Stale Air

You know that old adage, that every (New England) town has a haunted house? Well, in my case, that turned out to be true.

There is something strange about this old farmhouse located on a heavily traveled town highway near Chittenden County. As far as first impressions go, the strange feeling can start from your first glance. In a world where we expect things to fall into man made symmetry, this house was built differently.

The house is shaped like a V, with the point lining up with the curve formed by the road it sits on. The house has two front doors each at the point of the V, so a first assumption is that it may have been a duplex at some point (a fate that isn’t so uncommon with old Vermont houses). But once inside, you realize the house is a single residence, it was never divided into 2 properties, adding a little confusion at this unusual architectural feature.

To add a little more contemplation, the house’s rambling layout may have you a bit disoriented. The lack of hallways in the house means you enter into other rooms from other rooms, some rooms have four entrances and others only have one. Most of the windows are boarded up – sealing the inside like a tomb. Small slits of sunlight occasionally works their way in through slits in the wood, or bullet holes that had been shot in the planks.

The silence that hangs over the inside of this property is heavy and deep, and makes an amiable companion for the somber darkness – its ghosts falling through the songs of the house as their desires come undone. The only sounds you can hear are the weight of your feet making the wooden floorboards groan, or the occasional crunch of broken glass under your shoes. Most of the furniture has been removed, but various items still remain. There is a room filled with rusting bed frames and another with wooden cribs. A walk down a hallway near the front door revealed a strange discovery, the basement door had been nailed shut with railroad spikes pounded into the frame with a sledgehammer. But that’s not where this story ends. As a matter of fact, given the number of stories about this small farmhouse, it may just be this towns most haunted house.

While there are no records of murders or tragedies within its crumbling plaster walls, there are a surprising number of terrifying stories that are told about it. But with no traceable origins, these stories are shrouded in mystery.

The Facts.

The house was built by Ethan Austin, son of one of the first settlers, David Austin. He purchased the farm when he married Clarissa Hill, and constructed the farmhouse in 1840. Later, in the 1860′s this farm was occupied by his daughter, Mrs. G. W. Crown. It has since then changed hands quite a few times, until finally transferring it to the caprices of nature. The builders decided to incorporate the properties position on a sharp turn in the road into the design of the house – and built the unique V shape structure that stands today, in a style known as a “Flat Iron House” – which essentially joined two buildings end to end at a 30 degree angle.  The foundation is stone with a post and beam wall structure, outfitted with Asphalt Shingle.

The farm was once large enough to hold 2 barns. Today one of these barns has crumbled away into nothing but a memory, only the half shell of a cinder block wall is barely visible through a large patch of weeds that is growing around it. The other barn sits directly across from the house, but is in terrible shape. The wooden structure is warping and slowly caving into the backside, where there is large hole in the roof. Inside the barn, underneath all the collapsing beams and crumbling roof (not a safe place to walk) are some great old antiques of yesteryear. An old tube radio, hand carved cribs, period farming equipment – all which will be lost when the barn decides to tumble. The farm has since dwindled in size as urban encroachment began making its way up the hill, bringing trailers, late century ranch houses and new cookie cutter developments of 2 car garages and pastoral named side streets.

The farmhouse and the small few acres that have survived are a melancholic enclave of what once was. Now, this is where urban myth began to manipulate the missing information. A few local residents told me that they recalled the farm being defunct as late as the 80s but the house was still an active residence until the early 90s, when it was abandoned and has remained that way ever since. However, these suggestions were only speculation – the answers are unclear. Perhaps the house was too outdated and was in need of modernization, a bill the owners couldn’t afford. Maybe it was Chittenden County’s infamous property taxes that drove them to leave. If so, then why didn’t they sell it?

Later, more information would come to light. As told by a friend, he reported that someone had recently talked to him who knew the current owner of the house, who is still alive. He speculates that a divorce was the eventual reason for its abandonment. Further tax complications would make selling the property difficult. But what seems to be more puzzling than the house’s demise, are all of the strange stories that circulate around it.

Tales of Suburban Youth

The most famous legend to come out of the dark enclaves of this house involve a classic scenario in American folklore. As the story goes, on one particular night in the 1970s, a man, for reasons unknown, shot and killed his wife and infant son. Only after a fleeting moment of clarity, he shot himself as well. However, this story is vague, and the father’s motives remain unclear. One more elaborated version of the story includes he was fighting secret wars, battling phenomenal amounts of stress and depression, which created a temporary moment of insanity. Other versions state he found out his wife was having an affair with a neighboring farmhand. Furious, he killed her. When he realized his son had been a witness, he killed him too. I asked the historical society about these stories but they assured me that no murders have ever been recorded at that house. They had never even heard of the story until I brought it up. But earlier, when I had stopped and talked to a neighbor after taking some photographs, he seemed to take a different side, and told me he swears a family was killed inside years ago. Then he stopped and corrected himself. “Well, maybe not killed, but I swear someone died in there anyways”. A strange footnote to all of this is that in the dark corners of the living room, only unveiled by the beam of a flashlight, is a dated family portrait, a small bullet hole making cracks in the glass.

Hangman

Another story I’ve heard tells of another death inside this house. Supposedly, a lonely man once lived there who had no friends, no family and was overwhelmed by his despairs. Seeing no other way out, he hung himself from a rafter in the attic. His lonely spirit is now said to haunt the attic and the second floor, his sadness living on amid the crumbling plaster walls and dusty floors. If this is true, this may account for all of the unsettling feelings of heavy sadness felt in the upper floors. I could not verify this story either. But years ago, I remember talking  to one local teen who was dared to enter the house by a group of his friends. “Everything was alright until I got upstairs” he said. “Then I started to get really uncomfortable, my legs were shaking. I wanted to leave”. I asked him if he knew any of the stories about the house, and he said he didn’t. Admittedly, I felt a little unnerved upstairs as well. Was it the watchful ghost of  the gentleman that hung himself? Or was it just the creepy ambiance of an old house?

Phantom Lights

Passersby have reported to see what looks like “lantern lights” bobbing up and down through the attic windows when driving by the house late at night, but as far as I know, no one has stopped to investigate.

Camera Troubles

There is an area of the kitchen that just doesn’t like to be photographed, and I’m not quite sure why. I’ve been back to this house with several different cameras in an attempt to photograph the kitchen, but all of my photos would inexplicably come out blurry, even if they are completely still and resting on a tripod or counter top. But if I turn around and aim it towards the living room, the picture will come out without any interference. This to me is probably the strangest feature of this house – I have no explanation why.

Rushed Departure

Last summer I brought a friend of mine to the house with the intention of taking a few pictures, I didn’t plan on staying long. She had no prior knowledge of the house or it’s lore, and was eager to join. That was, until she went upstairs. For no reason, this once calm person suddenly became paralyzed with anxiety. “What’s wrong?” I asked. “I’m not sure, I just don’t like it up here…it just feels really weird” she said. I could tell her own words confused her, like she had no idea what to make of these new feelings. Eventually she had to wait outside. “I can’t do it…go ahead and take your pictures, I’ll just be at the back door. I’m sorry, but I can’t”. She never came back inside, and she told me she was never going too. The few times I attempted to talk to her about it, she refuses to go into detail. I suppose I don’t blame her.

Footsteps

On one occasion, I had brought 2 friends with me on a sunny spring afternoon to visit the property. Once again, we found ourselves upstairs, me playing with the ISO settings on my camera. As I was trying to ready my camera for a picture, I heard a noise that I dreaded hearing; the sound of footsteps inside the house. I immediately tensed, my other friends noticing my reaction and did the same. We listened intently, I could feel my heart in my throat. The footsteps were heavy, like a man’s, and sounded like it was a possibility this intruder was wearing heavy boots that clomped harshly on the wooden floors. As I listened more carefully, I came to a puzzling and startling conclusion; the footsteps were coming from upstairs. That was impossible. We would have heard anyone climb the wooden stairs, we were in the room directly off them. And yet, here we were, listening to those dreadful footsteps coming from the room next door. It sounded like who ever, or what ever, was in that room was pacing back and forth continuously. As we waited, it didn’t seem like whatever it was was going to leave the room. And then, as suddenly as they started, they stopped, vanishing into the dusty atmosphere of the shadowy house. We waited for several minutes, listening for them to start back up. They didn’t. And we hastily left. To this day, none of us have no idea what we heard.

Final Thoughts

Whatever inspired all of these stories is a mystery to me. As a kid, I remember hearing them being told, and as I grew older, I continued that time honored ritual. So what exactly is at work here? The product of over active youthful imaginations that burned these tales into legend? Or do these stories have a shred of truth to them that is still waiting to be uncovered? Maybe the only ones that truly know are the ancient Maples that cast their shadows upon the house.

An interesting footnote to this story is that the current owner of the house confessed to me that the house is in fact haunted. However, the stories I had written about made hims scratch his head in confusion – he had never heard of before. Strange things have happened inside he said, but nothing like what I had reported. But the owner didn’t want to elaborate any further. He gave me the gist that the house was kind of a burden to him.

Maybe its the real estate that adds to it’s creepiness. It was built over a swamp. It’s dank stone basement flooded pretty frequently. A talk with an employee of the local town water district verified that, as he told me he’s been to that place quite a few times, and had some complaints about the shoddy electric work, among other things.

This house, with its rural setting and creepy atmosphere is the perfect breeding ground for urban legends. It’s sort of a comforting thought in my mind, that such mysterious places still exist. As the community develops and evolves around the house, it’s always enjoyable to hear that these legends are still told, and the house still stands to mystify the next generation of curiosity seekers – daring to show you a world that is familiar and yet, completely foreign.

The Photos

These photos were taken variously through out the years, from when I was a bullet proof teenager looking for a thrill, until a few years recently. Some of these may not be my best work, so excuse the quality. But – I’ve added them to tell the story of the house and it’s atmosphere. Until I find my way back to re-photograph it that is…

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To all of my amazing fans and supporters, I am truly grateful and humbled by all of the support and donations through out the years that have kept Obscure Vermont up and running.

As you all know I spend countless hours researching, writing, and traveling to produce and sustain this blog. Obscure Vermont is funded entirely on generous donations that you the wonderful viewers and supporters have made. Expenses range from internet fees to host the blog, to investing in research materials, to traveling expenses. Also, donations help keep me current with my photography gear, computer, and computer software so that I can deliver the best quality possible.

If you value, appreciate, and enjoy reading about my adventures please consider making a donation to my new Gofundme account or Paypal. Any donation would not only be greatly appreciated and help keep this blog going, it would also keep me doing what I love. Thank you!

Gofundme: https://www.gofundme.com/b5jp97d4

Donate Button with Credit Cards

I love the Champlain Islands. One of the most unique regions in the state, the islands have the special distinction of being the only region in Vermont that are truly isolated – only accessible from 3 bridges. Because of this, the islands have been able to maintain a unique image and way of life – complimented by scenic lake and mountain vistas, verdant pastures and small towns rooted in local tradition.

One of my favorite drives is South Hero’s West Shore Road, a narrow dirt road which winds its way along the many bays of South Hero’s west coast, framed by classic old summer camps, stony beaches, multi-million dollar McMansions and some of the most beautiful farmland anywhere. There’s even a vineyard, with eclectic summer evening concerts on their sprawling front lawn. In the summer months, there is perhaps no place more fitting for a leisurely cruise as the soft summer breezes gently blow summer dresses hanging on clotheslines. But the scenery isn’t the only draw to this road. There are a few quirky yet fascinating sites if you know where to look.

Bird House Forest

Located in the swamps just north of Whites Beach, just feet from the roadside, are hundreds of brilliantly colored Bird Houses that hang from the many hardwood trees in the thick marshland. It’s almost impossible not to notice, and on summer days, it’s not uncommon to see someone slow down to get a better look at them. I’ve driven by them several times and knew of their existence, but I never had taken the opportunity to actually stop and get a good look at them. That summer evening, I had my chance, and my curiosity was piqued. Why are they here? Do they have a story? Why are there so many? It’s not abnormal for someone to own a bird house or 2, but hundreds? As luck would have it, the owner of the birdhouses was actually out wood working on his front lawn, and must have noticed me standing there with my camera.

The story was actually quite to the point. “Well, as you can see, we’re surrounded by swamp” he said, gesturing to the swamps surrounding his house. “So there are a lot of mosquitoes here. Or at least there were before we put these up” He probably saw the amused look on my face, because he laughed and explained further. The bird houses are home to tree swallows, and tree swallows eat mosquitoes. “They make it so me and my wife can sit outside on the lawn in the evening and enjoy ourselves. We don’t get eaten alive” He told me he started this project 15 years ago, with only 20 bird houses. His wife was the one who convinced him to paint them the striking bold colors. “They really stand out” he said while laughing. He said after a year, he went to check on them and found that each one was occupied. So he built more. Now he has over 400 of them. I asked him if he was planning on building more. “We’ll see” he said chuckling.

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The gentleman who made the birdhouse forest also has a knack for wood working, and it’s really cool. You can see his various driftwood creations along the road near White’s Beach and around his yard – including this giant driftwood monster.

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Castle Island

Did you know that there are several miniature castles scattered around South Hero? I didn’t, until one unseasonably warm spring day, I found myself taking a picture of a dilapidated old barn near Whites Beach. It was around evening, and there was a brilliant sunset, a harsh wind was blowing in from the lake. As I was setting up for my picture, I met an elderly couple who were out enjoying an evening walk down the road, which was completely free from traffic. “Pretty cool, huh?” The elderly gentleman greeted me in a thick Vermont accent and pointed towards the old barn. I told him it was, and introduced myself. Because he was an old Vermonter, he carried on a good conversation, and asked me a lot of questions about myself. When I told him I was into local history and weird points of interest, he pointed over to the white farmhouse directly across from us and asked if I had seen the castles yet. I had no idea what he was talking about, so he motioned me to follow him and lead me behind the house.

Well, I wasn’t really sure what I was looking at. It looked like the crumbling remains of some sort of fountain, maybe a bird bath? But it had been made entirely out of field stone. Admittedly, my first impression wasn’t all that great. “This is one of the original Barber projects” he said. “Used to be a Castle somewhere on the property, but they got rid of it when they added the porch onto the house”. Now he had my attention. I had never heard of Harry Barber before, or his castles, and I wanted to know more about this mysterious gentleman.

Through talking to the kind old man, and doing some additional research online, I was able to put together the pieces to this great story.

Harry Barber was born in Switzerland and as he grew up, he developed a strong fondness for the castles found throughout the country. Sometime in the 1920s, he was injured in a mining accident and lost the a piece of his finger. Receiving a large settlement from the government as compensation, he decided to utilize his new found wealth and travel to the Americas. He made it to New York at the age of 21, and from there, eventually made his way up to Vermont and ended up in South Hero.

It was here where he fell in love with a local girl and married her, settling in Grand Isle. He was able to find work as a caretaker and maintenance man on nearby Providence Island, just off the coast of South Hero. Harry worked several jobs through his life, but his true passion was always the beloved castles from his homeland. He was a passionate gardener and groundskeeper, and often loved to enhance the look of his properties by constructing beautiful castles, fountains and stone walls made from local field stone. The castles of course were all modeled after the castles of his homeland, which he had always been taken by.

Harry was known as a likable guy in general and was known for his kind heart and sense of humor. But it was his fine craftsmanship that the locals were inspired by the most, and as a result, many patrons asked him to build castles for their properties. There are no records of if he actually profited from them, and for how much.

It was said that every castle he built had a different story behind it, and featured lavish details such as glass windows, flags and even drawbridges. Local lore even has it that some would use the castles for trade or bartering.  I heard one story of a neighbor offering a bed and breakfast one of the castles in return for free trash removal service. The castle was later moved to the inn’s property where it rests today.

Despite his amiable personality, tragedy was also woven into his framework. For reasons unknown, he committed suicide in 1966 at the age of 66.

Many of his original castles can still be seen scattered around South Hero today. The exact number of structures he built, and the number of ones that are surviving are unknown – but some tell me that there is in fact a number – there are seven of them, and they are called “the seven castles”. One can be found as far away as mainland Milton. And a few months ago, I was able to confirm this on a chance encounter with the owner of the castles – and he was kind enough to show me around his property so I could get a look at them.

Some of the castles on private property, and trespassing is frowned upon, and others are hidden behind other obstructions such as plants. But a few remains visible from the road, and are easy to photograph.

Compelling monuments of man, dreams and the cold hand of tragedy.

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One of Harry Barber's castles, as seen in front of The Crescent Bay Bed and Breakfast, on the West Shore Road.

One of Harry Barber’s castles, as seen in front of The Crescent Bay Bed and Breakfast, on the West Shore Road.

The Rockwell Bay castle on the West Shore Road. A tiny sign out front said it was constructed in 2006, and even features a small light in one of the towers.

The Rockwell Bay castle on the West Shore Road. A tiny sign out front said it was constructed in 2006, and even features a small light in one of the towers.

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One of the Barber castles in Milton. The owner eventually wants to restore it to it's former glory. *bad cell phone picture - I know!

One of the Barber castles in Milton. The owner eventually wants to restore it to it’s former glory. *bad cell phone picture – I know!

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To all of my amazing fans and supporters, I am truly grateful and humbled by all of the support and donations through out the years that have kept Obscure Vermont up and running.

As you all know I spend countless hours researching, writing, and traveling to produce and sustain this blog. Obscure Vermont is funded entirely on generous donations that you the wonderful viewers and supporters have made. Expenses range from internet fees to host the blog, to investing in research materials, to traveling expenses. Also, donations help keep me current with my photography gear, computer, and computer software so that I can deliver the best quality possible.

If you value, appreciate, and enjoy reading about my adventures please consider making a donation to my new Gofundme account or Paypal. Any donation would not only be greatly appreciated and help keep this blog going, it would also keep me doing what I love. Thank you!

Gofundme: https://www.gofundme.com/b5jp97d4

Donate Button with Credit Cards

Island of Shrieking Birds

Young Island has very little in common with the atmosphere of a faraway planet, and yet, its alien design is completely foreign amongst the rest of the Lake Champlain Valley. A barren wasteland, all the trees and plant life are dead- their leaves and twigs long plucked off. Weeds most commonly found in wastelands are the only living things that can grow and survive in this inhospitable place. In the center of this eerie landscape is the rotting shell of an old cabin- evidence that there once was human habitation here. And everything that is something is covered in toxic bird guano and molted rotting feathers, left to bake under the sultry summers. This intimidating and miserable island enjoys a unique reputation, and perhaps is one of the most mysterious places on Lake Champlain.

Though the island’s official name is Young Island, residents of neighboring communities have another moniker for this foul place; bird island. This blunt nickname also tells us the story of this small island’s mutilation.

At certain times, the rocky slab of land off the coast of Grand Isle seems to actually be quivering, but it’s not the heat of the day or some sinister preternatural force at work. Instead, the culprits are thousands of birds flying around the island. More specifically, Double Crested Cormorants.

Immigrants to Vermont, they were first spotted in the area around the 1970s near Young Island. In 1981, that number grew to 35. Recently, the population exceeded 15,000, (some say over 20,000) with 98% living on Young Island, and more recently, are beginning to become discovered on other islands around the lake.

Cormorants like to nest on remote islands, safe from predators and human habitation, making Young Island an ideal choice. But sadly, they are not welcomed neighbors to our region because their nesting habits are destructive, which are endangering the ecosystem of the lake. Cormorants settle into their new found homes by plucking away at the vegetation and tree branches, using the material for their big messy nests, leaving dead skeletons in their place. Their nests can reach as high as 2 feet tall and are built strong because adult Cormorants can weight up to as much as 12 pounds. The bird guano that now covers the island is acidic, and also helps kill the trees and the shrubbery and its foul smell can radiate for miles when there is a strong wind. As their numbers grow, they become a dominant and intimidating presence and prevent other species from nesting in the area – and Young Island is small, and space is at a premium. So much so, boaters, fisherman and a few residents from as far away as Grand Isle have reported hearing the loud and belligerent sound of countless bird shrieks, as they fight for space to nest. The island has been turned into a war zone.

So, what is being done about this problem? Or perhaps, why has it been allowed to happen? The answer is a simple one; Cormorants are a protected species, with the state arguing that they have as much right to nest and live near the lake as any other species. But recently, The Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department has made exceptions because of an increasing worry that Cormorants will soon migrate and destroy other islands. And this fear has became a reality as neighboring Bixby Island, as well as The Four Brothers Islands in New York have already began to see Cormorants nesting on their shores. The Fish and Wildlife Department is trying to keep the population from exploding, by oiling their eggs so they won’t hatch, and blasting nests from other islands with high powered water hoses. Taking advantage of a unique situation, UVM uses Young Island as a research environment, to study the Cormorants and their nesting habits.

Thanks to egg oiling, some have told me that the population has actually dwindled to “the hundreds” as less and less are returning to Young Island, or migrating to other islands across the lake – but so far, the damage to their other new found homes hasn’t been as destructive. Yet.

Regardless of the accuracy of numbers, spending time on Young Island isn’t for the squeamish. As a matter of fact, I couldn’t think of many other places that you could feel more isolated on. When brave visitors make their way onto the disturbingly intriguing island and through layers of bird guano, the baby Cormorants defend themselves with the only ammunition they have, they throw up whatever they’ve eaten for the day.

And if that isn’t strange enough, Young Island is one of the few places on the lake where Yellow Perch literally fall out of the sky. But these aren’t Perch you want to eat, these have already been eaten, twice – coughed up by a soaring Cormorant. And of course, Cormorants are also considered a threat to the local fish population, with the alarmingly high numbers they consume.

If you wish to see this unusual area for yourself, take a drive to Grand Isle’s West Shore Road, near the Vantines fishing access area, and Young Island will be to the north west. You can’t miss it.

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Young Island from Adams Landing Road

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Best picture I could take with my zoom lens. Here, you can get more detail of the house and the scrubby island floor. Any closer and I’d have to be in a boat. Since this picture was taken, the cabin’s roof has caved in.

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To all of my amazing fans and supporters, I am truly grateful and humbled by all of the support and donations through out the years that have kept Obscure Vermont up and running.

As you all know I spend countless hours researching, writing, and traveling to produce and sustain this blog. Obscure Vermont is funded entirely on generous donations that you the wonderful viewers and supporters have made. Expenses range from internet fees to host the blog, to investing in research materials, to traveling expenses. Also, donations help keep me current with my photography gear, computer, and computer software so that I can deliver the best quality possible.

If you value, appreciate, and enjoy reading about my adventures please consider making a donation to my new Gofundme account or Paypal. Any donation would not only be greatly appreciated and help keep this blog going, it would also keep me doing what I love. Thank you!

Gofundme: https://www.gofundme.com/b5jp97d4

Donate Button with Credit Cards

The Walloomsac Inn

It’s a point of pride for a community to be able to call themselves the home of something, or boast themselves as a standout locality. Bennington’s tourism slogan bills itself as “Where Vermont begins”, and that’s pretty accurate. The sizable town is located on the right angle that creates Vermont’s southwest corner, 6 miles from both the Massachusetts and New York state borders on U.S. Route 7, the most traveled road in the state.

Bennington is the type of town that probably prefers to be known for its verdant scenery, state mandated lack of billboards and quaintness with a pricey college and liberal vibe. But more cryptically, it’s also another gateway – to the state’s fabled Bennington Triangle, a vast area of mountainous wilderness to the northeast of town where people have been known to disappear without a trace. Though the “Bennington Triangle” won’t appear on Google maps or a Rand McNally atlas, Old Bennington certainly will.

The area of town known as Old Bennington is just that – it’s the oldest settled part of town, and an official historic district located on state route 9 west of the present day Downtown. Probably the most identifiable landmark in a neighborhood of colonial era homes, old burial yards and white picket fences, is a brooding structure towering behind a veil of trees and creeping vines. This locale upholds as my favorite sight in town. Maybe because it looks like it doesn’t belong right in the epicenter of the tourist hub historic district that prides itself on aesthetics, or maybe it’s because it holds a great mystic to it.

It’s sagging porches and balconies and weather-beaten wood facade with crooked shutters conjuring a wistful image that carries the weight of its ghosts. The building successfully drew my attention, and apparently every other passing car, as many slowed down in front of me to take a better look at the place before speeding up back to the legal limit and heading down the hill towards downtown. So, what is this place? Its appearance is so galvanizing that it’s impossible not to go woolgathering when you gaze at its gray entropy and wild vines against the idyllic clean whiteness of the clapboard church that sits just at the other end of the corner.

You’re staring at the ruins of The Walloomsac Inn, once a venerable hotel with a storied legacy, now an intriguing eye magnetic corpse that mystifies and takes your attention successfully.

However, despite appearances, it’s not abandoned. The family who owned the hotel in the last years of its life, still live there. I recall hearing a story where, years ago, a writer for the Bennington Banner ventured to the front door to check the place out, and was not so pleasantly surprised when the owner greeted them.

So, what’s the story here? The Bennington Museum website turned out to be a great source of information. The hotel has the distinction of being the oldest in Vermont, something most people would probably never guess. Dated back to 1771, the mystery immediately begins with its construction. Popular wisdom states that it was built by Elijah Dewey, son of Bennington’s first minister, but others have said that claim is false, leaving it up for speculation, but from my research, the inn was first ran by the Dewey family. The original structure still stands today, the part directly facing the cemetery, which also happens to be the part of the hotel that is still currently inhabited.

In 1818, the inn was purchased by James Hicks and his family, and became known as Hicks Tavern. The tavern doubled as a stagecoach stop, and because the journey to and from New York was a long one, taking around four days to complete, its location proved to be good for business. Hicks eventually enlarged the building in 1823, adding the third floor and installing a ballroom on the second floor.

The Inn grew in popularity until 1848 when the railroad came to the region, ending stagecoach travel. While many herald the railroad as a cause for celebration, Bennington was served by something called a “corkscrew line”, operated by the Rutland Railroad, which is as terrifying as it sounds. The stretch of tracks were known for their “spectacular derailments“, which probably weren’t as celebrated. The inn was purchased by George Wadsworth Robinson, who changed its name to Walloomsac House, after the river of the same name which runs nearby. But business was never quite as successful as it was during the stagecoach era, when travelers would arrive at its doorstep, so in a vain effort to attract summer visitors, Robinson constructed observatory towers on nearby Mt. Anthony, which would have offered impressive views of 3 mountain ranges; The Greens, Berkshires and Taconics. Unfortunately, the mountain’s high winds often blew them over and because putting people’s lives at risk is bad for business, the idea was abandoned. Eventually, the hotel changed hands again, this time it was bought by Mrs. Mary Sanford Robinson and her brother, Samuel Sanford.

In 1891 Sanford hired a proprietor named Walter Berry, who after five years was able to purchase the inn and it has been owned by the Berry family ever since. Walter Berry decided to expand the hotel, and added the large three-and-a-half-story addition on the rear of the original building, which is probably the most photographed part of the hotel.

The hotel operated sluggishly until around 1996, the property closed for good, and time has sadly not been kind to it. I spoke to a few people who recall staying there during the 80s, and gave me descriptions of the place being dusty, run down and musty, with sort of an uncomfortable feeling attached to it.

If this blog has been able to prove anything, it’s that things fade with time and neglect – the Walloomsac wasn’t immune to that rule, and continues to deteriorate for all to see. The current owners most likely can’t afford the massive bill to fix it up, and state historic preservation regulations no doubt have provided a massive obstacle to deal with, but its state of limbo is a rather curious one. The information on the internet is surprisingly sparse.

I can only imagine what the inside must look like. Are there dark and musty hallways and ancient guest rooms covered in dust and disarray? Does sunlight swirl through the gaps in the broken shutters, making linear patterns on the dirty walls? Or perhaps it has been renovated and cleared over the years, leaving only the shell? Or maybe, the grungy outsides are hiding a lavish interior, which would be a great joke and a lesson on judgment all in one.

A friend of mine, who has an obsession with the old hotel, had stopped in Bennington in May of 2015 and wrote me an email with some further clarification about its condition.

The hotel’s current owners, descendants of the Berry family, are merely following instructions of the family will, which stated that no one is to touch the building, and to leave it as is. But, it seems they may have took it a little too seriously! While it may look like it’s going to collapse, another bit of research revealed that underneath the wry expression of its decrepit clapboard siding, the hotel is actually made of brick underneath, which is why the building is showing almost no sign of slumping or bowing into a shape that would rattle a state inspector. That was something that amazed me on my first visit.

While the old hotel, rotting in the middle of town, has a pretty storied history behind it, I sort of enjoyed the place more when it was enigmatic to me, and left my mind to its own devices.135_pe

View from Route 9. The original 1771 structure (with front porch) and the newer addition in the back left.

View from Route 9. The original 1771 structure (with front porch) and the newer addition in the back left.

I stopped by again during summer’s last days of 2016 and got some more photographs. I will never object to making a jaunt here for a photo opportunity, it’s one of my favorite haunts in Vermont, and that day, a storm I was racing just happened to catch up with me outside, giving the place, and my photographs, some great atmosphere.

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The Most Interesting Statue in Bennington

A passing thunderstorm was making its way over The Green Mountains, and the air became noticeably cooler, as a pungent earthy smell rode the winds that blew. The Walloomsac Inn underneath dark thunderheads certainly looked like the stereotypical haunted house.

Back in the car, myself and a good friend joining me for a road trip headed back towards Route 7, but stopped when we saw a startling statue in front of the Bennington Museum that looked all kinds of infelicitous. We pulled into the parking lot to get a better look, and I had no idea what I was staring at. A giant bronze statue of Abraham Lincoln with his green-ish weathered hands placed on the head of two naked companions, one of them a small child. What?

I’m sure there had to be a story here. Later on, Seven Days would come to my aid and answer the question behind this puzzling statue. As it turns out, the sculpture, designed by Clyde du Vernet Hunt, was actually intended to be more uplifting rather than suggestive.

In a nutshell, the two people kneeling in front of honest Abe were taken from two other sculptures he had commission earlier, the boy came from a piece called “Fils de France,” which depicted a naked boy gazing into the distance in his own reverie, was supposed to symbolize France’s rebirth. The girl came from his piece, “Nirvana”, which is said to represent “spiritual emancipation from passion, hatred and delusion.” The figure of Abraham Lincoln was sculpted in 1920, and he made the unfortunate decision of combining the three pieces together, thus creating “The American Dream” – the official name of the sculpture. Maybe it’s just me, or maybe Clyde really missed the point he was going for.

The statue has became a landmark, but probably not like the artist would have wanted. Instead of a symbol for the virtuous, it acts as a novelty to teenagers who take their pictures with it. But I suppose, art is subjective.

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To all of my amazing fans and supporters, I am truly grateful and humbled by all of the support and donations through out the years that have kept Obscure Vermont up and running.

As you all know I spend countless hours researching, writing, and traveling to produce and sustain this blog. Obscure Vermont is funded entirely on generous donations that you the wonderful viewers and supporters have made. Expenses range from internet fees to host the blog, to investing in research materials, to traveling expenses. Also, donations help keep me current with my photography gear, computer, and computer software so that I can deliver the best quality possible.

If you value, appreciate, and enjoy reading about my adventures please consider making a donation to my new Gofundme account or Paypal. Any donation would not only be greatly appreciated and help keep this blog going, it would also keep me doing what I love. Thank you!

Gofundme: https://www.gofundme.com/b5jp97d4

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No Tell Motel

There is a set of shady and conspicuous ruins that are crumbling to pieces just outside the bustle of Rutland City, and its neighbors aren’t giving them so much love.  As these buildings become disfigured by neglect, and the decay spreads from the first patches of mold to crumbling plaster and collapsing roofs, they become black eyes of the community and act as silent invitations for suspicious activity. In this constellation of dead places, there is a shopping plaza, a burger stand, a gas station and a motel, connected by patchworks of parking lots turning into weed pits. One commonality forever links all of these places together; they all wear the name Flory, which would account for the many locals who refer to this aging stain as “Floryville”

Perhaps the most interesting place in this collection of decrepitude is Flory’s Motel; a simple 2 story rectangular building with collapsing balconies and broken windows. Opening in 1968, it sold itself as a family destination in the heart of Vermont’s ski country. At the time, Rutland had a booming tourism industry which was fueled by the allures of the nearby ski resorts of Pico and High Pond. (Killington would later follow in 1958) The commercial strips of Routes 4 and 7 became lined with motels and restaurants that would cater to the skiers and families.

But times changed, as new homogenized chain hotels were built along the Route 7 strip, and the glitzy hotels and mountain chalets of Killington opened their doors. That, and a new portion of Route 4 was constructed around 1986, creating an interstate type highway which bypassed Rutland south of Route 7, all the way to Whitehall, New York, making travel through western part of the city now unnecessary. With new competition and Rutland’s declining reputation, Flory’s Motel eventually closed around 1989. But it wasn’t just the motel. It seems that the entire Flory empire fell into ruin at one point, leaving nothing but decaying husks along Route 4 as an unceremonious eulogy to the family name.

Now, With its rampant fungus and collapsing floors, there’s no chance that the motel will ever be reopened.

Since it’s closing, most anything of value has been stolen. Copper wiring has been stripped from the building and it has become a haven for druggies and the homeless. The thought of human habitation in this foul place seems absurd. And yet, in the lonely rooms smoldering in darkness and mildew, there were piles of new Arizona jeans, cases of bottled water and bed sheets for curtains. In one room, a butcher knife was stabbed deep within the rotting plaster, a poignant welcome.

The floors are rotting away, some too dangerous to walk on. Most of the lobby could disintegrate into the black cellar below at any moment. The busted juke box in the corner never playing that song from yesteryear when everything was alright. The balconies are too treacherous to walk on now, and could collapse with just the right amount of weight. Flory’s Motel was a dangerous location to visit. The structural decay and the possibility of running into a suspicious (and most likely dangerous) character made this one of the most perilous locations I’ve ever explored.

But there is something to be said here. Though dangerous and imposing, the motel offers a more melancholy look into Rutland’s past, a relic of yesteryear and showpiece of a community fallen on hard times.

As of recently, there was a fire that broke out in the motel. Could this be the end to Floryville? Only time will tell. But I bet the neighbors won’t miss it.

*special thanks to Carolynn Ranftle from the Rutland Historical society for providing me with the information used in this article. 

Flory’s Motel in its heyday:

Flory's Motel

Flory's Motel

Flory’s Motel Today (Spring 2012):

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I was thankful that a dirty mirror was the only thing I found in this bathroom. I was half expecting a dead body.

I was thankful that a dirty mirror was the only thing I found in this bathroom. I was half expecting a dead body.

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To all of my amazing fans and supporters, I am truly grateful and humbled by all of the support and donations through out the years that have kept Obscure Vermont up and running.

As you all know I spend countless hours researching, writing, and traveling to produce and sustain this blog. Obscure Vermont is funded entirely on generous donations that you the wonderful viewers and supporters have made. Expenses range from internet fees to host the blog, to investing in research materials, to traveling expenses. Also, donations help keep me current with my photography gear, computer, and computer software so that I can deliver the best quality possible.

If you value, appreciate, and enjoy reading about my adventures please consider making a donation to my new Gofundme account or Paypal. Any donation would not only be greatly appreciated and help keep this blog going, it would also keep me doing what I love. Thank you!

Gofundme: https://www.gofundme.com/b5jp97d4

Donate Button with Credit Cards

During the nineteenth century, the Adirondack Mountains began to be rummaged heavily for exploitable natural resources. The intrepid prospectors pushed farther north into a deep world of desolate woods, vast swamps and vertical slopes haunted by grueling winters. In 1826, industrialist Archibald McIintyre and his partner David Henderson, who were guided by an Indian of the Saint Francis Tribe, would discover iron ore where the headwaters of the iconic Hudson River spilled out of the mountains on their descent into New York Harbor, which lead to the creation of The Adirondack Iron Works to extract the precious commodity. A settlement, which confusingly is either spelled as Adirondac or Adirondack, was formed around the mines and iron smelting operations. The village would grow to about sixteen dwellings, with a central multifarious building used as school, church and a meeting room.

The mines impacted the village to such an extent, that it became singularly lucrative, which meant that the first bank in the Adirondacks opened here, instead of surrounding towns that were easier to access and far more populated. But it’s previously mentioned remotely inauspicious location ensured life here was a constant struggle of endurance, and if it wasn’t for the seduction of fortune, no one would have decided to attempt to live here.

The iron ore here was at the time considered the best deposit in the country, but it’s far flung remote location up numerous steep slopes all helped to run down the operations until they became prostrate ghosts. In 1840, a road was finally hacked through the hills from the mines down to Port Henry, which was another emerging mining town and regional hub that boomed thanks to it’s location on Lake Champlain. 

The Saratoga Railroad, which wanted to build a special spur line up to the blast furnaces, couldn’t construct up the vertical rises and was only able to extend the line to North Creek, a small hamlet “nearby” in the town of Newcomb. Because of this, the ore from Tahawus had to be hauled down to North Creek in tractors, or any other creative method they could devise. Long winters and vicious weather often showed Adironack denizens who the boss was. In one account I read online, fast snow melt lead the upper Hudson River’s water levels to rise to flood levels, moving huge blocks of ice down river with the increased flows. A telephone call came to North River, another to the point named hamlet near North Creek, to warn them of a 30 foot ice wall heading their way, with the potential to take out the Hudson railroad bridge that Tahawus and the rest of the area depended on.

A group of townsfolk gathered together and allegedly went out and decided to, well, try anything. They laid one inch cables across the river in an effort to slow it down a bit, but the ice hit the cables with such a force that they snapped, and the sound could be heard for miles away. 

Another group hacked away the cross cut timbers that were holding up the bridge in order to let the ice mass through without destroying it. The bridge was still hit, but their efforts worked, and the structure was able to be saved thanks to some savvy impetus.

Adirondac(k)’s existence was brief owed to a continuous chaser of circumstances that kept running the town down – the most impacting being the impurities in the iron ore they were trying to withdraw – later discovered to be titanium dioxide – that killed the town. The equipment at the time simply wasn’t advanced enough to successfully process the stuff, despite spending a remarkable $43,000 on an impressive fort like stone blast furnace known as McIntyre, which they had hoped would improve efficiency and profits. The entire village was forsaken in the 1857 when the Adirondac(k) Iron Works gave up.

A decade later, a hunting club had eyed the land and the deserted ruins and eventually bought up most of it. The club at the base of the highest peak in New York attracted such notable people as Vice President Theodore Roosevelt, who was on a hunting trip here when President McKinley was assassinated by gunshot in Buffalo. Staying in regional character, the hunting club changed names and identities quite a bit. The Preston Ponds Club came in 1876 for both hunters and fisherman. Just a year later, it became the Adirondack Club, and in 1989, renamed it self the Tahawus club, the titular name that most of the area wears today. 

Times changed again and in 1940, a new mine opened, this time for the situationally ironic purpose of obtaining the titanium dioxide that had been responsible for previous failures in mining. World War 2 was in full swing, and because wars generally are hungry tempered affairs, anything that supported the war effort was in high demand, things like lead.

The National Lead Industries began mining along Sanford Lake which is south east of the village, an area that would become known as The Lower Works. In 1943, the abandoned village was rebuilt for the new mine workers, and was thematically renamed Tahawus. By 1945, Tahawus had 84 buildings, including some of the extant dwellings from the original town.

Before operations ceased in 1989, over 40 million tons of titanium oxide were extracted from the lower works, but the changing economy and bankruptcy would close the iron works. Once again, the wilderness was left to reclaim what was once its own, but this time no one tried to rebuild the town, leaving Tahawus to bury its faith in the rocky mountain soil.

From my experience, most ghost towns in the northeast are nothing more than overgrown cellar holes, but Tahawus still retains 10 of it’s original buildings from it’s 1940s reincarnation, one preserved home from 1845, and the imposing remnants of the McIntyre Blast Furnace with trees growing through the cracks in it’s stonework, all accessible by a stretch of nicely laid asphalt (until previously, it was a dirt road). The Open Space Institute purchased Tahawus and surrounding forests in 2003 to preserve the unique area, and formed the Tahawus Tract Project. Until 2006, the ghostly ruins of the Tahawus mines at Sanford Lake were also still existing, but have been since demolished, but the startling grey toned waste dunes still devour much of the lake shore and Google satellite imagery of the place.

To find Tahawus’s rotting bones, they lay at the end of a long and desolate road which carves its way around swamps and streams, and follows the scars of an old railroad bed. Eventually, it comes to a rather abrupt dead end right in the center of town. And it is here where you can finally start picking at the pieces of this fascinating community. Though Tahawus is a ghost town, because of it’s proximity on a roadway that leads to the junction of several popular hiking trails that take off towards cloud splitting Mount Marcy, it’s probably one of the least dead places in the Adirondacks. But on an interesting note; a passing hiker did tell me that he remembers bodies being found in Henderson Lake in the 70s that were the suspected victims of a local serial killer or madman. Or, so he told me.

Tahawus Today

The road to Tahawus was a long and lonely drive, passing through incredibly vast wilderness areas that a person could walk into and never reemerge from. I was actually a little surprised to find out that there was an actual road that lead right into town.

The road, aptly named “Tahawus Road” plunges deep into the wild, forwarded by what me and my friends refer to as the world’s most misleading “dead end” sign – as the road continues to cover ground for an unsuspected 7 miles before finally ending. As the forlorn stretch of asphalt climbed further into the woods, you could see the remnants of railroad lines that used to pass through, evidence of the areas industrial past. The rail beds had long been removed, leaving leveled banks that slice through an otherwise organic landscape. So, what did I expect to see as I entered Tahawus? I wasn’t sure what I expected, but it certainly wasn’t what greeted my hungry eyes.

Though the environs were squalid and eerie, admittedly, my first impression of this community was a bit underwhelming. The misleading photographs I found on the internet had set my expectations pretty high, but the unanticipated reality was humble and wrecked. What I had expected to be a large forgotten town reachable by trekking through thick forest and undergrowth, with somewhat of a sense of pre-coordinated directions, wasn’t. Instead, I could easily explore the place by hopping out of the car in a dirt parking lot cramped with other cars, hikers with backpacks, and one of my favorite jazz tunes wafting from the stereo.

Some of the surviving/deteriorating buildings have wasted away to the point beyond recognition, and others weren’t far behind. The roofs collapsed where they’re not entirely missing, forming mangled and wild shapes, and the dead weight slowly dragging many of the structures down the banks into the Hudson River.

Another interesting feature was that all of the buildings looked almost identical, with brown cedar shingles and a dark green forest trim.

A few buildings proved safe enough to enter. But the interiors were claustrophobic and vertigo, as each building became warped as they deteriorated at their own rate. There were no relics left behind amid the rubble, each room was an empty wooden shell. The ramshackle atmosphere was an enigma, masquerading the dangers by putting them in plain sight – your eyes straining continuously for a safe passage.

But it was also this carnival of chaos that’s been a few decades in the making that give me a strong feeling of awe that a great adventure always does. Every room was done in old fashioned wainscoting, each it’s own vibrant lead painted color which had been peeling and weathering for years. The sun poured through the cracks in the walls and kissed my fingertips as you begin to think about who might have lived here beforehand and how this new atmosphere has filled the places where they once used to stand.

Later during the dying days of Fall, I would make a return trip.

In the shadowy dales of the upland marshes, there were already pockets of snow, the fir trees bent over with a rather thick dusting. This was the first snow I’ve seen of the season. Though it was only around 1 in the afternoon, the harsh glow of the late Autumn sun made it feel otherwise, as the scraggly woodlands basked in sort of an offsetting golden glow.

I was surprised at just how bad Tahawus had became since my last journey here in the spring. Most of the remaining houses had either fallen over almost entirely, or were significantly worse off then before. The majority of the buildings I had wondered in months ago had became far worse for wear. Now, I had to take very careful precautions to set foot inside. As it was, my friend had already stepped on a nail which went through his boot. Not the best way to begin an adventure.

I can’t very well describe the feeling of exploring these modest dwellings, the interiors adorned with peeling walls shedding their lurid lead paint onto the dusty wooden floors as the late afternoon sunlight filtered inside as if keeping an eye on a sacred Adirondack shrine, the former world of man now home to nature and dust, finding peace with each other in subtle nuances. Any feelings of human habitation is a queer thought now, as time incinerates what that was to Tahawus.

At the alarming rate of Tahawus’s decay, it’s strange to think about the reality of the village becoming nothing more then a name on a map 3-5 years down the road, its buildings returning to dust that is scattered to the Adirondack winds.

But despite it’s shocking rate of deterioration from when I first visited only 3 years ago, and it’s crowds, it still remains one of my favorite places in upstate New York, which may or may not entirely be due to nostalgia.

Eva Sollberger from Stuck In Vermont has a great video of her visit here.

The Old McIntyre Blast Furnace site

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 Tahawus Town

MacNaughton Cottage (1845). This was the house that Vice President Theodore Roosevelt stayed in during his hike to Mount Marcy when he received news of President William McKinley being close to death after being shot in Buffalo, and is the only "restored" building in Tawahus.

MacNaughton Cottage (1845). This was the house that Vice President Theodore Roosevelt stayed in during his hike to Mount Marcy when he received news of President William McKinley being close to death after being shot in Buffalo, and is the only “restored” building in Tawahus, as well as the first building you see in town.

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Links:

If you’re interested in Tahawus, The Adirondack Park Agency published a great article on it.

Tahawus on Wikipedia

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To all of my fans and supporters, I am truly grateful and humbled by all of the support and donations through out the years that have kept Obscure Vermont up and running.

As you all know I spend countless hours researching, writing, and traveling to produce and sustain this blog. Obscure Vermont is funded entirely on generous donations that you the wonderful viewers and supporters have made. Expenses range from internet fees to host the blog, to investing in research materials, to traveling expenses. Also, donations help keep me current with my photography gear, computer, and computer software so that I can deliver the best quality possible.

If you value, appreciate, and enjoy reading about my adventures please consider making a donation to my new Gofundme account or Paypal. Any donation would not only be greatly appreciated and help keep this blog going, it would also keep me doing what I love. Thank you!

Gofundme: https://www.gofundme.com/b5jp97d4

Donate Button with Credit Cards

In the years of my adolescence, I would stumble upon this abandoned summer camp, existing in the summer woods and melancholy haze.

The skies were promising fury, even through the thick canopy over head. But I was curious. The property had long grown wild, the wooden cabins were almost indistinguishable amongst the thick foliage and colors of the forest. But through the tangled wall of young hardwood trees, a brown sign with birch tree legs was crookedly standing, establishing an identity to this intriguing place – the hand painted letters were still legible after years of fading. “Bear Mountain Literary Athletic Music and Art Club LTD” was the official name of the collection of ruins, but the only things living around here didn’t want to talk.

Stepping off the road and into a weedy clearing, the wet grass soaking the bottoms of my jeans, I began to get a better picture at the camp. A few small wooden cabins lay scattered around a central area, where the woods extended far back dark and deep. Maybe it’s my love for anything old, rustic and mysterious that drew me to fall in love with this place, and the charm of its decay. The cabins were done in wood paneling, with old farm house style windows, all were brilliantly aging as the years passed on.

Inside one of the cabins revealed old plaster walls, only beginning to show signs of water damage. There were bunk beds still outfitted with down pillows and musty blankets and a small woodstove in the corner. Through the dim light that entered through a nearby window, the swirling dust seemed to become swallowed by the shadows. And there was a distinct musty smell that you’d expect an old cabin to inhabit, a smell that is ironically pleasant and nostalgic – almost as if to say “sorrow isn’t suppose to be here”

Near one of the old cabins, almost lost in the weeds, was an original water pump that no doubt supplied the camp with fresh mountain water. And a few pulls to the old pump – accompanied by some agonizing groans proved that it still worked, as freezing water poured at my feet.

Along the road in the deadfall of hardwood trees sat the worst part of the camp, a long and awkward rectangular building that was so ramshackle that I opted not to venture inside. Because it had no foundation, the entire building looked like it could be toppled with a good push, turning it into a firewood pile. It once had a front porch that ran along the entire backside of the building, the side that faced the camp, but it had long collapsed, its shingled roof mangled in a bed of weeds and dead lupines. Inside fared no better. The floor had disintegrated, the tall grass coming in. An old refrigerator and cast iron stove sat in a corner of a dark room, toppled on their sides. Broken glass and rusted nails were everywhere.

So, what was this place? How old was it? And when did it close? I had no answers, but I had a few suspicions. I knew it probably wasn’t affiliated with the Green Mountain Club or the CCC, so it had to be a private operation. The entire property looked dated, probably going back to the 1930s I guessed. But I was stumped.

I couldn’t explain what I was feeling as I stood on that wooded mountain side that dull afternoon, as I felt a change coming up as the air cooled down. At one time this camp probably provided cherished memories to several kids who sought the wisdom and promises of the mountains, but today, it looked like the good times were on me – and the camp would still sing its Shangri-La songs.

Years later, I would venture back to photograph it, and to my surprise, there was evidence of human presence now. The long ramshackle building that once lay near the roadside had been torn down, and the weedy clearing had been mowed. Though I was selfishly disappointed, I was also relieved that there were some cabins still standing  that I could photograph.  I truly cherish the accolades of discovering and photographing these places – allowing them to awaken parts of me that were formerly in hibernation underneath the wistful silence of the forest.

A year later, I would make a return trip, and found that the old camp was finally in the process of renovation. One of the cabins had already been fixed up and a sand volleyball court was built in the middle of the clearing. And as luck would have it,  I got a chance to meet the new owners, 2 friendly brothers from New Jersey. They bought the camp with the vision of carrying their dream of owning a summer retreat in Vermont deep into the mountains. They were nice guys, and selflessly took time from doing yard work to talk to me. They knew nothing of the camp’s history, but were able to offer a little bit of incite. They were told that the camp was built sometime in the late 30s or early 40s, and served as a summer camp for children. They weren’t sure when it closed, but one of them guessed the late 80s. Like many abandoned properties I’ve explored, the story was an old one. The camp eventually closed down due to shifting trends. In short, it became unpopular overtime. The cabins were too rotted to keep standing, so it made more sense to tear them down. But they kept one, and had already done extensive renovations on it, including new cedar shingling, windows and new front door. It looked great, and I couldn’t help but be a little jealous of them.

Feeling satisfied, I thanked them for their time. I’m glad someone else can now enjoy the property, but selfishly, I still wish it was the same fascinating and forgotten place I had stumbled upon years ago, just aching for me to discover its secrets.

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To all of my amazing fans and supporters, I am truly grateful and humbled by all of the support and donations through out the years that have kept Obscure Vermont up and running.

As you all know I spend countless hours researching, writing, and traveling to produce and sustain this blog. Obscure Vermont is funded entirely on generous donations that you the wonderful viewers and supporters have made. Expenses range from internet fees to host the blog, to investing in research materials, to traveling expenses. Also, donations help keep me current with my photography gear, computer, and computer software so that I can deliver the best quality possible.

If you value, appreciate, and enjoy reading about my adventures please consider making a donation to my new Gofundme account or Paypal. Any donation would not only be greatly appreciated and help keep this blog going, it would also keep me doing what I love. Thank you!

Gofundme: https://www.gofundme.com/b5jp97d4

Donate Button with Credit Cards

Bygone Brigham Academy

It was a hazy July afternoon and the sun was shining of the hood of my friend’s Dodge as we parked. Within minutes, I was sweating through my t-shirt. In front of me was the century and a half old, abandoned brick academy that I had been waiting for about a year to get inside of. And it looked like I wasn’t the only visitor. The lawn was filled with people wearing hardhats, trailers, and extension cords. I started to feel awkward, standing by the truck, trying to not make eye contact with the people who were making it with me.

Thankfully, Chance Benedict pulled into the parking lot, turning down my increasing feeling of being out of place. Chance is the principal of the Bakersfield school district, and through about a years worth of email back and forths, was kind enough to open up the building for me and give me a guided tour.

Brigham Academy is in the tiny 4-way intersection town of Bakersfield, halfway between “the dairy capital of the world” – Enosburg Falls, and the ski village of Jeffersonville. I discovered the academy by accident when I was passing along Bakersfield’s main drag, which is state route 108, and saw the dignified brick edifice that was more visible in mud season when the line of sight is increased thanks to the bare trees. Driving down relevantly named academy lane, I got a closer look at the place, and realized that it was abandoned – the distinctive brick building in a state of slow burning decay.

Some of the windows were broken, the white painted front doors are showing signs of gray decay and the brickwork is beginning to crack, loosen and tumble in a few places. The front steps have been removed in some areas and the all the doors are padlocked closed. Geometry draws your eyes up to the central clock tower above your head, it’s unique wooden face frozen the exact time it ceased functionality years ago.

This is Brigham Academy. Its impressive architecture alludes to the equally impressive gentleman its existence was made possible by; Peter Bent Brigham. Born in Bakersfield in 1807, Brigham was a man who dedicated his life to defying the one thing that plagued him as a kid; poverty. He was forced to drop out of school in his early teenage years and find work to support his family after the death of his father. But he worked hard, and through perseverance and an amiable personality, he would become a prominent figure later in life and eventually a self-made millionaire. In between, he made a name for himself by becoming a businessman, restaurateur, real estate trader, the director of Massachusetts’s Fitchburg Railroad (the railroad that runs through the dark depths of the legend conjuring Hoosac Tunnel), the founder of the Brigham Hospital in Boston (a hospital that would become connected with Harvard), and eventually and most relevant to this post, a self-titled academy in Bakersfield. That’s quite the accomplishment list. Some days, I can barely check my email.

Because Brigham never had the chance to receive a higher education in his life, he grew up bitter about it. Now with his sizable fortune, he wanted to ensure that the children of Bakersfield would have the opportunities he never had, and donated a grand sum of $40,000 to the town of Bakersfield; $10,000 towards the building and funding of the newly established academy named in his honor.

But educational needs changed towards a movement towards all-inclusive public schooling, and enrollment dropped and finances dwindled. Eventually, the academy couldn’t afford to stay open, and in 1966, it began its function as the local public high school and deteriorated rapidly into the mid 80s, when the state of Vermont decided they didn’t want to add a lesson on the terrors of building collapses to the high school curriculum, and closed it.

Building the academy was one thing, but deciding what to do with it, especially without the cash to do such things is another puzzlement. While local opinions differentiate, the only thing that everyone can seem to agree on is that they all want the place to exist in the Bakersfield of the future.

Suggestions have been tossed around to convert the academy into a new home for the town offices or an expansion for the Bakersfield Elementary School – but the building’s deterioration and outdated amenities created setbacks of the financial kind, leaving the academy in a state of momentarily untouchable rotting limbo.

Brigham Academy is kind of a big (silent) deal to me. My abandoned hometown creamery was the first place I ever explored, thanks to its convenience, and Hyde Manor was a flicker that burned my desires, but the academy was the first place I sought out to explore legally, with me going through the rounds of contact, permission and scheduling. It happened during a change in my life, after I had left college, where I just didn’t dig my old scene anymore, and began to drift away towards exploration.

Chance fiddled with the padlock on the front doors and as they swung open, an immediate change in atmosphere was noticed. The sultry July day outside gave way to a more dank and musty smell of the academy’s interior. The two of us then stepped up a three-foot brick rise up onto the first floor. The front stairs had to be removed because structural and foundation issues had eroded them to a dangerous point of potential lawsuit-ness.

I came to the academy with no expectations, and my first impression pleasantly reassured me that it was worth the persistence. The massive building contained much original details with exceedingly cluttered halls and lurid pastel colored walls and their crumbling lead painted remains blazed in summer heat. To my right, there was a door, which I decided would be my first area I would venture too. I slipped through and discovered a fantastic feature of the school, a unique sunken basketball court from 1904, the tired wooden floors were horribly warped and crooked, with the thin and fading court lines still visible from the wraparound second-floor mezzanine lined with windows protected by lattice/mesh screens above, just in case of wayward basketballs or rowdy spectators.

The basement area, which contained the locker rooms was full of mold and pitch black due to no window access or working electricity. The dank and dark ambiance was definitely creepy down there. The principle joked that he would wait for me at the top of the stairs.

There is apparently a spook story about this particular part of the academy, that involves disembodied sounds of basketball games in play in the empty court that manifest themselves at any time of the day or night. A janitor even reported seeing a basketball bounce itself across the court! In other parts of the building, furniture is said to rearrange itself, cold air wafts from nowhere, and doors open by themselves. What was going on here? Years ago, a visiting psychic claimed that the old building was full of playful native American spirits who were behind all the shenanigans.

The first floor contained some interesting relics, and was packed full of furniture and piles of years of accumulated trash which spanned over 100 years to the more recent. Classrooms had original chalkboards in them that still had chalk scribings on their surfaces from when the school was still functional. I was intrigued when I had Bakersfield residents send me messages telling me they recognized their own names, or recalled when a friend wrote something on the board.

The top floor contained an enormous theater area, with wooden stage and dull green painted walls that undulated as you walked by. The wooden floors creaked and made high lonesome sounds that filled the large space as my boots clomped down. Behind the theater sat a cluttered room of disused drama props in disarray and dust that added somewhat of a melancholic feel to the place that slipped under your skin.

The rest of the time capsule like building was quite gorgeous and we spent two hours shooting and listening to Chance’s great stories about the academy and its history. Some of the classrooms upstairs were more modernized in the 60s, and brandished ugly drop down ceilings that were in various progress of disintegration and ugly florescent lights. One room had a weird mural of a clown painted on a wall that eerily gazed with a smug yet complacent stare over the room. Original wooden desks that were awkward and rigid still sat in almost perfect rows in front of a chalkboard, their surfaces warped with years of skin oil and use, with your archetypal student graffiti carved into their surfaces.

Wondering around the academy was proving to be more oppressively hot than the outside air somehow, and by now, I was drenched in sweat that was beginning to sting my eyes.

But the best was yet to come. Hidden in a backroom behind the auditorium was a steep and narrow staircase typical of old buildings that ascended through the ceiling, to a heavy wooden trapdoor and up into the clock tower. The original bell still was perched on the rafters, covered with years of dust – the hot summer heat baked the small space.

Because of time constrictions, we only stayed about an hour inside, not nearly long enough. There was so much to see, and so little time to see it. But I felt special, and quite humbled that I was granted permission to photograph such a place, and that to my knowledge, little others have had the chance to see the inside in a few decades.

It’s a real shame that Brigham Academy is being left to fade into memory. It’s a great old building that can offer so much potential, especially in a disposable era America where new buildings are built cheaply with faux aesthetic added to disguise their overall banality. If anything, we should be preserving more Brigham Academy’s across the country.

But sadly, to save the academy, you need a vision, and you need money. So far, no such luck. Does Brigham Academy sing songs of doom or redemption? Sadly, the last memory many people of Bakersfield might have of Brigham Academy is seeing it be demolished.

An old postcard of Brigham Academy:

Brigham Academy

Brigham Academy Today (April 2015)

Summer 2012

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To all of my amazing fans and supporters, I am truly grateful and humbled by all of the support and donations through out the years that have kept Obscure Vermont up and running.

As you all know I spend countless hours researching, writing, and traveling to produce and sustain this blog. Obscure Vermont is funded entirely on generous donations that you the wonderful viewers and supporters have made. Expenses range from internet fees to host the blog, to investing in research materials, to traveling expenses. Also, donations help keep me current with my photography gear, computer, and computer software so that I can deliver the best quality possible.

If you value, appreciate, and enjoy reading about my adventures please consider making a donation to my new Gofundme account or Paypal. Any donation would not only be greatly appreciated and help keep this blog going, it would also keep me doing what I love. Thank you!

Gofundme: https://www.gofundme.com/b5jp97d4

Donate Button with Credit Cards

Maybe my love of exploration transitioned into an obsession here, at Hyde Manor. The brooding wooden dinosaur of a building holds a lot of memories for me, and planted the seeds of me starting this blog years ago. To be honest, I may never have perused photography or exploring as seriously if it weren’t for my time here.

The manor was opened in 1865 by James Hyde, and after its completion, it was considered to be one of the most esteemed getaways in New England.

And now it all lies in ruins, sitting in the Sudbury woods with the hum of the highway swallowing whatever sad songs the hotel sings. I first saw the building as a wide eyed 12 year old, passing it en route to a destination long forgotten, but Hyde Manor forever burned itself into memory. I knew that day that I wanted to come back and explore it, to discover whatever wondrous secrets lay inside. And several years later, I got my chance.

Peering up at this brooding structure behind the maples that separate sun from shadows offers no insight to what it used to be. Its windows are broken, tattered curtains hang in strips through the vacant panes. The massive front tower, a signature architectural feature of this grand structure, is dangerously lopsided and looks like it may soon tumble down onto the tall grass you stand in. The once grand New England veranda with rows of wooden rocking chairs have long wasted away into weedy piles of debris. There are no signs, no historical markers, no identity.

So, what was this place? And what happened here? Though you can’t tell by looking at it, this is all that remains of Hyde Manor, a once grand antebellum hotel in the Vermont countryside, now a collection of rotting bones that are slowly turning to dust upon the ground it sits on.

But even in decay, Hyde Manor still retains its elegance. You don’t even have to question that this place was once magnificent. But why was it left to waste away? To get a good idea of what happened, you need to know a little about its past. And through extensive research online, I was able to get a basic idea of the picture.

Hyde Manor’s origins began as something much more humble and can be traced back to around 1798, as a small stagecoach stop known as Mills Tavern, back when the busy state route out front was a muddy and arduous stage road. In 1801, Pitt Hyde bought the tavern and 47 surrounding acres.

The tavern was eventually passed down to Pitt Hyde’s son, James. Overtime, James began holding all night Yankee balls at the tavern which turned out to be a huge success and developed a loyal customer base, as well as becoming a landmark. As time passed, James wanted to do more than run a tavern, and decided to expand. Eventually, he would open Hyde’s Hotel. His timing was impeccable, as a train station and a new canal in nearby Whitehall, New York soon made the region more accessible to wealthy tourists. Hyde’s property also had a tourism magnet of the time, mountain springs, which at the time were thought to possess healing properties that could cure the sick and the mentally ill. If your business advertised these moot claims – you were almost guaranteed to draw crowds. Hyde took advantage of these situations and began marketing his hotel as a destination, especially for those living in the dirty urban metropolises of the northeast looking for respite and peace of mind in bucolic Vermont.

When a fire destroyed the original building in 1862, the Hyde’s decided to rebuild. But this time, James was riding on the silver tides of great expectations and envisioned something grander – a showpiece! Something to secure the Hyde family legacy. By 1865, the stately Italianate building that still stands today was erected with no expenses spared. Hyde’s bravado paid off. The resort’s popularity only continued to grow in the antebellum years.

By the turn of the century, the hotel was passed down to James’ son Arunah, or “A.W.,” Hyde, and he began to expand the property once more. Now, the name was officially changed to Hyde Manor.

I was fortunate enough to be given a scanned copy of an original 1901 promotional booklet on Hyde Manor. It’s old photos speaking through the antebellum haze, and gave me a startling impression of what it used to be like.

The capacity was advertised as 250 guests, and the buildings were state of the art in terms of luxury of the day. They were gas heated, with wide hallways containing public and private parlors. Many guest rooms were equipped with private baths, electric buzzers for communication purposes, and as fire escapes and a round the clock watchman, just in case. People looking for more intimate accommodations could stay in one of the cottages or farmhouses around the property, a few which are still standing today.

The property and its many buildings were connected by a series of broad piazzas, lined with the classic New England postcarded hotel image of wooden rocking chairs arranged in symetrically neat rows, offering wide views of sloping lawns which were once shaded by Maples and Elms, looked out over the distant silhouettes of the Adirondacks. At night, the grand piazzas were the perfect place to take in the soft summer air.There was a private boathouse on nearby Lake Hortonia, with complimentary stage coach service, as well as a private lake sitting at the top of the hill behind the manor, Lake Hinkum, which was stocked with trout for the fisherman.

The mountain springs which flowed on the property contained iron and sulphur, and were bottled for the guests enjoyment. There was even a spring house connected to the property by a wide plank deck, where guests could obtain it’s bottled water, free of charge.

The brochure boasted the superlative “every attraction has been given to the amusement of life of Hyde Manor”, and from what I was able to research, they weren’t over selling themselves. Other attractions include a casino, equipped with a stage for live performances. There was a billiards room where men could retire with a cigar and a drink at the end of the day. There was also a dark room for photographers, and 2 bowling alleys equipped with Narraganset Standard alleys. There was a music hall that could seat 300 people, mail service, a telegraph office, a 200 acre golf course across the road, a ski hill in the winter (at the golf course) tennis courts, baseball diamonds and shuffleboard courts.

Hyde Manor became such a well known destination that old maps began printing the name Hyde Manor on them, as if it were the town itself, and sometimes, the town of Sudbury wouldn’t even be included. Even until a few years ago, I recall atlases including Hyde Manor on the map.

A brief conversation with the owner on the front lawn uncovered the enigma of Hyde Manor’s post mortem. When the World War 2 era rolled in, automobile and airplane travel began increasing rapidly, bringing independence and broadening traveling options. The Hyde’s assumed this would be great for business, but ironically, that turned out to be exactly what killed the hotel. Now that people could come and go more freely, it made long stays in one place unnecessary. Soon, a new icon of Americana made its début, chain hotels. Hotels like Holiday Inns and Howard Johnsons, which began appearing in the 1950s, became instantly popular, and travelers were all about modern conveniences. Hyde Manor was now seen as out of date. The Hyde’s sold the property in 1962, and in the last years of its former life, the manor operated as a resort called “The Top of The Seasons”. Unfortunately, the hotel suffered a slow and painful death until 1970 when it closed it’s doors for good. According to a few who were kind enough to share their memories, around the time of its closing, they recalled the hotel being a little dingy and dirty.

The family couldn’t afford to fix it up, and can’t afford to tear it down. Over time, maintenance became a bill they couldn’t afford, and the state of Vermont barred any attempts at resurrecting the property due to defeating changes in zoning and building code regulations. Hyde Manor still has lead paint and asbestos and now, has deteriorated to such an extent that it is impossible to save.

Years of abandonment and neglect have really worn out the old hotel. Most of the smaller buildings that surrounded the manor have almost completely fallen over, and the main house itself is in an extremely sorry state. Mother nature is slowly reclaiming what was once hers, as trees and vines ensnare the hotel more with every year. It’s a vision that would make misery so proud.

Ever since my first visit, I’ve been coming back. During this time, I’ve witnessed it waste away in front of me. Narrow hallways, fleeting shadows, guest rooms painted in vibrant pallets have all faded. Admittedly, all my visits to Hyde Manor have left me surprised. While at first I pictured this grand Vermont resort with airy and spacious rooms done in handmade craftsmanship, I was instead greeted with claustrophobia and a rambling layout that was more like a fun house than a grand hotel. All of the intoxicating features that my scanned brochure all advertised (quite successfully) were untraceable, much to my disappointment. There was no long narrow amusement hall, no bowling alley, no barber shop, no springs house. But, the springs, which are much older than the manor, can still be found alongside the back of the property in a ravine wild with scrub and low growth.

Walking through dark and silent hallways as my feet crunched over plaster dust created an atmosphere that would feel more at home in a dream I once had. The smell of mold, rot and stale air was nauseating. Its cosmetic wounds are destructive. Where rain and snow have infiltrated through the broken ceiling, the rot is spreading rapidly like blood veins up the walls. What hasn’t collapsed yet has mercifully adapted the colors of deterioration into the already striking palette of its walls, the foul smells eagerly communicating with passing visitors. But this show is just beginning. Doors hang off their hinges, dressers fall through weak floors and peeling wallpaper provides makeshift curtains for shifting walls. And it will only get better.

Inside, it’s hard not to feel humbled here. You’re walking around the ruins of the grand dream of someone you’ve never met, now left for you to discover and make your own.

You want to make a place like Hyde Manor your own, it practically invites it. To take pictures, to explore, to be inspired. It’s an irresistible impulse. And that’s what I live for. While the chaotic world outside somehow still exists, inside these forsaken locations is another world entirely that exists in perpetual haze, something you can take with you or leave behind. But while urban explorers like myself love this feeling, others hate it. Property owners, police officers and concerned neighbors who hate the attention, who hate how we wallow in their despairs, picking at the scars. And if you get hurt inside, there are chances your isolation may be your own demise.

The building has sadly aged into such a dangerous state of decrepitude now that passage inside is unsafe, only the brave or wild hearted make their entry through a broken window to communicate with its valiant ghosts that salivate from their tongues as you make your way through the wreckage. Hyde Manor grew up lonesome and one of a kind, and it seems that in death, the same can be said. Its cherished memories of former guests that have long turned into dust and forsaken artifacts underneath crumbling ceilings that won’t be saving its soul anymore.

Hyde Manor in its heyday:

Hyde Manor

Hyde Manor

From the Hyde Manor promotional booklet, 1901

Hyde2 Hyde4 Hyde6 Hyde8 Hyde10 Hyde11 Hyde13 Hyde14 Hyde17 Hyde18 Hyde19 Hyde21 Hyde24

image

A signed A. W. Hyde letter from Hyde manor 1886 – courtesy of Joel VanPatten, who kindly sent me a scan via email.

Hyde Manor today

The images below were taken over my various visits to Hyde Manor, ranging roughly from 2009, to 2013. Some photos have never been posted before, others have been re-edited. Some of these photos were taken way back in my past life, when I was learning how to use a camera, and coming to a realization that I wanted to become the person I am today, and therefore may not be my best quality as my recent posts, but the ones I’ve uploaded are passable in my opinion – and more importantly to me – help tell a story. Hope you enjoy.

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The last standing wall of the former restaurant, which was once raved about in travel guide books. In 1850, Benson Lossing wrote in The Field Guide to the American Revolution, exclaimed that “a table equaled to Hyde’s” has become a proverbial expression of praise among tourists, for it is his justifiable boast that he spreads the choicest repasts that are given between Montréal and New Orleans. ” The restaurant was one of the first parts of the manor to collapse and is now a twisted indistinguishable pile of rotten building materials.

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This section of the hotel was known as "The Terrace Suites", an out building of the main house with rooms that featured entrances on an outdoor terrace area - the focal point being a stone adorned fountain area.

This section of the hotel was known as “The Terrace Suites”, an out building behind the main house with rooms that featured entrances on an outdoor terrace area – the focal point being a stone adorned fountain area.

The imprint of the old fountain, with it's turquoise painted containment pool still detectable through dead leaves.

The imprint of the old fountain, with its turquoise painted containment pool still detectable through dead leaves.

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One of the terrace suites, patio facing.

One of the terrace suites, patio facing.

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The former men's cigar lounge, identified by it's 8 sided structure and dramatic peaked roof, is one of the very few restored buildings on the property.

The former men’s cigar lounge, identified by it’s 8 sided structure and dramatic peaked roof, is one of the very few restored buildings on the property.

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This has to be one of my favorite pictures I’ve taken. In 2011, a massive crack was heard bellowing through the Sudbury woods, followed by a hideous collapse that startled wildlife and neighboring residences. When the dust settled, the pieces of the puzzle were revealed. Part of Hyde Manor’s second floor had finally given way, due to years of water damage and rot. When that gave, the upper floors tumbled down with it, creating a huge hole in the front of the building – a landscape of vibrant exposed wallpapers and hanging doors. This picture was taken from the first floor, through the chunk of a former doorway of a guest room that had settled near the staircase. Through the door, it gives you a bizarre perspective of the 2nd and 3rd floors, and the individual guest rooms (or what’s left of them)

This has to be one of my favorite pictures I’ve taken. In 2011, a massive crack was heard bellowing through the Sudbury woods, followed by a hideous collapse that startled wildlife and neighboring residences. When the dust settled, the pieces of the puzzle were revealed. Part of Hyde Manor’s second floor had finally given way, due to years of water damage and rot. When that gave, the upper floors tumbled down with it, creating a huge hole in the front of the building – a landscape of vibrant exposed wallpapers and hanging doors. This picture was taken from the first floor, through the chunk of a former doorway of a guest room that had settled near the staircase. Through the door, it gives you a bizarre perspective of the 2nd and 3rd floors, and the individual guest rooms (or what’s left of them)

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Hyde Manor, October 2016

This really choked me up.
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To all of my amazing fans and supporters, I am truly grateful and humbled by all of the support and donations through out the years that have kept Obscure Vermont up and running.

As you all know I spend countless hours researching, writing, and traveling to produce and sustain this blog. Obscure Vermont is funded entirely on generous donations that you the wonderful viewers and supporters have made. Expenses range from internet fees to host the blog, to investing in research materials, to traveling expenses. Also, donations help keep me current with my photography gear, computer, and computer software so that I can deliver the best quality possible.

If you value, appreciate, and enjoy reading about my adventures please consider making a donation to my new Gofundme account or Paypal. Any donation would not only be greatly appreciated and help keep this blog going, it would also keep me doing what I love. Thank you!

Gofundme: https://www.gofundme.com/b5jp97d4

Donate Button with Credit Cards