after the civil war, which produced a huge demand for copper. With a new national ban on foreign copper, the need for domestic production stirred an uproar. Under Ely’s leadership, the mine that now wore his last name became a significant operation and would grow to become the largest copper mine in the United States for a time, reaching a peak employment by November 1881 – of 851 curious and voracious miners.

Of those toiling in those dangerous and rather grim conditions were both adults and children, some as young as ten. Most were Cornish and Irish immigrants, with the rest of the employment being made of Germans, Italians and Canadians. This stereoview of the Ely miners was taken sometime between 1860 and 1883, according to vague photograph records. | UVM Landscape Change Program
Of those toiling in those dangerous and rather grim conditions were both adults and children, some as young as ten. Most were Cornish and Irish immigrants, with the rest of the employment being made of Germans, Italians and Canadians. Cornish miners specifically had a reputation for being rough, rowdy and reckless, which made them sought-after employees for many American construction feats. This stereoview of the Ely miners was taken sometime between 1860 and 1883, according to vague photograph records. I especially enjoy the miners hanging out the second story windows. | UVM Landscape Change Program
A group of men wearing long pants and shirts, one carrying a lamp, enters one of the small and dark mine shafts at Ely, being supported by wooden poles and piles of rocks. | UVM Landscape Change Program
A group of men wearing long pants and long shirts, one carrying a lamp, enters one of the small and dark mine shafts at Ely, being supported by wooden poles and piles of rocks. Conditions were dangerous. Old records tell of miners packing their ears with cotton to prevent themselves from going death from the loud noises of the drilling. There was no workplace safety protocols and no protection, so miners often had to think creatively when they were concerned with prognostics. The men who were employed in the industry were often just as tough as the harsh environment they worked in. Some old timers who actually recall the copper mines stoically allude to just how obscene they were, described as the sort of place where a man did what he had to do.| UVM Landscape Change Program
A group of men deep down in what they called "The Back Stopes", or the deepest section of the Ely mine, which was supported by steel L-beams and more loose rocks that fell from the shaft walls. Gotta make use of all those rocks I suppose. | UVM Landscape Change Program
This compelling photo shows a group of men deep down in what they called “The Back Stopes”, or the deepest section of the Ely mine, which was supported by steel L-beams and more loose rocks that fell from the shaft walls. Gotta make use of all those rocks I suppose. It definitely takes someone with a particular cast of mind to labor in conditions like this | UVM Landscape Change Program
This is what the miners were looking for. This is the main body of Chalcopyrite ore at Ely, aka, Yellow Copper. | UVM Landscape Change Program
This is what the miners were looking for. This is the main body of Chalcopyrite ore at Ely, aka, Yellow Copper. | UVM Landscape Change Program
This photograph taken circa 1860 shows a large wheel wound with heavy cable, which is most likely used to pull mining cars to and from the site. There is a smaller gear that is propelled by the engine in the bottom left of the image. | UVM Landscape Change Program
This photograph taken circa 1860 shows a large wheel wound with heavy cable, which was most likely used to pull mining cars to and from the site. There is a smaller gear that is propelled by the engine in the bottom left of the image. | UVM Landscape Change Program
A mine crawling with bodies required a village to be built, and one of more than 100 buildings was constructed over hillsides dumped with a gamut of mine related waste byproducts and very little vegetation.
A mine crawling with bodies required a village to be built, and one that would eventually be made of more than 100 buildings was constructed over hillsides melding with a gamut of mine related waste byproducts and very little vegetation. |UVM Landscape Change Program
The village and the mine collectively became known as Copperfield, which would eventually become more prominent than Vershire, the actual town the mine was in. To make things a bit more interesting, Vershire would briefly change it's name to Ely in 1878, but was changed back to Vershire just 4 years later when the mine fell on financial troubles it would never recover from.
The village and the mine collectively became known as Copperfield, which would eventually become more prominent than Vershire, the actual town the mine was in. To make things a bit more interesting, Vershire would briefly change it’s name to Ely in 1878 because of the huge financial success of the mine, but was changed back to Vershire just 4 years later when the mine began to spiral into bankruptcy. Not to be confused with the village of Ely, where the copper was loaded into trains and shipped to Boston. It still retains it’s name today and can be found at the junction of VT 244 at Route 5 in Fairlee, though now days it’s little more than a few old farmhouses near some railroad tracks. | UVM Landscape Change Program

In 1876, Smith Ely’s grandson Ely Goddard would take over the mine. His first act of business was to change his last name to Ely-Goddard in honor of his grandfather. His next act would be to  make himself more at home, by constructing himself a lavish vanity project in the middle of the village; a mansion which he named Elysium (pictured in the photo above, the white building with the central copula), a reference to the ancient Greek concept of the afterlife, and perhaps demonstrating some of his exaggerated swagger with a play on his last name. The mansion was regarded as one of the finest feats of architecture in otherwise hardscrabble orange county, and soon became a place where grand parties would be held where Ely-Goddard’s rich friends from New York, Newport RI and as far away as Paris would come and have nights of debauchery while the miners whose dwellings encircled the mansion enclave were close to starving.

The Ely’s entrepreneurial spirit earned them some lauded accolades in the Green Mountains, including Ely-Goddard being elected to the house of representatives in 1878, and the company lawyer Roswell Farnum being elected governor in 1880, which was no doubt a period that was very kind to the mining industry. Or maybe I’m just being cynical.

The ore was mined from adits that went deep into the mountains. It was roasted for 2-3 months in beds, giving off sulfur fumes, and was then taken to the smelters, huge furnaces lined with brick. A chimney flue ran up the side of the hill to take away the worst of the smelter emissions, but not far away. A contemporary description says that "the country around the village is ... completely destitute of vegetation....For some distance around, all vegetable growth is sparse and stunted. And pervading everything is a most beastly odor from the roasting beds." (To this day, a century after the mine was closed, nothing grows around the smelter site.)| UVM Landscape Change Program
The ore was mined from adits that went deep into the mountains. It was roasted for 2-3 months in beds that gave off vile sulfur fumes and then taken to the smelters, huge furnaces lined with brick (the long rectangular building pictured above). Tall brick chimneys were built up the side of the hill to take away the worst of the smelter emissions, but not far enough, as most of the smoke pretty much permeated around the slopes and the village, creating acid rain which decimated the landscape around the mine. A written historical account of the pollution I was able to dig up says that “the country around the village is … completely destitute of vegetation….For some distance around, all vegetable growth is sparse and stunted. And pervading everything is a most beastly odor from the roasting beds.” To this day, a century after the mine was closed, nothing grows around the smelter site.| UVM Landscape Change Program
This photo from 1860 shows the extensive pollution from the mining operations; a wasteland of tailings piles, slag and wood scraps from older mine structures. | UVM Landscape Change Program
This photo from 1860 shows the extensive pollution from the mining operations; a fetid place of tailings piles, slag and wood scraps from older mine structures. | UVM Landscape Change Program
A view of the Ely mine, Copperfield and West Hill taken around 1900, after the mine's abandonment. The landscape is a barren and desolate one, devoid of vegetation. | UVM Landscape Change Program
A view of the Ely mine, Copperfield and West Hill taken around 1900. Eventually, they built buildings on top of the huge tailings piles because they grew so large. The landscape is a barren and desolate one, devoid of vegetation. | UVM Landscape Change Program

But having an upper hand in politics couldn’t save the mines against more profitable opportunities out west. As a result, the price of copper began to fall as domestic supplies increased. Mining in Vermont was hard. The deposit veins produced little copper that required more work than payoff to access, and most mines were far away from convenient transportation corridors. In 1881, Smith Ely sold his shares in the mind to Ely-Goddard and the newly in the picture Francis Cazin, a German engineer who planned on saving the mine by profusely dumping money into it. But it didn’t work, and Ely-Goddard blamed and fired Cazin, who sued the company in retribution.

On June 29th, 1883, all the bad financial investments and a newly emerging series of lawsuits caught up with the company. By now, the Ely mine boasted the largest copper mining shaft dug in Vermont, unconfidently considered to be anywhere between 3,400 feet, to 4,000 feet deep. For a comparison, our largest mountain, Mount Mansfield, is 4,395 feet. But despite the efforts, only about 3% of what miners were carving out was actually marketable copper, and the cost of operations, such as hoisting apparatuses, pumps that kept the shafts from flooding and the tons of wood needed to burn to keep the smelting processes going, had drained their bank account.

Their solution was posting a sign telling miners that the mines would be closed until they agreed to take a pay cut, which of course didn’t go over so well. The miners who had already gone two months without pay, revolted in what is sometimes called The Ely War, which is both considered the most important instance of labor unrest in Vermont and to my surprise, almost never talked about. Having already worked for months without paychecks, the miners had reached their limits of toleration and went on strike. They raided the company store, started destroying company buildings in the village, acted without foresight and broke the pumps that kept the shafts from flooding to make the mines unprofitable for the owners, and stole all the gunpowder and threatened to do further extensive damage with it if they didn’t get their pay.

To add insurance, they all marched to Smith Ely’s house in West Fairlee chanting “bread or blood!” The startled Ely, who was desperate to get the angry mob off his lawn, assured them that they would all get paid. But instead, he sent out a distressful telegram to governor Barstow and the national guard was deployed to arrest the rioters.

The militia marched into Copperfield underneath the stars, found the strike leaders and arrested them in their beds. As the sun rose above the martian landscape around the mines and the other miners awoke from their beds, they saw their strike leaders indignantly being marched down the main drag in irons. The so-called Ely War was over. Another interesting account I found online told of a different, more earnest story.

On the morning of July 6th, 184 members of the national guard marched into Copperfield expecting to find an unruly mob of miners waiting for them but instead found eerily quite buildings built upon slag pile debris. The miners, who were waking up by then, noticed the national guard soldiers walking around town, and went out to converse with them. After telling them their grievances, the national guard sympathized instead of incarcerated and gave the miners all their food rations before getting back on the train.

As these stories often end, the miners were never compensated, and the company went bankrupt by 1888 because ironically, they weren’t able to meet their obligations because of all the damning facts pointing to the company’s inevitable death. And, the mines were now underwater.

Because the mine was now virtually useless, it changed ownership a few times with hopes of re-opening before becoming permanently defunct by 1920. Elysium was sold for $155 and moved to Lake Fairlee, which can still be seen today off state route 244, and the Copperfield Methodist church can now be seen in tiny Vershire village off state route 113, while the rest of the buildings became forsaken and slowly disintegrated to dust.

This is one of the smelting sheds at the Ely mine, taken around 1960, decades after it's abandonment, the wobbly structure still stands. | UVM Landscape Change Program.
Some urban exploring far before my time! This is one of the smelting sheds at the Ely mine, taken around 1960, decades after it’s abandonment, the wobbly structure still stands, regardless of glassless windows, slumping roof and walls that were more hole than wall. | UVM Landscape Change Program.
An abandoned entrance to one of the mines at Ely, summer 2006. | Collamer Abbott/UVM Landscape Change Program
An abandoned entrance to one of the mines at Ely, summer 2006. | Collamer Abbott/UVM Landscape Change Program

My friend Eric, a close friend from my college days, grew up in West Fairlee down the road from the Ely mine, which is how I found out about the place to begin with. So in the dying days of 2015, as the temperature dropped precipitously, we set out in his Subaru to go walk around his old high school stomping grounds.

Driving down state route 113 with Montreal’s Stars playing softly from his iPod, we entered tiny Vershire, a name that’s an agglomeration of Vermont and New Hampshire, and is either pronounced “Ver-shur” or “Ver-sheer”, depending on who you are. It seems like it’s a trivial bone of contention between Vershire-ites. After the closer of the Ely mines, Vershire lost scores of its population until it dwindled to just 236 inhabitants in 1960, making it the smallest town in already low populated Orange County. According to the 2010 census, the population has since grown to 730.

Off the town’s main drag, which is the destitute state route 113, there is an easy to miss intersection with an evocatively incongruous name; Brimestone Corner. While I’m not sure of the story behind this curious name, I have my own theory. There are plenty of locales in Vermont named after the Christian personification of evil, such as Satan’s Kingdom on Lake Dunsmore, and Devil’s Den in Mount Tabor, to name a few. Superstitious settlers gave the suggestive geography their names years ago, when remote and rough patches of wilderness were foreboding, shadowy and full of rocks which made farming almost impossible. It seemed to make sense to them that the Devil himself called these places home. However Brimstone Corner got its name, I love the fact that it still appears on modern day map engines like Google.

Brimstone Corner
Google Maps.
I love the sedentary enjoyment of getting lost browsing Google maps. Even though Vermont's copper belt is little more than a ghost, it's residue still sticks around in the form of names. Places like "Copperas Brook" and "Copper Flats" near South Strafford are a testament to what created the region.
I love the sedentary enjoyment of getting lost browsing Google maps. Even though Vermont’s copper belt is little more than a ghost, it’s residue still sticks around in the form of names. Places like “Copperas Brook” and “Copper Flats” near the Elizabeth Mine Superfund Site in South Strafford are a testament to what created and later haunted the region. | Google Maps.

Death often ends a story, but in the cases of some forsaken places, they can also extend a bit in their celebrity. I’ve covered a few of them in this blog, and the Ely mine would fit right in I’d say. Exploring the historical oddity with Eric also meant that I got some of the inside details of it’s strange and seemingly nefarious local lore that has more or less simultaneously garnered such a reputation and earned it some infamy with area youth, curious visitors and allegedly bad dudes that aren’t necessarily connected to the mafia.

There’s a corollary in the world of abandoned mines that the empty real estate is a great place for humanity’s more ghastly truths. Apparently sometime in the early 2000s, vicinity pets began to go missing, mostly dogs. Eventually, curious visitors to the mine found several decomposing dog corpses stashed within Ely’s dank mine tunnels. Later, the pieces would be put together and it appeared that local boys had been kidnapping and killing their canine victims. I also heard that human remains have been found underneath Dwight Hill as well, but I’m not completely sure of the veracity of both these tales.

In keeping with both traditions of mine shafts being a desirable place to dump unwanted variables or pesky things that could be considered evidence and sometimes buried secrets are difficult to keep buried, there was a local man who made good profit a decade or so ago, by kindly offering to dispose of rural Vermont’s endless junked tire population. Only, he was just dumping them at Ely, which was already considered a Superfund site that the time, and was somehow caught and penalized. A huge mound of tires still sits towards the upper part of the property that ring a beaver dam below a steep birch tree clumped ridgeline. That part of the mine was eerily quiet, the only sound was our boots clomping through deceptive ground that was more mud than ground, the unmistakable odor of sulphury perfume inhaled by my nose that doesn’t belie the truth of the matter here.

Eric also recalls the plight of schoolhouse brook which formed the line diminishing edge of his backyard, and how he recalls fish swimming in its shallow waters as a kid, but as he grew and the river grew shades murkier, lifeforms were reduced significantly.

There was a strange beauty to the landscape though that also helped to establish the aura of mystery that tends to surround these sites. The ruins at Ely are a simple yet compelling depiction of our collective history here, a testimony to both prowess and irresponsibility. Not much remains at all of its legacy here because of a massive cleanup initiated in 2011, which I couldn’t help be a bit disappointed by, but in the end, there is something about these old mines and their stories that yield an irresistible intrigue to me. Oddly enough, I read that the property is also eligible to be inducted on the national register of historic places, but I’m a little lost as to what that distinction would actually do for the property.

Observing the beaver dam, I couldn’t help but wonder if it was around when the mines were active, or more of a recent addition after the chaotic operations became ghosts. Beaver dams are built to last by design, which makes them historical landmarks, and there are plenty of still existing ones that have actually predated many of our settlements.

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The mine’s presence in the area was immediate from the road. The former smelter area is a stained, stony wasteland of yellow colored gravel and stone foundations encroached by brush.
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With the November winds battering us in a spiteful fashion, we set out onto the huge property. A packed class D forest road lead us from the roadside up the hill towards the mine, passing a literal garbage dump along the way, containing everything from an old stove, literal hills of glass bottles, an old truck, and a gamut of relics from twinkie wrappers to empty boxes of bullets.
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This sludgy waterway of rust is called Ely Brook, which runs through the property and brings all of the waste into other area rivers. The EPA proclaims that acid mine drainage is the primary cause of pollution here, or, the outflow of acidic water laced with high metal concentrations from both within the mines and the large waste dump piles. The tailings on the property are rich in metals and sulfides. As water passes over and through the tailings, sulfuric acid is produced and the metals within the tailings are dissolved and mobilized.  In 2001, the Vershire wasteland got it’s designation as a Superfund site, which meant federal dollars went into cleaning it up. Or, more realistically, attempting to keep the place in a state of arrested progression, making sure it can’t pollute the area environment anymore than it already has. Cleanups began in September of 2011.
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The brawny stone walls of the former ore roast bed site still stand, despite the intrusion of new growth trees through it.
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According to the EPA, there was about 100,000 tons of tailings and slag piles left on the property. Though cleanup has gotten rid of the stuff nearest the road, towards the back of the property is still filled with gigantic dunes covered with mangy looking birch trees, the only arboreal growth that will take root here.
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According to a battered tin sign spayed with bullet holes near the road, The Ely Gun Club calls the shots for the huge property today, which allows hunters and gun enthusiasts to enjoy the property, which is practically the only thing you can do on it. We found much evidence of this on top of one of the tailings piles.
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From the top of one of the domineering tailings piles, we were treated to some great views of Vermont’s low profile hills, and in the distance, the gray saw tooth edged forms of New Hampshire’s brawny White Mountains.
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Some old foundations could still be detected amongst the birch trees and tall weeds.
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At first, we thought this stone-lined hole in the ground was an old well, but now I’m not so sure once I discovered that below the water’s surface, there were dark subterranean passageways that lead back beyond a discernible line of sight.
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The Ely mine shafts are dangerous and unpredictable. With so little experience, I opted against going that far inside. At least until I can head back with an experienced tour guide.

The Elizabeth Mine

Though I didn’t largely cover the Elizabeth Mine in this blog entry because it’s already lengthy enough, Its very much worth noting. You can’t mention copper in Vermont without an acknowledgment of this place.

It holds the distinction of being the oldest running copper mine in Vermont, running for 150 years before following the trend of Vermont’s other mines and closing for good in 1958. The property was also inaugurated into the Superfund family of sites and underwent a massive clean up in 2010, which also cleared out an awesome collection of buildings that looked like a Klondike ghost town.

But because of the mine’s unique historical status, parts of it have been left alone. Such as the mineshafts. Why? Because according to someone who wrote to me, this is the mine that supplied the northern/union army with copper during the civil war, which in itself is very cool.

Over my Instagram account, I spoke with my friend Mark Byland, who was part of the crew who installed solar panels over the now partially cleaned up mine site – and both of us were fascinated by the fact that Vermont had such a large production mine.

In Mark’s email to me, he said that the mine today is full of ticks, rats, and ‘other creatures’ that now occupy the nearly 6 miles of underground workings.

They set up their materials near one of the old dynamite shacks but were requested not to go snooping around the existing building, and there was a guy from the miners union posted on site as they worked to make sure there was no tomfoolery. But he does remember taking a glance at the completely exposed second floor and seeing a set of plans hanging around on a dilapidated desk in plain sight.

“There were a plethora of core sample boxes stacked up with more samples than you could imagine. Some really fascinating cross sections of what lies beneath” Mark enthusiastically wrote.

They were also told that the numerous shafts are all in danger of collapse, and were directed to stay out.  Some of the shaft rooves had already collapsed, tearing open new holes in the ground. One of the project leads told a story about how he dropped a few rocks down one of the air shafts and never heard it hit the ground.

“I managed to find an old map of the shafts and it shows where they had
worked the interior, from the top down. Basically, that whole hillside, where the exposed pit is, where people go swimming in naturally exfoliating Ph 5+ water, is completely hollow underneath.”

Mark elaborated. “It seems like everything there is sort of protected by the most awful dread one could imagine. There’s an endless sense of spiritual presence, as the place is kind of one big gravesite for all the lives lost during its 200-year history.” Though Byland did note that it seemed that conditions at Elizabeth treated the miners far more humanely than what workers over at the Ely mine had to endure.

There was also a railroad that continuously ran from the top of the mine to the bottom, delivering ore to the processing facility. Some parts of the train cars and the engines are still junked somewhere on the mine property to this day.

Not much of anything remains of the Elizabeth, apart from a uniform green state historic marker on aptly named mine road in tiny South Strafford and a few uninteresting but politely demolished foundations.

But it’s the colossal open cut mines, dubbed to the point as the north and south cuts, that still remain on the property that are worth the surprisingly steep and deceptive hike up scrapped rock faces where former tailings piles were left, to the edge to gaze down at these huge and dangerous big digs of showmanship. Before the ruins were essentially dismantled, some lucky folks admitted to finding good-sized chunks of pure copper ore there were still there.

The south cut is known by cavers as quite the challenging adrenaline rush, and the north cut which is a more eroded copy of the south cut, is flooded and draws cliff jumpers and people looking for a place to cool off during the summer.

To get an astonishing idea of just how much waste this mine generated, subsequently left behind and then was cleaned up – check out this photo of these mine tailing waste dunes left on the nearby hillsides that come in a crayon box of colors.

linked from Panoramio – taken by photographer Dave Gilles from Laval, Quebec. Click on the photo to be taken into his account.

On the backroads that serpentine the hills and hollows around Vermont’s first big dig are the remnants of ramshackle old row houses for employee lodging and assembled tar paper shacks where former miners and present old-timers refused to up and leave after the mines closed in the 50s – vowing a cryptic Yankee stoicism about exactly what kind of things went on up there…

My ending spiel on all this is, well, I just thought the place was fascinating. 1000 feet deep and 6 miles of tunnel workings. That’s some shit. Right under my boots.

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The south cut and it’s adits in the winter of 2016, covered with layers of dangerous ice.

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Sources/For More Information

Lots of research materials went into writing this piece, including:

EPA Superfund Ely Mine Site | EPA PDF booklet on the Ely Mine, which features both a handy map of the site as well as a map that illustrates how the acid drainage runoff effects the area watersheds.

http://www.usgennet.org/usa/vt/county/orange/vershire/

A short history of the Ely Mine by Paul Donavan

The Ely War, VPR | The Ely War, Virtual Vermont Internet Magazine

The blog, Vermont Deadline, which I just pleasantly discovered.

Paul Donavan, a Vermont mine enthusiast,  has a very cool website that includes his photographs of his ventures into the mines, as well as a great drawn map of Ely mine’s subterranean passageways. This gave me a good idea of the lay of the land. **I’d especially recommend my favorite of his photos, a set of slimy and disused rails still can be found underground in the Ely mines.

UVM Landscape Change Program, which is becoming one of my go-to sites for historical photographs and Vermont history.

I was very interested in exactly how copper was made, and got a good amount of information from this site

For other copper or Vermont enthusiasts like myself, you might enjoy this good documentary on copper mining in Vermont:

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Milton Mysteries: The Tunnel Underneath Main Street

This old postcard may be one of my favorite finds from the Milton archives. Published by Raymond A. Coburn, who owned the pictured general store in Milton from 1908 until the flood of 1927. This image of “downtown Milton” depicted a cartoonish almost satirical image of what town had the possibility to be like in the future. That vision included blimp taxi service to South Hero, which I still think would be sort of cool. Today’s Milton of the future has a CCTA bus line. | photo: Milton Historical Society.  

My thoughts on Vermont weirdness often drift back to Milton, my former hometown. I suppose this is where I would further enhance that sentence with an explanation, but to be honest, I’m having trouble coming up with an angle on this. It’s where I grew up, and something about spending a third of my life there has just tattooed it into my framework. It’s where my love of the weird and the offbeat began from inside a quiet suburban bedroom, and began to proliferate outwards – which would become one of my most distinguished aspects of my personality, and why this blog now exists.

I often tote the Milton Creamery as the first abandoned building I've ever explored and became fond of, but more accurately, it was this ramshackle barn on the North Road I used to pass when I'd ride the school bus home. As a kid, I awarded it the moniker;
I often tout the Milton Creamery as the first abandoned building I’ve ever explored and became fond of, but more accurately, the first forsaken place I would ever lay eyes on was this ramshackle barn on the North Road I used to pass when I’d ride the school bus home. As a kid, I awarded it the moniker; “the broken barn”, which wasn’t all that creative but oh well, at least it was memorable. My mom was even cool enough to drive a little 6 year old me there a few times so I could explore it. Today, the faded relic is barely recognizable as the forest has almost consumed it. This was taken circa 1994, and is a scanned photograph.

As I grew older, I let my burning curiosity get the best of me, and began writing down all the urban legends and stories from my childhood, and all the accounts told to me over the years. This was a ritual I began to love, because I was quickly finding out that Milton was a fascinatingly storied town!

Its geographical area is unassumingly large, ranking 10th largest in land area and 8th in population (10,352 bodies at the 2010 census). All of that space is a perfect for hemming in obscure things and historical oddities. In the 1920s, aviation enthusiast and innovative inventor Paul Schill built an airport in town, where Sears and Ace Hardware are today (which accounts for the pancake flat plot of land along Route 7). But his goal of putting Milton on the map as an aviation manufacturer hot spot died in the beginnings of the great depression after he declared bankruptcy. In the later half of the 20th century, we were one of the premier racing towns in the northeast, with the Catamount Stadium (something I’d love to write about in great detail) and a drag strip drawing enthusiasts from around the region. These things have also became faded ghosts with the changing of the times.

Over the years, Milton would be a place where I would begin to shake hands with a lot of ghosts. Some were metaphorical; conjured from inflicting wounds laid upon to me. I began learning a lot about my Aspergers diagnosis in this town and still remember my lonesome youth rolling and stumbling, figuring out how I processed information in different ways from the rest, and how I often felt powerless because I didn’t feel like I understood the world around me, learning the rules out with the wolves.

But some of these ghosts were real. A former friend once told me about how their Bert’s Mobile Home trailer was haunted by the ghost of a little girl, who particularly liked a long narrow hallway connecting the bedrooms behind the living room. Though I’ve spent quite a bit of time there in my past life, I never had a run in with her. But I do recall the hallway always being dark and creepy, even during the day, which is a good breading ground for spook stories. When I asked the family about the girl, it became more complex and amorphous like these stories always tend to do; there were no records of any young girls growing up or dying there, making this story a weird mystery. But, they somehow knew she was there.

There is said to be a house on Main Street where things literally go bump in the night, perhaps because it used to be a funeral parlor in the last century. Weird lights and objects in the sky have been reported around 900 foot Cobble Hill for a few decades, and local lore tells of a haunted island in man-made Lake Arrowhead where a young woman was murdered by her jealous stricken husband in the late 30s, when he became enraged after the men of town kept admiring her. And, I’ll always remember this arbitrary point of non-trivia about Hobbs Road. Though the paved thoroughfare was named after a farming family, my friend once joked to me as he was reading the directions I wrote down so he could find my house; “I noticed that your neighborhood was off Hobbs Road…did you know that Hobbs is an old name for the devil?”

The more curious I became, the more I began to take comfort in the quiet company of weirdness and lore. Some mysteries I would have the pleasure of investigating, others still remain lost somewhere in the haze. Either way, both sets of ghosts would successfully haunt me for years to come.

Underneath The Ground

One of the most impressionable stories from my childhood told of a clandestine tunnel that started in the basement of the Joseph Clark mansion and ran underneath several old homes on Milton’s Main Street.

The stately Joseph Clark mansion, perched on a slight rise above Route 7, used to be the town offices and library back in the 1990s, which was the time when I picked up on the story. According to some, one of the house’s long dead builders is still there, and may be responsible for the next part of the story.

Kids in the library used to do what kids do best, and venture into places they weren’t supposed to. One of those places was the tunnel. But some would come running back up the stairs, visibly shaken, and tell the librarian that they were chased away by a man in the tunnel they thought was a security guard, whose presence was announced by the sound of heavy footsteps approaching them and then a glimpse of his tall dark form. But, the librarians would be confused and explain that the library had no security guard.

Unfortunately, that was where the story went cold. Was there really a tunnel underneath Main Street, connecting many of the town’s oldest homes together? If so, what was it used for? Popular theories guesstimate that it was constructed for use in the underground railroad.

Lorinda Henry of the Milton Historical Society was kind enough to sit down with me and help me in my search for answers. Meeting in the Milton Museum, which is pretty much the town attic that sits in an old church, we dug through countless unlabeled binders and boxes, but sadly, any information containing the tunnel wasn’t in their archives, or had long been lost. But the builder of the Clark mansion, however, was well documented.

The Joseph Clark Mansion
The Joseph Clark Mansion | Photo: UVM Landscape Change Program

After Milton’s official chartering in 1763, settlement was lackluster for the next 30 years. West Milton on the lower Lamoille banks, became the first part of town to be developed. A few miles up the river was a part of town that was known as Milton Falls, which would be the area around present day Main Street. In 1789, Elisha Ashley would survey the first east-west road in the Milton Falls section of town, by running a straight line from the Westford/East Road intersection, to a stump on the Lamoille River. Noah Smith, one of Vermont’s first lawyers, owned most of the land around what would become Main Street and Milton Village.

Joseph Clark was one of the earliest settlers in town, and his business endeavors made him both one of the wealthiest and most influential residents in Milton. He came to Milton in 1816, a year known by Vermonters as eighteen hundred and froze to death, because of the unseasonably frequent snow and frosts that caused widespread crop failure across the northeast. It’s no surprise that some superstitious Vermonters saw this as the coming of the end of the world.

But while the crops were failing, Clark and his partner Joseph Boardman saw opportunity in the rich pine forests that covered most of Milton, and hired crews to harvest the fine timber. The logs were floated up Lake Champlain to Montreal, before they were shipped to England, many to become used by the Royal navy. By 1823, he would purchase a sawmill in West Milton to process the raw timber. But by 1830, woodlands were replaced by agricultural land, and Clark decided to invest in other opportunities. He would build a gristmill in Milton Falls, then move into the brick mansion on Main Street that now bears his name. Later, he would build himself a two story brick office building where Main Street meets River Street, today’s Route 7. Clark’s move and investment in Milton Falls would lure more people and business endeavors there, and make that the new hub of town.

Joseph Clark's Gristmill, where present day Ice House Road runs over.
Joseph Clark’s Gristmill, where present day Ice House Road runs over. | Photo: UVM Landscape Change Program

Here, the Lamoille River and gravity worked together to form about 5 waterfalls in a few miles of one another constricted in a rocky gorge, before relaxing at West Milton. These falls were ogled and soon sought after for industry. Some however also envisioned bravado and a way to kill boredom. In the 1800s, a growing number of young people in the northeast were jumping in barrels and going over any waterfalls they could find, which would achieve both getting mentioned in the newspaper and sometimes death. I once heard many years ago that around that time, a local boy and self-described dare-devil went over Clark’s Falls in a barrel. But to my huge disappointment, I couldn’t find any verification or information on this man or his leap over the falls. I liked that anecdote enough to include it in this entry though.

Railroads were rapidly spreading their steel arteries across the United States, bringing people, opportunity and growth with them, and because these things were vital for business exploits, this caught Clark’s attention. Partnering with John Smith of the Central Vermont Railroad, they worked to get some tracks built through Milton. In 1845, Milton had a rail line and accompanying train station, and that benefited the town greatly. After the civil war, the railroad brought vitality to the town’s burgeoning summer tourism industry and industrial mainstays like the former Creamery, a building which has shaped my love of exploring and photography.

Clark would continue to remain active in town affairs until his death in 1879. The house was passed down to family members until 1916, when Joseph’s granddaughter, Kate, deeded the house to the town of Milton to use as the town offices, and remained so until 1994 when it was reverted back to a private residence.

Lorinda speculated that the former gristmill behind his mansion could have warranted the construction of a tunnel, which would have sat where present day Ice House Road is. The house was built on a slight ledge, which would have made the tunnel a more convenient way to travel from one place to another, especially in the grueling Vermont winters. But there was no way to know for sure.

The mill and most of the development near the river were washed away during the flood of 1927, making investigations almost impossible.

It was later told to me that someone knew of a “thick iron door” found in the basement of Joseph Clark’s former office building on the corner of Route 7 and Main. This was one of the few buildings on River Street to survive the flood of 1927, so that claim seemed pretty credible to me. (But if it were built at a later date, I would be really curious about that mystery as well)

Joseph Clark's Office Building on the corner of RIver St (Route 7) and Main. Milton denizens today may recall it by it's former reincarnation, as Irish Annie's Pub.
Joseph Clark’s Office Building on the corner of River St (Route 7) and Main. Milton denizens today may recall it by its former reincarnation, as Irish Annie’s Pub, which was sort of a hole in the wall affair where the brick facade almost fell into the road a few years ago. | Photo: UVM Landscape Change Program

Geography would aid me here. The building was built into a ledge that forms the beginning of Main Street hill. Right above sits the Clark mansion. This means that a door in the basement wall would have lead to some sort of subterranean chamber, which may have been a tunnel.

The historical society told me of a former resident and her mother who once lived there, and claimed to have seen the iron door themselves. The facts seemed to be finally adding up here, but it seems my request for information was a few years too late. The building has since been sold, and it’s current owner denies the existence of a door firmly and doesn’t want to talk about such things. I attempted to reach out to the previous owners who brought forth the iron door sighting, but they had told the historical society so long ago, that their contact information had since vanished.

The Irish Annie's building (now vacant) - where the supposed iron door is said to be. Main Street is to the right, which runs up the hill. The Clark Mansion sits behind it.
The Irish Annie’s building (now vacant) – where the supposed iron door is said to be. Main Street is to the right, which runs up the hill. The Clark Mansion sits behind it. Photo: Google.

Another suggestion illustrated that the tunnel once ran all the way up the hill to the abandoned creamery on Railroad Street. And sure enough, there is a walled up door in the basement that once did lead to a tunnel. Could this be the proof I was looking for? I did a little digging around (literally), and talked to a former employee. As it turns out, the door did lead to a tunnel, but it wasn’t the tunnel. It ran significantly shorter, just over to the brick building next door which was also owned by the creamery at the time (now converted to a private residence). But that tunnel also had its notoriety. Former creamery employees and older Miltonians wistfully admitted that they used to sneak down and party in that tunnel, those shindigs usually included spirits and cigarettes, while the creamery was in operation and even in the years after it’s closing.

The Creamery Tunnel, sealed off at it's other end.
The creamery tunnel, sealed off at its other end.

The tunnel story seemed to be disappointingly falling apart. Though it was cool to think about – practically, it didn’t make sense. If we stick to the theory of a tunnel running all the way underneath Main Street, why would such a long tunnel need to be constructed? What was it’s purpose? To further deteriorate the story, the stately homes on Main Street were all built around different times, meaning their construction most likely didn’t accommodate the existence of a tunnel. And to prove this, I had spoken with a few Main Street residents who had never even heard the story of the tunnel, but all assured me the only way into their homes were through the front or back doors.

Vicious Waters and Dislocation

It wasn’t until some time later, after this project had been pushed to the back of my to-do list that something came up which immediately pulled it from memory. A Facebook commenter who knew that I was attempting to get to the bottom of this sent me a message and shared a personal account with me. As a kid in 1960s Milton, he used to play with his buddies down near the river, and he recalled seeing a cave like opening set back in the cliffs near the dam. Popular labeling at the time dubbed it as a tunnel. He even remembers his parents admonishing him and telling him not to go near it because it was likely to be dangerous. He never did, but speculated that it may be what I’m looking for. He also said that some of his friends claimed to get inside, but couldn’t recall any more than that. For all we knew, they may have been embellishing the truth.

One gloomy summer afternoon in August, I set out with a few friends to dig around the Lamoille banks, trying to find the telltale opening. That part of town has long been awarded an odd moniker by local youth who call it The Vector, which is a robust sounding name, but I can’t seem to relate it’s actual definition to the rocky gorge spanning from the Route 7 bridge to the bottom of twisting Ritchie Avenue. But the name has proven very successful at sticking into the flypaper of local culture. I grew up knowing that area as The Vector, and still do.

An early stereoscope view of the area known as The Vector, early 1800s, before the dams and industry. The Lamoille River gorge was a wild place. Photo: UVM Landscape Change Program
An early stereoscope view of the area known as The Vector, early 1800s, before the dams and industry. The Lamoille River gorge was a beautiful wild place. Photo: UVM Landscape Change Program
Early explorers on the Lamoille River near Milton Falls, early 1800s. Photo: UVM Landscape Change Program
Early explorers on the Lamoille River near Milton Falls, date unknown. Explorer Samuel De Champlain called the river la Mouette, from all the gulls he saw when he navigated it, but it’s solidified name came from an error years later when an early map maker forgot to cross his t’s. The waterway is the only Lamoille River in the world. Photo: UVM Landscape Change Program
Ritchie Avenue is one of Milton's more impressive thoroughfares. The quiet road follows the pools of the Lamoille River before dropping down a series of ledges offering great views of the Lamoille and the towns rolling hills that stretch out to Lake Champlain. The distracting road was built to accommodate the construction of a pulp mill down in the vector, which once employed over 100 people. A strike in 1925 closed it, and the flood of 1927 destroyed it.
Ritchie Avenue is one of Milton’s more impressive thoroughfares. The quiet road follows the pools of the Lamoille River before switchbacking down a series of ledges yielding great views of the Lamoille and the low profile hills that undulate to the shores of Lake Champlain. The distracting road was built to accommodate the construction of a pulp mill down in the vector in the early 1900s, which once employed over 100 people who all built homes in town, which accounts for why so many houses on upper Cherry Street look similar. A strike in 1925 closed it, and the flood of 1927 destroyed it. Most of the area has been transformed into a kayak launch area and substation for Green Mountain Power, but some of the twisted remains and chunks of brick walls from the old place can still be seen at the bottom of the hill. I used to hang there as a teenager and explore the river’s islands, caves and rapids. | Photo: UVM Landscape Change Program
The incline railroad that carted lumber at the pulp mill, ran up the steep banks and towards where present day Mackey Street is. Years and years ago, someone told me that one of the rods or bolts from the supports could still be seen in those woods today, if you know where to look. But I can't verify this, as I haven't been able to find it.
The incline railroad that carted lumber at the pulp mill, ran up the steep banks and towards where present day Mackey Street is. Years and years ago, someone told me that one of the rods or bolts from the supports could still be seen in those woods today, if you know where to look. But I can’t verify this, as I haven’t been able to find it, which sort of makes this a similar tantalizing mystery like NYC’s Central Park and the famous lost survey bolt from it’s creation. | Photo: UVM Landscape Change Program

While doing our amateur urban archaeology, we found a surprising amount of items along the river banks, in the waters and even stashed in crevices that ran like veins through the crumbling rock ledges. Broken pieces of China plates, old glass bottles, rusted tools and even the remnants of an old truck lay trashed down in the rocky gorge, things that blurred the lines of being considered an artifact or garbage.

I knew this area was hit hard during the flood of 1927 and artifacts, cars and even entire homes were swept up in swollen brown tides down this part of the river, depositing much that still rests below wet rocks and Hemlock trees today. I even was able to dig up old newspaper accounts that were printed when the disaster was happening. One vivid memory was reported by a woman, who watched an entire house be swept down the river, almost entirely intact. She said she was able to look inside a broken window and see someone’s bed that had been turned down, as if the person was just about to turn in for the night.

The flood of 1927 is mentioned frequently in conversation of Vermont history, as the flood completely rearranged Vermont culture and infrastructure, and the after-efforts built much of the state we know today. The UVM Landscape Change Program archives had lots of photos of Milton pre and post flood, which gave me a startling impression of what was lost. This is the former town square, Milton's
The flood of 1927 is mentioned frequently in conversation of Vermont history, as the flood completely rearranged Vermont culture and infrastructure, and the after-efforts built much of the state we know today. The UVM Landscape Change Program archives has lots of photos of Milton pre and post flood, which gave me a startling impression of what was lost. This is the former town square, or “Downtown Milton” (1890). Joseph Clark’s office building can be seen on the immediate right, and was the only building in this photograph to survive the flood and exist into present day Milton. Phelp’s Store, which wasn’t photographed, also still stands underneath modern day red vinyl siding. Today, Route 7 is more or less, built right over this area.
Starting on November 2nd, an estimated four to nine inches of rain drenched Vermont and turned rivers into raging destructive torrents. Because it was late Autumn, the dry ground was unable to absorb the water. Soon, Milton residents watched as the Lamoille River turned River Street into an accurate description of it's name. Photo: UVM Landscape Change Program
Starting on November 2nd, an estimated four to nine inches of rain drenched Vermont and turned rivers into raging destructive torrents. Because it was late Autumn, the dry ground was unable to absorb the water. Soon, Milton residents watched as the Lamoille River turned River Street into an accurate description of it’s name. Photo: UVM Landscape Change Program
Flood waters on River Street in Milton, 1927. Photo: UVM Landscape Change Program
Flood waters on River Street in Milton, 1927. Photo: UVM Landscape Change Program
This is one of my favorite photos I was able to dig up, because it awesomely depicts the destructive powers of nature. In this blurry shot, it shows the Star Theater sink and wash away before a crowd of onlookers. Photo: UVM Landscape Change Program
This is one of my favorite photos I was able to dig up, because it awesomely depicts the destructive powers of nature. In this blurry shot, it shows the Star Theater sink and wash away before a crowd of onlookers. Photo: UVM Landscape Change Program
Post flood damage. Photo: UVM Landscape Change Program
By November 5th, it was over, and the post flood damage was phenomenal. Photo: UVM Landscape Change Program
The remodeled town square after the flood, with Joseph Clark's office building and Phelp's store the only surviving buildings. Photo: UVM Landscape Change Program
The remodeled town square after the flood, with Joseph Clark’s office building and Phelp’s store the only surviving buildings. The Gold Medal Flour advertisement on the back of Phelp’s Store survived until the building was renovated years ago, and sadly sided over. Photo: UVM Landscape Change Program
One of more popular tales of Milton lore is of the village underneath Lake Arrowhead. Basically, people claimed that downtown Milton was flooded underneath the lake when it was built, meaning there are a collection of soggy farmhouses at the bottom of the lake. As a kid, I even heard stories of scuba divers diving into the lake and setting foot on the roof of a house. After extensive digging, I was able to find this picture. This shows River Street, or Route 7 north of the bridge, which is now the Lake Arrowhead Causeway. These houses all sat where Route 7 is now.
One of the more popular tales of Milton lore is of the village underneath Lake Arrowhead.Basically, part of old Milton still remains below the lake after the area was submerged. As a kid, a friend’s mom told me that she knew someone who scuba dived down to the bottom and set foot on the roof of one of the old houses, which I thought was incredible. Then I would find this picture, which would offer some clarity to my fascination. This shows River Street north of the falls. The buildings pictured would be all underwater today, near where Route 7 runs along the lake. When plans to flood the area were made known, homes and businesses were moved and the new road would be built atop a raised dirt bed 90 feet high, still refered by old timers as “the fill”. But local lore maintains that some properties that were too damaged by the flood, somehow weren’t hauled off, and remain at the dark soggy bottom today. If there is in fact stuff down at the lake bottom today, I’m sure it would be in pretty rough shape, but with other stories around Vermont of sunken villages, would also be believable.| Photo: UVM Landscape Change Program.
In 1936, The Public Electric Light Company began constructing a dam above Clark's Falls, which would create the 750 acre Lake Arrowhead and provide a source of hydroelectricity. At the time, the Burlington Free Press lauded it as a technological marvel.
In 1936, The Public Electric Light Company began constructing a dam above Clark’s Falls, which would create the 750 acre Lake Arrowhead and provide a source of hydroelectricity. At the time, the Burlington Free Press lauded it as a technological marvel.| Photo: UVM Landscape Change Program
Luman Holcombe, a longtime Milton resident and respected community physician, was the one who suggested the name
Luman Holcombe, a longtime Milton resident and respected community physician, was the one who suggested the name “Arrowhead Mountain Lake” in 1937, because on still days, the reflection of nearby Arrowhead Mountain in the water forms to make an arrowhead. The cluster of trees in the middle of the lake are growing from the allegedly aforementioned haunted island. I also like the boats in the picture. The lake is a relatively dead place now days.| Photo: UVM Landscape Change Program

A better understanding of the flood also gave me a better understanding of the area I was going to explore. Not surprisingly, its popular with people who like to metal detect who are still finding things transplanted from the flood and years onwards, so seeing all of this rubbish down there wasn’t a shocker. But something didn’t quite fit. One odd find was that a certain crevice seemed to be filled with trash – but it was put there by someone. This wasn’t naturally occurring. Someone had been down there at one point, trying to fill it up…

After a while of picking at the pieces and dislocating rocks, we were able to catch a peek deeper into the crevice, which expanded far back into a dark rocky chasm. It was evident that there was, in fact, more to see, and it did extend backwards, but I knew it wasn’t what I was looking for. Granted, the space had long been filled in by dead leaves and garbage, but it seems too narrow for what could be considered a tunnel. No man could seemingly fit back there, without the aid of tools and a great deal of ensuing noise. Either way, I stopped my efforts.

DSC_0878_pe
The collection of items we were able to dig out of the crevice in the cliffs. All of the following photos were taken in the dying days of summer, 2014.

DSC_0874_pe DSC_0884_pe DSC_0886_pe DSC_0887_pe DSC_0891_peDSC_0873I came up empty on August’s exploration, but in October, another lead would unexpectedly manifest itself, and it was promising. Meeting up with childhood friend Zach, I found myself in a location I normally avoid, a hole in the wall bar and pool joint in Essex Junction.

I was there to speak with a friend of Zach’s, someone who grew up in the Clark mansion and knew the building well. The house still belongs to her family today. When Zach had mentioned I was interested in the Clark tunnel, she said she needed to meet me in person.

And, she happened to be the bar tender who served us our drinks. Those who know me well are aware of the great cosmic relief that I often feel far more in my element in a location that is “off limits” to society, as opposed to legally being inside a dimly lit bar  underneath a perfume of cigarettes and sweat. But she was all smiles, and her enthusiasm put me in a good mood. “Oh man, that house is definitely haunted!” she exclaimed. Though that wasn’t exactly my crux, I had to chuckle. “As the story goes, the house might be haunted by Joseph Clark?” I questioned, now amused.

“Nope” she replied. “We actually think it’s a woman”. Old records state that Clark was once married to a Colchester woman; Lois Lyon, which possibly could explain this. Over the years, she and her family have heard the sounds of high heals clacking on hardwood floorboards upstairs, and of course, whenever one would go and investigate, the second floor would be empty. She also recalled the upstairs being creepy as a kid, a place she wasn’t all that fond of hanging around in. Other accounts like phantom cold chills and the unmistakable feeling of being watched upstairs she also said were pretty common. But damn it, was there a tunnel? 

Much to my pleasure, the mystery was finally confirmed. There was a tunnel, and she has seen it! Now to get to the bottom of things.

Opacity 

In the cellar walls of the Clark mansion is the clear outline of a door that sits well below the grassy lawn, now sealed up. But the distinctive outline of a door cleared up all skepticism. Also in the basement was another relic I found to be very cool – a massive cast iron safe that once belonged to Joseph Clark still sat in the wall. Though much of the mansion had been renovated over the centuries due to its many reincarnations, a few authentic pieces of the place still remained. She explained to me that the tunnel had to be sealed up, because local kids kept getting into the tunnel and using that as passage inside the building, where they would steal and break things. This happened even after the building reverted back to a private residence in 1994, so actions finally had to be taken. What a shame. By now, the tunnel is more or less unsafe to enter as well, due to neglect over the years.

However, I don’t want to deceive you folks. This information was directly given to me from the niece of the current building owner, that owner also declined my phone calls to seek a tour of the place, which disappointed me a bit.

So the fabled tunnel is now proven to exist. But where does it go? It runs down to the basement of the defunct Irish Annie’s Pub at the bottom of the hill. Its original purpose was so that Joseph could travel from his office to his house conveniently, but over the years, it’s very nature of being direct and discrete inspired a few other uses. During prohibition, it was reinvented as a smugglers’ tunnel, which allowed rum runners to transport goods into a speak easy that once operated out of the basement of Irish Annie’s. Astonishingly, the remnants of the actual speak easy can still be seen today below the building, which really hasn’t changed all that much. The basement is a traditional old Vermont cellar, low ceilings, stone walls, and filled with things that crawl. The old iron door into the tunnel is still there too, the very door I was told about so long ago.

Were there other tunnels? Maybe. But the affor-mentioned flood of 1927 and post-reconstruction completely wiped any other leads I could possibly have. And as for that tunnel or cave near the Vector, I wasn’t successfully able to find that either. Perhaps something is still there, just filled in with erosion or a rock slide over the years. Though my lead at The Vector was a bit of a disappointment, I soon found out about other caves in the gorge with their own lore. Some rumored to be the hideouts of smugglers in the embargo act days of the 1800s and dry 1920s, and transitioned as hangouts by local youth and now, cavers looking for a thrill. Some are only accessible by kayak, weather permitting, and offer creepy claustrophobic excursions into dark spaces.

This blog entry has been one of my favorite pieces to write so far. By trying to do research on what I assumed would be a straightforward topic, I kept stumbling on more information and stories that continued to morph and blurred whatever side of the line between reality and fantasy you wanted to be on, far too many for your blogger to fit in this already lengthy article.

One night while sitting in the living room of a former friend’s house, his dad told me their old farmhouse was built in the early 1900s, out of an old barn built in the 1800s, and was dragged to Milton by oxen from its former position where the airport in South Burlington is now. I guess the house contained many other cool details, but sadly we’ve since lost touch.

Another favorite find of mine was a few years back, when a WW2 medal belonging to a Nebraska man was found stuffed in a VCR cassette and stashed inside a tree. No one knew exactly how the medals ended up in Vermont, or why.

Milton is a cool town, and the people who live their have their share of extraordinary stories. I have quite a few other Milton points of interest and esoterica that I plan on writing about in the future. Until then, thanks for the inspiration Milton.

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If you missed it, I was recently interviewed by Stuck In Vermont and Seven Days. If you’d like to learn a little bit more about your blogger, feel free to check out my interview.

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The Soggy Remains of The Pines

Last weekend, I took a road trip with a friend to The Borscht Belt, a tongue-in-cheek colloquial moniker given to an area of New York’s Catskills Mountains interspersed with decaying hotels from a bygone era.

In the 20th century, the Jewish community from New York City were being battered with a growing antisemitism movement which barred them from many mainstream hotels and vacation destinations. That well-realized awareness encouraged them to build a destination of their own, and the Catskill Mountains a few hours north of New York City became their prospective topography that would be superimposed with lots and lots of blueprints.

Many establishments started out as simple farmhouses that offered hearty meals and a place to sleep, attracting city dwellers with mountain views instead of glass and steel, scented mountain air instead of smog, and noises other than the sound of a city crawling with bodies. Other early attempts at tourism capitalized on the mineral springs fashion of the Victorian age.  It seemed like these investments were working, because towards the 1930s, the area began to turn celebrity. Smaller establishments expanded as new hotels would be envisioned.

Soon, a rather long and boundary debatable cluster of small hardscrabble towns began to become destination communities as lavish all-inclusive resort hotels began to spread out on former farms or woodlots. As time progressed,  some places began so popular that private air strips were being envisioned so they could accommodate a predicted increase of air travel from the city. The most revered appeal of the Catskills was that many of these resorts offered upper class amenities and made them accessible to folks that normally couldn’t afford those luxuries.

The Pines was one of those hotels, once beloved now moldering in the tiny and depressed little hamlet of South Fallsburg. Existing since 1933, The Pines wasn’t one of the largest Borscht Belt resorts, but it was arguably one of it’s grandest. It grew to offer 400 rooms, a golf course, tennis courts, indoor and outdoor pools, a ski chalet and trails, an indoor skating rink, conference rooms and a night club, and restaurant and bar. It’s once lavish theater hosted the usual ‘Jewish Alps’ (another Catskills epithet) entertainers of the day such as Buddy Hackett and Robert Goulet.

The Catskills popularity found it’s pivot point during the 1970s, when social changes stepped out of the throes of the fight many younger members of the Jewish culture no longer had to face as their parents did.

That, and cheap air travel could take people to other places for around the same price as a trip upstate. Now, people could go to Florida or Europe and didn’t need to settle for the Catskills. Ironically, even the Adirondacks, the loftier and bumpier part of upstate New York, were still increasing in popularity, leaving the Catskills to corrode in rust and sorrow. The Pines’ story seems to end like most of these stories do. The sprawling hotel was sold in 1998 and bought by The Fallsburg Estates LLC, who wished to revitalize the 96-acre property and, in addition to revamping the ski hill and golf course, build shiny new condos over the ramshackle hotel. But by 2002, they filed for bankruptcy, which is consequently why the hotel is in the deplorable and vulnerable state it’s in today.

The remnants of the Catskill craze are still around, even if the craze isn’t. Today, the region is littered with abandoned properties – fantasies of blight whose visages bear slovenly expressions that welcome vandals, explorers, arsonists, scrappers and teenagers who are excited by the prospect of a paintball game or a place to drink cheap beer.

Arriving in South Fallsburg, I felt awkward driving around it’s deserted residential streets. Much of the area looks strangely incongruous, like a mockup community built by the government during the cold war that was awaiting the detonation of a nuclear bomb. The weird inner city like apartment blocks sitting in the woods were oddly desolate and forlorn looking, and the increasing amount of signs in Yiddish further sent me a feeling of dislocation.

Hiking up through the woods on a great 63 degree October afternoon, myself and my friend soon found ourselves staring at the brooding and ugly ruins of what was left of The Pines, and there wasn’t all that much. I had came a bit late, after it’s exploration heyday it seems, leaving me with what remained of it’s rotting bones.

The old hotel was absolutely trashed, being inside was like stepping into a rotting cave. The perpetually soggy carpets and dripping water immediately soaked my boots and the air was absolutely foul without a resporator mask. Some levels had entirely collapsed, while other wings were more hole than floor. Moss, mold and plant life grew wild on the the carpets and walls. Some rooms were completely destroyed, while others were strange enclaves of preservation, the difference at times depended on which side of the hallway you were on. Mimicking the residual motions of the long gone guests, I spent several hours walking around it’s dark passages, feeling disparate nostalgia for a time I never even lived through.

Scrappers had ransacked the surviving sordid buildings for any valuable materials they could rip out of the walls or ceilings. Evidence of squatters camps could be found in a few rooms, which was a real poignant and sobering sentiment that there are some who do spend the night in this grim place, leprous with mold, rot and water damage that was beginning to make entire buildings buckle and bend as sections begin to lose their ability to do what they were designed to do.

A few different arson attempts were successful around 2003 and 2007, and consumed a few smaller outbuildings. Later, the indoor pool, famous theater, and indoor skating rink were razed, with an implied intent that the rest of the property was soon to follow. But demolition was halted, and the property sits in perishing limbo, somewhere between what it once was, and whatever it’s turning into.

Vintage Postcard of The Pines, circa 1960s. via cardcow.com
The Persian Room, the nightclub and theater at The Pines, now demolished. via cardcow.com
The Pines’ kidney shaped outdoor pool with concrete arch bridge. via cardcow.com
Indoor Pool, now demolished. via cardcow.com
Indoor/outdoor skating rink. The Pines was one of the early resorts to use artificial snow making in the area. Now demolished. via cardcow.com
Oof. A Very dated guest room at The Pines, circa 1960. Those sheets look pretty interesting, how they are designed to fold snugly around the shape of the bed and over the pillows, like housekeeping wanted to make sure you had the most sanitized night sleep of any hotel you’ve stayed at. via http://uglymotelrooms.blogspot.com/

Here is a promo made around the 1980s I found on Youtube, to give you an idea of what this place used to be like.

My talented friends at Antiquity Echoes made this great edit of their exploration to The Pines a few years ago, and their thoughtful camerawork shows much of the hotel that has long vanished.

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The first building we came upon was the former clubhouse on the golf course, a cool mid-century building with an angled roof line. The building was two stories, and housed locker rooms and a pro shop. The interior was strewn with soggy insulation and broken glass, skis and ski boots, golf bags and pairs of cleats, and a weird pile of plastic ‘Hawaiin’ leis in the basement.

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First up was the two story Regency wing.
Next up, the two story Regency wing.
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The dark interiors were a ruined and spongy creation of hip 1970s avocado pallets.

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All that remains of the Persian Room is the signature concrete terraced levels.

 

DSC_0347_pe.jpgIn the 1990s, convention centers were becoming Catskills de rigueur, so many hotels, including The Pines, built them up on their properties.

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One of the catwalks that connected the many buildings of the hotel together, so guests could get from place to place in convenient comfort.
One of the catwalks that connected the many buildings of the hotel together, so guests could get from place to place in convenient comfort.

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The soggy remains of the lobby. The entire carpet had grown a lawn of moss and plant life, and the eerie sound of dripping water through rotten ceiling tile was the only sound that could be heard in the otherwise silent building.
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One of the former bars of the spacious two-story lobby. This reminds me of a story I read somewhere on the internet a while back (whose source I’ve forgotten). Years ago, an explorer who was visiting The Pines found some Zima’s in a refrigerator that had clearly not been refrigerated for years. For some reason, they drank all 6 of them. About a year later, they were at a party, and a girl opened a fresh Zima. In horror, they discovered that Zima were supposed to be clear in color. Though not drinking suspicious beverages left at an abandoned location is exploring 101 for me, I strangely know a few people who have done this and were absolutely okay with it. I love adventures, but that’s a bit more adventurous than I want.

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What remained of the restaurant. There was quite a bit of leftover evidence of a paintball game that had happened here. But that got me questioning. The floors here were more hole than not, with us stumbling into several occasions when we discovered that the carpet was the only thing preventing us from falling down into the basement. How the hell did they play paintball here??

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The massive kitchen was lit up generously by lots of skylights.
The massive kitchen was lit up generously by lots of skylights.

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Straight ahead is the Essex building. The dark space underneath is where guests would have driven under upon arrival.
Straight ahead is the Essex building. The dark space underneath is where guests would have driven under upon arrival.

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The Savoy Wing was a funky, kitschy nightmare of shag carpeting, red and pink walls, and guestrooms outfitted with mirrored walls and faux window treatments. Excessive water damage and clogged gutters allowed years of water to pour down through the ceilings and eventually lead to a large collapse in the center of the building.
The Savoy Wing was a kitschy experience of psychedelia, with shag carpeting, red and pink walls, and guestrooms outfitted with mirrored walls and faux window treatments. Excessive water damage and clogged gutters allowed years of water to pour down through the ceilings and eventually lead to a large collapse in the center of the building.

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Autumn just makes road trips better. Driving north towards Middleburgh, we were immersed deep within the surprisingly vast destitution of the Catskill Park Wilderness, which meant driving on curvy paved back roads around beaver meadows and rolling hills all dying in a brilliant uniform yellow for several hours, occasionally passing through a small town that was a collection of unmaintained old houses and maybe a church. There are no gas stations in the Catskills, which always makes my anxiety glance at the gas gauge needle and sucks if you need a bathroom.

Another noticeable difference between the Catskills and Vermont, besides the singular foliage color of yellow, was that while I may encounter 3 deer wandering out into the middle of the road in 3 years in Vermont, in the Catskills, we had to slam on our breaks for 8 deer in a single drive.

Eventually, we happened upon a state park and camped out for the night on the last available night of the state park season. The temperature dropped into the teens and I was kept awake all night by wailing coyotes and things that scampered through the dead leaves around my tent. But with a cozy campfire and some microbrews bought at nearby Middleburgh; a startling and mood improving oasis of blue collar businesses and a Christmas light covered main street, it was a great night. The next morning, I was as rested as sleeping on a tent pitched on a gravel bed in 18 degree weather would get me, and we were off.

Gross at Grossingers

About 20 minutes from The Pines sat another enormous abandonment where I briefly stopped to photograph. This hotel was legendary, and was arguably the hotel that became the representation of the region, growing to a size of 35 buildings on 1,200 acres. In 1952, it would enter its place in worldly accolades as the first place that used artificial snow making on its ski slopes.

So large was this property that a private airstrip was once constructed to handle predicted private aircraft traffic that never came. The hotel’s rise and fall echoes The Pines own tragedy, and became a ghost just as fast as it triumphed. Today, the property is a victim to one of the grimmest truths of reality. It’s so deplorable after two decades of raving and destruction that its disgusting ruins were sadly a disappointment to walk through – a sad fall and postmortem.

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The first thing I saw as I bushwhacked my way onto the property was the area below the former landmark outdoor pool, which is a ruined storage area of poolside lawn chairs and boilers completely ruined by corrosion.

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The Olympic sized outdoor pool. This hotel was famous for it back in the day, and it’s remote positioning at a far flung and overgrown corner of the 1,200 acre grounds make it a mostly missed site for visitors.

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The eeriness of the property was unshakable as I walked around. The ugly and dated buildings were reduced to indignant and unsettling billboards that reckless destruction wrote. All the windows were broken, the doors and walls kicked in. A fetid stench was the first thing I noticed long before I tromped under the coolness of the building shadows, a stagnant foul entity that permeated around the entire property.
The eeriness of the property was unshakable as I walked around. The ugly and dated buildings were reduced to indignant and unsettling totems that reckless destruction wrote. All the windows were broken, the doors and walls kicked in. A fetid stench was the first thing I noticed long before I tromped under the coolness of the building shadows, a stagnant foul entity that permeated around the entire property.
The eeriness of the property was unshakable as I walked around. The ugly and dated buildings were reduced to indignant and unsettling billboards that reckless destruction wrote. A fetid stench was the first thing I noticed long before I tromped under the coolness of the building shadows, a stagnant foul entity that permeated around the entire property.
I actually had reservations going inside, which was a startling sentiment than my eager mood I was conduiting a few minutes ago. It felt like I was being watched the entire time I was there.
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Creeping down the dark hallway with my mag-light in front of my like a weapon, my feet sinking into some unknown mush, my friend suddenly stiffed up, motioned for me to push up against what was left of a hole filled wall, and pointed at this guest room as my hand went for my knife. “See that stuff? I think someone was here, very very recently. He may still be around…” Thankfully, we didn’t run into anyone who left behind a new looking sleeping bag and a pack of cigarettes. But I didn’t stick around.
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Rumor has it that somewhere on the grounds, there is a single, bizarrely intact/preserved hotel room, which is sort of an amusing urban legend of this hotel. I’ve seen a few photos, but many have failed to find it, or at least include it in their blog entries. (This isn’t the room). We had to be back in Vermont by nightfall, so on this trip, I didn’t get to find it.
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What would have been a foyer off the grand ballroom, now a mess of a structure with collapsing floors that fall into the blackness of whatever is below.

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What might just be the most recognized building of the Catskills is an abandoned 1960s wing of the hotel, which also happens to be the tallest on the property.
What might just be the most recognized building of the Catskills is an abandoned 1960s wing of the hotel, which also happens to be the tallest on the property.
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In the 80s, the hotel was loosing money, so the idea was to build a new resort – a bigger, better showpiece! But the gaudy, shopping mall-esque editions that were going up around the more traditional buildings only differentiated from the place. But their ambitious new image wouldn’t save them, and the whole resort closed in 1986 when it, and the Catskills fell out of style. This would have been the new lobby, halted and abandoned in mid construction.

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These 4 rotting bar stools are a photographic icon of this property. At one point, there were more of them, and they were all standing in a row lining the bar that they once accompanied. Today, only these 4 remain, barely.
These 5 rotting bar stools are a photographic icon of this property. At one point, there were more of them, and they were all standing on supporting vertical poles in a row lining the bar that they once accompanied. Today, only these 5 remain, barely.

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An old beauty salon chair, located down in dank and dark levels below, seemed to have been dragged outside and left out near the bar.
An old beauty salon chair, located down in dank and dark levels below, seemed to have been dragged outside and left out near the bar.

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Another wing of the property, which looked almost identical to all the other buildings now in their incarnation of wasteland and mystery.

That is, expect for its extraordinary natatorium.

The mid-century marvel was under the weight of its silence, not even the birds were chirping as I walked around the massive space. Though the electricity was shut off decades ago, the atrium’s great design ensured the place was nicely lit up by plenty of skylights in-between some striking starburst chandelier style light fixtures from the 1950s that were still shockingly preserved . Walking around coats your boots in slick sludge and stubble white mold that has been reclaiming the buckling pool tiles. The pool itself is a chaise lounge graveyard, tossed into some murky filth and curating rot that has collected in the Olympic-sized pool’s deep end.

This place has achieved legendary status for explorers, photographers and curious visitors all around the east coast. A visit here jestingly pushes your explorer legitimacy card. Just before I walked in with my camera, a bunch of teenagers were just finishing shooting a music video here.

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The scariest part of my visit here was actually trying to leave. When we were walking back to the car, my friend and I were inducted into a circumstantial game of face off with a vicious dog, who was creating a raucous of barking and snarling at our presence walking down a quiet back road with our cameras.

After about 20 minutes or so of keeping our tentative distance and wondering if he was going to dash off the front lawn in our direction if we got any closer, it walked around the back of the house and oddly, disappeared. No one came outside, and we heard no doors opening (we were that close). We waited another five minutes or so, and finally decided we were going to chance moving forward. Luckily, we made it safely back to our car with our internal organs in their places.

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Between A Rock and A Hard Place

For years now, I’ve heard talk of adventures in the caves and abandoned quarries of Southern Vermont, which compelled me to research them. The town of Dorset, northwest-ish of Manchester, has a remarkable 31 abandoned quarries within the town limits, and a drive through town offers some perspective here. Dorset is mostly mountainous, with the Green Mountains rising east of town, and a clump of formidable peaks that fill in the northwestern portion. The cluster of rocky eminents west of the Greens are part of the Taconic range, and consist of Mt. Aeolus, Owls Head, Netop and Dorset Mountain, sometimes called Dorset Peak. It’s here where the geography offered profitable geology; marble.

The oldest commercial marble quarry in the United States was carved into Dorset bedrock in 1785 in the village of South Dorset, along today’s Route 30. Over the next 130 years, about 30 more quarries would pit up the slopes of Mt. Aeolus and Dorset Peak. The marble expelled here was of such a fine quality, with attractive tints of greens and blues, that the demands multiplied and Dorset marble soon found notoriety in several significant buildings in major cities across the United States, such as New York and Washington DC.

One of the quarrying operations accomplished here was the awesome Freedley Quarry, located 1,000 feet up on the eastern slopes of Mount Aeolus. Freedley was unique, because instead of a hole in the ground, it was quarried in a horseshoe shaped tunnel, with caverns and passages blasted through the foundation of the mountain. Servicing the quarry was an incline/funicular railroad, which was built to transport the large marble blocks extracted here down to the mill in East Dorset, which saved laborers from an arduous trip down the mountain.

But by the 1920s, the marble business went bust, largely because of the introduction of Portland cement, which became a cheaper and more convenient replacement. Most of the quarries in Dorset would be bought up by The Vermont Marble Company in Proctor, who then shut them down to consolidate business as demands continued to drop.

In the 1930s the ski craze hit southern Vermont, which would coax the area’s shift into tourism. For a brief time, Fred Pabst of PBR fame developed a J-Bar served ski area on the slopes of Mt. Aeolus, but not long afterwards, he decided to pull the lift and move it to Bromley. In the 60s, a larger proposed ski resort conceptualized as Dorset Hollow was proposed, but was killed shortly after it’s birth from tumultuous local opposition. If the resort had been built on Netop Mountain, it would have offered a 3,000 foot vertical drop which would have made it the largest of any ski resort in Eastern North America. The mountains were left to be reclaimed by nature, but the marble industry has left a lasting impression here in a tangible way. One of those being the distinctive marble sidewalks that still parallel along Route 30 in Dorset village and are slippery when rainy.

Today, the assortment of quarries are popular with the outdoor adventurous type. A few locales and their sharp vertical walls draw cliff jumpers, some who like making edits of their leaps. The Norcross Quarry on Route 30 is a popular place to taunt trauma.

The mountains around Dorset Peak are unassumingly steep back country, which is combed with an expansive network of celebrated 4 wheeler trails and logging roads that draw off-roaders in Jeeps, trucks and ATVs for a radius so large that many of the battered vehicles have out of state plates. Somewhere in those woods is a set of trails which are apparently so gnarly that some locals have dubbed them “World War 3”.

But as I was finding out, people in the know about such places don’t like to give up their locations, for the same reason that I often don’t disclose the places I explore; protection. These personal sanctums are in constant danger of being ruined by disrespectful visitors, or being closed down due to potential injuries making them a jeopardy to public safety or a liability to the property owner. It’s one of those double edged swords which I can sympathize with and be bummed by at the same time. Any invitation I receive is always met with me profusely expressing my gratitude.

Taking to the resourceful world of the internet, I discovered The Vermont Cavers Association and got a background on another intrepid hobby in the Green Mountain State; caving. Even though Vermont isn’t all that known for its caves, there are plenty of people here who seek them out all the same. The state’s geology doesn’t allow for the water permeation and underground flows that form the massive caves found farther south in Appalachia. Author and caving expert Peter Quick noted that Vermont may have around 60 caves that would stretch beyond 100 feet. But we still have a pretty impressive network here that is ardently admired (The quarries in Dorset are included on that list), with many new ones being discovered yearly. Some subterranean passages are described as squirming through twisting spaces the size of your body, which is a deal breaker for me. I’ll take my adventures free of claustrophobia, above ground.

On a humid early summer’s morning, I took the scenic drive down to mountainous Southern Vermont to see if I could find some of these well-esteemed quarries. After driving through Victorian Wallingford, Route 7 south became linear straight, running between the Green and Taconic Ranges which closed in the highway on both sides. Part of this expanse of wilderness is within the easily missed town of Mount Tabor, which Wikipedia condemningly says is “the sneakiest speed trap in the United States” and something about dead bodies occasionally being found along Route 7. That submission may or may not be the work of a disgruntled internet user. I can’t deny or confirm the corpse claim.

via the Mount Tabor Wikipedia page.
via the Mount Tabor Wikipedia page.

I stopped by the Dorset Historical Society to speak with museum curator Jon Mathewson, an amiable and interesting gentleman, who helped point me in the direction of achieving my goal of getting up to a quarry. Inside the museum is a rather cool 3D map of Dorset, with all of the defunct quarries marked on the raised surfaces and information corresponding to each, some having amusing connotations like “Deaf Joe Quarry”. He directed me to the aforementioned Freedley Quarry, and told me where to find the class D roadway that would take me there.

Freedley Quarry, First Attempt.

The Freedley Quarry is easy to get to, as long as you don’t make the same mistake I did and accidentally hike up the wrong mountain, turn around and descend back down the mountain while breathing heavily, soaked in sweat and suddenly no longer caring if you found it or not.

On my first attempt, I had brought my buddy John along for the adventure. Parking in front of the aforementioned road, which in reality was only a really muddy 4 wheeler trail, we entered the woods. Not remembering if I was supposed to take a left or a right at the first fork in the trail, we took a left. What I had assumed would have been at 20-minute walk in the woods turned into a laborious climb up Mt. Aeolus while making the futile effort of swatting at endless clouds of dive bombing mosquitoes and wondering if I was going in the right direction. I now understood why a railroad was built up here over a century ago.

The forests suddenly opened up due to a massive rock slide created by quarrying efforts that vanquished a huge patch of mountainside as they tumbled. The clearing offered impressive views of Emerald Lake cozily embraced by the narrow valley of Vermont, and beyond, the Green Mountains. Directly adjacent to the clearing, I found the Folsom Quarry. Folsom was semi-interesting, really just a cavity in the upper slopes of Mt. Aeolus, it’s visage bearing the scars from years of cutting, now left to the caprices of nature. But, it had some amusing points of interest. One was that Folsom was so high up in elevation (over 1,000 feet), that it never floods. The second was that it’s tall vertical walls gave it the traits of a natural amphitheater. It was cool, both metaphorically, and literally, as it offered relief from late June humidity, but it wasn’t the impressive catacomb-like quarry I was so interested in seeing. Onward we trudged, as the trail zig-zagged up the mountain in a series of deeply rutted switchbacks. Eventually, I came across a startling find. A surveillance camera far from anything, powered by a lone solar panel, both attached to a wooden post. Nearby were some yellow diamond Nature Conservatory signs, announcing that I was now near the Aeolus Cave, and asking us to please keep away as part of an effort to combat the mysterious illness, White Nose Syndrome.

I had remembered Jon telling me about the Aelous Cave and White Nose syndrome, which was first discovered in Upstate New York in 2007 and made it’s debut in Dorset around 2008, as hikers and cavers began noticing the grisly site of scores of dead bats carpeting the floors of the mountaintop cave. The pre-White Nose Syndrome Aelous Cave was the largest hibernaculum in the northeastern United States, but the fungus wiped out about 90 percent of its resident bat population. Today, the Nature Conservatory has designated the cave as a both a protected and research designated area.

Seeing this, I knew I had gone way too far. Descending back down the mountain, I decided that a few pizza slices accompanied by an IPA in Manchester was more appealing than trying the other fork in the trail. I was exhausted.

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Freedley Quarry, Second Attempt

The rain had just come to a dull drizzle by the time we arrived back in Dorset. Somewhere under the fog was the mountain that we were going to hike, and carved into that mountain, the quarry. Parking at the now familiar trail head, me and my friend Eric embarked into the woods and damp mists. The trail split into a fork, and we took the right, hoping that this time, we were on the right path. But another ten minutes into our trek up the washed out trail, we came upon yet another fork. I mentally groaned. Then I audibly groaned. How many trails were there on this mountain? Once again, the directions I had been given weren’t directions, and I had no idea what to do or had any sense of bearings.

That old saying “you can’t see the forest (or in this case, quarry) through the trees” was a very relevant concept at this moment. Any of these paths could potentially have lead to there. The trail actually had at least three unaccounted forks, and we hesitantly detoured on all of them, each contributing unenjoyable climbs up steep inclines serviced by trails reincarnated as mud slides due to the relentless succession of rain storms that had recently drenched Southern Vermont.

As we traveled deeper into the woods and past other defunct quarries that had long silted in with dirt and vegetation, I began to notice a viscous mist that was conspicuous from the rain and fog, accompanied by the wafting acrid stench of sulfur and gunpowder. That was a familiar smell. Someone was lighting off fireworks, and they were near enough where the expelled smolder could reach us. We both assumed that there were other people at the quarry engaging in some festive intimacy, and mentally prepared ourselves to deal with them as we would attempt to photograph the place. The supposition that we weren’t alone on the mountain was confirmed when a few people passed us on the trail riding in Jeeps, some exchanging greetings by waving, and others by flicking cigarette butts at us. I suddenly felt awkwardly out of place, being the only folks on foot up here.

Soon, we came across the creepy dampened ruins of what appeared to be some sort of old shack or hunting camp, which looks like it was the victim of a home made firework and exploded at some point, interspersing twisted and disintegrating artifacts throughout the overgrown brush along the trail. Among the debris were a scattering of beer cans and food wrappers, which told us that even way up here, people come and party/litter.

Ahead, we noticed a four way in the trail and could feel the air become a bit cooler, which was a good indication. To our left, the black mouth of the quarry soon became discernible through a thick strand of white Birches. The smoke was incredibly thick now, and as I slowed down to survey the area, I saw what I had expected to see; there was a rather large bonfire crackling where the cave met the open air. We also noticed the producers of the fire; three slovenly people who appeared to be in their late teens, two boys and a girl, and all of them were wearing hunter orange. For some reason beyond my rational, this seemed to make me a bit uneasy. The weather on the mountain was viciously sultry, far too hot to be clad in full body hunter orange. And why would you wear it in the summer when hunting season isn’t for another few months? We observed as the two fellows headed into the complete blackness of the cave, and the girl sat on what appeared to be a rock and plopped herself startlingly close to the fire.

At a complete standstill, I was about to ask Eric how he felt about approaching the cave and trying to take some photographs despite their presence there, but then came the pivotal point of our encounter. A strange sound came from the dark crevices from within the cave, what sounded like the wail of a goat. We waited in confused and uneasy silence. As our eyes strained for answers, we heard that terrible noise again, only this time, the situation became clear. It wasn’t a goat. Those guys were the ones making the noises.

We took a few steps backwards now, a bit alarmed, and suddenly not wanting to be detected. The two guys, completely unperturbed, continued their strange ritual of making those horrible goat noises inside the cave, loudly reverberating and making empty echoes off the walls that sounded like something from a hellish nightmare. Later, Eric and myself would both agree that what we had heard was the weirdest noise both of us have ever encountered. It sounded inhuman, and yet, we both knew it came from the mouth of one.

It was now when a new detail that I had overlooked before, came to light. None of them were talking to one another. Other than their contrived lunacy, none of them were actually speaking to one another, and wouldn’t for the entire time that we had stuck around. Then, all went silent, apart from the crackling of their fire.

One of them started to maniacally whistle, followed by a few minutes of uncomfortable silence, and then the other guy whistled back in the same manor. This pattern repeated for a few more minutes, followed by the ominous goat noises once again resuming. We waited there, obscured by thick brush and birch trees, for twenty minutes, partially because that the bizarre show that had been developing before us was somehow too tantalizing to walk away from. Then, the girl, who was still crouching by the fire, started making an awful wailing noise, that sounded much like a baby that was in great distress, and this went on for several minutes as we gazed at them from our hiding place with intermittent glances at one another, completely befuddled. The goat noises started back up, and still, none of them were talking to one another.

My disappointment couldn’t be contained. We were so frustratingly close to our destination, and yet, the ghastly activity coming from the quarry ensured I didn’t dare make a move to get any closer. I was far too nervous at this point. A large quarry this secluded was a perfect place for multifarious clandestine activity. Sometimes, the motives of sentient beings can be vexing. We spoke in quiet whispers, and made the decision to get the hell out of there. Just as we began to walk backwards, the mountainsides vibrated violently and gray sulfurous smoke spewed through the trees. They were now lighting off some heavy duty fireworks inside the cave.

Walking back down the trail, I couldn’t help thinking that we had somehow avoided some great danger, and a feeling of sweet relief crept over me. Not long after hastily retreating, we ran into two middle aged looking guys traveling up the trail in a Jeep. We stepped aside to let them pass, but they smiled at us and stopped, and both parties exchanged greetings.

“What are you guys up too?” the gentleman behind the wheel opened with, his eyes falling on our cameras. “We wanted to check out the Freedley Quarry” I answered. “Oh yeah? What’d you guys think?” asked the man in the passenger seat. “Don’t know, we never made it”. Both of them looked at us quizzically, probably because we were walking from the direction that the quarry was in, so we told them what we had just encountered, and why we turned around. The guy behind the wheel just looked at us like he was in a condescending state of awe, then said as a matter-of-factly; “well, it’s a free country”, and drove off. In all the excitement, I had forgotten it was the fourth of July.

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Freedley Quarry, Third Attempt

This time, it was my friend Jay that accompanied me, who found my previous failed attempts and strange encounter pretty amusing. Only this time, we made it to the quarry without and setbacks, and spent three pleasant hours exploring it’s eye magnetic catacombs, flooded passages and exquisite shaft like opening that bore straight upwards through the roof of the mountainside we were underneath. Not surprisingly, the insides of the massive line diminishing space were colorfully graffitied on just about any available surface, and were a mixture of the usual things you’d expect to see graffitied somewhere. Names and dates, slanderous accusations, original artwork and conjurings of the more vulgar variety. The quarry floors were littered with trash and strangely, nails, and rubbed black from numerous tire treads of all the vehicle activity inside the cave. In the winter, the flooded insides freeze over, and people snowmobile up the mountain and utilize the quarry as an awesome skating rink.

Eventually, we were loosing daylight, and the quarry began to take on a more eerie pallor as the temperature dropped and the interior became a dark place haunted by the cacophony of dripping water. I’m glad I stayed persistent.
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