Tag Archives: Vermont

Road Trip, Part Two: Road to Ruin

I drove through south central Vermont towards the Hudson River Valley on roads still-ravaged by Hurricane Irene, a year ago, and along riverbeds of displaced rocks.  Not all was perfect and picturesque in the Green Mountain State; there has obviously been a lot of suffering.  There were poignant messages spray-painted on boarded-up houses:  why, Irene?

I checked in at my brother’s house in Rhinebeck, New York and we planned our itinerary for the next day:  first up, one of the most famous of the grand Hudson River Valley ruined mansions:  Wyndcliffe, built in an imposing Romanesque Revival style in 1853 by Edith Wharton’s paternal aunt, Edith Schermerhorn Jones (1810-1876).  Wyndcliffe has been in a state of decline for 50 years or so, and is now nearly ready to come down.  We approached it on a road marked private (in very small letters), and a very nice Kevin Kline-esque man reproached us, more for our own safety than any territorial inclination:  the “structure” does look like it could collapse at any moment and he said people had been going into it at night. We quickly took a few photographs and left, with additional protective neighbors watching us like guardians.

There are several stories swirling around Wyndecliffe.  It was the first of the really ostentatious, over-the-top mansions in the region: 24 rooms, terraced gardens on 80 acres, Norman-esque tower, elaborate brickwork.  It is said (again and again, although I could not find a contemporary source) that the house represented such a flagrant display of wealth that it inspired the phrase keeping up with the Joneses.  Better documented are Edith Jones Wharton’s visits to the house, which she did not particularly care for, but nonetheless used as a setting for at least one of her books, Hudson River Bracketed.  After her aunt’s death, the house became known as “Linden Grove” and “Linden Hall” with the tenure of industrial brewer Andrew Finck, whose descendants owned the property until 1927.  After that, a serious of owners (including a group of Hungarian nudists!) oversaw its slow but steady decline.

The house in its heyday, and in a series of exterior and interior photographs taken in 1975 by Jack E. Boucher, photographer for the Historic American Buildings Survey, Library of Congress:

And some pictures from yesterday, most of which were taken by my brother as I had forgotten to charge my camera battery!  The house is definitely beginning to cave in on itself (although the pictures above illustrate that this has been happening for some time) but maintains that strong sense of dignity and presence often apparent at the very end.


Road Trip, Part One

My husband is preoccupied with a kayak fishing tournament, my house is being painted, and my street (finally–the last time was in the early 1970s by all accounts!) is being paved:  it was time to get out of town.  So off I went yesterday, on a circular tour of New Hampshire, Vermont, (a bit of) New York and Western Massachusetts.  That’s the thing about New England:  it is small, and you can cover a lot of ground–even when you only travel on routes marked “A” and stop at every historical marker, as is my inclination. I drove leisurely towards my childhood home of Strafford, Vermont, perhaps the most picturesque village on the planet, and then poked around central Vermont for a bit.

Strafford Meeting House, built 1799 with additions of belfry and tower in 1832.  As a child, I lived in the shadow of this amazing building, described in a 1959 HABS report as “a well-preserved, severe, wooden structure on an imposing site”.  Severe indeed.  Often mistaken as a church, it has served in a secular function for most of its life, and I remember:  rummages sales, plays, and of course town meetings.

The Meeting House yesterday and in a 1959 HABS photograph, Library of Congress, along with a 1964 cover of Vermont Life (my little brother and I were actually on a cover about 10 years later, but I can’t find it!)

My childhood memory of Thetford, next to Strafford, is of a town of brick houses.  It did not disappoint, although there were some non-brick houses too.  These two neighboring houses were perfect, and perfectly situated on lovely grounds.

The corn is high in central Vermont::

The Cornish-Windsor Covered Bridge, linking the New Hampshire town of Cornish and the Vermont town of Windsor, is one of the longest covered bridges in the United States.  It was built in 1866 and substantially rebuilt in the 1980s. Also in Windsor (actually I guess the bridge is actually in Cornish) is the Old Constitution House, where the constitution of the Vermont Republic was signed in 1777 , in effect until Vermont was admitted to the US as the fourteenth state in 1791.

On to Woodstock, where I spent the night. You could spend several days in Woodstock:  there are shops, restaurants, the Billings Farm & Museum,the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historic Park, and countless amazing houses.  It is yet another one of those achingly beautiful towns in Vermont, but also a busy and obviously wealthy one.  It’s a “shire town”, or county seat, to use the term we use in the rest of New England. Vermont is always a little bit different, perhaps because of its brief republican experiment.

Woodstock:  houses, another bridge, and a case of vintage tins in FH Gillingham & Sons General Store.


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