This Place in History: History in Your Backyard

Vermont Historical Society


At ‘This Place in History’ we’re in Williston, Vt. with Executive Director of the Vermont Historical Society Steve Perkins on a tour of history you can find in your favorite hiking spot, neighborhood or even your own backyard. Behind the lens is Steve’s 13-year-old daughter Celia.

“We’re doing this a little differently today. We’re doing this from home. I’m out in a field behind my home and wanted to talk to you about things you can find to see a bit of history right where you live,” began Perkins.

“So as most people probably don’t know, Vermont was almost entirely tree-free in the 19th Century; that means almost no trees in the entire state of Vermont. Humans had impacted the land in many different ways.”

“Right behind me, we’re looking at a very Vermont thing, a stone wall. Stone walls were found throughout the state. It was an easy way of marking boundaries. You got the stones out of the fields as you cleared them and created somewhat of a boundary for livestock. So, as you’re walking through the woods today, you can find stone walls all over the place. And when you see a stone wall, know that that stone wall in the woods wasn’t in the woods when it was built. It was marking the edge of a field,” added Perkins.

“Now we’re at another feature on the farm. We’re looking at a really old road. But, you can see the landscape falls away and flattens out, right in this spot. Again, as you’re hiking through the woods and looking at these trails, look at how wide they are. Look at where a slope comes down and they flatten and then drop again and you may be looking at old roads. [There are] lots and lots of old roads in Vermont and they’re super fun to explore. You can even get a really old map and follow those old roads as trails through the forest,” explained Perkins.

“Vermont was covered with little towns and villages all through the mountains and the valleys that are no longer there anymore. The people up and left. The buildings are gone, but often you can still find the cellar holes. Look for square depressions in the ground when you’re walking through the forest. But, also, here’s a real tip, look for lilac bushes. Often people of mainly English extraction who were building villages in Vermont put lilac bushes in the corners. They still do that today. It’s really beautiful. But, this is a dead giveaway that this was a cellar hole and not just a sinkhole in the woods.”

“We’re going to end this little tour in a pretty easy one. You can often find old pieces of equipment out in the woods, whether it’s farming equipment or mining equipment. This one, a tree grew right through it. So, a lot of fun things to find as you’re walking through the Vermont woods. Something you can do by yourself to see how people made history right there,” concluded Perkins.

At ‘This Place in History’!

For more from our ‘This Place in History’ series, click here.

To view a map of Vermont’s roadside historic site markers, click here.

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