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

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

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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Richford’s Mystery Spot

The hill country up near hardscrabble East Richford is an older, left behind Vermont of farmhouses with sagging rooflines, boarded up country stores, rivers, rusted iron railroad bridges over narrow underpasses, and toothpick rows of harvested corn stocks left in bleak fields.

It was up in this part of the state under 6 inches of snow and roads that made me thankful for snow tires that I was going oddity hunting.

We were the only car on state route 105A, a pretty desolate spur road connecting route 105 to a sparsely used border crossing at Sutton, Quebec. The bad tarmac ran alongside the hypothermic waters of the Mississqoui as the snow began to tumble down to the ground in an amiable silence. “Man, I love roads that follow rivers” my friend enthused. “Yeah, roads that follow rivers are some of humankind’s’ best achievements” I returned, and we both cracked a grin.

We continued to be the only traffic as we turned onto the dirt main drag of East Richford, which was only a few older wooden homes in various states of decrepitude. Past the abandoned Gulf station, the road sharply right angles at Quebec before beginning its ascent up into the border hills. We passed an old graveyard where the invisible line between the two nations slashed through the middle of, before my friend suddenly stomped on his breaks, our car skidding for a few seconds on the slush and ice. “Oh……” he breathed, looking at the granite boundary marker to our right. “Shit, are we breaking the law? We’re in Canada! Don’t we have to check in?”

“The only law we’re breaking is the law of gravity!” I quipped.

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According to Sir Isaac Newton, objects fall. No exceptions. But if Franklin County lore has a flicker of truth to it, perhaps not.

This remote border road that made it’s way through some of Vermont’s most stark and impoverished back country near East Richford is known as “Richford’s Mystery Spot,” according to Joseph E. Citro and Diane E. Foulds in their 2004 book Curious New England: The Unconventional Traveler’s Guide to Eccentric Destinations. The “mystery” is that gravity in this spot reputedly likes to behave unorthodoxly. For example, cars are said to roll uphill! WTF?

These oddities aren’t unique to the Green Mountain State. Various places around the U.S. manifest the same puzzling phenomenon. Nearest to Vermont, there are two “mystery spots” in the Massachusetts towns of Greenfield and Harvard, and one in Middlesex, N.Y., on the awesomely named Spook Hill Road.

Citro and Foulds reported that they weren’t able to locate Richford’s mystery spot. Years ago, in a brown and bleak November, I made my own attempt. Being an avid Vermont enthusiast and local weird worker, I couldn’t pass this one up. I enlisted a friend, who couldn’t contain his mirth when I explained we were aiming to defy gravity, and quickly signed on for the road trip. I guess breaking the laws of physics is a good way to make plans.

The mystery spot is aptly named, I discovered when we turned east out of Richford village toward the looming form of Jay Peak, because it’s no easy place to find. The night before, I had consulted the state atlas and decided that the most likely location was the curiously named East Richford Slide Road, a hilly dirt byway that rolls over the foothills of Jay Peak with a few trailers and abandoned farmhouses along its length, before depositing you back on Route 105 in Jay town. It serpentines over the border a few times, but because you can’t get anywhere in Canada unless you hike through miles of mountain wilderness, the crossings aren’t guarded.

So how do you discover such an area? There had to be a first person to be bewildered here. My research had identified the late Dolph Dewing of Franklin as the first person to report experiencing the mystery spot’s effects in 1978. According to Citro in Weird New England: Your Travel Guide to New England’s Local Legends and Best Kept Secrets, Dewing started by sharing the discovery with his friends, then brought a busload from the Franklin Senior Center to witness the phenomenon.

In October 1985, County Courier reporter Nat Worman accompanied Dewing to the spot and watched as he stopped his 1979 Dodge there and revved it to prove it was in neutral. After about 60 seconds passed, the car began rolling uphill, accelerating gradually from 10 to 15 mph.

My friend and I weren’t so lucky on that windy November day. We parked our car in several places along the rural road and waited. Despite our relocations, nothing happened.

We pulled over again and mulled things over. Did we have to be in Canada for the “mystery” to work, or on the Vermont side? Maybe we just hadn’t found the right spot.

Sitting beneath border skies as the sun shone off the hood of my friend’s Chevy, I wondered if Dewing had been fooled by some sort of optical illusion. Was it really antigravity? Or magnetism? Or a hoax?

Researching later on, I found that the answers may be closer than I expected and rooted in the rational. There are a bunch of “mystery spots” around the globe, some with equally evocative names such as “gravity hills” and “gravity roads.” So, do the laws of physics simply stop applying there?

Nope. What baffles tons of spectators is actually an optical illusion, one that’s been debunked by physicists. Or, at least, that’s the prevailing theory.

“Gravity hills” and the like are places where the geography of the surrounding land produces an illusion, making a downhill slope appear to go uphill. Obstructions on the horizon can be a key factor in creating this illusion, because they rob us of the reliable reference points we use to determine which way is up. The mind, in short, is tricked.

In a 2006 Science Daily article, Brock Weiss, a physics professor at Penn State Altoona, investigates a gravity hill in Bucks County, Penn., and concludes that this local oddity isn’t that odd. “You are, indeed, going downhill even though your brain gives you the impression that you’re going uphill,” Weiss explains. Using GPS, the investigators demonstrated that the hill’s starting point had a greater elevation than its ending point, despite appearances to the contrary. And, if these mystery spots really were gravitational anomalies, wouldn’t your sense of balance and the objects around you be affected, instead of just your vehicle?

Just as I was pretty much convinced that I could put this into my “mystery solved” pile, Linda Collins of the Richford Historical Society brought me back into a sentiment of uncertainty. I phoned the town offices looking for answers, and instead had an awkward silence sent my way. I had almost thought they hung up on me, before the town clerk spoke up and said she had no idea what I was talking about. So she directed my call to Linda, who had a lot to say about Richford’s weird side.

“Oh yeah, I know about the hill. I think it’s called a ‘gravity hill’. I learned about it when I was researching the UFO sightings in town” said an amused Collins.

Back in the 1970s, she related, a few Richford residents reported seeing strange moving lights over town. Wanting to chronicle the frenzy for the Burlington Free Press, Collins made phone calls, which led her to a government facility in Boulder, Colo. She refers to it as “the strange things facility,” because “I don’t remember what they were called — it’s been so long since I’ve talked about this!”

According to Collins, the feds told her that a singular magnetic pull or gravitational force in the Richford area had the potential to “attract things.” They didn’t specify what things, and she surmised there was probably more that they weren’t telling her. “You know, government secrecy? They were probably doing some testing or something and didn’t want that getting out to the public,” Collins said. Later on, Collins learned of the “mystery spot” phenomenon.

“Does the historical society get many inquiries about it?” I asked. “No one up here really knows that much about it,” she said with a laugh. “It was such a small deal when it happened. Lots of folks in town now don’t really know a lot about our history anymore.”

“So what’s your opinion on it? Do you think it’s an illusion, or is there something actually weird with gravity in Richford?”

“Well….I mean, I don’t know what to tell you. Richford is a weird town. If all this business about the UFOs and gravitational pulls are true, then who knows.”

Border towns are weird in general, in both their local lore and for political complications and the infrastructure meant to delineate a sense of placement. Richford’s mythology resume is a bulky one of giant birds that have swooped down and snatched babies, UFOs, giant wolves that may live around the border, a possible “window area” near Jay Peak, and a former rendezvous for rumrunners and smugglers.

But Richford has it easy, compared to what may be New England’s strangest border community, which I hope to check out one day.

If the Richford, VT/Sutton, QC area really does have some sort of unique magnetic force, that would set Vermont’s mystery spot apart from the scores of others around the globe that can be debunked by aesthetic tomfoolery.

One of my favorite Richford landmarks, as seen downtown.
One of my favorite Richford landmarks, as seen downtown.

Because I was trying to write about this for Seven Days, I decided that was a great excuse to take another trip up to border country with another friend, and give it another go, this time in a Ford (if that makes any sort of difference)

Back up the East Richford Slide Road, we drove around looking for answers and an outlandishly cool experience, stopping and going almost the entire length of the slick road, with some situationally motivating Jazz coming quietly through the radio.

We think there was one spot where the car rolled in a direction that wasn’t backward, but after getting out of the car and scrutinizing the area, the very very gradual incline of the road may have actually been inconspicuously dipping downhill, but the eye is fooled from a larger uphill lip of an intersection beyond it which forms the horizon line. Was this the spot? If so, Dewing’s car was recorded going at least 15mph, while we were going 5.

I’m not sure if I left empty handed or not to be honest, but it was an enjoyable way to spend my morning.

Whatever the explanation for the mystique, the Richford Mystery Spot is still one of my favorite examples of Vermont obscura, because it’s accessible and fun. If only it were a little easier to locate the exact spot where the optical illusion — if that’s what it is — kicks in.

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One of our many stops up the East Richford Slide Road, where we were definitely sliding all over the place.
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The mowed down strip of forest cutting over those snowy mountains is an aesthetic reminder of where the U.S./Canada border is that’s called “The Slash”, created by homeland security when they deemed all of the 150 plus year old granite obelisk markers formerly doing the job as obsolete. So far, the clear cut runs from Maine to Minnesota, with the eventual finish line being Alaska. I read in a newspaper write up years ago that they defended their forestry project by arguing that a lot of Americans would be confused and wind up in Canada accidentally if they didn’t. I’m not sure if I buy that. I mean, I’ve never bumbled my way into Quebec before. But who are we to question the government?

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

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

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

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

Off The Beaten Path in Southern Vermont

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

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

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

Somerset

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Glastenbury

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Middie Rivers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Forks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Things worth mentioning:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Donate Button with Credit Cards

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

The Franklin County Wolf Monument

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Donate Button with Credit Cards

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

The Vermont Character: Coffin Windows

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Donate Button with Credit Cards

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

 

Cemetery Safaris and Green Mountain Memento Mori.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Black Agnes”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Bowman Mausoleum 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grave With A Window

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“A dreamless sleep, emblem of eternal rest”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Vermont’s Immortal Man and Frozen Hill Folk?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A vignette into early Vermont life.

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

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

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

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

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Ripton, VT

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

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

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Underneath The Ground

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

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

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

Vermont’s copper belt, in Orange County | USGS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Elizabeth Mine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sources/For More Information

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

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

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

A short history of the Ely Mine by Paul Donavan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Milton Mysteries: The Tunnel Underneath Main Street

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Underneath The Ground

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vicious Waters and Dislocation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Opacity 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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Face Value: The Bellows Falls Petroglyphs

Bellows Falls is a great village, and has a history that goes back to it’s Abenaki populace who were lured here by the great falls, extends past White settlement who built an industrial canal to bypass the affor-referenced falls and continues today through its distinction as a tourist area and waypoint community for the Connecticut River Byway.

There is a cool yet controversial mid century mural painted on a wall downtown that nostalgically reads Bellows Falls is a good place to hang your hat. It’s also apparently a good place to chisel your petroglyphs.

The Bellows Falls petroglyphs are located on a few large boulders found in the dramatic gorge below the defunct Vilas Bridge that cuts down to the Connecticut River.

Basically, the carvings are an arrangement of rough circles with three dots inside, with some containing pairs of lines that radiate out from the top. It’s surmised that they depict a cluster of 24 odd sized faces, but there is some disagreement on exactly what they are, with arguments for human, animal, extraterrestrial, or other. The lines atop the circles prove to be just as interesting. It’s said that they could be anything from hair of that era, feathers from headdresses, deer antlers, sun rays, or alien antennas. But no one can say for sure.

We don’t even know how old they are, with estimates ranging from 300 to 3,000 years old – some considering them the oldest pieces of art existing in Vermont. What we do know however, is that they were made known in 1789, when visiting reverend David McClure from Dartmouth College wrote about them in his notes, and suggested that they were made by the Abenaki, the native people of the area.

The explanations of these cryptic images are plentiful. McClure speculated that they could be translated as an Abenaki warning that the site marked the location of “evil spirits”, a shamanistic idea that came from associating places like river gorges and waterfalls as a place to communicate with the spirit world. But that was contested by an Englishman named Edward Kendall, who while traveling through Bellows Falls in 1808, believed that they were nothing more than the banal doodles of a bored Abenaki fisherman on a slow day at the river. Plenty of other theories have morphed since then and include everything in between, from grave markers, religious symbols, aliens, memento mori from an important battle, depictions of people who had drowned in the rapids, and the carvings from Abenaki shaman who recorded their visions while hallucinating on the river’s edge.

But it may be the orientation of the petroglyphs which may tell us something of their significance. They face west, towards the village. If this isn’t just a coincidence, Abenaki lore dictates that west is the direction where an Abenaki soul travels after death, meaning that they may be preternatural wayfinding signs for their departed. Interestingly, the artificial industrial island made by the Bellows Falls Canal was at one point an important Abenaki burial ground. For decades afterward, development on the island and local road construction projects would continuously surprise the laborers who unearthed numerous skeletons and artifacts, and became sort of a local spectacle.

Here’s where things get interesting. McClure’s description only mention three faces, which are greatly more detailed than what can be found on the bottom of the gorge today, leaving some to postulate that counterfeit ones have been added over the years.

In the 1930s, some misguided locals got together and had the carvings deepened to preserve them from the constant erosion of the river, damaging their value as historical artifacts and keeping their age and purpose still in the realm of the mysterious.

These were some of the carvings that didn’t make it into the 21st century. Image: History of the Town of Rockingham, Vermont including the villages of Bellows Falls, Saxtons River, Rockingham – Cambridgeport and Bartonsville.

It actually amazes me that these petroglyphs have survived at all. During the nineteenth century, the Bellows Falls river/canal area was a hive of rambunctious industrial activity. Much of the river gorge was permanently reconstructed by dynamite blasts that were used to clear away log jams, which is a real disappointment, because it seems that those cliffs held more than a few curiosities. One sad account comes from sometime in the 1800s. A fascinating curiosity was found embedded in a rock near the Connecticut River; a baffling fossil of a five foot, clearly defined footprint that looked like it came from a bird, but the species was unknown. This caused quite a stir in both the scientific community, and the local one. What could have possibly made a footprint that big? Unfortunately, we’ll never know. Word of this important discovery got out and a group of rowdy locals found it first, and dynamited it out of existence. It’s very possible that there may have been more of these petroglyphs as well, that were destroyed to make a few bucks.

The petroglyphs are pretty easy to find. They’re located at the end of Bridge Street near the Vilas Bridge, which is the indefinitely crumbling bridge with grass growing through it’s deteriorating surface, and not the other better-kept bridge that crosses the canal onto the island. Once you get to the “Bridge Closed” sign, they’re down in the gorge to the right of the bridge. The rocks have been marked with strips of yellow paint to guide you to their location, and if you have a camera with a good zoom lens, you should be able to see them. Or, you can do what I did, and take the “trail” to the left of the bridge, which I guess is a very debatable definition, and really was more of a distinguishable area of low brush that meandered between taller thick adjacent brush and trees, which eventually dropped you down a steep rocky embankment and into the gorge. From there, it’s all boulder clamber underneath the Vilas Bridge, but from this approach, you can get right next to them. My scratched and bleeding legs were worth it.

What I loved best about these petroglyphs, besides how they are still a lingering mystery, is the obscurity of them. There are no fences around them with colorful “keep out” signs, and no logos from local universities slapped down anywhere. They simply exist just outside town, quiet and more or less undisturbed.

The Vilas Bridge

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The Bellows Falls Train Graveyard

In the cold days of winter in 2013, I explored and photographed scores of abandoned train cars that lined both sides of the Connecticut River. The yards and the scrapped rail cars are owned by the Green Mountain Railroad, which has a long history of perpetuating industry and travel in the Bellows Falls area, and as rail travel became secondary to the automobile, it left quite a few old passenger cars from the 40s and 50s parked along the river banks, slowly eroding with idle time.

DSC_0594_pe DSC_0606_pe_pe DSC_0602_pe DSC_0599 DSC_0597_pe DSC_0596 DSC_0612_pe DSC_0610_peDSC_0646_peDSC_0643_peDSC_0638_peDriving Around Bellows Falls

One of my favorite adventures in Bellows Falls was just driving aimlessly around the narrow streets that climb it’s steep terraced hills above the river, checking out the different neighborhoods, which managed to be so enjoyable that it almost blocked out my friend Daniel blasting dubstep on his car stereo and serially asking me “Chad! Is this your jam man? I bet you know all of these lyrics!”

A Bellows Falls attraction or service?
A Bellows Falls attraction or service?
One of my favorite finds in Bellows Falls – A 275-foot railroad tunnel running underneath a section of the downtown district. Built in 1851, this tunnel is a rather impressive reminder of when three railroad lines were brought through Bellows Falls, helping industrial growth and creating one of the most important railroad junctions in New England. What’s striking about this tunnel is that its partially cut through solid rock and reinforced with massive stone blocks.
One of my favorite finds in Bellows Falls – A 275-foot railroad tunnel running underneath a section of the downtown district. Built in 1851, this tunnel is a rather impressive reminder of when three railroad lines were brought through Bellows Falls, helping industrial growth and creating one of the most important railroad junctions in New England. What’s striking about this tunnel is that its partially cut through solid rock and reinforced with massive stone blocks. Today, these tracks are more or less quiet, a reminder of how the automobile overtook rail travel.

Another Bellows Falls mural.

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Industrial ruins along the riverfront

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looking down where the turbine once was.
looking down where the turbine once was.

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The Robertson Paper Company, another beautiful old building on Factory Island
The Robertson Paper Company, another beautiful old building on Factory Island

 Additional Links:

The Abenaki and the Bellows Falls (VT) Petroglyphs – This great write up was paramount to my research on the petroglyphs.

Mystery is written in rocks of Bellows Falls – The Barre Times Argus, June 21st, 2009

Hayes, Lyman Simpson, 1907   History of the Town of Rockingham, Vermont including the villages of Bellows Falls, Saxtons River, Rockingham – Cambridgeport and Bartonsville. 1753-1907 with family genealogies. There is a digital copy online you can view, if you’re so inclined.

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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 Vanished Town of Glastenbury and The Bennington Triangle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The Bennington Triangle”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Strange Disappearances 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Disappearances

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

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

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

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

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

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

Additional Theories and Searching for Answers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Even More Strangeness

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

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

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

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

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

Arcane Stone Cairns

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

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

What About Today?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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