At ‘This Place in History’, we’re in Waterbury with Executive Director of the Vermont Historical Society Steve Perkins.
“We’re going to try and get everyone outside and enjoying Vermont as we roll into the fall here. We’re going to explore this history hike. We’re going to look at abandoned hill farms in Vermont. This is indicative of what you’re going to find throughout the Green Mountains. But, this here is all preserved as a nice hike. It’s easily accessible. So I think it’s going to be something we can show our viewers and they’re going to go love to do it themselves,” explained Perkins.
“The Gideon Ricker farm was 250 acres. The original house was built in the 1830s. He purchased the land in 1839 for $1,500. He added a two-family house. In the main barn, the ridgepole was a single 84-foot spruce log that was cut right here on Ricker Mountain. The cow barn was 120 feet long. So, if you can imagine that within this landscape,” said Perkins.
“I can’t imagine farming here. I think we can imagine the challenges. You’re on a mountain in Vermont so your growing season is really short. The side of the hill doesn’t have much soil depth. So when you’re thinking about farming and pulling those nutrients out of the soil on a regular basis, especially in the 19th Century, this didn’t work.”
“Then, anytime there was a big flood, it would just wash that topsoil away. Though there were a lot of farms and a lot of people living here in this area, relatively speaking, it was tough. I don’t want to use the word vibrant. It was not a vibrant community. It was a tough life. They did everything. They had cows, they had dairies. They had maple sugar. They did a lot of logging. It really was subsitence farming,” said Perkins.
“I think a lot of people who come visit Little River know about the reservoir and they go, ‘oh, they just flooded out all the farms’. So yes, there are farms underneath the reservoir, but they were long gone.”
“By the time World War I rolled around, so we’re talking 1917, 1918, most of this area was abandoned. I think the last person left in the early 1920s. And it started to get bought up by the power companies, what later become Green Mountain Power, thinking that they would build a dam for hydroelectric, so they wanted all of the watershed. By the time the reservoir was built, there were no farms here. Everyone had just left and all that’s left are cellar holes,” said Perkins.
“There’s a lot of equipment buried in the woods here, too. And even cemeteries. There are three cemeteries just on this hike alone. They’re very readable. So you can see there’s one right beyond the Ricker house and you can see who was buried there and when. And then the roads themselves. A lot of these hiking trails are roads. If you can imagine riding in a horse and carriage on these mountain roads and you can see the stone walls running up and down either side.”
“So for me, I love it. It’s a great place to come and you can just imagine no trees, farms, and people living off this land and now it’s a wilderness,” 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.