Abby Estey's Village Footpaths


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Abby Estey

Aged Twelve In 1854


Some Footpaths That I Knew In My Childhood In And Around Brattleboro


An old path that always appealed to me, was the one up Mount Wantasquet, across the Connecticut River. It was a fairly good one, steep in some places and with a stony foundation, and towards the top a very good view of the valley could be had. A log house crowned the summit. This house was two stories high with a rude sort of ladder to climb up by. It had a flagpole on the top. It stood on flat rock at the pinnacle.


Another path led from the summit along the ridge to Indian Pond; while another, familiar to me in my early childhood, was called Bridle-path. It began on Hudson Street and went through my grandfather's yard down a rather steep hill, which was always green both sides of the path, and ended in Vernon Road. I have seen men on horseback ride down the path; I remember asking my grandmother why people rode through her yard, and she said they had a right to it as it was a legally laid out path. I saw Dr. Wilson pass by one day on his way to his home at the foot of the hill, and I also remember my grandma lifting me up to look into the window of the kitchen of his home, after his death, before any one ever thought of his being "Thunderbolt"--a good doctor and a kind man. My grandma said that she would show resentment if anyone said that he was the noted robber.


The view from the top of this path of the flat boats loading freight from Hartford, (for everything seemed to come from that city in those days) was a never-ending source of pleasure to me. A never-failing well of water was near the kitchen door and it furnished a cool drink to the passer-by. The railroad wiped out the whole of that part of town but did not destroy the spring of water, for it is still running today.


Two other paths, or rather roads, made very pleasant walks. One was called the Auger-hole and the other one, the Gimlet-hole. They went from the old Guilford Road to Vernon Road. One passed the lovely Chases Cascade.


There was another lovely path from Algiers Road, a little beyond David Ayer's place. It entered the beautiful woods called Solitude, through which ran the lovely stream christened Zepher's Brook. Spring flowers blossomed here, the earliest of any place we knew. Adder-tongue, trailing arbutus, daisy-eye-brights, all kinds of violets--white and yellow, and later in the season, blue gentian. The little moss-covered lilacs were sprinkled with partridge-vines and checkerberries. It was so cool in summer and the ripple of the merry brook was sweet to our ears. A little farther on, beyond Keye's, was the remnant of the old road through the woods that connected the Clark Road with the Guilford Road. There was also a secret path up to the sassafras tree, a lovely shaped tree that we children killed by digging up the roots to eat.


In those days all the way from the back of the red schoolhouse on Canal Street, except the state quarry, where the stone for under pinning of houses build in the village was blasted out, was a forest. At the back of houses on Canal Street, on the eastern side, as far as where Allen's Greenhouse now is, was thick woods, and the bank on the western side to Whetstone Brook, from the lower trout-hole to the woolen factory, was thick forest growth of trees.


A broken-hearted mother who had buried her only child in the village cemetery, made a path from her home on Canal Street, up the steep hill through the woods for all of Cemetery Hill was an unbroken forest, except a little cleared place that was used for a picnic ground. The entrance to it was by a path from what is now South Main Street and today that path can be traced, and Prospect Street is a part of it.


At a spot cleared for the purpose, at a point near the curve not far from Mrs. Thomas' home, an enterprising man from a distant city built a sort of swing and called it a "fandango." It was a sort of gravity affair--one seat was up in the air when the other was coming down. Sometimes those who were up had to stay longer than they wanted to for some of the works failed to go just right. It did not prove a financial success. But a good many paths were tracked out to it while it lasted.


But the crowning path of all was Garden's Path. It was made for the patients of the Wesselhoeft Water-cure. As I look back it seems to me that it must have been the work of a skilled landscape artist. Who the gardener was, I never heard. The path began on the bank above the lower trout-hole on the Whetstone Brook entrance where the path is today. On the East and the other end, nearly opposite across the road, Canal Street from the red school house, trees shaded the walk. They were so dense that friends from other parts of the village asked us to walk past the Spring path. There was a level spot above the main spring (which is running today) with a long settee for the patients of the Water-cure to sit on and rest. The spring was walled in by moss-covered stones. There were two wooden spouts, one larger than the other, with a circular tube below and a seat at one side, and a wooden floor to keep one's feet from the dampness; also a pint tin cup fastened with a chain to a white birch tree that spread its limbs over the spring. You may rest assured that there were various initials cut into that tree-trunk. This tin cup was for us school children to drink from. A large square reservoir received the water from that spring and it was carried to a douche house near the canal. Farther on over the canal, was a ladies bath-house. Still another spring and bath-house over the canal with a large reservoir, was near the trout-hole. A comfortable house across the canal was for patients to rest in when not employed. This spot was to me like enchanted ground. There we children saw the noted people of our day. They were, as I remember them, gentle-mannered folk. I still have among my relics of the past a picture book. The title--Goody Two Shoes--presented to me by B. P. Shillebee and Mrs. Partington.


The baths, the drinking of pure water, and the walk around the Circle, as it was called--from the establishment on Elliot Street to Main, across the Mechanics Bridge, up Canal Street to Birge Street; up Birge to Elliot and back to the starting point, were the order. But during the heat of the day, lovely Gardner's Path was the route. Like Mary Cary I could say "beauteous gloriousness." From the cold spring the path kept close to the bank. Opposite the canal the trees met overhead. The path was smooth as a floor. Springs of water coming out of the bank-side gathered into pump-logs, the waste running water into the canal or brook. After leaving the canal, seats were placed by the path-side. They were cut out of old trees, some like easy chairs with arms, and others without. Some of these chairs were reached by stone steps in the bank. By the side of the path were patches of forget-me-nots, ladies' ear-jewels, jack-in-the-pulpit, and more than fifty-seven varieties of ferns. In a curve of the path was a place called by us--The Pulpit. There was a desk fashioned from a mammoth tree stump with a long seat back of it where five or six of us could sit. This was made of small saplings fastened together. And there were chairs at the side cut from trees with such comfortable backs. Spouting springs coming up from the earth invited us to drink. I can remember all of the lovely things along the way--so fresh and beautifully natural. We could now and then get a glimpse of Frost's meadows green and fertile--but the beautiful trees so old and giving such shade! And what a change when one emerged from it to the open road and passed the brick woolen-factory with its noisy machinery; then crossed the woolen factory bridge--so-called, and entered another path up a hill, called "Cave Bank Hill." This path was named "Aqueduct Path." It was shady and with a spring of water near the end. Here was the crowning work of the artist--the "Eagle's Nest," a beautiful rustic arbor, circular in shape, with seats around it and a roof thatched with straw, old country style. Trees cast their shade around it. In the near distance one could see the brook below and hear its murmur as it fell over the dam, thus providing power for the factory looms. It was a shorter path and the entrance was less attractive, but no doubt the two paths were designed by the same brain.


As I look backward to my childhood, I can but be thankful that the children of the old red school house on Canal Street had such lovely playgrounds. We could walk or run from our spring along Gardner's Path as far as the beginning of the canal; cross over on the stone top to a narrow footpath on the farther side of the canal and go back to the spring and up the path to the schoolhouse before the bell called us in from recess. Our teachers were thoughtful for our comfort and pleasure. A boy and a girl were appointed at each session to take the wooden water pail to the spring and get a fresh supply of water. We had a long-handled dipper to drink from, which was kept in the pail. It was carefully guarded and if anyone was guilty of any carelessness or mischief about the drinking water, he was punished as severely as though he had whispered in school.


In my school days at Glenwood we had a path up the hill now called Glenwood Peak, and the walking up was called "picking up Glenwood Peak." Another path of a later day was down the footpath to the spring across a footbridge over the brook across Frost's Meadow and up the steep hill to Elliot Street. This was a great convenience for those who attended the Methodist Church on School Street and the Baptist Church on Elliot Street.


A short path in long-ago days was from Algiers Road through a lane to where my garden and orchard are today, to a nursery of mulberry trees where some enterprising men undertook to start a silk-worm industry. But the climate was too severe and the enterprise was a failure. I can just remember the arched gateway that led to the place.


A sort of path made by sheep, I presume, went up Sheep Hill, but we children only went up for wild strawberries, which we used to say "were thick as spatter" on that hill. Sometimes we went on farther to the second Sheep Hill, which is now part of the Catholic Cemetery, and passed near the little lily-pond and wandered up the steep and dark woods where my home is now. In the open places, which were few and far between, we always found ladies' slippers--both pink and yellow, in bloom. I little thought then that I should ever live near those lofty pines; it seemed gloomy; and when the woods was bought for a cemetery, although never put to that use, I thought it very appropriate; and the old funeral hymn



"Hark from the tombs a doleful sound;
My ears attend the cry;
Come mortal man and view the ground,
Where you must shortly lie."


just described it. I little thought in my childhood that my childhood that fourteen of the busiest and happiest years of my life would be spent there. Some of the trees were very old; one huge chestnut, cut down last year on account of the chestnut blight, showed by the rings in its trunk that it was nearly one hundred and fifty years old.


Rufus Clark's road was not much more than a pathway. There was no house on it from below Birge Street corner until you reached the farm house--a shady, lovely road, so much so, that my little brother had me go with him in the early morning when he took our cow to Rufus's pasture. But we children roamed over all the by-paths and roads as well as woods for there was nothing to fear. Tramps were not known in those days.


But while life lasts the beauty of Gardner's Path and the paths around the cold springs, and the memory of the lovely shade of the beautiful old trees--now gone forever--I shall always remember. I cried good and hard when the owner cut down those lovely old trees. These memories will remain as the most pleasant memories of a very happy childhood, and I shall always have a feeling of gratitude toward the Wesselhoeft Water-cure proprietors for allowing us to enjoy these paths with their patrons.


In some ways these paths remind me of Whittier's Pine Path:


"No bird song floated down the hill
The tangled bank below was still;
No rustle from the birchen stem;
No ripple from the water's hem;
The dusk of twilight round us grew,
We felt the falling of the dew;
For from us e'er the day was done
The wooded hills shut out the sun,
But on the river's farthest side
We saw the hilltops glorified--
A tender glow, exceeding fair,
A dream of day without its glare.
With us the damp, the chill, the gloom;
With them the sunset's rosy bloom;
While dark through willowy vista seen
The river rolled in shade between.
From out the darkness where we trod,
We gazed upon those hills of God.
Whose light seemed not of moon or sun,
We spake not, but our thought was one.
We paused as if from that bright shore
Beckoned our dear ones gone before;
And stilled our beating hearts to hear
The voices lost to mortal ear.
Sudden our pathway turned from night,
The hills swung open to the light;
Through their green gates the sunlight showed
A long slant splendor downward flowed.
Down glade and glen and bank it rolled,
It bridged the shaded stream with gold,
And borne on piers of mist, allied
The shadowy with the sunlit side!
So prayed we, "when our feet draw near
The river dark, with mortal fear,
And the night cometh chill with dew,
O Father! let thy light break through!
So let the hills of doubt divide,
So bridge with faith the sunless tide."


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"Addresses Given by Mrs. Levi K. Fuller Before the Brattleboro Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution". Foreward by Clara E. Powell, 1928. Abby Estey Fuller began her series of lectures in 1912.


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Governor Levi K. Fuller


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