For our week in the Green Mountains of Vermont, we choose a campground about 40 miles south of Montpelier. From here we could access the two National Parks in the area, as well as, Lake Champlain and the Green Mountains. The trip west from New Hampshire was slow as it was all mountain roads. The truck handled the pull well, although I am still concerned about the noise it makes when the turbo kicks in. The garage in Bangor said it was all working correctly, but it is making noise that we have not heard before. Whether this is because we are in the mountains or something is not right is beyond me. It seems to have enough power for the task. The most interesting part of the trip was when we got to within a mile of the campground on Interstate 89. The exit was blocked so they could paint the lines and we had to go another 10 miles to the next exit. We got turned around and traveled the 10 miles back to our exit only to be stopped on the Vermont 66 with road construction as they were repaving the highway. After waiting over 20 minutes we were finally allowed to continue on the one-lane traffic to within 100 feet of the campground down a side road. There was no way we could make the turn onto the side road with the paving equipment in the way, so we had to continue on down the highway. After winding down a steep grade the GPS unit found a place we could loop around to head back to the campground. It was nothing more than a U-shaped short road that was perfect for turning around, so we stopped so we could both go the bathroom. There is certainly some advantage to hauling a bathroom around with you! Once we climbed back up the hill we found the paving equipment had now moved enough so we could make the turn and we finally got to the campground. It took around 45 minutes to make this last mile!! The Lake Champagne Campgrounds had a nice pull through site for us which gave a great view of the Green Mountains across the valley. We had come from a campsite nestled in the trees in New Hampshire to a grassy open campsite with a great view in Vermont. I loved them both!! The only disadvantage to this campsite was the walk to the bathrooms, which was down a steep hill to their private Lake Champagne, which is a swimming hole for the campgrounds. While the lake was very nice and the restrooms very clean and modern, the hike back up the hill was not pleasant every morning. This was also the location for the laundry facilities so Kal got to spend some extended time there. For some reason the entrance into the washers and dryers was through the men’s restroom. Thankfully, the bathroom was separated into a changing area for those using the lake with another door into the restroom itself. Still, it was a strange arrangement.
On Tuesday, it rained most of the day, so Kal got the laundry done and I got caught up on this blog. Can’t see much of the view when it is raining and foggy, but we both enjoyed the peace and quiet. It did clear off by the evening, so we got to look at the stars. We are finally far enough away from city lights with no trees blocking the view and got a terrific view of the night sky with no moon. We both could finally see the Milky Way, which we have both been looking for since we got to Maine. This was a sight neither of us had seen since we were growing up in Kansas.
We had two National Parks to visit in the area, so on Wednesday we headed southeast, back into New Hampshire, to visit the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site. If you are into art you are probably aware of Saint-Gaudens and the Cornish community in New Hampshire. Augustus Saint-Gaudens was one of the most famous American sculptors in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, most notably for bronze Civil War memorials. Some of his most famous works are the Farragut Memorial in Madison Square Park, the Shaw Memorial on the Boston Commons, the General Logan statue in Chicago, the General Sherman Memorial in Central Park, the Seated Lincoln statue in Chicago. He also designed the $20 double eagle gold coin that was minted from 1905-1907. His home near Cornish, New Hampshire, was his summer home, which he called Aspet, until he was diagnosed with stomach cancer in 1905 and moved to Cornish year round. Saint-Gaudens at heart was a teacher and employed a large group of artisans and students over the years who worked at the large studios he built on the property. Today there are over 100 works of art produced by Saint-Gaudens and his workers which includes a second casting of his most famous pieces. So you can either travel all over the country to view his works or simply come to Cornish where you can view them in a peaceful garden settings instead of noisy downtown areas. We took advantage of a tour of Aspet and since we were the only ones on the 10:00 tour we had our guide to ourselves. Originally the home was a Federal style inn, that Saint-Gaudens spent a lot of time and money modifying over the years. They put in an interesting central spiral staircase with a small landing half-way up that was used as the office for his wife, Augusta, who ran the estate and was a fine painter on her own. We also took advantage of a tour of the grounds which provided some interesting details about the many works to be found there. For instance, while the bronze statue of Admiral Farragut is a second casting, the base is the original stone foundation. It was moved to Cornish in order to protect it from the elements as it was carved in blue-stone that turned out to be too soft to hold up for long. In addition, the Shaw Memorial is the fourth iteration of the memorial on the Boston Commons, as he was not satisfied with the original and continued to work on it. Therefore, there are some definite differences that our tour guide pointed out.
After eating lunch we started to take a short hike down the Ravine Trail and stopped off at the Ravine Studio, which is a small studio where they invite guest artists. While we were there the artist was in the final process of designing a medallion of Lincoln to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the site next year. At this stage the work was in clay and he was positioning a number of very small oak leaves around the central figure of Lincoln. We had a very interesting discussion about art and traveling before we made our exit to the nature trail. The trail goes along Blow-Me-Up Brook to the swimming hole they built with a small dam. The name of the brook is actually a play-on-words since it flows into Blow-Me-Down Brook which carries the same name as the farm next to the property, that is also part of the Historic Site today.
On Thursday we spent another day in the campground with rain again in the afternoon.
The weather on Friday promised to be better, at least in the morning, so we headed south once more to the only National Park in Vermont, the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historic Site at Woodstock, Vermont. These are the three owners of the property and it commemorates the beginning of the Conservation Movement that led to the Environmentalist Movement of today. The first owner, George Perkins Marsh grew up on the small farm of his father during the hey-day of logging. After the trees were clearcut from the mountain sides, much of the cleared land was then used for sheep ranches. In fact, this area was the leading producer of wool in the country for about 50 years. Marsh saw first hand the impact of large scale logging and sheep with the resulting erosion, loss of topsoil, and massive floods that ended the fishing industry as well. As the forests were cut, the local population lost their source of income since the mountains were not suitable for farming and began to move out of the area. George Marsh was well educated getting degrees from Dartmouth College and practicing law in Burlington. He eventually became a US Senator from Vermont and ambassador to the Ottoman Empire in Turkey. While there he traveled extensively in Turkey and saw the long term impact of continuous land use on what was once the fertile valleys of the Middle East. Later he became the minister in Italy where he wrote the book “Man and Nature” which expanded on his life-long observations of the impact man has on the environment and the need for planned conservation. He never returned to his boyhood home in Vermont and while in Italy his brother sold the property to Frederick Billings. By this point there was little left of beauty in the area and the local economy was in dire straits. Billings had also grown up in northern Vermont and was well educated with degrees from the University of Vermont. In 1848 he joined the gold rush in California and made his fortune as one of the first lawyers dealing with land claims of the miners. Upon returning to Vermont he wanted to improve the conditions in his home state and bought Marsh’s homestead with plans to revitalize the land and local economy. Being familiar with the book Marsh wrote, he adopted the best sustainable farming practices at the time and brought in prized Jersey cows from England to create a state-of-the art dairy farm. Along with conservation methods for sustainable farming practices he created a model farm that was copied throughout the area. He also took on the task of reforesting Mount Tom using experimental methods of natural regeneration and planting. Since the practice of sustainable forestry was not yet began in America, he borrowed practices from Europe and applied them on his property. There were no nurseries in North America, so his plantings were initially using seedlings shipped from Europe. Consequently the oldest planted stands are Norway spruce, Scots pine and European larch. Later he also planted stands of white pine, red pine, sugar maple, and beech. To continue his legacy, he requested his children to keep the property intact and continue to care for it after his death. Through two generations they continued to improve on his practices when his granddaughter, Mary French, married Laurance Rockefeller. Laurance was the son of John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and, like his father, had a great love of philanthropy and conservation. For many years Laurance and Mary were involved in conservation efforts around the country and the establishment or expansion of many National Parks, of which their summer home in Woodstock, Vermont, became one small example. Today the Billings Farm is operated by a non-profit organization that has a nice museum and tours of the farm, which is located just across the highway from the National Historic Site. We opted not to tour the farm as I was more interested in the homestead and forestry practices. We did sign up for a tour of the house which has a number of very interesting features. The most striking are the number of large oil paintings of western landscapes, including Yosemite. You can also see that the idea of conservation extended into the house through the reuse of older furniture to make new pieces. For instance, when they installed bay windows in the library they reused the bookshelves and made cabinets out of them. The Rockefellers did not make very many changes to the house, including the furnishings, except for the addition of bathrooms in each of the upstairs bathrooms. While our tour guide was very knowledgeable and talked about a number of the interesting features, it was great that we were joined by a daughter of the sister of Mary French who told a lot of great stories of spending summer vacations in the house with “Granny”.
After lunch ate in the parking lot, we took off to explore Mount Tom. As part of the reforestation of Mount Tom, Billings created a large network of carriage roads and trails to provide access to the forests for family, guest, and friends. They owned a fleet of carriages of all types, including two-wheel sulkies, canopied surreys, and two enormous bob sleighs. These are displayed in the carriage barn at the beginning of the carriage roads. I had hoped that we would be able to explore some of the older planted stands of Norway spruce, Scots pine or European Larch, but unfortunately, they were all located some distance from the main carriage road that wound up through natural regenerated stands of mixed northern hardwoods to The Progue, a natural mountain pond that was enlarged by Billings to provide irrigation and power (using turbines). The carriage road up to The Progue was wide and very well maintained making for easy walking, however, the first half mile was pretty steep, at least for us. The entire trail was 1.7 miles long and all uphill, although the grade was much more manageable once we got beyond the first 0.5 miles. We did make it to The Progue, but were both ready to give up any of the side trails and head back to the car. While strenuous, the walk was peaceful and the forests are Mount Tom are beautiful. I should state that this National Historic Site is also unique for one other reason. It is the only National Park that has an active forest management program, as stipulated by Laurance Rockefeller, so you can see evidence of selective cutting as you walk the carriage road.
I had plans to explore Lake Champlain on Saturday, but it was obvious as soon as I got up that Kal was not really interested after the strenuous hike the day before. In addition, we had cable TV which included NBS Sports and it was the opening weekend of EPL football. She was reluctant to miss-out on the opportunity to watch some soccer since we had missed nearly the entire previous season, so we decided to just stay in the campgrounds for the day.
Therefore, on Sunday, we went to explore Lake Champlain, or at least one small part of it since it is over 130 miles long. We drove over to Chimney Point State Historic Site on the shore of Lake Champlain in Vermont. The trip over was a lot of fun as the GPS took us on roads that were not state highways and went over a couple of passes in the Green Mountains. When we descended into the Lake Champlain Valley it was a shock to see an essentially flat landscape that was still 20 miles from the shores of the lake. In fact, the Lake is actually situated within some pretty sizeable hills that rise up out of the valley. We knew that Chimney Point State Historic Site was not very large and that it was the site of an old French fort built prior to the French and Indian War. In fact, what was found was less than we expected. The site consists of an old Inn that dates back to the Revolutionary War or a bit later (it is controversial) that houses a very nice, but small, museum with artifacts found at the site from Native American cultures that date back thousands of years, up through trading with the French trappers and the fort built by the French in 1731. Most of the artifacts were found during the required survey that was conducted before replacing the bridge over to Crown Point, New York in 2011. They are not exactly sure where the original fort was located as it was only a wooden fort that was used for three years before construction of a more permanent fort across the Lake at Crown Point.
After eating lunch we decided that we would have to cross the Lake over to Crown Point and check out the Crown Point State Historic Site in New York. This site was more what we had expected, in fact, it was twice as much because there are the remains of two forts, Fort St Federick built by the French from 1734-1737 and the Fort at Crown Point built by the English in 1759. Through a very good film presentation in the museum we learned a lot about the importance of this location. In colonial times the land route from Montreal to New York came down the St. Laurence River to Lake Champlain. At the south end of the Lake they would portage around the falls to Lake George and from the south end of Lake George portage again to the Hudson River. At the time this land was all wilderness in contention between the Wabanki Confederacy allied with the French and the Iroquois Nation allied with the English. Through three wars the two countries sought to limit access and control this important route leading up to the French and Indian War in 1754-1760. By this time New France had established two forts to control Lake Champlain, Fort St Frederick at Crown Point and Fort Carillon further south at the portage to Lake George. In 1756 and 1757 the English mounted expeditions to capture these forts but never made it even to Fort Carillon. However, in 1758 an English force of 12,000 men attempted a frontal assault on Fort Carillon only to be defeated by a much smaller French force of about 5000 men. The following year, the English again mounted an expedition, this time with 18,000 soldiers, and the French abandoned both Fort Carillon and Fort St. Frederick to retreat to Canada. Fort Carillon became Fort Ticonderoga, but Fort St. Frederick was not rebuilt after being essential blown up by the French. Instead, the British began the construction of the largest fort in North America, initially naming it Fort Amherst before renaming it the Fort at Crown Point. The fort was never completed by the end of the French and Indian War in 1760 and by the time of the Revolutionary War was manned by just a skeletal force. The Green Mountain Boys under Captain Warner were able to easily capture the fort in 1775 supplying 29 of the cannon that General Knox moved overland by sleds in the winter of 1776 to surprise the British occupying Boston. The ruins of both forts can be explored. There is not much remaining of Fort St. Frederick except for some of the walls, the moat, and a pile of stone that was part of the eight sided citadel. This large three story building occupying the north corner inside the fort was a unique feature of this fort that I had never seen before. Unfortunately, there is nothing remaining except for some sketches. They have built a model of the fort in the museum that only serves to heighten the mystery of its purpose. In contrast, the ruins of Crown Point are massive. It is over twice the size of any other forts from the time period I have seen and the amount of work necessary to blast the dry moat around the fort and building the scarp and counter-scarp from this rock is impressive. It was also an experience to stand at the bottom of the moat and look up at the remaining walls trying to imagine the wooden walls that would have extended four times the current height!! The remains of the officer quarters and barracks are also interesting, but it was difficult to envision what they would have looked like at the time. We also crossed the highway to take a quick look at a stone redoubt, one of four, that were built as outer defenses. Although small, it was also an impressive rock foundation blasted out of the limestone foundation. If you like old historical forts, you should definitely take the time to visit these.