The Cold Spring House

It’s hard to describe a place like the deteriorating ruins of The Cold Spring House, especially if you’ve never had the experience of visiting it yourself. The remaining residue of The Catskill Mountains and their heyday as a resort destination – hotels such as this one once catered to primarily Jewish clientele during the 20th century, looking for a little relaxation from the turbulence of New York City in the scenic Catskills. Driving through the gripping, winding road through the Kaaterskill Forest, with wild rivers cutting through steep hardwood shrouded peaks that resembled saw teeth, it wasn’t hard to see the allure.

This is the first time I had ever been to the Catskills region before, and my target village of Tannersville made an attractive first impression, which I was incredibly relieved with after the problematic start to my day. It almost seemed like I would never make it to the Catskills, as numerous setbacks, construction projects and traffic jams kept delaying travel time, each hour of precious daylight being swallowed by the oncoming October evening. Because we were making a 5 hour drive down from Vermont, I was determined to make this count.

Navigating the highways of New York, we passed by many derelict structures and sordid towns that were more depressing than anything, reminders of the decreasing amount of tourists in the area. A passing visitor to the area, I admittedly knew little about it apart from conversations with friends who grew up around there, and a few things I’ve read. I definitely had no local insider information, so anything I took in was most commonly coming through the view of the windshield.

The road through Kaaterskill Forest
The road through Kaaterskill Forest
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Catskill Glory

As we approached Tannersville, the comedown daylight was filtered through a black sky foreshadowing fury that never seemed to come. The air was crisp, carrying the smell of dead leaves, as chilly mists began to settle on our faces. It felt like it was going to rain, but it never came, and the mists continued to be misleading. There we were, staring up at the imposing ruins of the Cold Spring House, and it’s various stages of decay. The slumping roofs and bending wooden frame ripped open several holes in the building, giving off dead weight that popped out windows and pushed various items through the glass. It was well into the evening now, but we had made it, with just enough light to photograph and do a little exploring. But the question was, where do I even start?

From what I know about the place, it was one of the earlier Catskills hotels, on the outskirts of the Borscht Belt, an area once a dazzling vacation-land now reincarnated as a collection of behemoth and storied abandonments. The Cold Spring House was a grand showpiece, which was very different from the closet cottages and revelrous resorts the area was known for at that time.

Built on what is now Spruce Street in the 1890s, it was the second largest hotel in Tannersville, as well as the first Jewish hotel in town – able to accommodate 200 guests at the base of mountains rising to around 2,200 feet. It started as a hotel called Bieber’s Cold Spring House, but was sold in 1922 to Saber Khouri, and re-branded simply as The Cold Spring House.

According to a 1904 advertisement I was able to find online, the property featured expansive lawns, offering tennis and croquet grounds, surrounded by old trees offering comfortable shade on summer days. There were farms on the property that supplied the hotel with fresh milk and vegetables everyday, which were pared with what the ad boasted as excellent table service in the form of German and Hungarian cuisine. And of course, fresh spring water was offered – from the springs which the hotel derived it’s name from. The hotel was also widely regarded for it’s popular classical concerts on the lawn. Two signature towers at opposite ends of the building, now slumping dangerously, were once observatories, giving guests extensive views of the mountains. Today, that view would be worth the price of your life.

What I found interesting about the advertisement was that it boasted such amenities as “sanitary plumbing and fire extinguishers on every floor” – items that we take for granted today, but around that time period, were new features and were only beginning to be enforced by laws. I’m sure that was a selling point – definitely a plus when I choose a hotel. But it makes sense. The time period was a time of transition. There was a nationwide push that required to implement such systems, but it was a costly expense to outfit these old buildings, and many old hotels couldn’t afford keeping up with the competition.

The advertisement also stated that the hotel was continuously expanding as it’s increasing popularity was luring more and more people to stay there each season. Older photos showed a much different building, with only one tower, and most of the western wing not yet added. The final product was a much larger and grander property – the brooding structure you see today.

But times certainly have changed. During the late 20th century, much of the region fell out of favor as a vacation destination. With an increase of automobile travel and an ever burgeoning highway system, more Americans were driving, and could travel farther distances and see more places,. Now, they no longer had to settle for the closest area available – a trend that I’ve seen so many times in humbled abandonments I’ve visited. Tannersville was no exception. Many vacation homes eventually were abandoned and hotels were shuttered. The Cold Spring House fell into the trend, and was abandoned in the 60s, leaving quite the compelling ruin in it’s wake.

It literally hunches over Spruce Street in it’s old age, leaning in all directions. A symbol of human progress and the change of the times, something inevitable that tends to leave growing pains on the often bumpy road of advancement and the fodder of bandwagon fads. In an ironic sense, this more off beat form of tourism can also serve as a poignant melding of public awareness, a chance to learn from our past.

Today, Tannersville is more known for it’s proximity to Hunter Mountain Ski Area than a summer destination, but while many Borscht Belt towns are still struggling, Tannersville seems to be in the middle of some sort of revival. As it was explained to me, people started to rediscover the town and were taken by it’s natural beauty. Old vacation homes began to be fixed up at expensive costs because of the bad shape they had deteriorated to, and more businesses have opened up on Route 23A.

As for the Cold Spring House though, I had the pleasant chance to speak with photographer Linda O’Donnell, who has been researching and documenting the building’s deterioration for the past several years. She informed me that the place has been scheduled for demolition since 2012, but demolition by neglect may happen before any actual bulldozers arrive on the property. It makes you wonder, when will the familiar become just history?

Dying Light

This was truly one of the most spectacular places I’ve had the chance to photograph (and a great change of scenery from Vermont!), but with it’s awe inspiring profile came very tangible dangers. As I walked around and got to know the place better, I was able to recognize something very quickly. The building was far too dangerous to venture inside, and because of our late start, there was little daylight left. Peeking in through an opened window, I was met with an interior of collapsing floors, wooden walls intended to support the structure were crushed into an accordion like resemblance, and various artifacts collected in indistinguishable piles of fragments covered in dust and lead paint speckles. The weight was so great in some places that many things had actually been pushed through the floor, which was already cracking on the added weight of my body. That musty old building smell wafted out from the opening, mixed with a heavy damp musk. To my far left, a staircase, illuminated by the dull light of broken windows, climbed above the wreckage and into the mysterious upper floors. Or what was left of them. Though I ached to go inside, that would have been an idea that probably would have been counter productive to my travel plans, which were to leave intact and alive.

For a relatively rural back street, the traffic was thunderous, a constant roar of pick up trucks going by, and slowing down when they noticed me with my camera. Because New York State has very unforgiving rules against trespassing, and with me being in such a surprisingly public area where I would no doubt be trapped should I be caught, the odds were stacked against me.

I had no choice but to keep a safe distance. But the exterior alone was worth the drive. The tops of the building still wore it’s yellow paint job, the original color of the hotel, while the lower levels were weather worn into a dull grey and showed signs of various stages of rotten cavities that completely ate through the walls. Older photos showed a sign that read “Cold Spring” that hung over the porch near the front entrance, but when I visited, that was also long gone, the last clue to it’s identity.

Signs of human presence were everywhere. Graffiti was found on many of the upper windows, and not the good kind of graffiti – instead, it was the almost expected profanity and unoriginal racial slur sort of stuff. But, it also meant that some adventurous intruders made the trip to the upper floors…

I often find strange items left behind when I explore – and this was no exception. There was an interestingly large collection of abandoned records found all around the hotel, most on the front lawn, tangled in tall grass and cedar trees. Some of them were arranged specifically, with various items such as kitchen utensils and bottles filled with suspicious colored liquids in them, propped purposely around the sides. I didn’t recognize any of the artists – but some looked like they would have been right at home in some embarrassing 70s porno.

Just gazing up at the place and looking in the numerous windows offered many things to see. Radiators that had fallen out broken windows. A glimpse of a bed post. Dark rooms with holes in the ceiling letting in the dying daylight. Old glass bottles left on windowsills. Then the wind blows, and the eerie creeks of a shutter can be heard, before it bangs loudly against a wall several stories above you – you see the movement, and your pulse quickens as you jump to conclusions. Despite the reliable hum of noise outside, closer to the hotel, things faded into an uncomfortable silence that was almost loud in itself. It was quite startling considering it was just a short walk down the lawn that offered such a fast transition.

Not wanting to draw attention by staying too long, we left and began the journey back to Vermont, the Cold Spring House leaving a lasting impression.

ColdSpring
These are some great historical photos of the Cold Spring House in it’s heyday, which I found online accidentally and was kindly given permission to re-link by Flickr user Linda O’Donnell. Not sure of the dates, but it really gives you a sense of what this place used to be like.
ColdSpring2
Used with permission from Flickr user Linda O’Donnell
ColdSpring3
Used with permission from Flickr user Linda O’Donnell
ColdSpring4
Used with permission from Flickr user Linda O’Donnell

  The Cold Spring House Today

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Information:

There doesn’t seem to be a lot of information on this place. Most of what I was able to compile in this post came from speaking with various people, and a good article I found online from the Register-Star 

There is also a group on Flickr I found, dedicated to sharing memories and photos of it.

This is one of my favorite things I came across while researching. Here is a fascinating article and photographic journalism piece about the Borscht Belt

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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

Scouting Burlington’s Intervale

Spring in Vermont often means weeks of gloom and rain, which mixes up with the sour in my cup. Sometimes the best cure for Spring fever is adventuring.

I knew of two local spectacles in Burlington’s intervale, one a local landmark and another a striking existence of hidden obscura.

Cruising down North Champlain Street, jarring along the many “speed humps” along the cracked road, I gazed at the Old North End’s many brightly colored old homes which seemed to be blazing underneath melancholy skies. Turning into the beltline, I shortly arrived at my first place of interest.

Burlington’s Bridge To Nowhere

If you’ve ever driven the Burlington Beltline before (Route 127), you’ve probably noticed this unique wooden arched bridge that stretches dramatically across the roadway, resting into a steep slope. But upon closer investigation, something seems weird about this particular bridge – it doesn’t seem to go anywhere – the bridge ends abruptly into a steep hillside rising above the highway. More puzzling is that there are at least 2 other bridges that also cross the highway, but they are all in use and connect to a network of bicycle trails. So what’s the story with this bridge? Why doesn’t it go anywhere? Why is it here?

To be blunt – federal law. The Beltline – Vermont’s first planned circ highway- sliced through land designated as parkland by the Winooski Valley Park District, and created a division in a piece of parkland west of the highway, aka that useless steep and over grown slope. Because the highway site was purchased with federal funds, law stated that the park’s land had to be connected for access purposes , thus a bridge had to be constructed to maintain the park’s continuity — even though the western side, in this case, was too steep and densely forested to enjoy or use. But federal law is federal law, regardless of the logic.

The bridge might not look like anything truly extraordinary, but as it turns out, a lot of detail and planning were included in the design. Rich Ranaldo, the Agency of Transportation engineer who designed the bridge, wanted to do something different than what has been done before. He wanted the bridge’s design to compliment the natural setting of the intervale. The decided idea was a unique timber arch bridge, which they have never designed before. In the end, it was a success.

The Burlington Department of Parks and Recreation has closed the end of the bridge to the public – blocked off by a chain link fence, which has raised a less than positive response from people who view the deserted span as wasteful. At one time, it was proposed to make a bike path connecting the bridge to the New North End, but the idea was declined, saying the funding just wasn’t there. Above the rough slope lies Revere Court, a small cul-de-sac neighborhood, whose residents apparently weren’t that thrilled at the time with more traffic entering their quiet street. The parks department said the slope was too problematic for construction, given the nature of it’s unstable soil.

Walking on the bridge as the mist in the air weighted heavily on my skin, my feet slipped several times on the slick wood as my boots made high and lonesome sounds. For being in such an area of high traffic, I felt strangely isolated up above the highway. Surprisingly, the bridge is reflectively clean for such a large abandoned structure in an urban area. It’s void of graffiti and has minimal rot damage. I walked as far as I could go until I hit the fence. Beyond it, there was evidence that others have climbed over and trekked up the steep hill, a worn footpath made its way through tanglewoods. In the summer, the entire slope would be wild and filled with prickers, making that a path I’d want to avoid.

The good news is that if the bridge were ever to be refurbished and utilized as another pedestrian or cycling trail, the work wouldn’t be difficult. But until that day comes, the bridge will continue to awkwardly span The Beltline, vexing residents and passersby for years to come.

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The Donahue Sea Caves

Burlington can boast an impressive amount of geographical features within its 16 square miles. Rocky points and sandy beaches slide into the lake as steep hills, vast swamps and river bottoms make up the surprisingly diverse land that rises up from the lake shore. But one of Burlington’s most curious features are what have been dubbed as The Donahue Sea Caves, something that many residents in the city are unaware even exist, including myself until a few days ago.

Midway on North Avenue, across from Burlington High School, lies a discrete small brown sign near a bus stop that simply reads “Donahue Sea Caves“, with a dirt path leading down the steep banks into the intervale below. I don’t know how many times I’ve passed this strange trail head before without noticing it, and I was curious. What exactly were the Donahue Sea Caves? So, I followed the trail, down the hill and into a world of woods shambling up steep clay banks and deep swamps. But the roar of traffic from the Beltline nearby brought me back to reality. Eventually, the trail went from dirt to swamp, and the land literally ended at my soaking wet feet as the trail bled into a wide open dark pool that ran along the base of steep ledges. I looked around, and was wondering exactly what I was supposed to see now that I was here. Way in the distance, around a rocky outcropping, was a black hole in the rock ledges. I was staring at the entrance to a cave, and it seemed the only way to get there was with a kayak. Or swimming. I didn’t have a kayak and didn’t feel like taking a swim, so I hiked back up to North Avenue, defeated.

Later that day, I did some research and found out the story behind these mysterious caves. First of all, “Sea Caves” is a bit deceptive, because there is only one cave. The name Donahue comes from David Donahue, who donated the land to the Winooski Valley Park District. The “Sea Caves” part of the name struck me as odd, considering we’re in landlocked Vermont, but I soon found out that the limestone caves are remnants of the Champlain Sea, formed by the waves when the sea once covered this area over 10,000 years ago. However, that might be a bit controversial. A UVM geologist explained that he thinks the caves are instead the product of a glacier retreating, probably shaping the cave when the glaciers retreated from what it is now Vermont.

To add a little more to the mystery, my grandfather told me that Burlington old timers once referred to the cave as “Devil’s Cave” – which is a moniker given to many creepy, dark and remote places across New England.

The trail head off North Avenue
The trail head off North Avenue
Literally, the end of the line. The cave would be in the ledges to the left.
Literally, the end of the line. The cave would be in the ledges to the left.
On the hike back up, I found something sort of cool, what appeared to be an old stone retaining wall that holds up North Avenue from collapsing down into the dark pools below. The wall is most likely as old as when the road was first "modernized", but I'm just assuming. Also located here was the BHS litter gardens - giving an incite into local culture and their eating habits.
On the hike back up, I found something sort of cool, what appeared to be an old stone retaining wall that holds up North Avenue from collapsing down into the dark pools below. The wall is most likely as old as when the road was first “modernized”, but I’m just assuming. Also located here was the BHS litter gardens – giving an incite into local culture and their eating habits.

A year after I had posted this, cabin fever would drive me out of the house. Because most bodies of water in the area had frozen, the Donahue Sea Caves came to mind, and because it was -3 degrees with a colder windchill, I welcomed the idea of a local adventure that would hopefully be sheltered from the horrible winds.

The caves twisting rock walls and undulating textures coated with icy stalagmites dripping into solid ice floors which are otherwise thawed and a murky green in the summer months, with depths that are said to link to underground pools and hold an assortment of urban relics, are just a few reasons why this chamber is a cool place to walk around and explore, even with temperatures well below zero. The best time to access this area is in the winter, when the swamps freeze over. Otherwise, you’ll need a kayak.

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Ice cold beer.
Ice cold beer.
As the cave ascended further back into the hill, I noticed there was movement beneath the layers of ice under my feet. There was running water lapping below in black pools, and the darting motions of hundreds of minnows
As the cave ascended further back into the hill, I noticed there was movement beneath the layers of ice under my feet. There was running water lapping below in black pools, and the darting motions of hundreds of minnows

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How To Get Here:

The Donahue Sea Caves can be reached from the trail head on North Avenue, directly opposite the Burlington High School. The small brown sign can be seen a few feet north of the bus stop across the road. Follow the trail down the hill to the swamps. You’ll need a kayak, boat, or dependable ice to make this trek.

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

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

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

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

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Roadhouse Blues

This abandoned house is lost in between the lines of the blur of traffic and the pensive solitude of the woods it sits in. Only a stones throw away from the nightmare that is 5 corners, this house sits alone on the threshold of suburbia, licking its wounds in dense woods that serves as its sanctuary. Time seems to have been forgotten by the modern world here, whose motorists pass it frequently 10 feet beyond its rotting doorstep.

The modest 6 room wooden structure has succumbed to its slow death, refusing to make a sound, allowing mother nature to reclaim it at her own rate.

This house tells an ambiguous story. Its age is evident, most likely preceding most of the development around it, and now a symbol of how good times come and go, and how anything can be broken. Inside are various keepsakes littering the dirty floors in knee-high mounds, most indistinguishable as the years and the weather mold everything together in soiled masses of soggy decay. Vines and trees snake their way into the kitchen and furniture sinks its way into the rotting wooden floors.

Local lore tells that a local boy made good, who today owns an area sports team and a huge local transportation company, grew up here, and the reason of the house’s disintegration is because he couldn’t bear the thought of his childhood home being torn down, and would rather have it in a state of decay than the alternative of it not standing on the increasingly busy route it’s fading on.

To some, a small farmhouse might be a boring place to explore, opting for the dreamier abandoned asylums or hotels of neighboring states. But it seems every town has a forsaken property of some caliber. And it’s here in these forgotten and neglected spaces that incubate some of life’s most poignant stories, falling on those with open ears and minds.

Only time will tell what will become of this place, as years go by and the woods grow thicker.

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

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

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

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

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

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Modern Fossils

Strangely Isolated from its central village location and untouched for more than 30 years – this place has the eerie kind of remoteness where every noise heard inside its cavernous and dark interior is startling, and the thought of this once being an active business with a vibrant human presence borders on the absurd.

What was once a prosperous creamery seemed to have suffered the same inevitable fate as other Vermont creameries. Fluctuating milk prices and the high costs of expenses were much higher than the final paychecks distributed to local dairy farmers, and the eventual pressure from larger industrial creameries made smaller operations like this one obsolete. And as gravity came, the good times couldn’t be reinvented. Built in the early 1900s, this rural creamery operated for most of the century, shipping it’s milk and dairy products locally and beyond to exotic destinations like Boston and New York City. In the last years of it’s life, it became a cheese factory, before finally shutting down in 1999 after a landslide of problems the business couldn’t circumnavigate.

Because of the thick forests that obstruct it from view, it was only when I walked right underneath its shadow that I got a good impression of the place. A sizable melding of wood and brick that eventually raises to 4 stories, the complex is made up of rambling additions that marked periods of the creamery’s success, now a chaotic collection of decaying ruins surrounded by young forests and actively farmed fields. From the outside, the warping geometry of the wooden structure is showing signs of neglect and pride that has long vanished into the smoke – the building slowly burying its storied legacy.

Inside, once you are enveloped by cold and filthy shadows, no order prevails. As you walk around, you begin to adapt to your surroundings as you notice the uncomfortable stillness that creeps over your skin. Your boots crunch over plaster dust and broken glass and lead paint rains from the ceilings. You experience feelings of vertigo as you maneuver your way around collapsing ceilings that are masqueraded by the dark. The floors are littered with debris and dirt. Wooden tables sit underneath years of dust which obscure the artifacts left behind. Fading signs that comically demand you partake in sanitation efforts still hang on warped vinyl walls, an almost laughable concept amongst the utter filth that hangs around you. Certain hallways were plagued so badly by water damage that my boots sank into the tiles like a sponge as I passed. It’s easy to lose yourself in the dark and desolation, but someone else has been here. Graffiti can be seen on dingy white walls where offices once resided. As you take a moment to take it all in, the wind blows a lose piece of rusted mangled tin – the sound echoes throughout the building as you immediately tense up. And on this lovely Autumn day as the Green Mountains blazed outside broken windows, an odd sense of tranquility permeated through the hallways.

This decrepit place is apparently well known to local kids who are revved up everything and wild like hurricanes. It makes sense. Small town kids love the mystic of places like this, just as I did. Although, my visits were one of reverence, and these kids seem to erroneously view the old creamery as a “law free zone”. According to a police officer who saw me go in with my camera and pulled me out a gun point, the powers that be have to enter the sketchy property far more than they’d like too. The reasons range from those aforementioned kids stashing stolen property there, drug labs and drug usage, and activities that range on the more destructive, such as arson attempts or scrapping. Because the property is designated as a brownfields location because of heavy contaminants as asbestos, lead paint and heavy metals, little can be done with the otherwise prime piece of real estate without lots of money for state approved clean up and permitting, and so far, no developers are interested enough in investing.

Sort of like how the abandoned creamery in my hometown was a local rite of passage for kids, the creamery in this burg is of the same culture. A friend and frequent exploring companion used to work at a restaurant nearby, and one night as he was offhandedly conversing with their teenage dishwasher, the youth told him animatedly “Oh, yeah, I know the old creamery! I fell through the floor there a few weeks ago!” Good times, I’m sure.

A historic postcard view, circa 1938

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Fall 2013

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

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

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

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

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The Cryptic Tunnel

Somewhere underneath an unremarkable section of industrial railroad tracks, is a stone tunnel with an enduring mystery. Who built it, when and why all seem to be accomplishments that was never passed down to the modern world, and yet, this intriguing piece of Vermont curio oddly exists untouched in the stretches of the state’s largest metropolitan area – its presence not noticed by the majority unless you’re one of the select few that know about it.

If you manage to find it, you can hear the hum of traffic nearby, the various noises that scream from a nearby generating plant and the voices of passing on-goers that carry out though the woods. And yet, here the tunnel sits in an enclaved world protected by treacherous railroad banks covered in thorns and foliage and the remnants of several homeless camps scattered around basins of coal black ooze – an ominous warning for those who decide to leave their world and enter this one.

And once you approach the tunnel entrance, a foul blackness that cannot be penetrated descends deep into the bowels of the hillside.

Stories abound about this strange tunnel. Speaking to a friend of mine, he was able to recall plenty of bizarre urban legends and strange lore about it. There was said to be a forbidding barred gate which lies somewhere inside, and macabre tales of dead bodies being discovered deep in the far recesses. I knew I had to see such a place!

We conversed further, as I became eager to get to the bottom of this. The most interesting detail about this tunnel is what makes it so enigmatic. No one seems to be quite sure about why it exists, or when it was constructed.

But there are plenty of theories as to why it was built. Some speculate that it was once a cow tunnel, a way of transporting livestock from one pasture to another which were divided by the railroads. And if you take modern day agro-industrial farming methods into account, the cows of yesteryear were smaller – making the tunnel’s size a realistic possibility. But if this was the case, then why does it dead end into a dripping stone wall some 60 feet from the entrance? Other theories are that when development came to the area, the property owners across the tracks discovered the entrance and sealed it up. But there is no proof of this, so we’re back to speculating. Was the tunnel built one way, or did it have another entrance?

Some speculate that the tunnel was built to house railroad supplies, such as dynamite and rail ties during construction in the mid 1800s – however, this too is only a theory. For a simplistic project, this seemed like a strangely labor intensive storage shed.  Too add further confusion, we still aren’t really sure if the tunnel predates the railroad or not, which leads me to the most intriguing possibility.

There are some that romanticize about the tunnel being so archaic that it predates Columbian settlement here in the United States. The stones are old, hand hewn and placed to form the walls and ceiling in baffling rhythmic precision in their uneven size and form- so it is a possibility. After all, it is now an accepted theory that Celtic copper miners once came to Vermont before the Europeans did some 3000 years ago, to harvest our vast copper resources when Europe was in the midst of a copper shortage. Upon doing so, they left their legacy here by building several mysterious stone structures and tunnels that lay scattered across the state, some even showcasing ancient inscriptions evocative of that time period. Today, these strange mounds are a topic of hot debate amongst archaeologists. However, Vermont’s ancient stone structures were all constructed differently than the tunnel in question, and it doesn’t quite fit the picture here. Mortar was also used in the construction, meaning that the tunnel is relatively newer than what the first throngs of European explorers would have ran into.

With no specialist making a visit to the tunnel to officially verify the age of its construction, this theory can only be that. And we’re right back to where we started. But one thing is for certain, if you can find it, you can see it for yourself. And that’s what I planned on doing.

Visiting The Tunnel

It was a warm September day when myself and a friend went searching for this elusive tunnel. But the question was, how would we find it? The foliage around the tracks was so thick and unforgiving, that it would be impossible to distinguish a simple stone tunnel underneath so much that competed for our attention.

Eventually after we had been walking the tracks for a good while, we decided to just jump off into the woods, literally, and see if we could get a better view of the steep banks that slumped below the railroad bed. If there was a tunnel here, we’d have to be on ground level to see it. But this literal jump proved to be an adventure we didn’t take into account. Weeds, thick trees with hanging vines and a “ground” made from soggy marshlands and layers of rotting trees was the landscape we were now fighting against, and walking around in it was treacherous and tiresome.

People Of The Sticks

Throughout this desolate and unforgiving landscape, we began to notice a web of sinuous trails that were well worn, and disappeared behind the thick veil of foliage. Making a conscious risky decision, we picked one and followed it. Little did we expect to find what looked like imaginative landscaping attempts. In the middle of nowhere.

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My friend thought the eyes were 2 miniature security cameras. Though we were far away from civilization at this point, we both involuntarily tensed up at the thought.
My friend thought the eyes were 2 miniature security cameras. Though we were far away from civilization at this point, we both involuntarily tensed up at the thought.
Following the path brought us right to the front door of the exact thing I expected and yet didn’t want to see – a homeless camp. Tents, sleeping bags and shopping carts were stashed underneath thick foliage that clinged to my jacket.
Following the path brought us right to the front door of the exact thing I expected and yet didn’t want to see – a homeless camp. Tents, sleeping bags and shopping carts were stashed underneath thick foliage that clinged to my jacket.

 

Further down the path, we stumbled into more development. This however seemed to be a clandestine farming operation, the farmers were nowhere to be seen thankfully.
Further down the path, we stumbled into more development. This however seemed to be a clandestine farming operation, the farmers were nowhere to be seen thankfully.

 

Finally, after an extensive amount of time searching, we had found the fabled tunnel.

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There looked like there once was a wooden door that covered the entrance, but had long been ripped off.

With the overwhelming evidence of homeless camps littering the immediate area, we approached cautiously. Who knew if anyone was sleeping (or perhaps, waiting) inside the dark depths of the tunnel, waiting to strike. Taking out a flashlight, we shined the LED light straight down the center of the shaft, illuminating the gloomy interior, and called out “hello?” a few times. The tunnel was empty, and in we went.

Inside the tunnel, we had to crouch down and ignore the uncomfortable feeling of dripping water coming from the stone roof. Immediately, we were met with the discarded remains of a homeless camp. Boots, a mattress, what appeared to be a few old wooden crates and a few knives that sat in pools of a foul orange slime that seemed to coat the entire tunnel floor. We noticed 2 odd features of the tunnel, one being 2 man made slits in the stone walls that stretched back to about my elbows – just wide enough to store small objects in. In the second, farthest section of the tunnel, the ceiling was supported by what looked like stolen railroad ties, their red rust stood out brilliantly in the flashlight beams.

Traversing this tunnel was no easy feat. The floor was slick and slippery. Not long after entering, our boots were covered with thick orange slime that offered us no traction. The further we ventured back, the more rotted the wood and debris became, almost disintegrating underneath our feat as the tunnel clearance became smaller and smaller. As we stood inside, trying to figure the great mystery about the place, it was impossible. The shadows of the past span so fast that everything the tunnel gave to me was blurred.

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Railroad ties that spanned the ceiling were used in some of the tunnel’s construction
Railroad ties that spanned the ceiling were used in some of the tunnel’s construction
interesting markings on the tunnel ceiling
interesting markings on the tunnel ceiling

As I was inside, I recalled my friend telling me further about his adventure in this tunnel Years ago. On his expedition inside, he came across a peculiar find. He had ventured inside, and not long after, he noticed his flashlight beam illuminate a thick grey blanket that was hanging across the interior, which was most likely deliberately placed, creating the illusion that the tunnel was actually much shorter than it actually was. Carefully talking down the faux wall, it opened up another several feet of tunnel that rambled off into the dark, before finally ending again at a real stone wall. He guessed that a homeless person who wanted to keep curious visitors away from his home in the end of the tunnel, created the wall for a bit of anonymity and security.

This picture taken by Joe Citro shows the gray blanket draped across the interior he encountered.

I was warned of the possibility of finding knives or other sinister artifacts inside. It seems Joe Citro found just that. (photo: Joe Citro)

The reality of the mysterious order of people who frequent and possibly live the dank tunnel was a sobering reality, and only added to the deepening mystery. Another friend told me stories of him finding actual knives next to a makeshift bed – and told me to be cautious while exploring. So until some information takes form, or a developer decides to seal it up – the tunnel will continue to baffle curious visitors and harbor the fallen.

Disclaimer: You’ll notice I didn’t give away the location of the tunnel. That was intentional, in order to protect special and endangered locations like this one. So please, don’t ask.

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

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

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

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

Donate Button with Credit Cards

The Land of Boulders and Bears

It seems this year it rains every time the summer sends her best. The weather hasn’t been ideal for adventuring, with a string of floods and road washouts. So when a rare overcast afternoon came my way, I took advantage of it.

Getting together with a good friend, we set off for West Bolton, a remote area located high in the slopes of the Green Mountains, only accessible by a labyrinth of back roads that twist their way up steep hills. But as soon as we left Route 117, we were greeted with washed out dirt roads and attention grabbing orange cones as our car bumped and jarred its way into the mountains.

With Motown soul coming through the radio, I gazed up at the mountains in my reverie, the fogs soluble on the summer canopy. It was wild country up here, and the change of scenery was lifting my spirits, as I felt like I was coming back from what seemed like a ruin.

There was one particular house I wanted to see, and as we ascended up a slight turn, it’s ramshackle facade came into view with tall grass and vines and a rusting tin roof under the promise of rain.

I loved this old house. The front lawn had grown wild and covered the piles of discarded junk that surrounded the house, their forms almost indistinguishable. All of the old farmhouse windows were broken, and from its vulnerable wounds, the inside could be seen. The inside appeared to be chaotic and filthy. Most of the windows had mysterious mounds of debris in front of them, some of it threatening to spill out onto the lawn. Other windows had quilts and bed sheets nailed over them from the inside, and were long moth ridden and disintegrating. But my line of sight faded into the contrasts as the heavy shadows soon swallowed my visibility, keeping the house’s secrets lost in the dark. The battered metal screen door hung open near the front lawn, stopped by the tall grasses. The remnants of a rotting wooden fence occasionally protruded from the growth.

Looking at this old house now, and its depleting condition and fading paint, it’s almost as if this property is wistfully saying “this past century went like a life out of me”

With a surprising steady flow of traffic for a rut chocked back road, and tall grass that obscured our vision, we decided it was best (to my disappointment) not to venture too close to the sagging property. That decision may have proved to be very smart, as we heard scurrying through the grass and the sounds of claws on wooden siding. Some kind of animal had just crawled into one of the broken windows.

With some quick research, I was able to find some old photos of the house, which offered an interesting glimpse into what once was. The first thing I found out was it had an official name; The Pease House, named after its founding family. The wide open spaces and cleared hill meadows that surrounded the house have long returned to woods – this house a last enclave of Bolton’s former life as the area continues to meld with the untamed mountains above.

The determined people who once cleared the land and built this house, the ones who once knew the front porch and the doorways and cherished the moonlight on hot summer nights, now nothing more than dust – a deadpanning reality at how fragile urban infrastructure is, and how easily things can become lost.

The reasoning for its current abandonment is unknown to me, but as someone informed me, it is owned by someone. Perhaps sometimes, we are the ghosts we don’t believe in.

The Pease House circa 1860s

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The Pease House Today

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West Bolton is a name lost to history. What used to be a small village in the mountains, complete with 2 churches, a sawmill and general store, is now nothing more then a name on the map, with a scattering of private residences and a more well-known golf course that wears the same name.

The town of Bolton is mountainous, rocky and gave the early settlers more work than they bargained for.  It’s no surprise that Bolton is referred to as  “the land of boulders and bears.” The town has more than twenty mountains of over 2,000 feet, and nearly as many more just under that height – creating natural barriers to trade and travel in the town, along with isolation that would meet the pioneering families under the stars. Today, it’s rugged slopes create outdoor recreation opportunities in the form of skiing and snowboarding at Bolton Mountain, tons of rock climbing opportunities and the infamous Bolton potholes, a beloved swimming hole that the locals despise because of the hoards of disrespectful visitors who flock there.

Even driving along Interstate 89, which seems to be the most traveled route in town which also doesn’t technically let you off in Bolton, the awesome vertical cliffs that the highway cuts through are testaments to Bolton’s nickname. Though many of Bolton’s bumps remain unnamed, one vertical drop earned its namesake from a man who committed suicide from it years ago. Alan’s leap is seemingly well solidified amongst the locals for its views and it’s perception of a moment of morbidity. Vermont is known for its grueling winters, and Bolton’s position literally on the spine of the Green Mountains means it gets dumped on rather spitefully once the temperatures drop below freezing. A blog commenter recalled that two women who lived down the road from one another both committed suicide because of the internal darkness they faced brought on by the perennial death of the year.

Historical records tell stories of bears coming down from the mountains and mass slaughtering sheep flocks around the village of West Bolton. The bear problem was once so bad that Bolton once had the honor of being the town with more bears slain in its borders than any other town in Vermont.

In the 1930s, The Government bought around 6,000 acres of land around West Bolton and Jericho for the Ethan Allen Training Site, and much of the village of West Bolton was destroyed in the name of progress. Today, all that remains are a few foundations sitting in the quiet woodlands above boulder logged streams and old Apple Trees hinting at the site of a former farm.  I was told that UVM mapped the area and had a walking tour for a while in the 1990s.

The surrounding woods along the back roads that travel along the ridge lines and swamps are congested with “US Property, NO Trespassing” warnings on almost every tree.

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One of the few remaining foundations we were able to find is the site of a former church, now nothing more than its front stairs.

Nearby was the old West Bolton Cemetery, which is still maintained. It was oddly quiet here, with a solemn weight that seemed to hang over the Maples and hollows. There was also an amusing sign attached to the front gate, humorously prohibiting ATVs from riding in the local cemetery. Within 10 seconds of us seeing this sign, a group of ATVs came up the dirt road towards the cemetery, 4 of them packed with 2-3 riders on each one. They slowed down as they approached the fence, revved their engines obnoxiously for several minutes, then took off down the road sending gravel and dust in their wake. Maybe they didn’t like the new sign?

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I sometimes enjoy walking through older cemeteries to admire and become intrigued with unique epitaphs, symbols alluding to secret societies, and other oddities that have been chiseled onto the aging headstones. There is always a story to be told. One of my favorite finds in West Bolton was this etching of a hand, with a finger dramatically pointing up to the skies above. In the 1800s, it was sometimes common for this to appear on headstones, with the intention of saying that without a doubt, this deceased soul did in fact go to heaven. But no one knows for sure if this gesture was telling any profound truth or not. And I suppose you don’t have to go ghost hunting in your afterlife to find out.

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As seen in “Downtown” Jonesville.

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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

Curious Centennial Woods

Burlington is Vermont’s largest city; the last census reported around 42,000 people making their home within the city’s 16 square miles. And anyone who knows Burlington would agree its an interesting city, with a diverse history adding to the layers that form the design and the architecture of the big picture. But even among the urbanization, there are still untapped places that can offer a rare glimpse of mystery and perspective that have managed to survive.

Centennial Woods is 65 acres of oddly wild land sitting in the middle of Vermont’s largest metropolitan area, and a lot of people don’t realize it even exists. With a discrete entrance located off a side street under the shadow of Fletcher Allen’s herculean edifice, the park is only marked by a small green sign that is almost lost among the environment around it. And once you find one of the trail heads, you find yourself in another world entirely that strangely coexists within such a vulnerable area- its secrets inhabit the influence of the city.

At the entrance to Centennial Woods lies something that doesn’t fit in with the gentle charm of the woods. A sight among the sites, you suddenly get an odd sinking feeling when the brutal military-esque form of a crumbling concrete bunker emerge from a steep hillside, its graffiti offering ambiguous messages from others who have visited.

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So what is it? The ruins of some sort of military installation? Some sort of early agricultural attempt to tame the steep hillside around it? Sadly, there doesn’t seem to be any answers, and any information about it just doesn’t seem to exist. But there are theories. Some say that these ruins were once built by the legendary Green Mountain Boys for training exercises. However, that seems far fetched, as concrete wasn’t wildy used in construction projects until the post civil war era. Others say that this might have been part of some sort of unusual surveying attempts along the Burlington/South Burlington city line, which runs right through the middle of the woods. And another more mysterious theory is that this is the last remnant of a series of monuments that once were scattered throughout the woods. But if so, than a monument to what?

The answers seemed to be somewhere in the smoke, and until they choose to reveal themselves, we’ll be waiting to pick at those pieces.

There was a strange indented area in front of the “bunker”, indicating that there was once more to this arcane structure.
There was a strange indented area in front of the “bunker”, indicating that there was once more to this arcane structure.

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The “bunker” didn’t seem to extend back that far. Any indication of a former entrance had long faded away, lost to memory.
The “bunker” didn’t seem to extend back that far. Any indication of a former entrance had long faded away, lost to memory.

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Just down the trail from these sturdy ruins sits a cool artifact on the forest floor, something small enough where you can easily trip over it if you aren’t careful; a city boundary survey marker.  It’s erosion and cracked surface showed the plaque’s age, especially compared to its newer street sign replacements located further down the trail. “City of Burlin – C.B. 40” could be barely made out through its erosion and faded youth.

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some rather interesting “trail art” – the tangled barbed wire quite possibly a vestige of the areas agricultural past, now acting as abstract art, or the victim of an act of boredom.
some rather interesting “trail art” – the tangled barbed wire quite possibly a vestige of the areas agricultural past, now acting as abstract art, or the victim of an act of boredom.

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Centennial Woods is a surprising hilly area, which is practically unknown unless your familiar with the topography here. It’s rocky ledges and serpentine marshlands hold another set of peculiar yet unmemorable set of ruins;  a series of badly burned stumps, a rusted machine gear and a beaten utility pole. Though the casual hiker would probably never guess it; these are the remains of the former South Burlington Kiwanis Ski Area. It opened sometime in the winter of 1963 and offered a 500 foot rope tow and lighted ski trails. However, the ski hill fell victim to arsonists in June of 1967 – the fire destroying the rope tow, tow shack and machinery. The rest was looted by vandals, and all have been left abandoned and forgotten as mother nature reclaimed it. The burned foundation of the former tow shack still can be seen in the new growth forest, more then 40 years later.

The charred and worn remains of the former tow shack
The charred and worn remains of the former tow shack
the former utility pole that powered the ski hill, now also abandoned and defunct.
the former utility pole that powered the ski hill, now also abandoned and defunct.

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the complete set of ruins
the complete set of ruins
Any attempts to find the remains of the ski trail would be impossible, the area has grown wild and indistinguishable
Any attempts to find the remains of the ski trail would be impossible, the area has grown wild and indistinguishable

Walking down the hill behind the former tow shack made me understand immediately why this site was chosen. The woods suddenly descend a very steep slope that makes its way down to a thick swamp along the fringes of Interstate 89, the flash and blur of traffic seems like a dream through the soft spring canopy. To my surprise, the hill had found new life and has been resurrected by another group of people looking for an adrenaline rush; mountain bikers. The steep and sandy slope had been carved into a series of dirt jumps with incredible elevation drops in between them, nothing for the faint of heart.

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These jumps had a steep and not at all dangerous drop down towards the interstate.
These jumps had a steep and not at all dangerous drop down towards the interstate.

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And I felt a change coming up as the skies grew dark – and there were apple blossoms in the air. Centennial Woods is a wonderful place to get lost for a while underneath the red maples, taking the woods in before you take them home. Besides a single passing hiker, I had the entire area to myself for 3 hours. It’s amusing to think about how much of an influence these woods have had in the 2 cities they grow in, told only fleetingly by the things they’ve left behind. The families that frequented the ski slopes near the interstate, the mysterious people who built the concrete ruins on the hill, The Green Mountain Boys and the farmers who may have once cultivated the land – there’s a connection here that is now linked by the isolation and the wilderness as it continuously changes the landscape. And if the woods bleed all their stories out, then what would be left for them to take to their grave?

How to get here:

Centennial Woods can be found off Carrigan Drive in Burlington – a side street off East Avenue. Click here for a map.

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

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

Railroads and Silos

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

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

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

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

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

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

This building was formerly used for washing down the rail cars

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

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

This building was used for holding freight.
The original roundhouse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(via CardCown.com)

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

Weird Waters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(via CardCow.com)

A Famous History

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Left Behind

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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