July 25, 2014

Williston’s 250th: A Vermont tourist town?

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Twist O'Hill (Observer courtesy photo)

Twist O’Hill (Observer courtesy photo)

By Richard H. Allen

Special to the Observer

July 11, 2013

Would you call Williston a Vermont tourist town? It is certainly not like Stowe or Woodstock. And it most definitely was never like Clarendon or Sheldon, with their large mineral spring hotels of the 1800s. But there was a time before the interstate when travelers could find comfortable accommodations in Williston that catered specifically to tourists.

In 1931, The Vermont Commission on Country Life published “Rural Vermont: A Program for the Future.” It was designed to promote ways to counteract the moribund Vermont economy and push for a statewide effort to revitalize and save a disappearing way of life. The book was a result of the work of sixteen committees over three years. It covered such things as agriculture, forestry, land utilization, community life, recreation and educational facilities. The formation of the commission was a direct result from research done by UVM Professor H. F. Perkins and the Eugenics Survey. Despite the ensuing controversy over the promotion of eugenics, many of the other recommendations of the commission would eventually come to pass.

The chapter on summer residents and tourists cited Vermont’s scenery and closeness to urban areas as promising attributes. It predicted that increases in automobile ownership and paved roads would change the nature of the touring public.

Tourist homes were promoted by the commission because they were less expensive than hotels, and usually conveniently located in quiet attractive surroundings. Families that hosted tourists claimed some of the advantages were “meeting cultured people,” exchanging “helpful farm ideas,” and providing…”a break in the monotony of farm work.”

Williston served tourists with several places to stay. In 1930 the state brochure, “Where to Stop When in Vermont,” described three homes open to travelers, all located on Route 2. Mrs. Harriet M. Isham was in the village and had “modern conveniences, bathroom on first floor, toilet on second floor.” Suppers and breakfasts were 50 cents each.  Mapledale, hosted by Mrs. M. E. James, featured pure Jersey milk and cream, could accommodate up to eight guests and was open all year. A room, supper, and breakfast cost $2. Mrs. M. C. Bruce, located at “Taft’s Corner,” had rooms and served meals as well, and could give you “special prices by the week.” By opening their home to the public, a host could bring in extra income during the Great Depression.

The most comprehensive accommodations were at the Twist O’Hill Lodge on the north side of Route 2 at the top of French Hill—the former home of Pine Ridge School. The lodge received a lengthy description in the 1935 “Where to Stop: Vermont, Hotels, Tourist Homes and Adult Camps.” It featured accommodations for forty or more guests with the choice of staying in the main house or a cabin. The mountain views were spectacular and the furnishings were of “early American type.” The season ran from May to October. Tea and three meals a day were served. Prices ranged from $1 to $2.50 per person per day plus the cost of meals.

The lodge was heavily advertised and one method was the production of a wide variety of postcards. A post card writer in July 1947 exclaimed, “Here we are at this beautiful spot. Have had a delicious lunch at the small side porch and looked right out on Mansfield.”

After World War II, travel was once again popular with no gas rationing, improved highways, a growing ski industry and Vermont Life promoting the beckoning country. Travelers could stop at the Carriage House run by John and Betty Bradish as a tea room and restaurant. The brick structure is behind the Greek Revival Solomon Miller house on the southwest corner of Oak Hill and Williston Roads.

A recently discovered postcard for Sure Luck Cabins on Route 2 in Williston brought another accommodation to light. In the 1955-1956 “Vermont Visitors’ Handbook,” the proprietors were listed as Mr. and Mrs. J. A. Nault. It was described as a “quiet, comfortable farm house, [with] double and single cabins, excellent beds, toilets, hot and cold water.” The cabins were located on the north side of Williston Road, east of the Thomas Chittenden Cemetery.

Maple View Farm, now Paquette Full of Posies near the Richmond-Williston line, had single and double log cabins with screened porches. There were rooms in the main house, showers with hot and cold water and cooking privileges. The 1955 season ran from May 1 to Nov. 1 and rates were $2 to $2.50 per day. The proprietor was B. F. Goodrich. One of the cabins still stands among some pine trees across the road from the nursery.

Another Williston choice was the new (in 1954) six unit Siesta Motel on Route 2A, with Mr. and Mrs. Everett Shangraw as proprietors.

In the pre-interstate highway years, Williston benefitted from its location on Route 2, a major east-west travel corridor in Vermont that connected Burlington and Montpelier and beyond. We may not think of Williston as a tourist town today, but the draw of the large stores in town brings in numerous visitors.

Richard Allen is a local historian and author. He has written a series of articles for Williston’s 250th anniversary.

 
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