Vermont Research News: Railroads, Inns & Cliff Jumping

Vermont Research News: Historic Inns, Railroads & Cliff Jumping

Editors Note: When it comes to telling stories of Vermont’s rich and robust past, nobody does it better than the state’s 191 Historical Societies. In this edition of the Vermont Research News, we bring you some of those stories direct from their archives.

Cavendish: Phineas Gage: Metal rod to the head

One of Cavendish’s most famous residents, Phineas Gage, gained his notoriety through a terrible accident. While working on the Rutland and Burlington Railroad in 1848, an accidental explosion caused a metal rod to rocket through his head. Gage survived this tragic injury, and lived for another 12 years becoming one of the first and most notable case studies on traumatic brain injuries, as documented by the Cavendish Historical Society. To see a photo of Gage post accident, click here.

Poultney: Eureka! The Slate Industry

The Slate industry put the tiny town of Poultney on the map when Daniel Hooker opened the Eureka Quarry in 1852. Local legend has it that the Poultney slate industry was discovered by accident in 1843. A farmer was showing his land to a prospective buyer when the buyer kicked some earth and saw what was underneath it. “Why, that is slate,” the buyer proclaimed. Initially, the Quarry’s most in demand products were school slates and slate pencils. To read about the Poultney slate industry, see thePoultney Vermont Historical Society.

Dorset Quarry – A Jump into History
Vermonters know about the Dorset Quarry for one reason: Cliff Jumping.  However, many don’t realize that it was the first commercial marble quarry to operate in the U.S. Opened in 1785, the Norcross-West Marble Quarry operated for 130 years, according to the Dorset Historical Society The quarry produced marble products, some of the earliest of which were tombstones. Today, its location, right off Highway 30 in Dorset, makes it  accessible to tourists and adventurers.
Barre: The Town Behind a Revolution

In January 1912, nearly ten thousand workers walked out of Lawrence, Massachusetts textile mills in a strike against unfair wages. Over a hundred miles away, 350 citizens of Barre, Vermont met at the Socialist Labor Party Hall to pledge their support – and their funds – to the Lawrence strikers. Read more about this historic strike, and the Vermont townspeople who stood behind it, on the Barre Historical Society website.

Cabot: Sim’s Island: An Island with a History

From an indigenous Canadian seeking refuge amongst supposedly spirit-infested waters, to a military veteran with a taste for alcohol amid prohibition, Sim’s Island, in Joe’s Pond, has been called home by a number of refuge-seekers across the centuries. A page on the Cabot Historical Society details the island’s elaborate history.

Londonderry, Vermont: The Birthplace of “Explosive” Journalism

In 1883, George T. “Sifter John” Shanks, an inexperienced journalist, established the Londonderry Sifter, a weekly newspaper that soon became notorious for its attacks on prominent politicians and businesses. Although Shanks left the paper in 1903 and was later arrested for his “explosive efforts,” the Sifter continued to be published until the mid-1920s. Shanks’ downfall is just one chapter in Londonderry’s past – documented in the Town of Londonderry’s 2012 Town Plan. More about the Sifter’s checkered history can be found at the Vermont Digital Newspaper Project.

St. Albans, Vermont:  Stories, Art and Photos

The St. Albans Bay Storytelling Project, organized by UVM graduate Denise Smith, has sought to “create an intersectional collection of stories about St. Albans Bay.”To view stories, artwork and photographs, or to add your own, see the Saint Albans Museum website.  On June 10, 2018, members of the St. Albans Bay community gathered at Kil Kare State Park to exchange stories about life in and around the Bay. 

Hinesburg: Congressman Matthew Lyon – the Musical

A new full-length musical featuring the speeches of Vermont Congressman Matthew Lyon has been produced by Hinesburg resident John Daly and colleagues. Daly was drawn to this work because the speeches read like “democratic cornerstones.”  Called Spit’n Lyon, an unsung soldier’s song, you can listen to the music here.
Grafton Inn- A Step Back In(n) Time

The Grafton Inn has hosted guests since 1801, making it one of America’s oldest inns.  Originally the home of Enos Lovell, it soon became a center of activity for the growing town. Playing host to many famous characters down the years such as Theodore Roosevelt, Ulysses S. Grant, and Woodrow Wilson, the still-operating inn is steeped in Vermont history—and maintains community partnership with the neighboringGrafton Historical Society.

Woodstock:  The Ski Industry Lifts Off

In 1934, near Woodstock Vermont, the first skier was lifted to the top of Prosper Hill by a mechanized lift—a simple rope tow powered by a Model T engine. While the apparatus cost $500 to manufacture, the multi-billion dollar Eastern Ski industry was born that day. A story at the Woodstock History Center documents this first beginning.

Northfield: The Railroad Here & Gone

In 1849, hometown hero Charles Paine created jobs for hundreds of residents in Northfield with a key transportation link. Vermont Central Railroad, headed by Paine, extended the railroad from Windsor to Burlington—putting the then-struggling town on the map and boosting its prosperity. Not long after, Paine lost control of the railroad and the town suffered a massive setback when the new owners moved the company to St. Albans.  The Northfield Town History chronicles the restoration of the town and the fortunes of its residents. For a story on the history of The Rutland Railroad – see this edition of the MudSeason Podcast.
Middlebury: Oldest Community Museum in the US

The Judd-Harris House, located near Middlebury’s Otter Creek Falls, is home to the Henry Sheldon Museum –the oldest community-based museum in the country. Built in 1829 by quarry owners and marble merchants, Eben Judd and Lebbeus Harris, it is an opulent monument to the marble industry. It features six rare black marble fireplaces and grand marble columns—plus an eclectic collection of artifacts such as 18th and 19th century furniture, household items, bicycles (with Glenn Eames pictured here) and print materials.
BackStory Vermont — Student & Historical Societies

Barbara Banchik, a UVM intern at the Winooski Heritage Museum, touring Gillinghams, a Woodstock Landmark, managed by Jireh Billings and his brother (Jireh pictured here leading the tour). If you are a historical society or a student seeking a rewarding internship at one of the state’s historical societies, museums or other cultural hubs check out

Historical Society Awards

For the past 65 years, the Vermont Historical Society (VHS) has organized the League of Local Historical Societies and Museums (LLHSM) Annual Meeting for a day of learning, networking, and sharing. This year’s meeting was held on a surprisingly snowy day, October 27 in Woodstock, and featured panels and talks and the Local Historical Societies & Museums Achievement Awards.

Award winners included the American Museum of Fly Fishing, the Hartland Historical Society, the Mount Independence Coalition, the Windham County Historical Society, Waterbury Historical Society & Revitalizing Waterbury, Canaan Historical Society, Greensboro Historical Society, Middletown Springs Historical Society, John Fisher of the Vermont French-Canadian Genealogical Society, Bob & Betty Jones of the Waterbury Historical Society, Karen Lane of the Barre Historical Society and Tim Murphy of the Montgomery Historical Society. For a full list of their accomplishments, click here.


Thanks for this edition of the Vermont Research News to the students in Joyce Hendley’s Strategic writing class, namely Skylar Sandler, Gabby Gallicchio, Kyra Chevalier, and Adam Goren.