What a Difference a State Makes!

Wednesday, May 02, 2012 Road Junkies 0 Comments

On the History Highway, Day 49:  Brattleboro, VT to Saratoga Springs, NY

Yesterday we put our nightmare and Manchester, NH, behind us and drove to Brattleboro, VT, where we had spent some time a couple of years ago on a trip through this area.  Rain fell all day, and while that normally wouldn't keep us from letterboxing, we both had projects that needed attention.  So we spent much of the day in our hotel room and took a break from sightseeing and letterboxing.

This morning we were ready to hit the road, and locating a placement for our Vermont letterbox was at the top of our priority list.  Our first attempt was at the Dummerston covered bridge, built in 1872.  While we found the bridge fascinating, there was no safe place to hide the box without risk of its dropping down into the West River, so we pressed on.

Dummerston Covered Bridge
Our next idea for the letterbox was the village of Newfane (pop. 116).  Centered around a village green, the town features a collection of white clapboard buildings in the Greek Revival style with dark green shutters and trim.  This architectural consistency and the town's meticulous maintenance of these 19th century structures earned the village a listing on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.

Windam County Court House in Newfane
Though we found the compact village charming and attractive, there were no quiet corners where someone might locate a letterbox unobserved.  We found no park or cemetery near the village center, so we moved on, still searching for the perfect spot for our homeless letterbox.

Townshend State Park Visitor Center
Finally we chanced upon Townshend State Park located at the foot of Bald Mountain on a bend in the West River.  A project of the New Deal era's Civilian Conservation Corps, the park was completed in 1938.  Stones quarried from the surrounding forest were used to construct the visitor center.

The park provided the perfect setting for a letterbox home—rock-strewn hills populated with towering hemlocks and hardwoods.  Since the park is officially open only from Memorial Day to Labor Day, we found a cozy spot close to the entrance, where off-season day users can easily access it.

For the first time on this trip, we had been without cell service for more than an hour as we left the park.  Normally this would not be an issue, but we've become completely dependent on our letterboxing app, Clue Tracker, to locate boxes and access clues.  And having become accustomed to being able to search any time, anywhere, neither of us had saved (for offline use) clues for the places we'd be passing through on our way to New York.

It was still misting rain as we passed through Jamaica, VT, where we knew there were letterboxes.  Still with no service, there was nothing to do but continue driving through the Green Mountains enjoying the stellar scenery.

Finally as we turned back south near Manchester (VT, not NH!), we connected with a cell tower again and immediately searched for letterboxes nearby.  It turned out that Manchester (VT, not NH!) is home to Robert Todd Lincoln's homestead, Orvis, and lots of letterboxes.

Our first letterboxing stop in Manchester (VT, not NH!) was Dellwood Cemetery, a beautiful graveyard with burials dating back to the early 1800s.  We ran into the cemetery superintendent while there and he told us that the graveyard was originally in the center of town, but in the late 1700s, someone donated this piece of property to the city for a cemetery, so a group of women in the town banded together to disinter the folks in the original burial yard and move their remains and headstones to the new site.  He also pointed out some interesting markers, such as the angel erected by a grieving wife after her husband committed suicide following the 1929 stock market crash.

Dellwood Cemetery
When we finished letterboxing and exploring the cemetery, we went next door to Hildene, the summer home of Robert Todd Lincoln from 1905 to his death in 1926.  The house was home to Lincoln's descendents until 1975, when it was willed to the Christian Science Church.   After the church was unable to afford the upkeep on the 500-acre estate, a group of local residents banded together to keep Hildene out of the hands of developers.

Robert Todd Lincoln's Hildene
Trained as a lawyer, Abraham Lincoln's only child to survive to adulthood practiced law in Chicago, eventually becoming general counsel to the Pullman Palace Car Company, manufacturer of the luxury "sleeping car" for railroads.  Upon the death of founder George Pullman, Lincoln became president of the company and served in that capacity until his death in 1926.

In a very odd coincidence, Robert Todd Lincoln was once saved from injury or even death by Edwin Booth, the brother of John Wilkes Booth, who would later assassinate Lincoln's father.  The incident occurred shortly before Abraham Lincoln's assassination.  In Jersey City, New Jersey, Robert Todd Lincoln stood among a group of passengers waiting to board a train.  The train began to move, and Lincoln was pressed by the crowd over the edge of the platform and might have fallen under the train had he not been grabbed by the collar and jerked back upon the platform by Edwin Booth, a famous actor of the day.

As Lincoln described the scene:  "Upon turning to thank my rescuer I saw it was Edwin Booth, whose face was of course well known to me, and I expressed my gratitude to him, and in doing so, called him by name." 

Hildene Garden
Behind Lincoln's Hildene house was a formal garden, a gift from Lincoln's daughter Jessie to her mother.  Jessie envisioned the garden as an American version of the French parterre, with closely-cropped privet hedges laid out to resemble a stained glass window when seen from her mother’s second floor sitting room. Each section of the garden would bloom in a different color.

After touring the house and garden for two hours (and finding some letterboxes there), we finally made our way to a local restaurant, Spiral Cafe, for lunch about 3:45.  They served a great healthy meal, giving us the opportunity to leave Manchester (VT not NH!) with just the boost we needed to send us on our way to New York.

We headed toward Saratoga Springs, finding a few letterboxes along the way, and checked in at our hotel around seven.

More Photos from Today

Do you flip a coin to determine which way to park?
Kitchen scene at Hildene
Linen closet at Hildene
Hildene's player organ and some of its 250 song rolls
Abe Lincoln's stovepipe hat on exhibit at Hildene (one of only three existing)
One of Vermont's smoooooth unpaved roads