More to Meet the Eye in Vermont
Other Points of Interest in the State

Vermont of course is not all dug up. In addition to the interesting museums associated with the state’s rock industriesthe Vermont Marble Museum in Proctor, and the Rock of Ages Visitor Center in Barrethe state’s folded land contains several unique, instructive and nationally significant land-related museums and historic sites. Yes there are maple syrup museums, covered bridge museums, and even a Snocat tractor museum, but here are a few other notable sites in the state recently added or amended on our Land Use Database:

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Bentley Snowflake Museum
The Snowflake Museum in Jericho is one of the most remarkable museums in the state. It is located in the back rooms of the Old Mill Craft Shop, past the door for the Jericho Village Office. It features the work of Wilson Bentley (1861-1931) who lived his entire life in Jericho, and became fascinated with ice crystals, the building blocks of snowflakes. He made thousands of precise photomicrographs of crystals in an attempt to catalog as much of the spectrum of different snowflake forms as he could. He celebrated their beauty and diversity by making lantern slides and montages of his images, giving many away, in order to spread the joy they gave him. “Oh for a thousand hands, a thousand cameras, to preserve more of this exquisite beauty so lavishly scattered over the earth,” he once exclaimed.

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American Precision Museum
The American Precision Museum is museum of manufacturing technology, featuring a collection of hand and machine tools, housed in an old armory in the small Vermont town of Windsor. Among the museum’s remarkable collections and displays of small-scale invention and industriousness are John Ernst Worrell Keely’s 19th century Etheric Force Machine, a device that breaks down water into its “ether,” and a large collection of tiny machine tool models made by a retired technician from Detroit named John Aschauer.

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The Robert Frost Stone House
The work of the poet Robert Frost embodies the serene tranquility of a hyper-romantic New England. Though he was born in San Francisco, and lived out the last quarter of his life in Florida, he drew much of the imagery for his poetry from the places he lived, in Vermont and New Hampshire. Between 1920 and 1929 his principal residence was this 18th century stone house in South Shaftsbury, in Southern Vermont. Though it is in Vermont, many of the pieces compiled in his volume New Hampshire were composed here, including Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening. He also had a house at the Noble Farm, in Ripton, as he taught for many years at nearby Middlebury College.

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Marsh Billings Rockefeller National Historic Park
The Marsh Billings Rockefeller Historic Site is a complicated place. Located in the town of Woodstock, perhaps Vermont’s fanciest town, it is the state’s first and only National Park. It consists of a few hundred acres covering Mount Tom, and the farm and houses of an estate donated to the government in 1992 by its last owners, Mary and Laurance Rockefeller. The estate is significant especially for its history of conservationally inclined land use practices, and former owners. The Park Service operates a visitor center at the site that describes the history of American conservation, from John Wesley Powell to John Muir, and its New England roots in things like the Appalachian Mountain Club, and the three phases of residents of this place: the early conservationist writer George Perkins Marsh (author of Man and Nature, published in 1864); the lawyer, railroad president, businessman-turned conservationist Frederick Billings; and the Rockefellers, whose many good works included giving this place to the people.

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Joseph Smith Birthplace
The farm where Joseph Smith, founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (aka the Mormons) was born, in 1805, was located on this hillside in South Royalton. The site is now one of more than a dozen historic sites across the country owned by the LDS Church, and is a pilgrimage site for Mormons, and anyone else who wants to stop by. On site is a church, visitor center, exhibits about his life, and a 38.5 foot tall granite monument, one foot for each of the years he lived. Smith moved with his family to the town of Palmyra in western New York, when he was 11, and there, at 18 years of age, he was visited by an angel named Moroni, who told him about the golden tablets he would later dig up and transcribe into scripture. The church Smith founded with six people in 1830 now has over 14 million members, including powerful politicians and cultural figures. Mormonism is a true American religion: based on Christianity, borne of the northeast, executed in the west, spreading its influence globally today, and archived in bunkers for the future.

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Swanton ICBM Silo
Though possibly the least militarized state in the Union, Vermont has two intercontinental ballistic missile silos, no longer in service
as missile silos, that is. One, near Swanton, is used as an equipment yard by the Chevalier Drilling Company, a local drilling contractor that has owned the silo for over thirty years. The other silo is owned by the town of Alburgh, near the Canadian border, and is used as a maintenance yard. Both were built in the early 1960s, part of a group of twelve that surrounded the nuclear base at Plattsburgh, New York. The missiles were Atlas Fs, rated at four megatons, with a 6,000 mile range. They were aimed at Russia. The silos are 175-feet deep, and were connected to an underground Launch Control Center. 45-ton doors would open at the surface to raise and launch the missile. Despite a cost of around $15 million each in 1960 dollars, the silos were operational for just three years, from 1962-1965, and according to many were obsolete before they were even finished.

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Ethan Allan Firing Range
Vermont has one full-fledged military range, the Ethan Allan Firing Range, near Underhill Center. Owned by the Army, the 11,000 acre range was first established in the 1920s, and was developed as a major gun testing range by General Electric in the 1950s. It is now used by around 20,000 trainees a year, mostly reserve forces and police. The General Dynamics company operates the central portion of the range for the testing and development of weapons (their Armament and Technical Products Division owns the former GE armaments plant in Burlington). Though there are 30 military sites in the state, most are the typical National Guard and Reserve forces’ armories, offices, and equipment maintenance sites. The Ethan Allan Range constitutes most of the 14,000 acres under military ownership in Vermont.

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Highwater Range
The legendary Canadian weapons engineer Gerald Bull operated a test site that straddled the international border near Jay, Vermont. First known as Highwater Station (the name coming from the closest town on the Canadian side) the location was created on land Bull already owned, in the 1960s, to develop and test components for weapons projects including the construction of the largest guns in the world. Subsidized at times by the Canadian and U.S. governments and working with McGill University, Bull’s designs were even thought to be capable of launching satellites ballistically. Saddam Hussein hired him to build a supergun that might have been able to launch missiles at Israel, but it was never completed. The Highwater Site was owned by different Bull-related business entities over the years, including the Space Research Corporation, a partnership with the Bronfman family. Facilities at the site included a 16 inch wide barrel gun, shooting horizontally on a 1km long range, and a 5 inch gun that sent payloads to altitudes over 70km, from where they would descend by parachute. The location on both sides of the border facilitated otherwise complex, and hindering, import and export restrictions. Dozens of buildings were constructed at the site, all of which now lie abandoned in the overgrowth. Bull was assassinated in 1990, likely by Israeli Intelligence.

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Mount Equinox
One of the most unusual sites in Vermont is a 7,000 acre private wooded reserve owned by reclusive monks, where the nation’s “longest paved private toll road” rises 3,200 feet up to the top of Mount Equinox. The property was amassed and developed starting in the 1930s, by a chemist, engineer and executive at Union Carbide by the name of Dr. Joe Davidson. Davidson held many patents and specialized in the development and application of materials such as ethylene glycol and Bakelite, and helped develop mustard gas in WWI, and nuclear bombs in WWII (as a principal engineer for Union Carbide’s gaseous diffusion uranium enrichment factories at Oak Ridge, and later Paducah, Kentucky).

He started vacationing in Vermont, and eventually bought all of Equinox Mountain. He made the five mile-long Skyline Drive road to the summit between 1941 and 1947; built reservoirs and hydroelectric plants to generate his own electricity (on a large scale); and built two lodges and two houses on the site.

On his deathbed in 1969, he gave it all to a reclusive Roman Catholic order of monks called the Carthusians, who built a monastary out of 18-inch thick floor-to-ceiling granite blocks (from the Rock of Ages quarry) in 1970. It is called the Charterhouse of the Transfiguration, and it was their first monastery in the USA. Outside visitors, and women, have not been admitted since. The order operates the toll road, which is open to the public, and which provides panoramic views of the region, including the distant monastery, and hydroelectric lakes named after Davidson’s wife and dog.

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