This Place in History: Mount Holly Railroad

Morning Show

MOUNT HOLLY, Vt.

At ‘This Place in History’, we’re in Mount Holly with Executive Director of the Vermont Historical Society Steve Perkins.

“I am so excited. We’re talking about mammoth tusks, the mixing of waters and railroad history. So it’s great. We’re going to be joined by Dennis Devereux, who is the chairman of the Mount Holly Historical Society, 40 years of experience with this organization. So he’s going to tell us all about it.”

First up, the mammoth tusk. In 1848, a railroad construction crew working to link Burlington and Boston, made a shocking discovery right in Mount Holly.

“They discovered 11 feet down, the mammoth tusk and tooth. They were digging in the swampy area to find bedrock to build a base that would hold the weight of the railroad. So they knew they had something important and it was passed on and saved, and ended up at the University of Vermont. That was in the summer of 1848. And by the summer of 1849, the railroad was completed and the last spike was driven here,” began Devereux. 

To celebrate the completion of this important thoroughfare, the mayors of Burlington and Boston brought hard cider and rum to drink. Water from Lake Champlain and the Boston Harbor was mixed and poured on the train’s cowcatcher.

“Why was this spot important to transportation? Why didn’t they put the road two miles to the south or three miles to the north?” asked Perkins.

“Because this was the lowest point crossing the Green Mountains. They had to get across the Green Mountains at some point, and supposedly, this one of the lowest spots. The grade, the surveyors and engineers knew that this was a good place to come through, even with the swamps,” answered Devereux.

“[Before the railroad, transporting goods] was hard. It was hard to get goods anywhere. But it opened up the markets even more. They said by the 1890s, Mount Holly sent more agricultural products, milk and cattle, and stuff like that, south than almost any other town in Vermont,” said Devereux.

If you’re keeping tabs, that’s a mammoth tusk and tooth and a vital stretch of railroad, but that’s not all that pops up in Mount Holly’s unique history.

“Over at the Summit Station, near where we were, was also a mineral spring, the Green Mountain Mineral Spring, and it was discovered several years after the Civil War, soon after they had blasted for the railroad to come through in the 1848 period. They realized that this water had medicinal purposes. They were drinking it. It was warmer than it should have been, and it’s just recently been tested. So we’ll have more information on that soon from the Columbia University geologists that met with me last year,” explained Devereux.

“We are in the Perkins House Museum in the village of Belmont in Mount Holly, Vermont. Now, no relation to me, but really a cool place and we’re going to do a little exploring,” said Perkins.

“Obviously, [in here] you can find the mammoth tusk here on the wall and a cast imitation, very old, of the tooth and information about the mammoth. Also, you can find murals done about 15 years ago by our art class at the elementary school. You’re going to see a lot of stuff here about Mount Holly history, more than just railroad history,” concluded Devereux.

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 markers, click here.

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