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Your Vermont History Fix, From Gold Mines To Witch Windows

In the 1850s, a small but vibrant community grew up around a gold mining operation in the Plymouth-Bridgewater area. Called Plymouth Five Corners, it had a hotel, a school and a dance hall.
E.G. Davis
Plymouth Historical Society
In the 1850s, a small but vibrant community grew up around a gold mining operation in the Plymouth-Bridgewater area. Called Plymouth Five Corners, it had a hotel, a school and a dance hall.

This month on Brave Little State, we’re doing things a little differently. Instead of taking on one of your questions about Vermont, we’re taking on three - in a kind of local history lightning round.

We’ve got a question about those crooked windows you see on Vermont farmhouses, a question about Vermont’s defunct gold mines and one about the history of Burlington’s Church Street. Enjoy!

Question #1: "What is the history of Vermont's witch windows? And why do they only exist in Vermont?" — Aaron Troncoso, Burlington

A witch window on a farmhouse in Wolcott.
Credit Amy Kolb Noyes / VPR

You might have seen this architectural oddity on an old Vermont farmhouse, even if you didn’t know what to call it. It’s one of those upstairs windows that’s set on a diagonal. There’s superstitious lore behind the name — but the stories don’t quite add up.

VPR's Amy Noyes talks to Devin Colman, the state architectural historian at Vermont’s Division for Historic Preservation, and architectural historian Britta Tonn to suss out the answer to Aaron’s question. Check out the full answer here.

Question #2: "Someone once told me Vermont had two gold mines. If so, where were they, and when were they used?" — Peter Brown, Vernon

Men panning for gold in an 1887 photograph from the Plymouth Historical Society.
Credit E. G. Davis / Plymouth Historical Society, courtesy
Plymouth Historical Society, courtesy

The allure of the 1849 California Gold Rush drove many Vermonters west — though very few made any money. But the story goes that two of those men returned to Vermont and realized that the topography of the Plymouth-Bridgewater area, east of Killington Peak, was similar to a hotspot for gold in the Sierra Nevada.

And to this day, you can still walk through the forest and poke around the remnants of the old mines that were established during Vermont's own gold rush. VPR's Kathleen Masterson gets a tour of one old mine from Nelson Illinski, a gold panning hobbyist and a self-taught Vermont gold historian. (Spoiler: This segment may or may not feature the discovery of real gold flakes in Camp Plymouth State Park.) Check out the full answer here.

Question #3: "What, or whom, was Church Street named after?" — Lorraine Carter-Lovejoy, Burlington

The steeple on the Unitarian Universalist church at the head of Church Street in Burlington.
Credit Historic American Buildings Survey / Library of Congress
Library of Congress

It might sound like a trick question. But do you know for sure where Church Street got its name or how the street became such a bustling commercial district? VPR's Liam Elder-Connors digs up some interesting Burlington history and gets a tour of the bell tower so many of us recognize. He also gets an unusual perspective — the church's view of Burlington. Check out the full answer here.

A view of Burlington's Church street from the bell tower of the Unitarian Church.
Credit Liam Elder-Connors / VPR
VPR File



Brave Little State has support from the VPR Journalism Fund. Our editor is Lynne McCrea, our theme music is by Ty Gibbons and we have engineering support from Chris Albertine.

Other music in this episode was used under a Creative Commons license:

Amy is an award winning journalist who has worked in print and radio in Vermont since 1991. Her first job in professional radio was at WVMX in Stowe, where she worked as News Director and co-host of The Morning Show. She was a VPR contributor from 2006 to 2020.
Angela Evancie serves as Vermont Public's Senior VP of Content, and was the Director of Engagement Journalism and the Executive Producer of Brave Little State, the station's people-powered journalism project.
Liam is Vermont Public’s public safety reporter, focusing on law enforcement, courts and the prison system.
Kathleen Masterson as VPR's New England News Collaborative reporter. She covered energy, environment, infrastructure and labor issues for VPR and the collaborative. Kathleen came to Vermont having worked as a producer for NPR’s science desk and as a beat reporter covering agriculture and the environment.
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