The Brownington Historic District, which includes the Old Stone House Museum is on the National Register of Historic Places. This was a logical choice for the site of the first secondary school in Orleans County in 1823, because Brownington is located in the middle of the county, and the first road built through the county in the 1790’s, now called the Hinman Settler Road, had become part of the stage coach route between Boston and Montreal. Several substantial post and beam houses were built in the decade after the school was built. In 1836 Alexander Twilight, headmaster of the school, built a four-story granite block dormitory for out of town students, which in 1925 became the museum of the Orleans County Historical Society, and is now known as the Old Stone House.
After the first generation of early settlers cleared the forests they planted orderly rows of trees along the roadsides and property lines. Now in the early 21st century those trees have reached their full maturity, and many are suffering from a combination of road salt, root compaction and acid rain. After the severe ice storm of Christmas Eve 2013, which brought a huge tree down across the road and tore large branches off of trees all over the museum grounds, the staff and board of the Orleans County Historical Society became concerned about the danger of trees falling on our buildings.
With the help of our new county forester Jared Nunery and arborist Aaron Chapdelaine, we surveyed the trees on the museum grounds, looking for potential danger of trees falling on our six historic buildings, parking areas and nearby power lines. Many of the old maples had been cabled years ago, and the cables were stretched tight. We chose to remove six trees entirely, plus several large dead branches. Aaron Chapdelaine did the cutting during the summer of 2014, assisted by the Orleans Village Electric Company with their boom truck.
The wood that was cut was sawn and split by trustees of the Orleans County Historical Society for a fire-wood raffle, with the proceeds going towards tree maintenance expense. So far we have cut up six cords of sugar maple. The smaller branches were chipped, and de-posited in a pile to be used to mulch the trees of our young heirloom apple orchard, which was planted in 2007 , with funding from a grant from the Vermont Department of Forests and Parks. We have already begun harvesting apples.
Though we were sorry to cut down these grand ancient trees, they were in bad shape. The spalted wood in the 175 year old tree shown indicates that there was interior rot. When a main limb of one large tree was cut, it start-ed spurting out water. Another tree had soil in the crotch 20 feet off the ground, with a raspberry bush growing out of it.
In the fall we enlisted help from the Brownington school children to plant young trees to replace the trees that were cut. We partnered with Northwoods Stewardship Center in East Charleston to teach the students about the history of the Vermont forest. The museum invited the school here for a field day, where they learned about the clearing of the land by the early settlers, the production of potash, early logging opera-tions and tools, and the conservation movement and replanting of forests during the 1920’s. The school went on a field trip to Northwoods Stewardship Center, where they saw how a field grows back up into a for-est, tried their hand at using a cross cut saw, and learned about current threats to our forests.
Then the students came to the museum and were taught how to properly plant trees, as we replanted the old maple lane along the Hinman Settler Road, and planted other trees around the museum grounds, including maples, oaks, and beeches.
The culminating event was the planting of a red oak tree in the Brownington school yard on Arbor Day, May 1, 2015. The activities that were developed through the partnership with Northwoods Stewardship Center on Forest History and Conservation Education can be offered to other schools in the county. We need community cooperation in identifying roadside trees that need renewal, and commitment to involve children and adults in replanting.