Ski Woodstock. Learn where it all started.

Fall 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.

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. 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.

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 |2019-10-02T20:25:21-04:00August 10th, 2019|Historic Roots & Local Lore|

The Bridgewater Grange preserves and nourishes Vermont’s rural roots.

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.  There 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.  In partnership with nature, farming is baked into Vermont’s roots and its spirit–both past and present–and is indelibly housed in the nearby Bridgewater Corners Grange.  You could drive by this unassuming 1875 era building nestled next to the Ottauquechee River without any clue as to its historical significance.

From its 17th century beginnings in the U.S., agriculture has always been a significant economic enterprise.  After the Civil War, much of rural New England was locked in a downward spiral of popularion decline, abandonment of farms, reversion of cleared land to forest and shrinking of villages, all of which contributed to widespread feelings of melancholy and loss among its 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, in 1867, the National Grange of the Order of the Patrons of

Bridgewater Grange today.

Husbandry was founded.  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.  After its main focus of maximizing a farmer’s profits was tempered with more focus on advocacy for the agricultural profession, education, and general community enrichment, the Grange movement again began to grow, and 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 Grance during your local travels.  It’s on Vermont Route 100A, just south of the Country Store, and north of the Mennonite Church.

 

By |2019-10-02T20:27:10-04:00June 30th, 2019|Historic Roots & Local Lore|

An often overlooked legacy of stone.

New England in general, and Vermont in particular, is known for its rocky soil.  Thousands of miles of stone walls, piled-up over the years by early American farmers clearing, and planting their fields, remains 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 have supplied regional stoneworkers for centuries, and still supply them today.  Consequently, there is a lot of really beautiful stonework in the neighborhood

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.  And even when they are removed in order to reconfigure a street or some other reason, the 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.  Although granite is the best choice for virtually every curbing 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.  Based on research studies the facts are clear that granite is the superior choice when long-term costs of maintenance, repair, and disposal or resetting expenses are calculated along with initial costs.

 

It’s for this reason that street curbs in Washington D.C. are made of granite instead of cast concrete.  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 |2019-10-02T20:34:48-04:00February 18th, 2019|Historic Roots & Local Lore|

The battle of Hubbarton: Revolutionary War enactment.

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.  The only Revolutionary War battle fought in Vermont took place at Hubbardton in 1777.  Visit the Hubbardton Battlefield State Historic Site on the July 8 – 9 weekend, and 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.

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 of whom was traveling from the west along the Mohawk Valley and the other 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.

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.  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 |2019-10-02T20:52:37-04:00June 22nd, 2017|Historic Roots & Local Lore|

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.

By |2019-10-03T11:34:44-04:00May 10th, 2016|Historic Roots & Local Lore|

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.

 

 

By |2019-10-03T11:35:16-04:00April 21st, 2016|Historic Roots & Local Lore|

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.

 

By |2019-10-03T11:38:15-04:00August 15th, 2015|Historic Roots & Local Lore|

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.

By |2019-10-03T11:38:56-04:00July 27th, 2015|Historic Roots & Local Lore|

Woodstock celebrates the 150th anniversary of “Man and Nature.”

vermontThe 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.  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 November 21 and 22 two-day event entitled Landscapes of Hope: Celebrating the 150th Anniversary of Man and Nature.

George Perkins Marsh (1801-1882)

Born in the brick building housing the National Historic Park that incorporates his name, Marsh spent his early life in a Vermont that was covered with natural forests. Through his personal involvement with clearing lands, and manufacturing and dealing in lumber, he had occasion to both observe and feel the effects of an injudicious system of managing woodlands and products of the forest.  Educated at Dartmouth College, Marsh had many careers.  He was a lawyer, newspaper editor, sheep farmer, mill owner, lecturer, politician, and diplomat.  Marsh was elected to Congress in 1842 where he was greatly influenced by John Quincy Adams whose foresight and ideas of government’s role in natural resource preservation and management anticipated those of Theodore Roosevelt.  In Man and Nature, 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.

“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 will explore the impact of Marsh’s work to inspire and engage those who continue the legacy of caring for the land and the communities that it supports.  Following a 5:30 reception and book signing on Friday, November 21, at the Billings Farm Visitor Center in Woodstock, 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, followed by a panel discussion with land-ethic leaders. (RSVP: jo_anne_dolan@nps.gov).  On Saturday, November 22, Conservation Conversations, a dialogue of hope and inspiration for stewardship will be held from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 at the Billings Farm Visitors Center followed by an afternoon of guided hikes and programs exploring the birthplace of George Perkins Marsh and stewardship in practice.

By |2019-10-03T11:47:14-04:00November 16th, 2014|Historic Roots & Local Lore|

Woodstock patron Mary French Rockefeller’s roots run deep.

MonumentAn 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.  Called “Indian Stones,” a couple of carved slate tablets tell the story of the 1754 capture of a local family by indians, and 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.

In the 1750s, James and Susannah Johnson lived at the edge of the frontier 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 Stones Storyto Canada to be sold to the French.  The next day, Susannah, who was nine months pregnant, went into labor and 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.

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 MaryFrenchsaid that his interest in Woodstock flowed simply from the fact that it was Mary’s home.  Indeed, Woodstock was very definitely Mary’s home.  Having spent her childhood living on her grandfather’s Woodstock farm, and roaming through the forests of Mount Tom on her pony, her love of Vermont’s rural nature was as much due to her childhood experience as to her direct connection to the land forged by the earlier birth in a nearby streambed of her great-great grandmother Elizabeth Captive Johnson.

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 |2019-10-03T11:50:29-04:00October 12th, 2014|Historic Roots & Local Lore|