Covered bridges near Woodstock, Vermont–one in a series.

The Lincoln covered bridge near Woodstock, Vermont.

The Lincoln covered bridge near Woodstock, Vermont.

Covered bridges are remnants of the 19th Century, like pets, all have names because most are unique.  These bridges were covered to protect the bridge itself from the elements, namely, Vermont winters.  The cover part was an easily replaced enclosure providing protection for the much more difficult to replace structural members and roadbed.

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, there were over 600 covered bridges in the state.  After the flood of 1927, only 200 were left standing.  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.

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 |2019-10-03T11:58:58-05:00December 20th, 2013|Historic Roots & Local Lore|

Legacy of stone–a study of the art and industry of the Yankee farmer.

OCI’s barnyard retaining wall is a study in the art and industry of the Yankee farmer.

It has been said that stone walls are Vermont’s signature landform.  More to the point,  Vermont writer Castle Freeman Jr. writes, “… 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.”  The reason why so many stones were stacked into walls throughout Vermont is because when the glaciers were formed in centuries past, they trapped many rocks within them. When the glaciers later receded, they left millions of tons of rocks behind.

When it became necessary to replace the original cellar steps, these irreplaceable slabs of stone were recycled, and now proudly form the portal  to OCI’s 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, there were probably few rocks scattered throughout the farm. When a farm is plowed however, it causes 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 that found its way into the foundations, water wells, and the retaining and boundary walls that are scattered throughout Vermont to this day.

The meticulous detail of a Vermont farmer’s stonework, displayed in a section of OCI’s barnyard retaining wall, lives for centuries beyond his years.

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.  These stone works 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 |2019-10-03T12:00:52-05:00November 20th, 2013|Historic Roots & Local Lore|

Some people like to collect stamps, others join Vermont’s 251 Club.

Vermont's 251 towns.

Vermont’s 251 towns.

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.

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.

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 bike251following the road less traveled to 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 |2019-10-03T12:08:26-05:00July 19th, 2013|Historic Roots & Local Lore|

Four seasons each year amount to a Vermont timepiece.

Best OCIThe 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.

DSCN0362Speaking 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 that Vermont has four distinct 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).

Dec 7, 03_2One “change” that comes from living in Vermont with 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.

ocifallI 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 a four season life (the timepiece 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.  There is an unavoidable sensory experience involved with the coming and going of 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 |2019-10-03T12:13:48-05:00April 22nd, 2013|Historic Roots & Local Lore|

Tracing the history of a lost town–Plymouth Five Corners Vermont

Since Plymouth township adjoins Bridgewater Corners, we consider it to be a part of the October Country Inn neighborhood. Originally founded in 1787 under the name Saltash, it was changed to Plymouth in 1798. The community of Plymouth Fives 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.

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 overtook not only the local villagers but 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. The Plymouth Gold Mining Company, with a capital of $50,000 was set up and began to work claims in the area. A quartz mill was built. However the source of the gold was never found, and after about 4 years, the gold rush slowly petered out. 

Five Corners was left to slowly settle back into the quiet agricultural community it once was.  This small community was very familiar to U.S. President Calvin Coolidge, who was born and grew up in the nearby town of Plymouth. In fact,  a former Five Corners schoolteacher, John Garbaldi Sargent, was later appointed by Coolidge to be the U.S. Attorney General.

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.

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 |2019-10-03T12:17:39-05:00February 19th, 2013|Historic Roots & Local Lore|

“Make Mine Moxie!”

The “Moxie Man.”

Former U.S. President Calvin Coolidge was born and raised a mere six miles from Bridgewater Corners, and the October Country Inn.  A little known fact outside of northern New England is that “Moxie” was Calvin’s favorite soft drink.  It was also Boston Red Sox legend Ted William’s favorite soda, as well as the official soft drink for the state of Maine.

Never heard of “Moxie.”  This uniquely tasting soft drink was invented in 1876 by Maine native Dr. Augustin Thompson.  “Moxie” originated as a patent medicine called “Moxie Nerve Food.”

Dr. Thompson named the drink after his friend, Lieutenant Moxie, who is reputed to have discovered that the properties of an extract from a rare South American plant were especially effective against “paralysis, softening of the brain, nervousness, and insomnia.”  Gentian root extractive is a listed “Moxie” ingredient.  This may contribute to the drink’s unique taste. After a few years, Dr. Thompson added soda water to the formula and changed the product’s name to “Beverage Moxie Nerve Food.”

You may not have known that “Moxie” was a soft drink, but the word moxie, describing the qualities of courage, daring, and energy–as in “This gal’s got moxie,”–is an offshoot of advertising jingles developed to market the drink.

You might not find “Moxie” in your local grocery, but you can often find it at the October Country Inn, or the nearby Bridgewater Corners Country Store.

 

 

 

By |2019-10-03T12:20:21-05:00January 21st, 2013|Historic Roots & Local Lore|

Edie keeps a New England tradition alive at the OCI.

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 3 November weeks on a friends and family tour driving from OCI to Seattle, down to southern California, and back to OCI.  During this 4,0000 mile journey, Chuck drove while Edie quilted.

Quilting is a tradition in New England, where warm bedding was needed to weather the cold winters.  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 quilt-makers creative talents produced many varied and uniquely designed quilts from these small scraps of leftover fabric.  Small pieces of fabric were joined

This pattern is called “Finally Fall.”

together to make larger pieces, called blocks, and these were sewn together to make a top layer.  This layer was stretched out and pinned to a bottom layer with a thick batting material in the middle.  The quilting consists of hand stitching the three layers together, usually in a pattern that matches the top layer’s pattern.

Quilting 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 quilting.    Groups of people would spread themselves

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

around a single quilt and each work on one small area.  Quilting frames were often used to stretch the quilt layers, and maintain even tension to produce high quality quilting 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.

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

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.  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 |2019-10-03T12:22:03-05:00December 20th, 2012|Historic Roots & Local Lore|

Edie’s Vermont roots run deep

You really can’t appreciate Vermont without spending a fair amount of time wandering around on the extensive network of back roads.  These hard packed dirt tracks will lead you through woods and meadow past isolated farmhouses and estates to spectacular mountain and valley views. You will invariably pass an old cemetery, the occasional cellar hole, and always an array of old stone walls that seem to be in the middle of nowhere.  These are remnants of a Vermont of old.

Although it’s hard to imagine now, the Vermont of old was almost totally cleared of trees by early settlers.  There were many small communities scattered through the countryside that no longer exist.  All that exists, are the remnants–cemeteries, cellar holes, and stone walls.

Reading Center is one such town that no longer exists.  All that remains of Reading Center is a marker alongside Town Hill Road, what remains of an old schoolhouse alongside Brown Schoolhouse Road, old apple orchards clustered around old stone walls and cellar holes, and a collection of old cemeteries.

One of those cemeteries, the Swain Cemetery, lies hidden behind a couple of hunting camps, past the old schoolhouse,  alongside Brown Schoolhouse Road.  Edie’s people are buried here.

Edie’s full name is Edith Swain Janisse.  Her middle name, Swain, is her family name, and that family has deep roots in New England and Vermont.

Nathaniel Swain came to Vermont from Reading, MA in 1785, settled upon and cleared a 250 acre farm.  Nathaniel had three sons.  One of them, Nathaniel Jr., married Charlotte Sherwin and the two of them farmed that original homestead until Nathaniel’s death in 1850.  Nathaniel Jr. donated the land that is now the Swain Cemetary.  Edie is the great, great, great granddaughter of Nathaniel and Charlotte Swain.  Although Edie was born in California, she has come back to her roots.

 

By |2019-10-03T12:23:17-05:00November 22nd, 2012|Historic Roots & Local Lore|

The Crown Point Road–Vermont’s first interstate highway

In 1759, the British Government surveyed, constructed, and paid for Vermont’s first interstate highway.

Named the Crown Point Road, it was built during the French and Indian War because, following England’s defeat of French forces at Forts Carrilon and St. Frederic on Lake Champlain, British General Jeffery Amherst, wanted to pursue the French into Canada, but desperately needed to replenish troops and supplies.  Amherst needed a quicker route to Crown Point than using the slow and cumbersome passage up the Hudson River and through Lake George with all the overland portages that route required.

Granite marker placed alongside Route 131 in the town of Amsden.

For centuries, native Americans in this area had followed the waterways leading from Canada to the coast.  One of the most-traveled routes connected Lake Champlain and the Connecticut River following Otter Creek and the Black River.  Coincidentally, this footpath led from Amherst’s strategic position at Crown Point, New York to an important military post, Fort No. 4 on the Connecticut River.  Using this route, Amherst tasked Captain John Stark, commanding Rogers Rangers, to cut and mark the road which was then constructed, and served to aid the British during the remainder of the French Indian War.

During the American Revolution, Colonial militias, schooled by the British during the French Indian War, turned the tables on the British and utilized this road to their own advantage, contributing to the ultimate British defeat.  After the Revolution, this road played a huge part as a conduit for the great influx of settlers coming to the area to establish many of the towns and homesteads that still exist today.

Bronze plate alongside Meadowbrook Farm Road in the town of Reading.

Although much of this road has grown over, there is still a wooded trail, with stone markers placed along the way, that runs from Charlestown, New Hampshire to Chimney Point, Vermont.  The Crown Point Road Association, organizes hikes along this historic route from time to time.  Check their website for more information.

By |2019-10-03T12:27:12-05:00September 20th, 2012|Historic Roots & Local Lore|

Things you’ll see in Vermont, but might not notice.

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

Vermonter: Which window?

Visitor: Thanks ! (drives off.)

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.

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 than down what is usually a narrow staircase.

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

To someone visiting Vermont, what might seem at first to be the humorous product of an eccentric builder is 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 and can still be seen on new homes today, although 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.  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 |2019-10-03T12:28:53-05:00August 19th, 2012|Historic Roots & Local Lore|