A local mystery: Who built this stone chamber, and why?

chamberAbout a thirty minute drive from the October Country Inn, and after navigating a particular route through the tangled web of Vermont back roads, stands a leaf covered mound in the forest covering most of what may be a 2,000 year old stone structure.  Similar structures are found throughout the east coast and beyond.  Fifty-two stone chambers have been found in Vermont alone.  The majority of these stone chambers, as with this one, are found on upland valley slopes, ridges or hilltops facing the south or southeast.

Slabs of stone used to form the roof.

Slabs of stone used to form the roof.

The origin of these stone chambers is far from settled.  A study done in 1950 by Vermont state archeologist Giovanna Neudorfer concluded that these structures were root cellars made by early Vermont settlers.  However, more recent archeological opinions do not share such a definitive conclusion.  For one thing, the roofs and other structural members of these chambers are composed of massive slabs of stone weighing many tons.  Although it may not have been impossible for an early settler to split and move such stones into place, why would they?  There are much simpler methods to construct a root cellar.

View of the inside looking toward the back wall.

View of the inside looking toward the back wall.

Most interestingly, however, is that the winter solstice sun rises in the center of this chamber’s entranceway when viewed from inside.  These chambers are also often found in association with other stone features, platforms, walls, and cairns whose alignments correspond to specific celestial events.  Their use may have been a kind of prehistoric calendar.  Backdating with modern computer astronomical simulations to determine when a particular chamber would have existed in order to be in alignment with a important celestial event, dates these chambers to about 2,000 ago.  It has been suggested that these chambers are of ancient Phoenician or Celtic origin.  Who knows?  Maybe.  Why don’t you visit this chamber, look around, and decide for yourself.  First visit the October Country Inn.  We’ll tell you how to find it.

Spring sheep shearing time at Billings Farm & Museum

View from the farmhouse porch.

View from the farmhouse porch.

When in Vermont, there are endless reasons to choose October Country Inn for your lodging needs.  One of them is that we are really close to Woodstock’s Billings Farm and Museum.  A visit to Billings Farm is a visit to Vermont’s rural heritage.  Find out first-hand how they did things on the farm during the 1800′s.  Get to know their Jerseys, sheep, horses, and oxen through interactive programs and activities. Explore the barns and calf nursery and watch the afternoon milking of the herd.

Visitors experience a first-hand sampling of actual farm work, animals, and agricultural processes. The authentically restored 1890 farm house, the center of the farm and forestry operation a century ago – features the farm manager’s office, family living quarters – and creamery, where butter was produced for market. SheepInteractive programs interpret 19th century agricultural improvement, butter production, and domestic life. Exhibits housed in 19th century barns depict the annual cycle of rural life and work, as well as the cultural values of Vermont farm families a century ago.

Vermont was a sheep state before it was a dairy state. Through much of the 19th century, sheep dominated the livestock outnumbering both cows and people.  Now, since it’s Spring, it’s time to sheer Billings Farm’s Southdown sheep and turn their wool into yarn.  Accordingly, on Saturday and Sunday May 7 and 8, Billings Farm & Museum will feature sheep shearing & herding with Border Collies.  Watch the Border Collies round up the sheep herd for the spring shearing.   Accompanying wool craft activities such as spinning and carding demonstrations will highlight the skills needed to turn fleece into yarn.

DogSouthdown sheep are known for their high quality meat and excellent fleece, averaging between four and five pounds of fleece apiece. This particular breed is known to be very blocky, resembling a rectangular box with feet. Southdowns tend to be docile and friendly, with strong mothering instincts.  The farm keeps between six and ten breeding ewes and each spring the ewes give birth to a lively group of lambs.

 

 

“Take a Hike,” and sip a cold, local craft-brew while lounging by the river.

Long Trail BreweryIt’s an early spring this year at the October Country Inn.  Winter didn’t offer much opportunity for snow travelers to enjoy what Vermont winter typically offers.  But, despite disappointing conditions for snow related activities,  travelers to the area could always depend on sitting down to a frosty pint of a local Long Trail craft-brew, and  a hearty lunch at the nearby Long Trail Brew Pub.   October Country Inn is strategically located in this regard.  We are across the street from the Long Trail Brewery.  No need to drive.

Green BlazeOriginally called Mountain Brewers, what is now the Long Trail Brewing Company started-up in the basement of the Bridgewater Woolen Mill in 1989. It changed its name to Long Trail Brewing Company in 1995 and relocated to its present location on the banks of the Ottaquechee River in the heart of the Green Mountains.  Long Trail Ale, a German Altbier, is the company’s flagship beer. It is the largest selling craft-brew in Vermont.  The Brown Bag concept was developed as a way for Long Trail’s brewers to develop new recipes quickly. These small batch brews have produced Long Trail favorites like Double Bag, a Strong Ale; and Hit the Trail Ale, a limited release English Brown Ale; an American IPA; Belgian Smoked Porter; Milk Stout; and Maple Maibock that is fermented with maple syrup.

Sipping a cold frosty pint alongside the river at Long Trail's Brew Pub.

Sipping a cold frosty pint alongside the river at Long Trail’s Brew Pub.

Now you know!  No area visit would be complete without a visit to the Long Trail Brew Pub to sample Long Trial’s most recent craft-brew. Today, that would be a frosty pint of Green Blaze IPA.  This newest addition to Long Trail’s craft-brews features big pine, tropical fruit and resin hop notes with a light, biscuit malt backbone.  Green Blaze IPA pairs well with: blue cheeses, sharp cheddar, colby, grilled meats, barbecue, hamburgers, spicy dishes, tacos, blackened chicken, pickled vegetables, shellfish and outdoor adventure.  Speaking of outdoor adventure, spring is here.  It’s time to “Take a Hike.”

 

Killington launches a new loop trail.

A view of the Ottaquechee River marshland looking northeast.

A view of the Ottaquechee River marshland looking northeast.

It’s been warmer than usual at the October Country Inn for this time of year .  It seems like the leaves on our maple trees started to get their fall color overnight.  It was cooler today.  A quiet Sunday.  A good day to walk in the woods.  We’ve been hearing about a new trail, the River Road Loop Trail, the town of Killington had been working on and we took this opportunity to explore their handiwork.  The 4.1 mile trail circles a section of the Ottauquechee River marshlands.  A good place to see moose.

River Rd Loop Dir.To get to the Killington River Road Loop trailhead from the October Counry Inn, head west on U.S. Route 4 from Bridgewater Corners for about 10 miles.  After about 6 miles you pass Killington’s Skyship Gondola Base Station on your left.  Route 4 then runs straight and flat up a narrow valley.  You will see the highway begin to climb up ahead, and then you will pass Goodro Lumber Yard on your right.  River Road is the first right past the lumber yard.  River Road is a narrow two-lane road that is paved for about the first mile and a half before turning into a typical Vermont hard-packed dirt road.  Just before turning to dirt, on your left, the Killington Town office and recreational area offers spacious parking.  Park there.

Edie and Jenny take a break alongside the River Road Loop Trail.

Edie and Jenny take a break alongside the River Road Loop Trail.

Start the hike by retracing your route for about .8 mile back down River Road.  This is easy walking on River Road’s flat, paved shoulder.  The Ottaquechee River marshlands border the road and offer a variety of wildlife viewing opportunities.  Moose have been known to frequent the marshy area.  There are beaver, and a variety of wetland birds including the great blue heron lurking in the reeds.  The marshy area will end at a stand of hardwoods, and a “Killington Loop Trail” sign will then point the way to your right down a dirt driveway.  Bear right on the double-track road the driveway will lead you to.  You begin your walk through the woods on the double-track road until another “Killington Loop Trail” sign posted just before a large gated chain-link fence points you to the right once more, and onto a single track trail through the woods.

A section of single-track trail meandering through the mixed hardwood forest.

A section of single-track trail meandering through the mixed hardwood forest.

About two-thirds of the loop trail is this, mostly flattish, single-track trail meandering through a mixed hardwood forest that forms the southern border to the Ottaquechee River marshland.  You won’t see much of the marsh from this side except for one spot at the edge of the woods where a recycled Killington chairlift has been converted into a bench swing.  Take a break and enjoy the view.  About a half mile further, the trail comes out on Thundering Brook Road.  To complete the loop, turn right for a short distance on this dirt road before turning right again on the dirt part of River Road which will lead you back to the parking lot.  Or, at the point where you emerge on Thundering Book Road, If you want to extend the walk a bit more, turn left and walk another .2 or .3 miles up Thundering Brook Road to the Thundering Brook Falls trail.  Follow it to the right to Thundering Brook Falls (see Thundering Brook Falls directions for details) and then on to River Road over a boardwalk that spans the marshland, and back to your car.  Or, if you still haven’t walked enough, cross River Road after the boardwalk and continue to follow the Appalachian Trail north.  You can go as far as Mount Katahdin in Maine’s Baxter State Park if you’re in the mood.

Folk & blues festival at Plymouth Notch wakes up “Silent-Cal.”

Plymouth FolkAlthough you wouldn’t know it by the warm temperatures, the last days of Summer at the October Country Inn are close at hand.  Here and there a few trees are starting to display Fall colors.  It won’t be long now.  Labor Day weekend traditionally signals the close of Summer.  This may be your last chance for a quick getaway.  Let us make a suggestion, check out the 11th annual 2015 Plymouth Notch Folk and Blues Festival.  Music will fill the air on Labor Day weekend, September 5 and 6, in this idyllic rural community which was the birthplace of Calvin Coolidge, also known as “Silent-Cal,” the 30th president of the United States.

Plymouth MapAn article in a local newspaper puts it this way: “It’s hard to get more Vermont-ish than Plymouth Notch. Forget about the modern-day Vermont attention-getters like Ben & Jerry’s or Phish; we’re talking Calvin Coolidge and prize-winning cheese here. And this Labor Day weekend, Plymouth continues what’s become a new tradition in town – the annual folk and blues festival.”  The reference to “prize-winning cheese” is about the Vermont Cheese factory located across the street from the Coolidge homestead.  But apart from sampling their delicious smoked cheddar, taking a wagon ride, or painting your face, bring a blanket to spread on the lawn and be entertained by down-home folk and blues performers.  And it won’t cost a dime.  It’s all free.

Jay Ottaway with his band.

Jay Ottaway with his band.

The event’s organizer, Jay Ottaway, a traveling blues musician himself, notes: “The festival is special for performers and audience alike because, even though it draws a big crowd, it retains the intimate, personal feel of an acoustic folk coffeehouse.” Ottaway said that he chose this venue for the festival because: With all the traveling I do as a musician Plymouth Notch has been my one steady home since childhood.  Also, if you’re more of a hands-on folk and blues enthusiast, there’s a Saturday night jam session at Ramunto’s Brick and Brew Pizza Pub.  All in all, not a bad choice for a Labor Day outing in peaceful Plymouth Notch.  If it rains, no worries, the whole thing just moves indoors to the historic 1840 Union Christian Church right in Plymouth Notch.  Of course, if you need lodging, you can’t go wrong with the October Country Inn.

 

And the light pushed back the darkness.

goldThe October Country Inn was recently certified “Greenleader Gold,” by Trip Advisor for our energy conservation practices.  A substantial element of our conservation practices is to use energy-efficient lighting throughout the inn.  We first replaced all the many incandescent light bulbs with the more efficient flourescent variety, leaving a box full of incandescent bulbs in the basement.  Most recently we revisited this bulb switching strategy by replacing all the flourescent bulbs with the even more energy-efficient LED variety.  Now we also have a box full of flourescent bulbs in the basement alongside the box of incandescent bulbs.

The box of replaced incandescent bulbs next to the box of replaced flourescent bulbs.

The box of replaced incandescent bulbs next to the box of replaced flourescent bulbs.

Speaking of light, regardless of how energy-efficient our lighting may be, a nighttime thunder-storm will roll through every once in a while and blow down a few trees taking out a power line somewhere, and we are thrown into darkness like it was the middle ages.  Out come the candles.  Candles have been around since about 3000 BC, however, where they were once the go-to form of artificial light, they only serve an interim purpose when electricity is unavailable to provide quick access to light in order to collect and fire up the slightly more practical wick burning lamps.

Woodstock's gas plant (note the chimney) circa 1860

Woodstock’s gas plant (note the chimney) circa 1860

In the eighteenth century, Edie’s Vermont ancestors would have used wick lamps burning whale oil (which may well have also come from Edie’s whale hunting ancestors).  Compared to candles, whale oil produced a superior whiter, brighter light.  But then they began to run out of whales.  The price of whale oil went way up, and cheaper carboniferous fuels from coal and petroleum emerged.  By the 1850s kerosene replaced whale oil as the lamp fuel of choice in the Woodstock area.  The next big thing in indoor lighting was fueled by gas that was piped into homes and businesses from coal-fired gas generating stations like Woodstock’s Gas Light Company set up in 1855.  Gas light was cheap and led to a high incidence of night illumination in the cities and towns of the area.  It was also a bit dangerous and led to many structure fires as well as gas plant explosions.

Of course, just like today, when gas supplies (or electrical supplies) are interrupted, out come the candles and lamps.  In some ways, when you need to push back the darkness, not much has changed.

 

Woodstock’s part in the Civil War and its connection to the Underground Railway.

The village of Woodstock circa 1860.

The village of Woodstock circa 1860 with the First Congregational Chuch in the foreground.

Although the October Country Inn is located in the tiny town of Bridgewater Corners, Vermont our guests enjoy the quiet of a small country town yet are still a mere fifteen minute drive to either Woodstock or Killington and all that these more well-known destinations have to offer.  One such attraction is the rich history of this area of Vermont, especially Woodstock.  Although it might take a little digging to uncover it.  Did you ever wonder what life was like in Woodstock during the Civil War, or the role Woodstock played in the war effort.  Did you know that the Civil War began on April 12, 1861, and on May 2, 1861 Woodstock sent a brigade of light

Woodstock light infantry gathers on the Green.

Woodstock light infantry gathers on the Green.

infantry to join the cause of the Union Army?  Did you know that Billings Farm was converted into Camp Dike to train new recruits?  Did you know that Woodstock’s First Congregational Chuch, established in 1801, four years after Vermont’s constitution outlawed slavery, played a prominent role in helping escaped slaves find sanctuary?  This is just a sampling of Woodstock’s historic role during these troubled times.  If you want to learn more, you’re in luck.  You have three paths you can follow.

One path is to sign up for The Home Front Tour; a two-hour walking tour conducted by a Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historic Park ranger that visits sites within Woodstock village to impart a deeper understanding of the far-reaching effects of the Civil War on the role of African-Americans and women, the meaning of citizenship, and the beginnings of land conservation.  This tour will run from 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. on August 1, 15, and 29, or September 19;   Meet at the Billings Farm and Museum Visitor Center.

Downtown Woodstock.

Downtown Woodstock.

A couple of self-guided tour options are also available.   Download a printable copy of New Birth of Freedom.  Illustrated with photographs from the Woodstock History Center archive and hand drawn maps, this booklet is extremely informative and will guide you through the Civil War walking tour at your own pace.   Or, a smartphone app is available from iTunes (search the Apple App Store for Woodstock Vermont Civil War Tour) with photos, videos, and sound clips.  This free iPhone app can guide you along the walking tour, whether on foot or virtually, from the comfort of your couch.  If you have an interest in history, take this tour.  You may have thought you were familiar with Woodstock, but his is a chance to see this village from a whole different perspective.

Don’t miss this great Vermont bike ride for a great local cause.

zack1There’s a reason that the October Country Inn has hosted bike tours and bike riders for the better part of 40 years.  This area of Vermont has world-class cycling routes.  The air is clean and pure and the scenery is magnificent.   Now you have the opportunity to experience it yourself and also join in the fastest-growing local cycling event.  Register now for the Saturday, July 18, 2015, 4th Annual Tour de Zack.  Ride either the 27 or the 47 mile loops, both wind through nearby idyllic Vermont countryside.  Enjoy a fantastic bike ride with a group of like-minded enthusiasts and support a great cause in the bargain.

Zack Frates with his mother Dail.

Zack Frates with his mother Dail.

The Tour de Zack starts at the nearby Quechee Green at 10 a.m.  The 27 mile ride goes from Quechee through West Hartford, to Pomfret, and back, or go the full 47 miles and continue to Bethel and Barnard through Woodstock and back to Quechee. All will meet at The Quechee Green, for a delicious gourmet picnic provided by Jake’s Quechee Market, at 1pm or whenever you finish. These rides are some of the most scenic in Vermont. There are good climbs so be sure to read the elevation gain for each ride. Diners who choose not to cycle are also welcome to join us for lunch. Discovery Tours will follow the riders with water and sweep behind the last starting rider.

 

zack3The Tour de Zack is a fundraiser that benefits Zack’s Place, a free enrichment center whose mission is to empower special-needs people of all ages to express themselves through art, music, dance, literacy, athletics, and fitness while developing bonds of friendship. The center was founded in 2006 by the parents of Zack Frates who were seeking fellowship and creative outlets for their son with Cerebral Palsy, who would soon age out of the public education system. With few post-educational resources available, Zack’s parents created “Zack’s Place” in answer to the daunting issue of what do special-needs individuals and their families do after their school years have ended.

Chocolate cake from scratch served with whipped cream over raspberry Cassis sauce.

cake5Here at the October Country Inn, we usually serve this chocolate cake for dessert with our Italian country dinner.  Check out the dining section of our website for more details about our Italian country dinner, including links to other recipes.  This chocolate cake recipe uses mayonnaise as a substitute for eggs and oil.  Be sure and use a real mayonnaise brand such as Hellmann’s.  Start by assembling the ingredients, a mixing bowl, and an eight inch round baking pan.  The ingredients are:

  • I cup of all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup of sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon of baking powder
  • 2 heaping tablespoons of cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 cup of real mayonnaise
  • 1/2 cup of cold water
All ingredients ready to be mixed together.

All ingredients ready to be mixed together.

Before mixing the batter, spread a liberal coating of Crisco on the sides and bottom of the baking pan, place a small portion of flour in the pan and rotate up, down, and around to evenly coat the Crisco smeared area and dump out the remaining loose flour.  Once the baking pan is ready, place a sifter in a mixing bowl put in the flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and cocoa powder and sift it all together.  To this dry pile of the sifted ingredients add the mayonnaise, water, and vanilla and mix it all together into a smooth batter.

Out of the oven and cooling.

Out of the oven and cooling.

Scrape the batter from the mixing bowl into the baking pan and spread it around until the thickness of the batter in the pan is more or less even.  Place in a preheated 350 degree oven and bake for 20 minutes.  After 20 minutes, check that a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out without any crumbs sticking to it.  Let cool.  If you duplicate the recipe and bake two cakes you can make a layer cake with your favorite frosting.  I recommend cream cheese.  But we serve it as a single slice (an 8 inch cake can be divided into 10 reasonable portions, or 8 more generous slices) with a raspberry Cassis sauce over the top and freshly whipped cream.  To make the raspberry Cassis sauce, place about 2/3 cup of raspberry preserves in a small pan and add a couple of tablespoons of Creme de Cassis.  Heat while mixing together and spoon over plated slices of chocolate cake before adding a dollop or two of whipped cream.

Killington hosts another Downhill Throwdown.

throwdownIf you were staying at the October Country Inn next weekend, you would be in for a rare spectacle.  Daredevil skateboarders from around the world descend on Killington June 6, 7 & 8 for the second annual Throwdown freeride event.  Presented by Restless Longboards, this speed competition is a favorite for downhill skateboard and street luge competitors.  This steep downhill course covers the twists, and turns of the lower two miles of East Mountain Road.  Racers can reach speeds of 75 miles per hour.

Click on this YouTube video link to follow Sam Blais and Sam Davignon down the course.

This is the fastest course east of the Mississippi.  East Mountain Road is notoriously steep and very challenging to ride.  Over a standuphundred competitors from the U.S., Canada, Australia, Germany, Brazil, Spain, and New Zealand are expected to compete in this event.    The Killington Downhill Throwdown is the first stop in this year’s Vermont International Downhill Federation Skate Week.  Part two is hosted by Burke Mountain on June 11 to 13.

streetlugeDon’t miss the action.  Racing on East Mountain Road starts daily at 9:00am and ends at 5:30pm.  Of course, the road will be closed for the racing during this event from 8:00am to 6:00pm.  Get there early and get a good spot.  Passage up East Mountain Road between events will be allowed (approximately every 20 minutes) and the Killington Police Department will be directing traffic.  This is really exciting stuff to watch.  These skateboarders are very skillful and go very fast.  Don’t miss it.