What brought William Baxter, Samual Read Hall, Cyrus Eaton, and Alexander Twilight to the Northeast Kingdom and specifically to Brownington, Vermont? These were four men with very different backgrounds, but one common goal — Provide all children with a good education.
William Baxter was the first to come. He came from Norwich in 1801 without a dollar to his name and carved his fortune out of the Hills. In 1823 Baxter built the Orleans Grammar School. He built this with his own money and stipulated that the second floor would be used for worship services. Today the old school building houses the Brownington Grange Hall and is owned by the City.
Rev. Alexander Twilight, with 5 years of teaching experience under his belt came to Orleans Grammar School with the goal of making it one of the best educational institutions in the State. A lofty goal for a black man in the early 1800s, but not for Alexander Twilight. Alexander was the first black man to graduate from an American college. He also served in the Vermont House of Representatives. He came to Brownington filled with the knowledge and energy to make his goal reality.
In 1830 Twilight and his wife built a house large enough to enable them to board some of the school’s students. It wasn’t long before the number of students who wanted to board at the school outnumbered the space the Twilights had in their home.
1830 was also the year that Cyrus Eaton came to town. The Eaton children attended the Orleans Grammar School and it was Cyrus Eaton who helped Twilight build the granite boarding house.
The building of the Stone Boarding House was quite a feat and not without problems — political and financial. Most of the granite blocks that were used in building the four story dormitory were split from a single boulder that was located a short distance from the site, and these blocks were drawn up the embankment by a “single ox”. (I didn’t see any monument commemorating the Ox. Personally I think there should be one. If Paul Bunyan can have his Blue Ox the Ox that hauled enough granite blocks to build a four story building should be recognized. Don’t you think?) It was also believed by many that Alexander Twilight actually split a lot of that rock himself.
Construction on the Stone Boarding House began in 1834 and it opened in 1836. Donations funding the dormitory were small and Twilight spent everything he had on the building and in the end he was broke. It has been reported that he was embarrassed by his financial status, but he had to have had a great deal of pride in what he had accomplished. Today the Old Stone House is a wonderful museum depicting its first beginnings.
Pictured here is the exterior and only 2 of the 21 rooms you have to explore.
In 1846 Samuel Read Hall made an appearance in Brownington. He was the new pastor at the Brownington Congregational Church.
While the first classes were being held in 1823 in the Orleans Grammar School, Samuel Hall was starting the first school in the United States for instructing teachers. This school was located in Concord, Vermont. Hall is also credited with inventing the blackboard and blackboard eraser. It was in 1856 that the Halls built their house in Brownington where they lived until 1877.
OTHER BUILDINGS, ARTIFACTS AND SITES TO SEE!
Kudos to the Orleans County Historical Society and the community of Brownington on their dedication to restoring their past, and protecting it for all to come. Great care has been taken in the restoration and care of the buildings and artifacts as you can see in the following pictures. But there is much, much more… they have an education program that serves over 1500 school children in addition to on-site workshops and summer camps. During the summer of 2012 the Old Stone House Barn was raised and rebuilt on the original footprint by North Country Career Center students. The pegs were whittled by elementary students.
New England is steeped in history and its charm and beauty gives you a sense of peace and well-being. This post is just a glimpse of what you will find at the Old Stone House. When you plan your trip be sure and visit their website for more details.