Ski Woodstock: Vermont Mountain History

Poster Ad for Gilbert's HillFall is around the corner, and winter closely follows.  We look forward to winter here at the October Country Inn. It brings a new set of options to the recreational activity menu; snow skiing being principle among them. As a fitting precursor, Woodstock—site of first ski lift in the U.S.—hosts an “Excursion to Gilbert’s Hill,” a look back at how it was in the old days to more fully appreciate how it is today.

Gilbert’s Hill

Woodstock winters in the early 1930s, as in much of New England, were tough times for the local folks. Road travel in the snowy winter months, if possible at all, was usually done with horse and sleigh. Naturally, due to an abundance of snow, locals developed ways to amuse themselves in snowy, hilly terrain. Sledding, snowshoeing, and skiing were popular.

Time to Visit Vermont

Pretty soon, visitors from New York city began showing up to ski the local hills. In order to accommodate these visitors, local folks, idle for the winter, began renting out rooms, ferrying visitors around, and providing other tourist like services. All of a sudden, economic opportunity was recognized and exploited. It was in this climate that Bunny Bertram began teaching the New York visitors how to ski. Hearing constant complaints from his clients about having to spend so much time walking up the hills in order for a brief trip down, Bunny began tinkering with the idea of using a rope tow to transport skiers up the hill.

Vermont ski history original lift ticket

The first lift ticket.

The story gets interesting at this point, and we don’t want to spoil it, but it resulted in a flurry of interest in Woodstock winter skiing and an influx of skiing enthusiasts that led to the creation of four separate ski hills in Woodstock alone, one of which, Suicide Six, remains to this day. Mark your calendar: Sunday, August 25, 1 to 3 pm. Gilbert’s Hill, 1362 Barnard Rd., Woodstock, VT. Learn the full story.

By |2021-01-05T19:08:11-05:00August 10th, 2019|Historic Roots|

The Bridgewater Grange: Vermont’s rural roots.

Photo looking down a dirt road with a board fence on the right leading to a Vermont farm in the distance.

Agriculture abounds along just about any local road.

Whether aware of it or not,  many of our guests find their way to the October Country Inn to connect with nature and the rural spirit that envelopes our corner of Vermont.  Whether aware of it or not, are countless opportunities and varieties of ways to connect with Vermont’s nature and spirit.  One way unfolds before your eyes as you drive down almost any local road.  Agriculture abounds.  Vermont is a farming state.  And farming is indelibly linked with the Grange.  The 1875 era Bridgewater Corners Grange hall is nestled next to the Ottauquechee River. You might drive this unassuming building without any clue as to its historical significance

History of the Grange.

From its 17th century beginnings in the U.S., agriculture has always been a significant economic enterprise.  Much of rural New England became locked in a downward spiral after the Civil War.  There was popularion decline, abandonment of farms, reversion of cleared land to forest and shrinking of villages. All contributing to widespread feelings of melancholy and loss among residents.  The economy was struggling and farming was even more difficult than before the war.  Unlike farming, industry in the north had grown tremendously from supplying the war effort, and had amassed significant economic leverage.  In response, the National Grange of the Order of the Patrons of Husbandry came into being in 1867.  

Visit the Bridgewater Grange .

Bridgewater Grange Hall

Bridgewater Grange today.

It published a Declaration of Purposes that identified middlemen and monopolists as the economic enemies of farmers, urged farmers to engage in crop diversification and economic cooperation, and declared the Grange to be nonpartisan.  Using the force of numbers to negotiate for cheaper prices worked well for awhile.  As a result, the Grange movement grew quickly and reached its maximum of 760,000 members within ten years of its founding.

However, disorganization, poor communication, and greed led to an equally rapid decline.  Then, the focus on maximizing a farmer’s profits became tempered with more focus on advocacy for the agricultural profession, education, and general community enrichment.  Consequently, the Grange movement again began to grow.  It remains to this day as a lighthouse signaling the importance and value of community in rural America.  Keep your eye out for the Bridgewater Corners Grange during your local travels.  It’s on Vermont Route 100A, just south of the Country Store, and north of the Mennonite Church.

 

By |2021-01-06T18:57:59-05:00June 30th, 2019|Historic Roots|

Battle of Hubbarton: A Revolutionary War enactment.

Hubbarton battlefield.

Hubbardton Battlefield State Historic Site.

Many of our guests at the October Country Inn come to Vermont to sample its rich and varied place in U.S. history.  In this vein, the Battle of Hubbarton is the only Revolutionary War battle fought in Vermont.  In short, it took place at Hubbardton in 1777.  Visit the Hubbardton Battlefield State Historic Site.  You might get to witness reenactors stage this fight on Vermont soil between the British and American troops.  The Battle of Hubbardton involved approximately 2,230 troops–1,000 to 1,200 Americans, 850 British, and 180 Germans fighting for the British. It resulted in the deaths of 41 American, 50 British, and 10 German soldiers. Of the 244 wounded, 96 were American, 134 British, and 14 German. The British took 234 American prisoners. Total casualties, including prisoners, were roughly 27 percent of all participating troops.

Battle of Hubbarton, Vermont’s only Revolutionary War battle.

British troops marching in a Revolutionary War enactment.

British reenactors on the march.

In June 1777 British Lt. Gen. John Burgoyne began implementing his plan to split New England from the rest of the Colonies.   The plan was for Burgoyne’s troops to head south on Lake Champlain and join two other British leaders.  One group traveled from the west along the Mohawk Valley.  And the other group moved from the north up the Hudson River. All were to meet following their victories in Albany, New York.  As Burgoyne drew near Mount Independence and Fort Ticonderoga in early July, Major General Arthur St. Clair made the tough decision to withdraw the American Northern Department Army from these forts and save his troops for another encounter under more advantageous circumstances with the British.  The roughly 4,000 American soldiers retreated as quickly as possible with little time to gather up supplies and under the cover of darkness on the nights of July 5th and 6th.

Vermont’s Green Mountain Boys were outnumbered.

Reenacting the Colonial battle strategy.

Reenacting the Colonial battle strategy.

Major General St. Clair and the main army marched over 20 miles to reach the hills of Hubbardton.  There he appointed Colonel Seth Warner of the Green Mountain Boys to take command of an expanded rear guard of 1,000 to 1,200 soldiers, while the main army continued southward to Castleton.

A rearguard action delayed the British.

Rear guards have been a standard military security strategy to protect retreating troops.  Their mission is to delay the enemy in their pursuit, force the enemy to deploy all their troops into action with the rear guard, engage the enemy in such a way as to avoid close combat, and to then withdraw safely as quickly as possible.  The American rear guard successfully accomplished its mission, fully deploying the pursuing British, delaying them long enough so St. Clair and his main army could safely retreat southward.  The rear guard soldiers also skillfully disengaged their enemy, fighting the British to a near standstill, and avoiding further American casualties and pursuit by the British.

By |2021-01-07T18:12:09-05:00June 22nd, 2017|Historic Roots|

Vermont’s stone chambers: Who built these chambers?

Exterior of a stone chamber.About 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.  Moreover, similar structures are found throughout the east coast and beyond.  Likewise, fifty-two stone chambers have been found in Vermont alone.  The majority of these stone chambers, are found on upland valley slopes, ridges or hilltops facing the south or southeast.

Woodstock stone chamber.

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 was done in 1950 by Vermont state archeologist Giovanna Neudorfer.  She 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 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.  Why would they?  There are much simpler ways to construct a root cellar.

Vermont has 52 such chambers.

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.

By |2021-01-07T19:17:59-05:00May 10th, 2016|Historic Roots|

Electric light: Woodstock first had gas lighting.

October Counry Inn's greenleaders gold certificate.The 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.  This left  a box full of incandescent bulbs in the basement.  Most recently, we revisited this bulb switching strategy.  We replaced 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.

We take Woodstock lighting for granted.

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.

Whale oil was used for light.

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.

Gas light was cheap, but dangerous.

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.

 

By |2021-01-09T14:09:45-05:00August 15th, 2015|Historic Roots|

Underground Railway: Woodstock’s part in the Civil War.

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 hamlet 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 close to 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, including the underground railway.  Did you know that the Civil War began on April 12, 1861, and on May 2, 1861 Woodstock sent a brigade of light infantry to join the Union Army?

Woodstock played a prominent role in the underground railway.

Woodstock light infantry gathers on the Green.

Woodstock light infantry gathers on the Green.

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.

Take the Home Front Tour.

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.

New Birth of Freedom self-guided tour.

Downtown Woodstock.

Downtown Woodstock.

A couple of self-guided tour options are also available.   A printable copy of New Birth of Freedom tour guided walking tour is available.  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.

By |2021-01-09T14:17:40-05:00July 27th, 2015|Historic Roots|

Man and Nature: Woodstock celebrates the 150th anniversary.

Green Mountains of Vermont during the fall.The October Country Inn provides hospitality and lodging to residents of other states and countries that travel to Vermont for the opportunity to experience and enjoy the unique set of activities and attractions this unusual state has to offer.  It is no accident that Vermont has managed to retain so much of its rural character and natural beauty.  That is to say, a lot of credit for Vermont’s conservation ethic stems from the work of Vermont native George Perkins Marsh (1801-1882).  Marsh, born in nearby Woodstock, wrote Man and Nature in 1864.  He is being honored for this seminal publication by the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park, Billings Farm & Museum, and the Woodstock Foundation with a two-day event entitled Landscapes of Hope: Celebrating the 150th Anniversary of Man and Nature.

Marsh was born in Woodstock, Vermont.

George Perkins Marsh.

George Perkins Marsh (1801-1882)

He was born in the brick building housing the National Historic Park that incorporates his name. Marsh spent his early life in a Vermont covered with natural forests. He had personal involvement with clearing lands, and manufacturing and dealing in lumber.  He observed and felt the effects of an injudicious system for managing woodlands and forest products of the forest.

Educated at Dartmouth College, Marsh had many careers.  Marsh was a lawyer, and a newspaper editor.  He was also a sheep farmer, mill owner, lecturer, politician, and diplomat.  Marsh was elected to Congress in 1842.   He was greatly influenced by John Quincy Adams. Adams’ foresight and ideas of government’s role in natural resource preservation and management anticipated those of Theodore Roosevelt.  Marsh was the first to raise concerns about the destructive impact of human activities on the environment.  No one before him had ever turned to the study of the earth as the home of humankind.

Marsh founded conservation ethics.

The earth in your hands.

“Man, who even now finds scarce breathing room on this vast globe, cannot retire from the Old World to some yet undiscovered continent, and wait for the slow action of such causes to replace, by a new creation, the Eden he has wasted.”
–George Perkins Marsh

Woodstock’s two-day celebration of Man and Nature explores the impact of Marsh’s work. Above all, to inspire and engage those who continue caring for the land and communities that it supports.  The Billings Farm Visitor Center in Woodstock will hold a reception and book signing.  Keynote speaker David Lowenthal (author of George Perkins Marsh: Prophet of Conservation) will give a talk at 6:00 entitled, Man and Nature at 150: Past, Present and Future.  Aa panel discussion entitled Conservation Conversations follows.  It is a dialogue of hope and inspiration for stewardship.  Followed, also at the Billings Farm Visitors Center, by an afternoon of guided hikes and programs exploring the birthplace of George Perkins Marsh and stewardship in practice.

It’s up to us.

By |2021-01-10T13:55:44-05:00November 16th, 2014|Historic Roots|

Indian Stones: Woodstock patron’s roots run deep.

Indian Stones MonumentClose by the October Country Inn,  off an unassuming turnout on the east side of Route 106, a few miles south of Woodstock, is home to a headstone like monument and history marker of uncommon interest.  “Indian Stones,” is a couple of carved slate tablets telling the story of the 1754 capture of a local family.  It marks the spot where Susannah Johnson gave birth to the great-great grandmother of Woodstock native Mary French Rockefeller.  But these tablets don’t tell the whole story.

Captured by an Abenaki war party.

In the 1750s, James and Susannah Johnson lived at the edge of the frontier.  They lived alongside the Connecticut River in the town of Charlestown, New Hampshire.  Marking the start of the French Indian War, on August 30, 1754, the entire Johnson family, James, Susannah, and their 3 children were captured by an Abenaki war party and force marched The story of Indian Stones.to Canada to be sold to the French.  The next day, Susannah, who was nine months pregnant, went into labor.   She gave birth to a daughter upon a flat rock in a nearby strembed.  She was named Elizabeth Captive Johnson.  One hundred and fifty-six years later, in 1910, Mary French Rockefeller, the granddaughter of Frederick Billings, was born in Woodstock.

Decended from Elizabeth Captive Johnson.

It is well-known that the town of Woodstock and its rural surroundings have greatly benefitted from the patronage of Laurance Rockefeller.  This is in no small part due to Mary French’s influence.  Laurance Mary French Rockefeller.said that his interest in Woodstock flowed simply from the fact that it was Mary’s home.  Indeed, Woodstock was very definitely Mary’s home.  She spent her childhood living on her grandfather’s Woodstock farm.  She roamed through the forests of Mount Tom on her pony.  Her love of Vermont’s rural nature was much due to her childhood experience.   Her connection to the land forged by the earlier birth in a nearby streambed of her great-great grandmother Elizabeth Captive Johnson.

Woodstock was her home.

Because it was Mary’s home, Rockefeller adopted Woodstock.  He saw the dangers  unwise development could pose for Woodstock and worked to guide development so that landscape and townscape were considered together.  With this in mind he purchased and replaced the aging Woodstock Inn, greatly improved the country club and ski area.  He also funded the underground routing of electrical and telephone wires throughout the village, greatly enhancing Woodstock present historical and aesthetic appearance.

 

By |2021-01-11T10:22:44-05:00October 12th, 2014|Historic Roots|

Lincoln covered bridge: Located in Woodstock, Vermont.

The Lincoln covered bridge near Woodstock, Vermont.

The Lincoln covered bridge near Woodstock, Vermont.

Many of our guests at the October Country Inn want to vist local covered bridges.  Covered bridges are a favorite remnant of the 19th Century, like pets, all have names because most are unique.  These coveres protect the bridge itself from the elements, namely, Vermont winters.  The cover is easy to replace.  The bridge’s structural members and roadbed are more difficult to replace.

The cover protects the bridge.

Vermont has the greatest concentration of covered bridges in the U.S.–a total of 114.  Most are still in use.  One hundred years ago, over 600 covered bridges existed in the state.  After the flood of 1927, only 200 remained.  Nearly half of these 200 have since been lost to fire, development, or floods.

Pratt arch truss structure visible inside the bridge.

Pratt arch truss structure visible inside the bridge.

The Lincoln covered bridge, located in Woodstock, just off Route 4, is only about 3 miles from the October Country Inn.  Many more covered bridges can be found within an hour’s drive of Inn.

Built in 1865 using a Pratt arch truss.

The Lincoln covered bridge is 136 feet long and spans a section of the Ottauquechee River.  It was built-in 1865 by R.W and B.H. Pinney.  This is the only bridge in the U.S. where the builders used the complex wood and metal arch patented by T. Willis Pratt 33 years earlier.  A Pratt arch truss includes vertical members and diagonals that slope down toward the center.  The interior metal diagonals are under tension under balanced loading and vertical elements under compression.

By |2021-01-11T15:59:44-05:00December 20th, 2013|Historic Roots|

Plymouth Five Corners: One of Vermont’s lost towns.

Since Plymouth township adjoins Bridgewater, we consider it to be a part of the October Country Inn neighborhood.  Known as Saltash in 1787,  it became Plymouth in 1798. The community of Plymouth Five Corners grew from a small collection of early farmers trying to build a living in the rocky stubbornness of the Vermont hills.  They grew hay, corn,oats and potatoes. They kept cattle, goats and hens. In time the early settlers established the village, and their children and grandchildren grew to continue this quiet, country way of life.

Things in this quiet town changed in 1858.

Map of the general area of where Plymouth 5 corners was located.The quiet agricultural village of Five Corners, in a peculiar twist of history, changed markedly in 1858 when William Hanerson returned from the California gold fields and noticed that the rock formations and terrain of Five Corners were similar to certain sections of the west where gold had been found. Hanerson investigated and found gold in the brooks flowing through Five Corners and started the Vermont gold rush.

Gold fever took over.

Gold fever overtook the local villagers, and people came from hundreds of miles away in search of gold. These prospectors searched energetically for the vein that was leaking gold into the streams. With $50,000 in capital, the Plymouth Gold Mining Company began working claims in the area. They built a quartz mil.  But they never found the gold’s source. After about 4 years, the gold rush slowly petered out.

The town grew rapidly.
Map detail of Plymouth 5 corners.

Five Corners slowly settled into a quiet agricultural community. U.S. President Calvin Coolidge knew this small community.  Coolidge was born and grew up in the nearby town of Plymouth. In fact, Coolidge appointed John Garbaldi Sargent, a former Five Corners schoolteacher, as U.S. Attorney General.

Then the gold rush was over.

However, many of the businesses established to service the rapid growth of the local population fueled by the gold rush, could not sustain themselves after the gold fever subsided.  The hotel was the first of the gold rush established businesses to close.  Over the next decade the saw mill, then the grist mill, and finally the schoolhouse fell into disrepair as the community continually shrank from about 1900 on.  When the last family was gone sometime in the late 1920s, upkeep of the roads was abandoned. The deer and fox began to return. Grass grew tall, trees sprouted and the forest overtook areas that once were yards and fields, and the Vermont wilderness began to reclaim the deserted village as its own.

Slowly, this once bustling town, began to shrink.

Today, although the only signs of this once bustling village are old stone lined cellar holes alongside the creeks and paths, people still come to pan for gold.  Walkers stroll these country roads through the quiet woods in the summer, hunters stalk deer, turkey, and grouse in the fall, and snowmobilers and snowshoers travel the trails during the winter months.  Plymouth Five Corners may be a Vermont ghost town, but much of the same lure that drew the early settlers, still drawns visitors to this area from near and far.

By |2021-01-12T19:33:20-05:00February 19th, 2013|Historic Roots|
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