Requiem On The Missisquoi Banks

The sad reality that winter was on its way was all too evident as me and a friend set out for a journey into Northern Vermont. Most of the hillsides were grey and barren and the grass had long lost its summer sheen. However in Downtown Saint Albans, the stately Maples in Taylor Park still retained their Red and Orange leaves, an ideal ceiling for the bustling gathering on the sprawling lawn. Out of Saint Albans, Route 105 runs up and down the rolling hills of Franklin County’s farm country, through a jejune landscape that even the sun and her warming light had a hard time cheering up. The brisk winds scurrying the dead leaves around in swirling movements battered the front windshield. We drove through interesting small towns and villages such as Enosburg Falls, East Berkshire and the more hardscrabble Richford to the North, communities once far larger and more prosperous 100 years ago, now only hinted by fading landmarks and regal architecture beating in and out of time.

But this trip would in no way go the way I had hoped it would go. We had a particular destination in mind, and drove an hour and a half to get there, with little more then hope and determination and a general idea of where we were going. But sadly, a little more research and planning would have been helpful. The property in question was heavily fortified, with a very imposing chain link fence capped with barbed wire that ran not only at the roads edge, but jutted deep back into the scraggly North woods with no end in sight. To make matters worse, the already rough road had no shoulder to park on, and the front gate of the property was in the middle of 2 tumbledown trailer homes, neither of which we felt comfortable being near. Admitting defeat, we had no choice but to turn away with heavy hearts and uprooted minds. Now the question was what were we going to do with the rest of our day. We inched up the slopes of the Green Mountains as the road climbed around a deep set beaver pond before cresting at the top of the hill, yielding brilliant views of Richford and Quebec, all lost somewhere in a thick haze that pitied the changing of the seasons. I plan on returning to this place, with permission to access the property I hope – So I’ll save revealing this location for another entry.

As we drove back into the crumbling streets of Richford, we debated what to do next. We had seen some interesting old houses and other picture worthy things on the drive up, so I figured we might as well make use of our trip. Richford had beauty in its tough skin and Enousburg Falls showcased an impressive array of Victorian architecture and an attractive brick downtown complete with an opera house and well preserved painted brick advertisements. Plus, the Victorian ruins of the former Kendal Factory sat in the middle of town, the sagging facade and vacant windows are always interesting to photograph.

As we approached one of the many Missisquoi Valley Rail Trail crossings, there was some sort of form in the woods that only offered a fleeting glimpse of it’s existence as we passed it. Curious, and wanting to kill more time, we turned around to try to get a better look. There was indeed something sulking in the river bottom forest, and it was abandoned. The property had grown completely wild and was untamed, but there were 4 wheeler trails that cut across the area, and they seemed well maintained, so someone had to use them, and often. But what was this place?

I had no idea what sort of ruins I was walking around, but the strange beauty of the ruins along the Missisquoi banks, ensnared with twisting roots and moss more then made up for the missing information. Wondering below the Willow trees, more ruins emerged out of their slumber. Large cement structures, covered with moss were accepting their fate, as the snarled skeletons of tree routes which are working on destroying all evidence of this odd ruin. Peering inside, I looked at 2 subterranean rooms that look like they went far below the Earth’s surface, but were so filled with trash, leaves and dead branches that it was impossible to tell. I thought about climbing down into one, but quickly decided against it. The chambers smelled strongly of stale air, dampness and rot. Who knew what was waiting for me down there.

I made my way towards the stone building through waist high weeds that tangled themselves around my body and made passage extremely difficult. The building was only a single room, its floor marred with holes where former machinery most likely once sat. Most evidence of it’s industrial past had long been removed – its cold cinder block walls the eternal witnesses to its secrets. My best guess was it was some sort of mill. I noticed a rather vivid “No Trespassing” warning written on the front doors, in sharpie. An odd note to this warning was the person who wrote it, dated it at June 30, 1955 and then signed his name to his warning.

Having a blog can be a great resource, especially when readers are kind enough to share their information and experiences. This was one such case, where a commenter was friendly enough to put the puzzle pieces together for me, and with a little more research via the Montgomery Historical Society, I had more possible clues. These ruins may very well be all that remains of the Sampsonville Mill, a satellite of the former Atlas Plywood Company. With their main headquarters in Montgomery, they also owned separate mills in North Troy, Richford (Sampsonville) and Montgomery. Because Montgomery and the surrounding towns had some of the finest veneer timber in the United States, and ready access to water power and the railroad, the region proved to be an ideal place for the Atlas Company. The company boasted that its satellite locations provided the company and the communities it served with jobs, but kept the facilities small enough to be human scale and to prevent crowded and cramped conditions. It was also said that this was to prevent any labor organizers from unionizing. The Atlas Plywood Company was probably most noted for their fine Victrola’s. Sadly the company went out of business by the 1950s due to the popularity of radios and changes in the packaging industry. The company’s headquarters building can still be seen in the small village of Montgomery Center. As of 2008, it was converted into a ski lodge.

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10 Comments on “Requiem On The Missisquoi Banks

  1. “Curious, and wanting to kill more time…..” Great quote, it mad me laugh. I hope Vermont doesn’t run out of these cool locations for you to find.

    • haha thanks, we had the entire day to kill (both of us had it off from work) so at that point, the last thing we wanted to do was admit defeat. Finding this place was just lucky. I hope you’re right, I hope there is plenty more to see in The Green Mountain State

  2. VEry cool!!! Just goes to show thst you keep a good attitude and an open mind (and eye) as you head away from a defeated location, you’re bound to come across something awesome!!! Great photos and an entertaining read!!

    • Thanks Olivia! Often I have friends ask me how I find the places I visit, and this would be a great example lol. I often find them completely on accident. The good weather made the trip that much better. I really do hope to get permission to see the original destination I had in mind though, the ruins are very intriguing not just for Vermont, but for anywhere, and the back story is just as fascinating.

  3. That’s one of the reasons I love to explore. Every explore has a story behind it. History. Most of my locations are found through research but, indeed, I’ve come across quite a few gems while wandering and lost. Keep the posts coming! I love seeing what you’ve got out there in your neck of the woods! 🙂

  4. Could that be the old Sampsonville mill south of Richford? The ledges look like they could be concrete, the flume would have been on those arches, and the two story concrete with a big hole in the floor is usually a dead givaway to an old mill.
    ‘Northbound users can also see the foundation of a former power station dam in the Missisquoi River near Samsonville. The dam once powered several mills and an electric plant. Its breached remains offer challenging rapids for experienced river paddlers along the Northern Forest Canoe Trail”

    • You’re absolutely right, this does appear to be the old Sampsonville Mill. I suppose I got confused at whether I was east of west of Enosburg, but this makes much more sense, thank you so much for sharing! Do you know much about the old mill?

      • I don’t know a whole lot about it. It was at milepost 22.6 and had a 925′ siding capable of handling 11 cars. The business was listed in Bob Jones, “Central Vermont Railway Vol. II” pp187 as “Atlas Plywood Corporation.” Atlas made veneer for Victrola boxes and plywood shipping boxes. It had four small mills and plants around the area, to prevent any labor organizers from unionizing. The Montgomery Historical Society says it closed the main Montgomery plant in the 1950s, which would explain that dated no-trespassing graffiti, but given the condition and another reference I would suspect this site might have been largely unused as a working mill since the 1930s, when most of the veneer business lost out to radios and packing boxes were handled differently. The key to finding when it was decommissioned would be finding when the penstocks were removed. I rarely got up that way so I’m not sure.

        The earlier quote I gave is probably incorrect in that there was an electric plant at Fairfax Falls, and one at the Sweat Comings plant in Richford, but no listing of any electrical generation at this site in my copy of the Public Service Board report from 1910. Such errors are common in the gloss of writing about Vermont.

        Anything that close to a river is subject to flooding and ice dams and damage and I’m surprised that it is in as good condition as it is. My primary research was the dam at Bolton Falls on the Winooski River and was just curious about your post on the site and had to dig in a little to satisfy that curiosity.

      • this is the place i was raised. my dad bought it in 1963. my mom and brother still live in the old house by the river, which was the mills office. it was the veneer mill then became the enosburg electric company. contact me for more info if you like.

      • Thanks for commenting Daniel, I’m amazed at how many people this post has reached so far. I would love any information you’d like to share, if you wouldn’t mind?

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