Operating the museum is difficult during a pandemic. We are unsure as to whether or not we will be able to have our normal fundraisers. This being said, our membership drive is vey important. Dues and donations will be a more important this year. Our regular yearly expenses of approximately $10,000 include heating, alarm system, telephone, insurance, electric service, cleaning, fundraising expenses, lawn mowing, snow removal and guest speakers. In addition to these regular expenses, there are constant maintenance issues with the buildings. We are unsure as to what events will be in our calendar this year. We have planned two outdoor tours for this summer, a Belmont village tour and an old schoolhouse tour. Our annual meeting has been moved from July to August in hope that pandemic restrictions will be eased and a large group gathering will be allowed.
We are offering personal tours of the museums by appointment. Please call Dennis Devereux 259-2460, Paul Nevin 259-2443 or Maggie Blane 259-2983.
Please consider joining the museum. We are always looking for new people to become involved in the keeping of our town’s story. Full time and part time residents both have so much to offer in their knowledge and experiences. We are hoping that this year will be a banner year for membership.
This Place in History: Mount Holly Railroad by: Amanda Thibault Posted: Aug 2, 2018 / 12:25 PM EDT / Updated: Aug 9, 2018 / 01:04 PM EDT
History Space: Woolly mammoth of Mount Holly
Belmont is well served by its historical museum, celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. We are fortunate to have Dennis Devereux, Museum Board chair, greet us at the door and take us through the Perkins House Museum, which comprises the remarkable history of his tiny village. An eighth generation townsman, his family once owned the store, and Dennis has served his fellow citizens in various capacities, even as representative in the state Legislature. He can speak eloquently of the fortunes of his town, which have waxed and waned over the last 200 years.
One marvels at the variety of manufacturers that once flourished in Belmont, dependent on the dam that harnessed the flow of water from Star Lake. “They were mindful of when the sawmill was running,” Devereux remarked, noting that the sawyers, being the first in line to use the hydropower, pretty much determined the flow of water and its availability to those downstream. Devereux described the vitality of the town in the last half of the 19th century.
“The town had the usual sawmills, blacksmith shops, stores, and taverns as most towns between 1810 and 1900. The Chase Toy Factory was located in Mechanicsville, now Belmont, between 1863 and 1887, and employed as many as 45 men. They operated their own sawmill on site, and several rooming houses were needed to rent rooms to the workers during the week. The workers came from many nearby towns and went home on weekends. When the business was sold many of the workers went into farming or carpentry. Some went to work in the woolen mills in Ludlow or the machine shops in Springfield and Rutland. Several cheese factories operated from the 1880s until about 1910. The first, in 1881, was the Crowley Cheese Factory in Healdville, and is now one of the oldest in the country. There were at least four others making cheese at times. By the 1890s tourists began to arrive from southern New England in the summer, and Mount Holly with access by rail saw many of these visitors. The large houses welcomed guests, and this led to the name change in 1911 from Mechanicsville to Belmont.”
But the famous mammoth fossils are the first thing you see when you enter the Perkins House Museum. The remains of a woolly mammoth were discovered there in the mid 19th century and, along with the remnants of the Charlotte whale, redefined Vermont antiquity. It was Devereux who introduced the legislation designating the mammoth tusk and tooth as “The Vermont State Terrestrial Fossil.” While the tooth on display is a merely a cast, the tusk is an actual artifact from a woolly mammoth, a beast that has been extinct for about 12,000 years.
A tooth and a tusk discovered
Timothy Follett, the visionary Vermont shipping magnate, was building the Burlington and Rutland Railroad when, in October of 1848, his predominantly Irish laborers made the first of two remarkable discoveries. In Mount Holly, when preparing to blast a cut where the Summit Railroad station marked the site of the completion of the railroad between Burlington and Boston, parts of a skeleton of an ancient mammoth were uncovered – first a tooth and then, a few days later a tusk.
In a year’s time another remarkable discovery, that of a prehistoric whale in Charlotte, would revolutionize the way Vermonters understood the very creation of their beloved Green Mountains. Vermont’s venerable historian and naturalist Zadock Thompson marveled at the great good fortune of the railroad builders. This true son of the enlightenment reported in the American Journal of Science:
“In addition to the benefits derived directly from railroads in the business of travel and transportation, the cause of science, and particularly the science of geology is deriving indirectly no small advantage from their construction. In grading the line of the Rutland and Burlington Railroad, portions of the skeletons of two large animals, both belonging to the class mammalian, and to families which no longer exist here in a living state, were found deeply buried in the earth, and the bones were for the most part, in a very good state of preservation.”
The notion of an extinct species was new and fascinating to Americans of the early 19th century. Ever since noted artist Charles Wilson Peale exhibited the skeleton of a mastodon in 1801 in Philadelphia, the country had succumbed to “mammoth fever.” The paleontological discovery had been made in Newburgh, New York, and Peale immediately grasped the pecuniary promise of exhibiting the discovery in his personal museum. His charge of 50 cents a viewing (in today’s dollars about $10), allowed Peale to quickly recoup his expenses of mounting the exhibit. It also kindled substantial interest in natural history displays.
When the railroad workers made their singular discovery in Mount Holly, there was, accordingly, widespread interest in the find. In December of 1848 the Rutland Herald reported subsequent discoveries at the Mount Holly excavation.
"We understand that still another draft has been made upon the “mastodon bed” in Mount Holly – and from present appearances, the directors of the Rutland and Burlington Railroad will have to ask for an amendment of the original charter, to enable them to establish, in connection with their road, a museum for the display of ores and minerals, and the exhibition of the fossil remains of antediluvian animals.
We learn that a second horn, seven feet in length, corresponding with the one found some weeks since, taken from the same bed, on the 29th ult., together with a huge rib, and a leg bone, evidently once belonging to the same animal."
Two years after the notable discovery, Zadock Thompson’s scholarly account appeared in the American Journal of Science, America’s premier scientific journal. Thompson described the terrain in which the discovery was made.
"The Rutland and Burlington Railroad passes over the range of Green Mountains in the township of Mount Holly, at the elevation of 1360 feet above the level of the sea. In the notch through which the railroad passes, and very near the dividing point between the waters which flow westward into Lake Champlain and those which run eastward into Connecticut River, there is deep deposit of vegetable muck. The cut for the railroad is through this muck-bed. In making it the workmen, to their great astonishment, found an enormous tooth."
“Vermont’s Official State Fossil”
Follett’s workmen had commenced building the Rutland Railroad in Bellows Falls. Their intent was to traverse the state from east to west before heading north to Burlington, and the route they followed was the same one that the mammoth had most likely traveled millennia before. Jeff Howe’s entertaining history, “The Unlikely Story of Vermont’s Official State Fossil” delineates this progression.
The railroad was following the old Vermont Toll Road, the route that the stage coach between Boston and Burlington had followed. The stage had followed the migratory trail of the native Indians, who had followed the game, who had followed the historical path of least resistance.
In a way, it was inevitable that the railroad gang would find the remains of the ancient beast. In wonder at the size of tusk and giant tooth (the size of a loaf of bread), the field engineer for the railroad line carefully packed the fossil remains and shipped them to the great naturalist Louis Agassiz, then in residence at Harvard University. While Agassiz examined the bones, Thompson surveyed the site and described the situation in which the tooth was discovered.
It was resting upon gravel at the bottom of the muck , which was there about nine feet deep. It was in a very good state of preservation, weighed eight pounds, and measured eight inches transversely across the crown. It was pronounced by Prof. Agassiz to be a grinder of an extinct species of elephant.
Subsequently, as the excavation was continued, the two tusks and several of the bones of this elephant were found.
Thompson later revised some of his original measurements when he published an Appendix to his natural history of Vermont. The elevation of the find was actually 1,415 feet above sea level in a muck basin carved into the bedrock.
The larger basin appears to have originally been filled with water, and to have been a favorite resort for the beaver, a large proportion of the materials which formed the lower part of the muck, consisting of billets of wood, about 18 inches long, which had been cut off at both ends, drawn into the water and divested of the bark by the beavers for food. When first taken out, the marks of teeth upon the wood were as distinct as if they were the work of yesterday.
Thompson noted that the beaver pond had, through the millennia, filled with vegetable matter and, in effect, had become a swamp, on the surface of which, a variety of vegetation was growing. The result was a gelatinous mass which resembles clay in color, but which “when cut in cakes and taken in the hand, would shake and tremble like a mass of jelly.”
In making the excavation for the railroad, through the muck-bed above described, in the latter part of the summer of 1848, the workmen found, at the bottom of the bed, resting upon gravel, which separated it from the rock below, a huge tooth. The depth of the muck at that place was 11 feet. Soon afterwards, one of the tusks was found, about 80 feet from the place of the tooth, above mentioned, which was a grinder. Subsequently, the other tusk, and several of the bones of the animal were found near the same place. These bones and teeth were submitted to the inspection of Prof. Agassiz, of Cambridge University, who pronounced them to be the remains of an extinct species of Elephant.
Two more fossil elephants
By 1866 the remains of two other fossil elephants were discovered in Vermont, one in Richmond dug from “marl pit on Rolla Gleason’s farm. The other came from a bog on D. S. Pratt’s farm in Brattleboro. Retired Civil War Gen. (and occasional historian) J. W. Phelps discussed the findings.
They have all been found under similar circumstances – all of them have been exhumed from peat or muck beds; partial remains of a single animal only discovered in each locality. In Brattleboro but one single tusk has thus far been found. It was discovered in 1865 by some laborers who were getting out muck for manure. The bed covers about one acre of ground and seems to have been formed by the gradual filling up of a small pond with partially decayed vegetation.
Phelps elaborated on the process by which organic matter decomposes and preserves the fossils for centuries. As Thompson did at Mount Holly, he noted the ancient presence of beavers and the part they played in this progression from pond to bog. “In the midst of the beavers’ dam, and lying upon the sand five feet below the surface of the swamp, and about a foot lower than the dam, the elephant’s tusk was found.”
Phelps waxed philosophically at the sight.
How did the tusk of an elephant come to be in that swamp? Did the animal go in there to drink and get mired? Did he die in the vicinity of the pond, by the cold of winter and from hunger, and one of his tusks become borne into the pond by beavers, and was thus preserved while the rest of the carcass went to decay? Did the land swarm with elephants in all quarters of the earth, and did the hills and mountains become at one and the same time the tomb and the monument of their race?
Phelps described the muck-bed in Richmond where the third fossil was found as being “from one to two acres in extent. It is situated about a mile and a half from the Winooski River and is some 200 feet above its surface. Only one single tusk was found in this bed; but the excavations have not been extensive. It was discovered about the year 1859, at the distance of some forty feet from the edge of the muck-bed, and five feet below the surface. The length of the tusk found in this muck-bed was about five feet.”
Phelps then reflected upon the discoveries. “The circumstances attending the discovery of three distinct deposits of fossil elephant remains in Vermont are almost precisely the same.”
At the same time that more parts of prehistoric elephants were found in New England, the Mount Holly tooth began a series of travels. After the Rutland railroad gave the specimen to Louis Agassiz, he loaned it to the respected naturalist, C.J. Warren who was preparing a book on the fossils. In 1906 the Warren natural history collection was bought by J.P. Morgan who gave the materials to the Museum of Natural History in New York City.
In 1920 the tooth was returned to Harvard in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Eventually the tusk and a cast of the tooth made their way back to the Perkins Museum of Geology at UVM and, appropriately, were placed on exhibit at the Mount Holly Historical Museum. Where better to gaze back to Vermont Antiquity?
Paul Heller of Barre is a former innkeeper and librarian who enjoys reading and writing about bygone times.
Click link to read the article that was published in the Burlington Free Press
Rutland Magazine Feature Article
MOUNT HOLLY COMMUNITY HISTORICAL SOCIETY TURNS 50 by BY SUSAN ORZELL-RANTANEN
Click HERE Rutland Magazine Article about The Museum
Mount Holly Celebrates 225th Anniversary
Board Chair Dennis Devereux served cake at the Town Office on October, 31st.
Please join us at the Mount Holly Town Clerk's office on Tuesday, Oct. 31 from 1 to 3 p.m. for a piece of take to help celebrate this important day. The Resolution marking this event and early maps will be on display.
Vermont State House Resolution
THANK YOU JEB PORTER
Geographic Bronze Plaque in Stone
The stone, from the railroad construction days, has a round bronze plaque dated from 1870s with the geographic/elevation location of the town. This stone was originally located at the home across from the Belmont Store that was used as a Post Office during the Howland Marshall era. The stone was recently removed and donated to the museum by stone landscaper, Jeb Porter. He recently installed the stone in front of the Perkins House at approximately the same elevation. Thank you for this wonderful gift.
Stone with Geographic Marker
TAKE A SEAT
Antique Hand Painted Chairs Silent Auction!
Seven Mount Holly, Vermont artists have decoratively painted antique wooden chairs for the "Take A Seat" Silent Auction. These chairs were donated to the museum by the Odd Fellows of Colfax Lodge 21 and were used in the Lodge in Belmont for decades. The proceeds from this auction will help the museum provide programs for the community and local schools as well as help with museum expenses.
The silent auction has been ongoing throughout the summer and will continue through Cider Days, an event which is held on the Church Green in Belmont every Columbus Day weekend. The chairs are on display in the Perkins House Museum. Bidding will be open Saturday, October 7th from 10-4pm and on Sunday, October 8th from Noon until 3:30pm. Winners will be announced at 3:45pm.
TAKE A SEAT...AND THE WINNERS ARE...
Thank you to our Artists and Winners!
Pat LaBella's chair "Ink Work Design" - Winner, April Stein
Cindy Hinchliff's chair "Abenaki Tribute" - Winner, Lory Doolittle
Barbara Palotta's chair "The Patriot" - Winner, Jennifer DeLeonardo
Penny Coldwell's chair "Circles" - Winner, April Stein
Sue Covalla's chair "Ewe Farm" - Winner, Luise Durr
Madeline Fay's chair "Flower Garden" - Winner, Georgianna Sorensen
Viola Higgins'chair "Sheep" - Winner, Pam McLaughlin
Pat LaBella's chair "Ink Work Design"
Cindy Hinchliff's chair "Abenaki Tribute"
Barbara Palotta's chair "The Patriot"
Viola Higgins'chair "Sheep"
Penny Coldwell's chair "Circles"
Sue Covalla's chair "Ewe Farm"