The Yankee farmer: The art and industry of using stone.

Photo of the Route 4 sign for October Country Inn hanging above a well crafted stone barnyard retaining wall.

October Country Inn’s retaing wall is an example of the art and industry of the Yankee farmer.

October Country Inn is bordered by early Vermont stone walls to the north, and west.  Many say that stone walls are Vermont’s signature landform.  More to the point,  Vermont writer Castle Freeman Jr. notes, “… if a stone wall a fraction as long as the walls of Vermont alone had been built by the order of some old king or emperor, it would be one of the wonders of the world.”  These stones were carried to Vermont by ancient glaciers.  As the glaciers  receded, millions of tons of rocks stayed behind.

Stone walls are Vermont’s signature landform.

Photo of stone steps leading to three Adirondak chairs sittiing empth on October Counry Inn's lush back lawn.

These irreplaceable slabs of stone, once the cellar steps, were recycled to form the portal to our lawn and gardens.

Throughout the centuries, many early Vermont farmers would find that their farmland would have many stones on it that weren’t there previously. Before a farmer plowed a farm, he probably few rocks scattered throughout the farm. However, plowing causes the layers of soil beneath the surface to push up their rocks from the underlying soil layers.  This problem was especially evident in Vermont because of its rocky and stone filled soil. Many farmers would have to remove the rocks on their farm if they wanted to plow it again, only to find that they would have to repeat the process of removing stones, again and again. It’s like they were growing stones.  Consequently, field stone became an abundant natural building material.  Stones were used for foundations, water wells, and for retaining and boundary walls.  These stone walls are scattered throughout Vermont to this day.

Vermont seems to grows stones.

Close up photo of the stone work of October Country Inn's barnyard retaining wall.

Detail of the stonework in the above pictured retaining wall.

Every day we are reminded of this legacy of stone because of the October Country Inn’s Vermont hill farm heritage.  From the stacked stone foundation that still supports the inn’s old farmhouse core, to the artful construction of the barnyard’s retaining wall, to the stone lined hand-dug well out back, meandering around the property can easily become a trip back through time.  Many questions come to mind.  Just look at the detail and incredible precision with how the stones are set in the barnyard’s retraining wall.  In order for such a retaining wall to do its job, the width at the base of the wall must be as wide as the wall is high, tapering in width at the wall rises in height.  That’s an awful lot of rock to move around

We live in the midst of this past work that is so easy to take for granted.  Vermont’s stone walls are cultural resources left behind by the people who once lived here, in the same spot where we now live.  We are humbled by their legacy of stone.  We will not take it for granted.

 

By |2021-01-05T18:40:09-05:00December 5th, 2020|Local Culture & Lore|

Vermont stonework: An often overlooked legacy.

is Granite curbs are common in Vermont.New England in general, and Vermont in particular, is known for its rocky soil.  Vermont has thousands of miles of stone walls.  Early American farmers piled up stones while clearing their fields. The walls remain as a testament to this work.  Such walls mark the western and northern property lines here at the October Country Inn.  In addition to stone walls, the quarrying of Vermont’s extensive marble and granite deposits supplied regional stoneworkers for centuries. It and still supply them today.  Consequently, there is a lot of really beautiful stonework in the neighborhood

Vermont has a lot of granite.

Slabs of cut granite line up in a stone yard.

Used granite curbs waiting to be repurposed.

A common use for granite, often overlooked, is for street curbing.  Not usually seen in the western and central U.S., granite curbing predates the use of cast concrete, the most commonly used material.  Although initially more expensive than cast concrete, granite lasts many times longer.  Granite curbs don’t wear out.  Granite is recycled when removed to reconfigure a street or for some other reason. Used curbing is in high demand for use as stone steps, decks, pathways, or other landscaping features.  Among industry experts, granite curbing is superior to cast concrete in strength, abrasive resistance, durability, cost of maintenance, reusability, and aesthetics.

Granite is the best choice for every application.

Although granite is the best choice for virtually every curbing Cut granitee is often used in place of concrete.application, over the past 25 years there has been a significant increase in the use of cast concrete curbing due entirely to an assumption that granite curbing is expensive relative to concrete. However, research studies show that granite is the superior choice.   Especially when calculating long-term costs of maintenance, repair, and disposal or resetting expenses along with initial costs.

Stone looks better.

Street curbs in Washington D.C. are made of granite instead of cast concrete for this reason.  There are plenty of things to gripe about when it comes to the federal government.  But at least they made the right choice when it came to curbs.  It’s not just money or longevity that justifies the use of granite.  Stone just looks better.  Washington D.C.’s street curbs should be as stately as the rest of its grand exterior.

By |2021-01-07T14:48:53-05:00February 18th, 2019|Local Culture & Lore|

Billings Farm & Museum: Spring sheep shearing.

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.  Does sheep shearing interest you?  Fortunately, 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.

Learn about historic farming.

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. A sheep being sheared.Interactive 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.

This Woodstock farm changed farming.

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.

Sheep shearing came before dairy farming.

Sheep dog hearding sheep.Southdown 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.

 

 

By |2021-01-07T19:27:30-05:00April 21st, 2016|Local Culture & Lore|

The 251 club: Visiting all of Vermont’s towns.

Vermont's 251 towns.

Vermont’s 251 towns.

Out guests at the October Country Inn understand that there is no question but that Vermont is truly unique.  Such uniqueness is manifest so many different ways.  Unique among this uniqueness is the 251 Club.

Discover the real Vermont.

In a 1954 edition of Vermont Life Magazine, to answer a reader’s question “How can I come to know the real Vermont?” Dr. Arthur Peach invited “the native-born and those born elsewhere but with Vermont in them” to veer from the beaten path “to discover the secret and lovely places that main roads do not reveal.”  To illustrate that every corner of Vermont had attractions, beauty, history, traditions and people of interest, Dr. Peach suggested that readers visit each of Vermont’s  251 towns.  The 251 Club was born.

Over 4,000 251 club members.

Old Barn & HayThe response to Dr. Peach’s suggestion was remarkable. A new batch of Vermont maps had to be printed to meet the growing demand while letters from prospective 251 Club members rolled in.  Today there are over 4,000 members of the 251 Club exploring the state.  These folks travel at their own pace, in a season or in a lifetime, by car, motorcycle (this would be my personal choice), or on foot. There are no rules, no records to keep, no requirements. The expectation is that you will be inventive and adventurous in Doing Vermont's 251 towns on a motorcycle.following the road less traveled to

Time spent in Vermont is never wasted.

Vermont’s little known corners, as well as its more popular destinations. As the National Geographic Traveler has noted, “If you want to see New England as you imagine, go to Vermont. More than any American state, Vermont has worked to preserve those qualities that make it unique, such as scenic countryside, lively small towns, historic streetscapes, and local businesses.”

By the way, where better than the October Country Inn to provide a home base while pursuing your Vermont adventures?

 

 

By |2021-01-12T15:19:03-05:00July 19th, 2013|Local Culture & Lore|

Vermont’s four seasons: Watch time pass as the seasons change.

October Country Inn in the Summer, one of Vermont's four seasons.Vermont’s four seasons rule here at the October Country Inn.  The last big pile of snow on the back deck is quickly melting.  Buds are popping from the ends of the maple and apple tree branches.  Robins are bouncing around on the back lawn in search of worms, and the mornings are filled with twirps and chitterings as the songbirds return.  All the signs are lining up at the October Country Inn.  Winter is on the way out and Spring is around the corner as one season gives way to another.

Vermont’s four seasons.

October Country Inn's backyard and gardens during one of Vermont's four seasons.Speaking of seasons, our guests, when they discover that we came from southern California, often exclaim: “that must have been a change!”  I always assume they’re talking about the weather.  The conversation that often follows usually focuses on the one thing that figures prominently in qualifying as a significant “change.” This is the fact of Vermont’s four seasons, and the associated mix of weather conditions, while California has but one (two if you count a rainy day as one season and a sunny day as another).

One must plan ahead.

October Country Inn in the Winter, one of Vermont's four seasons.One “change” that comes from living in Vermont’s four seasons, as opposed to living in southern California with no real seasons, has to do with the necessity for weather related planning.  In southern California, you can pretty much do anything any day of the year.  Weather doesn’t usually enter into planning your day.  It might rain, but odds are high that it won’t. So weather isn’t a factor that is usually considered, and as such, has an affect on, and becomes embedded in the regional culture.

It’s about the weather.

October Country Inn is the Fall, one of Vermont's four seasons.I often overhear our guests puzzling about why their California branch office colleagues have trouble adhering to company deadlines.  The reason is clear to me.  It’s the weather.  When you’re used to being able to do anything  you want any day of the year how serious can you take a deadline.  If you can’t do it today, you’ll do it tomorrow.  What’s the big deal?  Californians are not exposed to the kind of weather restraints that are so ingrained in the East Coast lifestyle.   A Vermonter knows that he has a window in which to paint the house, for example.  If he doesn’t get it done by late September, he will probably not get another chance until next May.

The other major “change” that comes from living with Vermont’s four seasons (the time piece factor alluded to in the title) as opposed to the mono-seasonal California lifestyle, is that in Vermont you are always aware that time is passing.

You see, hear, smell, and feel the change.

There is an unavoidable sensory experience involved with the coming and going of Vermont’s four seasons.  You can see the changes, smell the changes, hear the changes, and feel the changes.  This has an organizing affect on daily choices as you move through this environmental continuum.  In California, where one day is pretty much a carbon copy of any other, ten years can go by relatively unnoticed.

Yes. Our life in Vermont has been a big “change” from what we were used to in California.  It’s a change what we both relish, however.  The only regret we have, is that we didn’t make that “change” sooner.  If variety is truly the spice of life, four season living is a must.

By |2021-01-12T18:29:15-05:00April 22nd, 2013|Local Culture & Lore|

Quilting: Edie practices a New England tradition.

Photo of Edie working on a quilt.

Edie pinning all three layers together in preparation for quilting.

You won’t find many rooms at the October Country Inn without one of Edie’s quilts draped over a chair, spread out on a bed, or hung on a wall.  A few years back, Chuck and Edie spent three November weeks on a friends and family tour driving from Vermont to Seattle, down to southern California, and back to Vermont.  During this 4,000 mile journey, Chuck drove while Edie quilted.

Making use of scrap fabric.

Quilting is a New England tradition.  Cold Winters require warm bedding.  In the early days, commercial fabric was very expensive. It was essential for most New England families to make maximum use of everything. Saving every scrap of fabric was a part of life for all households. Often, the makers creative talents produced many varied and uniquely designed works from these small scraps of leftover fabric.  Many small pieces join to made a large piece.  The large piece is a block.  Sew the blocks together to make a top layer.  Pinn the top layer to a bottom layer.  A thick

Photo of one of Edie's quilts.

This pattern is “Finally Fall.”

batting material is in the middle.  Hand stitch together all three layers. Stitching is usually in a pattern matching the top layer’s pattern.

Quilting bees were popular.

This enterprise sometimes involved an entire community.   Quilting bees were a common way to cut down on the extensive amount of time it takes to do the work.    Groups of people would spread themselves

Close up photo of one of Edie's quilts.

This pattern is called “Turn, turn, turn.”

around a single blanket and each work on one small area.  Frames were often used to stretch the layers, and maintain even tension to produce high quality stitches. Quilting bees were important social events in many communities, and were typically held between periods of high demand for farm labor. Quilts were frequently made to commemorate major life events, such as marriages.

Quilting runs in the family.

Although Edie has been sewing since she was 10 years-old, and is descended from at least 5 generations of quilters, she didn’t take up quilting until relatively late in life.  About 30 years ago, some friends invited her to join a quilting guild.  She’s been quilting ever since.

Once Edie decides on a pattern for a new quilt, and accumulates all the fabric, it takes her about 40 hours to cut out all the little pieces, sew them together into blocks, sew the

Photo of Edie's quild draped over a bush.

This pattern is called “Green Mountain Camp.”

blocks together to form the top layer, sew the bottom layer together, and pin both top and bottom layers together sandwiching the batting in between.  Now it’s ready to quilt.  This is where the process slows way down.  It takes on the order of 400 hours, spanning about a 6 month period, to hand quilt a queen-sized quilt.

It’s not about the time, it’s about the heart.

Edie could reduce this time by a factor of 100 by machine quilting instead of hand quilting.  A casual observer may not even notice a difference between the two styles.  But Edie would never even consider such a shortcut.  It isn’t about the time.  It’s about the heart.  Obviously, for Edie, quilting is a labor of love.

 

 

By |2021-01-13T15:33:55-05:00December 20th, 2012|Local Culture & Lore|

A witch window: Something you’ll only see in Vermont.

Visitor: (pointing) Hey buddy, what do they call that funny window over there?

Vermonter: Which window?

Visitor: Thanks ! (drives off.)

Witch flying on a broom.This may not be the way it came to pass, but angled windows placed under eaves on second story gables, which are peculiar enough to Vermont to be called “Vermont windows,” are alternatively known as witch windows, because–as is well known–witches cannot fly through an angled window.  Rest assured that our guests here at the October Country Inn are protected from errant flying witches.It’s

Also called Vermont windows.

These oddly placed windows are also known as a, creepily, coffin windows. Because, to justify this name, it is easier to get bodies down from a second story through a slanted window.  This is much easier than down what is usually a narrow staircase.

Photo of a Vermont window.

Typical installation of a Vermont window (witch window) on a gable end.

To someone visiting Vermont, this might seem at first to be the humorous product of an eccentric builder.  It’s really a bit of practical problem solving on the part of generations of resourceful Vermonters.  This oddity occurred on homes starting from around the 1830s onwards.   But, can still be seen on new homes today.  Although, it’s seen to a much lesser extent.  Smaller side wings added to the main block of a “cape” style of house obscured much of the gable wall.

It’s the only way it’ll fit.

A standard vertically oriented double-hung window simply wouldn’t fit.  Constructing a dormer is costly, uses precious materials, accumulates snow and ice, and contributes greatly to heat loss in the cold winters.  The solution: turn the window at an angle to match that of the roof pitch between the eave of the main house and the roof of the addition.  This eliminated the need for additional construction or having to find (or make) a custom window to fit the space.

By |2021-01-14T14:21:56-05:00August 19th, 2012|Local Culture & Lore|

Find Gold in Vermont: Panning for gold is a growing trend.

The Ottauquechee River.

The Ottauquechee River in Bridgewater Corners, VT.

It isn’t unusual for a guest at the October Country Inn to pack a gold pan with his luggage.  An article in a local newspaper about prospecting for gold in Vermont tells about old time Bridgewater local Lawrence Curtis.  He was a logger that learned to pan for gold fifty years ago and always kept a gold pan in his truck.  People thought he had done pretty well over the years.  But all Lawrence ever said was “its pretty elusive stuff, that gold–always trying to hide from you.  And it does a pretty fair job of it.”

Always trying to hide from us.

A 1928 report by Vermont state geologist George Perkins notes that gold was first discovered in the town of Bridgewater by Mathew Kennedy in 1851.  Kennedy wasn’t looking for gold, as the story goes.  He had recently returned from the California gold fields, and while fishing in Buffalo Brook, a glint in the streambed caught his eye.  His find caused a mini gold rush in the area.  Besides Buffalo Brook, gold is in the nearby in the Ottauquechee River near Bridgewater Corners.

A shallow pool in the river.

Quiet pools are places where gold is more likely to settle out.

Gold, as nuggets, or small flecks, lies in the gravel of streams.   The gold is leached out of quartz veins by weather and stream erosion and carried on by flowing water.  This is called “placer gold,” pure gold that is found in place and doesn’t have to be extracted from ore.

Gold’s found in stream beds.

Because of gold’s high specific gravity and ability to withstand weathering and alteration, it concentrates in stream sediment.  Once in a great while, nuggets of considerable size have been found.  Gold is easy to see.  It has the property of retaining its color under all circumstances.  For some inexplicable reason, Vermont gold is purer than gold found in other parts of the U.S.  It runs something on the order of 23 1/2 carats, which is roughly 96% pure.

Bring your gold pans to Vermont.

Chuck panning for gold.

Chuck and Patty work a secret spot.

At today’s gold prices it wouldn’t take much to provide a decent return for investing an afternoon of meandering at the wood’s edge alongside a nearby stream.  Instructional videos, gold pans, or complete prospecting kits can be readily found on the web.  Or, when visiting the October Country Inn, borrow one of our gold pans.  Maybe it’ll be you lucky day.

By |2021-01-14T15:03:05-05:00June 17th, 2012|Local Culture & Lore|
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