ON THE WAY HOME – 1 SEPTEMBER 2021 – CANAL and MINERAL SPRING

If you have “travelled with me” on “Shunpiking with Ray,” you know that two reoccurring themes for exploration are canals and 19th century summer resorts. Heading home from Granville, NY, the plan was the Champlain Canal to Whitehall, New York, and then find the actual spring in Middletown Springs, Vermont, that I did not locate in August 2013. I am completing this post prior to relating my cruise on Lake George (guess my prerogative as a writer). On the way back from Lake George I stopped at one of the locks but decided to include it here. So here we start with Lock No. 9.

Proposed earlier, in 1819 the Champlain Canal was completed from Lake Champlain to Fort Edward. 35 miles of the total length of 60 miles south of Fort Edwards follows the Hudson River with six locks. Going north from this point are five locks. There is no Lock 10 (I still need to learn why), and Lock 12 is the last in Whitehall, NY.

You can enlarge the map if you wish. This is an interesting area to explore, and I have much to still see.

Below is Lock 9.

Champlain Canal – Lock 9 – looking south

In Comstock, NY, just west of the state prison, you will cross the canal and see the old road (now dead end) which you take north to Lock 11.

Champlain Canal – Lock 11 looking north

Then up US 4 to Whitehall, New York, and Lock 12 which connects with South Bay leading into Lake Champlain.

Turning around and looking south back to the business district of Whitehall, it is sad – vacancy next to vacancy in the old brick buildings and blocks. Almost 20 years ago I knew a couple that kept their boat in the area when it was thriving with restaurants and shops for boaters. In fact they purchased a building on the canal to have an art gallery. When I was through four or five years ago that building was vacant and for sale. Now it is an occasional thrift shop. The problem with so many little towns that are charming and deserve a new life. Below is looking south from Lock 12.

In July 2015 I was in this area in BLUE BELLE, and passed through Fair Haven, Vermont, saying, “Fair Haven I have to learn about – great 19th century brick buildings.” Well, the plan was to stop there (on the old US 4, now 4A). I stopped and walked around. Some vacancies, but not as obvious. Subsequently I read the town is, “noted for its Victorian architecture, considered some of the finest in the state.”

I then walked though the large, lovely treed common.

And the Civil War monument protecting the Common.

And, on the Common, this will have to be a future visit – The Marble Mansion Inn.

The next thing “on the list” for the trip home was to try to find the old mineral spring in Middletown Springs, Vermont (population about 748). So, head back down south, crossing back into NY and 22A, east off 22A back to Poultney, Vermont, to get Route 140 to Middletown Springs – formerly (19th century) Middletown until it was time to promote the Springs. I first drove this route in August 2013, but with my fascination for nineteenth-century resorts, was not cognizant enough to search for the actual spot even though the Town’s name should have made me. I thought the renovated spring house should be in the center of the village, so explored around the former Town Hall, now the historical society, but to no avail. So I headed south at this intersection – yes, South Street

I had read ahead this time, and learned the spring was first developed in 1868 by A. W. Gray, local manufacturer of agricultural machinery, and was part of the Montvert Hotel resort, 1871-1905. On South Street I found this Vermont history sign, and the road to the left – Montvert Road. So down it I went, and through a stone gate. Dead end, possibly private property – but Ray is on a quest, and an honest guy. (click the image and read)

You know my luck and good timing. As I was passing under magnificent 150 year old maple trees with a flower packed field on my right, a car approaches. We stop and talk. It is the owner of the land who is also president of the historical society. I tell him what I am looking for. “Just to your right,” he says, “is the cellar hole of the hotel. The barn you see ahead was the hotels carriage barn, and my home down there was the bowling alley for the hotel. The springs are just beyond over the river.” We talk, he is awaiting a phone call, but he says to meet me back at the historical society museum at 2:15. Below is the cellar hole (well covered with the yellow flowers).From a Rutland Herald article, “When completed in 1871, the $100,000 Montvert Hotel featured three and half stories containing137 rooms, first-class dining and plenty of activities. The new hotel could accommodate 250 guests.” Here is a link to another article on Vermont mineral spring resorts. Below is the site of the hotel, and then the original carriage house.

David told me where the Springs park was that the historical society had established. Going back up north on South Street I saw the sign for it – but alas, the sign was blocked by foliage if coming south. I cannot wait to get back with this spot as a destination for a picnic.

Indians showed the springs to early settlers. Buried by a flood in 1811, they were uncovered by a “freshet” in 1868 and rediscovered by A. W. Gray, whose company owned the land.– walking down the path, the Spring House has been recreated from old photos and sits on top of the original stones for the spring.

Spring House – Middletown Springs, Vermont
original stones for the Spring House with the waters flowing in

At this spot there was a bridge across the Poultney River to the hotel. You can still see some of the stones. Through the trees is David’s home, formerly the bowling alley. The hotel stood on a rise above the bowling alley, but appears much closer to the spring as you will see in the old images below.

Site of bridge across Poultney River to the Montvert Hotel

David joined me at the museum, and opened it up. You may enjoy visiting their website and reading the history of this area – Ray Recommends it, and click on the Town history link.

The entrance to the right is to the Town Clerk’s office, the rest of the building for the historical society, but essentially two main exhibition rooms are downstairs to the left. The first room has so much on the spring and hotel along with broadsides of the Gray equipment.

David let me copy some stereo views of the hotel. This first below is when under construction, and then completed. From the history, “In 1870 the Montvert Hotel was built near the Springs. With rooms for 350 guests, gas lighting, running water “conducted to every floor,” fine food, an in-house orchestra, a bowling alley and other amusements, it claimed to be “one of the most pleasant and comfortable of summer resorts.” The below image looks across the river. The depth perception is deceiving, probably due to the massive size of the hotel.

As I am sitting writing this while on the porch of an 1870s resort hotel on an island, I could have been just as content on the porch above. Again from the historical society’s website, “Perhaps its size and its splendor were the Montvert’s achilles heel for its success was fitful and relatively brief. With high overhead, profits were slim. Managers and ownership changed frequently. The changing taste of the vacationing public may also have been a factor in the Montvert’s decline. It closed just after the turn of the century and the building was demolished in 1906.” David told me that the successful bidder for the building was a Poultney builder. The salvaged materials were used in building homes in Poultney, and a number of homes can trace their lumber back to the Montvert.

We had a great couple hours. David gives a talk on Mineral Springs which I certainly hope to hear some day. Ironically it was just days later I discovered the Guilford Vermont Mineral Springs which I just reported to you. In my personal library a section of my books is devoted to summer resorts, old hotels, and mineral springs. I will be digging into them soon. The quest is on to find more locations and histories to share with you here, so “stay tuned.”

Middletown Springs Mineral Water Bottles

RAY RECOMMENDS
1 – get out and explore
2- when one thing piques your interest, follow that new path – EXPLORE and LEARN
3 – don’t stop exploring
4 – and share what you discover and learn

Yours, as always, RAY

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1 Response to ON THE WAY HOME – 1 SEPTEMBER 2021 – CANAL and MINERAL SPRING

  1. David Wright says:

    It was great to meet you, Ray, and to show you through the MSHS museum!

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