At ‘This Place in History’, we’re on top of Mt. Philo with Executive Director of the Vermont Historical Society Steve Perkins.
“The Vermont Historical Society just published a new book, ‘Secrets of Mt. Philo,’ and the author Judy Chaves is going to join us and show us some of the hidden gems of Mt. Philo,” explained Perkins.
“People have been using this mountain for a long time. We have records, written records, of people hiking on Mt. Philo that go way back. There are records of people coming up during the Revolutionary War and during the War of 1812 to use the summit as an outlook to see whether ships were coming back and forth on Lake Champlain to sort of gauge how various battles were going. In the 1840s, there was a group that ascended for a rapture experience, the second coming. So people have been hiking on Mt. Philo for quite awhile. In fact, the open rocks, what we consider the main viewpoint now, was probably kept intentionally clear by indigenous people for possibly thousands of years to use it as an outlook,” began Chaves.
“Right now, we’re standing in one of the old original view points that was built in 1901. It’s alongside the original carriage road that right now is a foot path. These railings are original railings established in 1901. And the viewpoints and the carriage road were amenities part of the Mt. Philo Inn. Vermont was being marketed as a very pastoral landscape, unlike the Adirondacks or the White Mountains which were marketing themselves as very rugged,” said Chaves.
“This couple that owned the mountain, James and Frances Humphreys, eventually James died in 1914 and in 1924, Frances gave the mountain to the state. They clearly both loved this mountain and this was the ultimate act of love. It was this generous donation of the mountain to the state to be used as a park. In 1924 when the donation was made, there was no such thing as a state park in Vermont. There were state forests. They date back to about 1910. So they had to come up with a new category for this donation of land that was specifically for recreation and they called it a State Forest Park. So in that way, Mt. Philo in 1924 became the first state park,” explained Chaves.
“Judy, in your book, it’s titled ‘Secrets of Mt. Philo’. So there are a lot of really cool pieces of history that aren’t generally known to the public. Can you take us to see some of that?” asked Perkins.
“Well, we’re standing in one of them right now. Very few people know about. There’s a lookout right here and then there’s one just a little bit up that way. There are other secret places, even more secret than this, hidden away in the woods alongside the road that most people just go right by. They haven’t a clue. For example, there’s a concrete block hidden away in the woods that’s actually the only, as far as I know, the only material evidence of one of the gazebos that was built alongside the carriage road. Hidden away in the woods up in the summit area, there are fireplaces that were built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps. Nobody knows about those. So there are many of these places. In fact, there are elements of the mountain that I still haven’t figured out so there are secrets that still need to be figured out,” concluded Chaves.
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