Mount Independence Spring Wildflower Walk – April 30

My wife, Amy Olmsted, is the chief horticulturist with Rocky Dale Gardens in Bristol, Vermont. Each spring in recent years she has led a walk on Mount Independence to view and share knowledge about early wildflowers.

A cluster of bloodroot.

This year’s hike is on Sunday, April 30. We’ll meet at the Mount Independence State Historic Site visitor center by 1:00 p.m. The site is not open officially yet (that’s Memorial Day weekend). However, regular admission fees do apply — namely Mount Independence Coalition Members and children under 15 get in free, everyone else is $5.

Learn more here.

Lovely trout lily.


A bridge across Lake Champlain

Back in 1777, Chief Engineer Jeduthan Baldwin of the American forces on Mount Independence commenced the building of a bridge spanning Lake Champlain between the Mount and the Ticonderoga peninsula. When completed, the bridge would be supported by 22 piers — or caissons — spread equally across the quarter mile expanse of water. Each caisson was about 25 feet wide at the bottom and tapered upward. No one is exactly sure of how the construction of these caissons was made, but we have some good guesses. The image below is by Gary Zaboly. It will be one of five featured drawings by Zaboly in the upcoming book about Mount Independence, called Strong Ground, being published by the Mount Independence Coalition.

Artist Gary Zaboly renders a theory about how the Great Bridge across Lake Champlain in 1777 may have been built while there was ice on the lake. (Image courtesy of the Mount Independence Coalition.)

This rendition depicts how the work might have gone with ice on the lake, but we know that the ice broke up in late March of 1777, so most of the piers must have been installed using a different method — most likely assembled on shore, then floated in to place and sunk with quarried rock for ballast.

The plan was to install a road bed atop the piers, but the Americans were forced to evacuate the site before the bridge was completed. Instead they relied on a temporary floating bridge to move men and supplies across the lake, including on the fateful night of July 5th, 1777, when the retreat began. A German soldier fighting for the British was so impressed by the work, he compared it favorably to one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

In the early 1990s, I was one of many people attending a ceremony at the point on Mount Independence State Historic Site when we noticed a log from one of the caissons had bobbed up from the bottom of the lake. Some of us took off our shoes, waded into the water and helped wrestle the log onto shore.

Pulling a timber from the lake - circa 1991

With a few others, I (on the right) helped pull a loose log from one of the 220-year-old bridge piers from the lake at Mount Independence around 1991.

Today that log has been restored and resides comfortably in the museum at Mount Independence State Historic Site.

Museum with bridge pier logs

Visitors at the Mount Independence museum can view two of the logs used to build the bridge piers.


Back on track

It has been way to long since I published anything on this blog. My attentions have been elsewhere. One (or dozens) of the distractions has been my volunteer work for the Mount Independence Coalition. We’re wrapping up the development of a full-blown history of the Mount, which is titled Strong Ground: Mount Independence and the American Revolution. If you have any interest in the history of Vermont, the Champlain Valley or the Revolutionary War, you’ll want to get a copy. I’ll post here when it is available (beginning of August, most likely).

Anyway, I intend to start posting more often here. Thank you for reading.

A terrific article about the retreat from Mount Independence

My colleague on the board of the Mount Independence Coalition, Ron Morgan, has done a fabulous job researching and then writing about Arthur St. Clair’s decision to retreat from the Mount in July 1777 as the British army was about to surround the American position. The causes and the effects have long been a question of debate among scholars. Ron has sifted through the transcripts of the court martial proceedings that followed this action, and has written an article that is must reading for anyone interested in the American Revolution or Vermont history. You can find this report here.

Military Road Car Tour, August 24

Here’s some news for local history buffs from the Vermont Division for Historic Preservation:

HUBBARDTON, Vt.—For the second annual guided driving tour of sections of the Mount Independence-Hubbardton Military Road of 1776-77, join leader Jim Rowe at the Hubbardton Battlefield on Saturday, August 24, starting at 9:30 a.m.  The trip will go from the Hubbardton Battlefield down to the Otter Creek, with stops along the way.  Drive in the path of history!

Meet at the Hubbardton Battlefield at 9:30 a.m. for your orientation.  The tour is $2.00 for adults and free for children under 15, and includes admission to the Hubbardton Battlefield State Historic Site.

Rowe, president of the Crown Point Road Association, has a lifelong interest in this Revolutionary War military road and is an engaging presenter.  He will be assisted by several other knowledgeable members of the Association.

The road was built after the September 7, 1776, order of Gen. Horatio Gates to connect the American Revolutionary War fortification being constructed at Mount Independence on Lake Champlain to Hubbardton and Rutland, Vermont, and Fort No. 4 in New Hampshire.  Gates considered the road “so Essential to the Interest of the United States” and “the safety and protection of the inhabitants of all the Middle States of this Union.”  Soldiers, ammunition, and stores used the road to reach Mount Independence.  On the night of July 5 and 6, 1777, as the British invaded the lake, American forces withdrew from Mount Independence and Fort Ticonderoga along the road, engaging the British at the Battle of Hubbardton on July 7.

Last year’s tour started at Mount Independence in Orwell and ran to the Hubbardton Battlefield.  The Hubbardton Battlefield, listed in the National Register of Historic Places, is the site of the only Revolutionary War battle fought in Vermont.  It is located at 5696 Monument Hill Road, Hubbardton.  Call (802) 273-2282 for more information.

Second edition of Mount Independence (the book) now available

The second edition is now available.

The second edition is now available.

It was time to reprint my book about Mount Independence, so I took the opportunity to make a few changes to the text. I removed reference to the British bringing artillery to the top of Mount Defiance as a cause of the American retreat in July 1777, as I no longer believe that was a significant factor in and of itself (although the fact that they were ABLE to get the cannon up there may have been). I added Arthur St. Clair’s assessment of the state of readiness at the twin forts of Ticonderoga and the Mount, as this was a factor in the retreat. I also included a few minor details about the American raid on the Mount in September of ’77.

These felt like substantive enough changes that I should indicate the alterations by calling this the second edition. I changed the cover a little to reflect this.

The book is available at various locations in the area, and will be on sale at the Mount Independence Visitor Center gift shop once that opens on Memorial Day.

If you’d like to order directly from me, send $13 (which includes shipping within the U.S.) to:

Stephen Zeoli
421 Birch Road
Hubbardton, VT  05733

Cinco de Mayo on Mount Independence

Archaeological Walkover at Mount Independence

Steve and Hutch from Northeast Archaeology Research Center provide orientation for volunteers prior to the walkover.

Steve and Hutch from Northeast Archaeology Research Center provide orientation for volunteers prior to the walkover.

Saturday, April 27, I joined a bunch of volunteers working with the professional archaeologists from Northeast Archaeology Research Center in a surface walkover of Mount Independence. The purpose of the event is to comb a section of the Mount looking for unusual surface features that might be man-made and dating from the Revolutionary War. The volunteers mark these spots and the archaeologists map the feature using a sophisticated GPS unit.

The weather was fantastic and it was great fun to walk Mount Independence with an eye to identifying significant features. During the past 34 years I must have visited the Mount 300 times at least, and yet I always seem to see something new on each visit. It helps to be with professional archaeologists and other knowledgeable enthusiasts, because Mount Independence is tricky. There are so many ledges and rocks that it is often difficult to determine if that clump of stones is the remains of the hearth of a soldiers’ hut or just a natural feature.

Just a pile of rocks, or is this the remains of a soldiers hut?

Just a pile of rocks, or is this the remains of a soldiers hut?

Mount Independence chert was prized by Native Americans for use as projectile points, and the soldiers stationed here in 1776-1777 for the manufacture of gun flints. A good part of the day involved scouring the area where the chert was quarried and worked. There are areas where it is quite clear that a lot of effort was put into the shaping of the stone.

Chert chips are a good sign that someone was working diligently to shape the stone into useable pieces.

Chert chips are a good sign that someone was working diligently to shape the stone into useable pieces.

It was also a good day for viewing wildflowers, like these blood root:

Blood root in bloom on a glorious day to  be on Mount Independence.

Blood root in bloom on a glorious day to be on Mount Independence.

War games at Mount Independence

Favorable review in Vermont History

My book, Mount Independence, was reviewed in the Summer/Fall 2012 issue of Vermont History: The Journal of the Vermont Historical Society. The reviewer, I must disclose, is a colleague and a friend, Ennis Duling. He generously writes:

Two times, author Steve Zeoli asserts, “I am not a historian” and then proves himself wrong. Although the book is far from a complete history of Mount Independence, the material it covers is thoughtful, accurate, and enlivened by quotes from Washington, John Adams, Anthony Wayne, and doctors and soldiers who served on Lake Champlain.

I am grateful to the Vermont Historical Society for deeming my book worthy of attention, and to Ennis for taking the trouble to tell our part of the world about it. Thank you.