Abandoned Dairy Farms

For a blog about obscure Vermont, I’m a little surprised that an abandoned farm hasn’t made the rounds in my posts yet.

Every state has stereotypes that give an oversimplified image of what it’s supposedly all about. Massachusetts is all paved suburbia and Dunkin Donuts, Maine has the ocean and fanfare for an acquired taste called Moxie, and Vermont is a bunch of farms and home to Ben and Jerry’s.

Well, in Vermont’s case, that’s not that far from the truth. Vermont is the most rural state in the nation and to prove it, we have a bunch of statistics with the word “small” in them. We have the second smallest population, the smallest largest city, the smallest tallest building, the smallest state capital, and are the 45th smallest of the states.

Growing up in Vermont, your friends most likely fall into two categories. You love it here, or you think it’s wicked boring. Personally, it’s what we don’t have that I think makes Vermont so great. There are no casinos here, no billboards, few malls and chain stores, and no amusement parks (unless you count the Pump House at Jay Peak?). And in all that space in-between our 9 cities are a lot of farms and their variations.

Agriculture has strong roots up here. Generations of Vermonters have been farmers because you did what you had to do to get by. In such a detached state, other jobs often weren’t here so you had to be self-reliant, until very recently with the emergence of the internet and a growing commuter culture. This hardscrabble lifestyle may be why Vermonters have that reputation for being notoriously stubborn and stoic.

Many surmise that this was the reasoning behind all the Poor Farm Roads that can be found across the state, because so many Vermonters were farmers who lived around the poverty line, but the actuality is more depressing. Poor Farms were institutional farm complexes that were sort of an early form of welfare, created and supported by public taxes, where anyone who couldn’t support themselves would wind up and were made to labor their days away on by doing farm work. In return, they had food, a bed, and clothes. But from what I heard about them – they were often gloomy places, and many unfortunates spent their lives there and went to the grave there. There’s a Poor Farm Road in the town I grew up in, but by the time I was aware of its namesake, most of the place had long been developed by cookie cutter rural suburbia and erased, minus one old barn which the local kids would tell me used to be part of it, and according to them, had bars on the windows and shackles still on the wall. But a trip down to the end of the road as a late teenager revealed it was just a dilapidated barn without the lingering despair.

A thematic name that I found interesting can be found in Jericho called “Raceway”, (today, replacement signs have added the “rd” suffix on the end) and despite both the road’s encouraging name and being pretty linear, the other definition of a “raceway” is a wooden ramp, sometimes with slats for traction, that would allow stuff like horses and tractors to get into the upper levels of a barn. I’m pretty sure that the dirt, lightly suburbanized road was named after the latter of the two definitions, but I could be wrong.

In the 1800s, historical records say that the state was 3/4 deforested with most of the land used for sheep grazing, and later, dairy – which gave us a more cows than people ratio. Over the last century, that proportion has directly reversed, and now 3/4 of the state is back to being forested, and we now have more humans than cows – though I’m still heckled about that by flatlanders. The trend reversal started to develop during the last century when aggravated Vermonters moved westward for literal greener pastures with less rocks. We lost about half our population then, and a sizable number of towns around the state still haven’t recovered the lost numbers of their 1800 population peaks. A good example would be the out of the way southern Vermont town of Windham, which has sort of an infrastructural oddity – where state route 121 is also a dirt road, and is one of the few graveled state routes in Vermont that I’ve traveled on (the other being route 58 west of Lowel and through Hazen’s Notch). The town sharing a name with its positional county had over 1,000 bodies, a half dozen villages and 2 post offices in 1820, but by 1970, had a headcount of just 150.

There is a place name on state maps in the town of Sunderland curiously labeled”Kansas” (there’s also a tinier “East Kansas” a mile or so east), and the odd name is said to have came from a curmudgeonly old farmer who in the 1800s, kept making empty threats to his family, other Sunderlandians, and anyone else who’d listen, that he was so fed up with his rocky fields that he was going to sell his farm and move to Kansas. Only, he never did, and died right there in Bennington County. That part of town became known as Kansas by the locals and soon became a wayfinding moniker.

Today’s Vermont still has plenty of agricultural affairs left though, and unlike many other states with yearly dwindles in numbers, more seem to be popping up here in modern day horticulture fads, which also partner with tons of local restaurants and craft breweries, which means we have an awesomely creative culinary scene up here blazing through wearing the future on its sleeve.

As a kid, I grew up playing in the woods of an old farm behind my house. Most of the land wasn’t tended and had grown up into a mature forest by then. We used to cut 4 wheeler trails through the growth and explore the old farm roads and examine artifacts from yesteryear we’d come across, like old barbed wire fences, a neon green AMC Hornet pushed into a ravine, and the prime find – the grimy miscellany of the old farmers’ junkyard. We used to salvage stuff from the heaps of junked appliances, tires, and barn mementos and use it to build forts with. Old tin, a couch, the front seats from an old Ford Mustang, even an old woodstove. We made some cool hangouts from the refuse we excitedly recycled.

Milton – this fading green AMC Hornet lies on a steep bank behind a rural stretch of railroad tracks, on the edge of a patch of thick swampland. it looks as if someone pushed (or quite possibly drove) the car down the hill, where it lays to rest.
Milton – this fading green AMC Hornet lies on a steep bank behind a rural stretch of railroad tracks, on the edge of a patch of thick swampland. it looks as if someone pushed (or quite possibly drove) the car down the hill, where it lays to rest.

A friend of mine got in touch with me and said she had a new location up her sleeves, an abandoned farm up in the north part of the state, the dumping ground part of it was on her property and she hadn’t gotten around to doing anything about it yet. I thought it was weird that I live in Vermont and haven’t explored a farm yet. So on a beautiful autumn day, I met up with her and she led me through some overgrown tangle woods of nettles, dead apple trees and mangey looking cedar trees that turned the area into a dark entry. A few minutes into our walk and the already fallow landscape began to change, and I began to notice mounds of discarded anything covered in moss and fallen leaves that had been dumped underneath the dead canopy.

A walk through the Vermont woods can often be revealing. It’s not uncommon to find relics from a different Vermont left to disintegrate below the trees. And in my opinion – our ruins are often one of the coolest things about the human race. We create amazing structures and accomplishments or inhabit these laborious lifestyles and let the aftereffects rot without much of a thought, leaving people like me to eagerly trace their occurrences that blur the line between litter and urban archeology. And out of any time of the year, you can be most appreciative of our habit to ruin than the fall, when visibility is best.

There was a time not that long ago, when Vermonters didn’t dig today’s Green culture. Back then, the most efficient and convenient way to get rid of anything you deemed as garbage, was to make the disposal quick and uncomplicated. This was often accomplished by dumping those items on a far corner of the farm, or let gravity take it down a river bank. Over time, these items accumulated, festering in the woods long after the farm went defunct, or their traces bleeding into our waterways or soil.

How times have changed. Today, a growing chunk of Vermonters are building a culture that feels how we coexist with our environment is a virtue, and villainize those things that don’t fall into place. And if you’re not one of those people, well, it’s also the law. But as is the trend, the movement also shakes things up, especially farmers who find it expensive and laborious to abide by new regulations, or the costs of implementing new laws or infrastructure by a government that many are losing faith in.

A lot less of Vermont is farmed now days, and much of the land has returned to forest, but these rusted and forgotten vestiges of the past still remain, now moldering in the silence of the wilderness. This particular junkyard had an eyebrow-raising amount of stuff brought there. Old tractors, snowmobiles, knob televisions, a Ford truck, religious paraphernalia, antique glass bottles, creepy childrens toys decaying in the weather, a small mound of old appliances, and so much more in depths farther down than I felt good about digging to reach. There is even rumored to be some traces of an old prohibition era still coffined back here, but there was so much to sift through, I probably wouldn’t have been able to recognize it if I was standing on it.

“I thought you’d like this, seeing how you’re into old stuff” said my friend as she went to unscrew the top from her iced tea, humorously not following me further into the collection of trash. “I figured I’d show you before I clean this all up”

“Oh, when is that happening?” I called out as I wobbled and stumbled my way over a mound of shifting garbage that squeaked and rustled underneath my crooked feet.

“Welllll…….one day.” she assured me, a tone of defeat in her voice.
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Further down the road, there was the most important cog in the farm machine, the dairy barn, which excited me lots because you never know what you’ll come across in an old Vermonter’s barn. Barns are vital storage spaces, workshops and in some cases, awesomely bizarre museums.

Traditionally, a Vermont farmer would put more money and effort into keeping up the barn than anything else they owned. So much, that many of them would let their houses fall into ruin if they had to make that hard choice of where to divvy up their cash. That even goes as far as the demolition process if the construction gets too far gone. As an old timer up in the Northeast Kingdom once explained to me; “Why tear down a perfectly good barn when it’ll just fall down when it’s ready?”

According to my friend and tour guide, the old barn was close to 100 years old, filled with accumulations of its years. As a side hobby, I’m a picker when my finances allow it, and I used to love shunpiking around rural Vermont and checking out barn finds, yard sales or whatever treasures or weirdness I could spot on our backroads, so I was already wondering what I’d find inside this old barn.

The fading red structure didn’t appear to be in bad shape, or really even abandoned. If I had just passed by, I’d probably thought it was just another working farm. We pulled over in some tall grass and began to tromp our way through the threshold.

I think barns and farms play some role in lots of Vermonters lives, even if you don’t have one of your own, chances are, you know someone who does. I remember my childhood of playing in my paternal grandparents’ dusty old barns on their farm up near East Montpelier, finding ones near Chittenden County to store our 78 Toyota Landcruiser in for the winter, and spending some of the best days of my youth riding my 4 wheeler through sugarbushes and meadows on a 250 acre farm and some of the most beautiful land I’ve had the privilege of having access to in East Wallingford. Now days, I’ve been apartment jumping around the Burlington area, but man, I wish I had a barn of my own where I could set up a workshop and have a place to do projects and space to store the 4 wheeler I would most definitely buy.

While I’m on the subject – do you folks know why red happens to be the ubiquitous choice of barn attire? Simply put – red paint is cheap. But the why behind that answer actually has to do with dying stars. Pretty much; red paint is made from Iron. Iron is created when a star eventually collapses. The ground is loaded with iron, or, an iron-oxide compound called red ochre that makes a good pigment. The ground is loaded with red ochre because when stars die, they explode, and physics decrees they generate a bunch of iron as the result, which is pretty cool.

The dusty whitewashed interior of the barn was pretty cool as well. In typical Vermont tradition, the old farmhands never threw anything away, so the spaces were stuffed with antique furniture, busted farm equipment, and some unexpecteds like a collection of bowling pins. I know barns usually lived double lives thanks to Yankee ingenuity, like this great story on State 14, of an old one in tiny East Granville that formerly was the town’s dance hall that the current owners wish to restore. Maybe these guys used their barn as a makeshift bowling alley to pass the doldrums?

Walking around through hay that stuck to my boots, I realized the barn was a little worse for wear than I had thought. Structurally, it’s wooden floors and walls were beginning their slow descent into wasting away, and some of the older items stored inside were rotting to a point beyond saving.

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While I was writing up this post, I remembered another old barn I had checked out many years ago, and decided to dig up the old photos. I want to say these were taken by an insecure me with my Nikon point and shoot, around the spring of 2010. I figured I’d include them in this post as well. It’s sort of funny how years ago, I thought the only way I would be any good at photography was to get myself a top-grade camera, but looking back, I think that heading out with my old point and shoot actually forced me to become more creative and observant with a limited focal distance and zoom range. Man, young Chad had so much to learn. The equipment sure helps, but it’s really the photographer behind the gadgets that makes the difference.

During that spring, I needed to get out of the house to clear my head, and one of the best ways for me to do that was to go shunpiking – one of my favorite activities still.

I found myself on some swampy backroads up in Franklin County. With the windows down and the wet Spring perfume coming through, I found myself passing by an abandoned farm, and next door, a rundown ranch house where the owning family still dwelled.

They agreed to let me skulk around their abandoned farm, but their elderly teenage son thought I was a weirdo for being interested in their place. Well, I am a weirdo, but I’ll never forget his furrowed eyebrow look and accompanying chuckle. According to him, the town actually condemned their old farmhouse when it began to violate building codes as it aged. So they moved into the ranch next door, which honestly didn’t look much better.

The best feature of the property was a tumbledown dairy barn covered in gray decay. The ramshackle structure was worth the potential threat of tetanus. The interior was filled with the debris of century old farm equipment, hidden doors and other relics. Like a beautiful antique sleigh.

I even found a century plus old book underneath some floorboards in an abandoned barn, which raised a few questions. Why was this book concealed under the floor? What else was below my boots?

I’m not into theology, but it was pretty cool. As a graphic design major, I really appreciated the headlining typography. Finding old religious paraphernalia hidden in Vermont buildings isn’t rare it seems. Around the same time, an acquaintance I knew found someone’s leather bound, ornate family bible from 1848 under his floorboards, along with a handgun and the skeleton key to his basement door, which they had never been able to access until then. The decaying book was scrawled with various notes and births/deaths of a family who used to live in his old house in Milton. The place was built in the 1840s as a hotel, and also functioned as a bar, vaudeville theater and silent movie house and an odd fellows hall, before being converted into shoddy apartments.

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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.


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.

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.

The Somerset Road in Somerset.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.


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.

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.
Further up the trail, we started to find original rail spikes from when the railroad was built over a century ago!
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.
This is “the forks” or Bolles Brook today. The village of South Glastenbury is practically intractable.
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.
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.


“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!”
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.
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.
A contorted iron band from one of the old kilns.

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

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

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

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

Things worth mentioning:

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

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

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


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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.
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.

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


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.


“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.

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…


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.

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.

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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“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

Donate Button with Credit Cards


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Update, August 2015

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

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

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

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

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

Donate Button with Credit Cards

House of the Syrup Folk

There is always that one place that stands out from the rest – and on a breezy August morning, I stood in front of what has to be the most unnerving house I have ever explored, and it was the question of why that really bothered me the most…

Skulking off a quiet backroad underneath the canopy of dense forests, on a slope with at least a 9 percent grade – this fading weathered house sits in the forest like an infected sore – a strange world where nature slowly undoes the deeds of man, with skin so thick, it’s empty eyes were like knives, not worried about who was receiving them.

The awkwardness started from the moment I got out of the car, and got a good look at the place over a forest of thorns and vines that had been tangled in the wind – a solitary trail sleuthed its way through the growth towards the house. Something had been through here recently. Staring up at it’s faded and splintery facade that almost matched the wilderness around it, there was something unsettling about the place. You could actually feel it’s age, and you could smell the smells – that typical old house perfume and rot that hung around the property like musk. Through the broken windows, the interior was pitch black, with secrets smothered in dirt. Though my fears weren’t routed in anything empirical, my skin was trembling.

Deciding to get a better look at the place, I proceeded to stumble through the grass. I was already regretting it. The thorns immediately sliced my arms and legs to ribbons, and I began to stumble over things that were previously hidden. Rusted trailers, oil barrels, broken glass and a knotted web of disused sap lines lay along the weedy floor, all covered in condensation which coated my boots, and made me slip more than once. Just getting over towards the place was turning into an adventure. Bees swarmed from flower to flower, and unseen creatures slithered in the grass, making the stalks snap and rustle.

Standing at the foot of it’s darkness, I noticed some things that immediately made me stop my pursuit. There was a new looking satellite dish on the side of the building, and an even newer looking utility box. But, there was no electrical hookup to the house. Some of the wires sat exposed, pulled out of the walls, and chewed on. Could someone actually live here? There were giant holes in the wall, and half the windows had long been shattered, but from my experience, that isn’t always evidence…

Upon closer investigation, I noticed an odd sight. Someone had actually taken the time to pick up the large fragments of broken window glass, and set them back into the wooden window frames. Other windows were barricaded from the inside, with chairs pushed up against them holding curtains in place. Someone made vague attempts to keep people out it seemed, but just around the corner, there was a door that was wide open, and a broken window would easily allow access. What was going on here? Peering inside a window, the interior of the house was cast in shadow, further and further, until there was nothing but strange land. A cold dampness settled on my face, and I could taste the musk as it settled in the air on my tongue.

I couldn’t explain it, I was incredibly uncomfortable at this point. I felt like something was watching me, like something was lurking just beyond the lens of my camera, offering no explanation. Though the inside of the house was smoldering in an entombed silence, there were strange noises coming from the places out of reach, like something was moving, something unknown saying, if I stay here, trouble will find me. To add to my unnerved state, tree branches around the house started to snap, but no one was around.

Eventually, I trekked back towards the road and rejoined my friend, who had opted not to go any closer to the place. I guess I couldn’t really blame him at this point. “I heard weird noises coming inside – I decided to leave” I said when I saw his questionable face. “Oh, I thought I heard something as well” he said. “I thought it was the syrup folk or something coming by” I stopped. “syrup folk?” He then pointed to the labyrinth of active sky blue sap lines that criss-crossed around the property. Though I now understood what he meant, there was something cryptic, almost ominous (and probably uniquely Vermont) about the term “syrup folk” that really stuck with me, hence the name for this blog post.

Though my trip here was discomforting, it’s these sort of experiences that often can be regarded as some of our finest ones – allowing you to discover what’s deep between your own skin and bones. And at the very least, they make for the best stories.

As we were about to leave, just to confirm my suspicions that something was inside, a raccoon popped it’s head out of the third story window, through a broken section of shutter, stared at us for a few seconds, than dipped back in to the deep cold darkness inside.DSC_0702_pe_pe_pe

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This conjured up a few "Breaking Bad" jokes.
This conjured up a few “Breaking Bad” jokes.

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

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

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

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

Donate Button with Credit Cards

Mysteries and Legends Of The Champlain Islands

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

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

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

Carleton’s Prize

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Isle La Motte’s Coral Reef

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Goodsell Preserve

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A Pink Lighthouse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Cloak Island

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

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

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

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

Weird Waters

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

Cloak Island
Cloak Island

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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Ghost Hollow

West Haven’s Ghost Hollow is the only geographical location in the state named after a paranormal occurrence. Well, as far as I know.

The name is sure to fire up the imaginations of any curious traveler or map gazer. The tiny town of West Haven is on the extreme southern tip of Lake Champlain, where the lake joins the Poultney River. Surrounded almost completely by water on most sides, the town forms an awkward looking peninsula that dangles into New York State. There are no state routes or highways passing through town (with the exception of Route 22A clipping a tiny portion on the eastern border, near landmark Devil’s Bowl Speedway), West Haven is isolated from the rest of Vermont – a land of rolling farmland and hardwood forests, rising above deep bays and winding rivers of brown water.

Among West Haven’s assortment of quiet byways is a narrow and winding dirt road, barely wide enough for 2 cars, passing through quiet pastures and rocky ledges, called Ghost Hollow Road. But why the interesting moniker?

The story is an old one, dating back to the days before established roads and railroads linked Vermont together, Lake Champlain was the main highway between Canada and New York City. Rough communities sprung up around the water, building landing areas for boats. Once on land in West Haven, a long narrow rutted road spurred away from the wharf and into a wooded hollow, where even on sunny days, it was said to be dark.

It was on this unwelcoming path that a young man found himself sprinting upon one night over 2 centuries ago. He frantically made his way through the dark and cold woods to see his wife, who was in labor. Back in those days, the chances of surviving childbirth were poor, especially in rural locations where often the only ones to aid you were neighbors and friends, who were likely inexperienced with delivering a baby.

As the young man was racing ahead through the woods, he noticed something ahead. It was a figure, and it was approaching him. As he slowed down to assess the situation, he realized he was staring at a radiant young woman, dressed in the moonlight and paler than bone, in a white gown. A sudden realization gripped him as he grew closer. The woman in white was his wife! Almost immediately, he began to panic. As he raced over towards her, about to ask her what she was doing out of bed in a time like this, she vanished.

The young man’s curiosity and concern now turned into terror, and as he raced back home and stumbled in the front door, he was confronted by what he dreaded most, his wife had died in childbirth. The last time he ever saw his wife was that encounter in the hollow.

Ever since then, the area has been known as Ghost Hollow. Ghost Hollow Road itself is nothing like the legend alludes to. Today, there is nothing ghostly about it. It’s a pleasant back road that menders through beautiful countryside and hay fields with grass that undulates under summer breezes. It’s a quiet place, where all you can hear is the gravel crunching underneath your tires.

I was told that the street sign for Ghost Hollow Road was stolen so many times (it may possibly be found in some teenager’s bedroom) that the town of West Haven decided to create a solution, by printing the name of the road on a giant boulder near the intersection. I’d like to see someone try to steal that.




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

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

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

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Madame Sherri’s Castle Ruins

One thing about human beings, is we tend to leave behind fascinating ruins that simultaneously tell our story and raise far more questions. New England is a little lackluster on such places – opting for cellar holes, old cemeteries and names on a map instead. But we do have our share – like Connecticut’s mysterious Gungywamp or New Hampshire’s Stonehenge of America, all incorporating what is found in abundance here, stone.

In Chesterfield, New Hampshire, across the river from the bustling town of Brattleboro are a set of stone ruins that are incredibly recent in the grand scheme of things. A dramatic stone staircase soars 20 feet into the air before ending abruptly above a collection of crumbling stone pillars and weed chocked foundations in the background of a dense forest unbroken as far as the eye can see.

The official name for this place is Madame Sherri Forest. Locals call it Madame Sherri’s Castle, and it’s 500 acres of wild and protected land combed by hiking trails, beaver ponds and ledges.

But who is Madame Sherri? Madame Antoinette Sherri, (who is just as interesting as the ruins of her grand home) was a French costume designer, born in Paris and transplanted in New York. However, her fame would be achieved not in the empire state, but tiny New Hampshire. She bought land in Chesterfield and built a summer home tucked away in the deep forests and gulfs during the 1920s. What started as a simple farmhouse turned into a lavish summer home by 1931 as she wasted no expenses in expanding.

She was well known for her wildly lavish parties she threw at her “castle” with an equally eclectic group of friends from the city. When she wasn’t partying, she was known for being the life of the party elsewhere by doing such things as riding around the region in her Packard touring car in nothing but a fur coat. Reportedly, she eventually ran out of money and abandoned her her grand home as it fell into ruin. But with a personal mantra like “only the best”, I suppose this was inevitable. By 1946, she abandoned her castle. A fire in 1962 eventually brought the demise of her property, leaving only the stone ruins left to this day, sitting curiously in the middle of the forest.

The fire left behind a rather forlorn yet satisfying medieval-looking ruin, displaced in the middle of New England, which is most likely where the “castle” moniker came into its name, from people who have visited since. After comparing older photos of the mansion, it definitely looks more like a castle now than it did when it was inhabitable.

The “first floor”, or, the only floor, of the ruin still has a few surviving stone columns and chimneys that sit above crumbling remnants of the old stone floor, covered in weeds and wild flowers. But there is a level beneath the rocks which is starting to slowly cave in, filled with detritus, broken beer bottles and satanic graffiti. It may have been larger at once point, but with the level of collapse, it’s hard to tell. It’s very evident from the discarded bottles, cigarette packs and smoldering charcoal that people party here – and perhaps worship the paranormal, just as Madame Sherri would have wanted.

On my somber visit here today, it had been raining steadily since I got off the interstate in Brattleboro. Once crossing the river, I turned down Gulf Road, a distractingly beautiful drive through beautiful forests and jagged cliffs leering over the road covered in moss – everything was below a come down fog. The rain however made the ruins more of a dangerous trek than anticipated. The stones were slick and it was easy to loose your footing. This was most evident when I tried climbing up to the top of the large staircase. There are large cracks in several places, part of the stonework is eroding, and the steps offered no traction. Avoiding my own stupidity being my murderer, I tromped around the rest of the ruins. The dank cellar area was littered in interesting graffiti, and there was lots to read. People who came and went, their names, quotes and opinions underneath dripping ceilings, especially someone named Tyler telling me he visited as recent as this year. Around the property were older growth trees, most likely original to the house, towering above the young forest. One tree in particular was peculiar, the inside was partly hollow, and it was filled curiously with lead pipes and a various assortment of placed boulders. There were also several inscriptions and carved initials in the bark, which were amusing to read.

I think the impression that weighed with me the most about this place, was just how silent and deep the forest was around the dripping ruins – I truly felt something pleasant slip under my skin, but the ruins held supreme, over taking the striking beauty of the New Hampshire forest, the sound of rain falling onto the leaves.

The eccentric and mysterious Madame Sherri
The iconic stone staircase, equipped with a hand railing, leading to a very nice looking balcony.
Madame Sherri’s Packard touring car. According to legend, she used to cruise around town wearing nothing but a fur coat.
Madame Sherri’s “Castle”



“Because she throws the best parties….What fun!…She throws grand parties”
“Because she throws the best parties….What fun!…She throws grand parties”


yours truly.
your blogger.


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

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

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

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

Donate Button with Credit Cards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


“The Money Diggers”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is There Truth Here?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ghastly Tales

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Green Mountains, Dark Tales by Joseph Citro

The Money Diggers, by Franklin Harvey


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