By Sharon O’Connor
A scenic trip involving Civil War ties in Vermont? What ties are there? For openers, Vermont lost more people proportionately than any other northern state; it was the first to offer troops to the north and it was the first state to ban slavery in its constitution.
While looking at gorgeous Green Mountain and Taconic Mountain scenery, this tour highlights local ties to the Civil War. If you start in Bennington, (you may also start in Manchester), explore Bennington, then start at the Bennington Chamber of Commerce information booth. Head north on historic route 7A, realizing that this region produced the tough men Vermont recruited for its elite and colorful crack “Zouave” company. After enjoying twenty miles of scenery on 7A note the beautiful Inn at Ormsby Hill in Manchester which was the home of Edward Isham, law partner of Robert Todd Lincoln (Robert was Abraham Lincoln’s only child living to maturity). This Inn possibly served as an Underground Railroad safe house.
One mile north from the Inn is the entrance to the magnificent 412 acre Hildene (www.Hildene.org), the former home of every generation of Abraham Lincoln’s descendents. (A nominal fee to this non-profit national treasure gets you a mansion tour, a spectacular view of the Vermont Valley, Civil War exhibits, stove pipe hat, etc) Fifty feet past Hildene, on 7A, is Dellwood Cemetery (“many have said the most beautiful cemetery in Vermont”) containing the grave site of Jessie Lincoln Randolph, Abraham Lincoln’s granddaughter.
Continue north half a mile to Manchester Village noting the Equinox Hotel. This is where Abraham Lincoln’s wife, Mary Todd Lincoln and her son Robert Todd Lincoln stayed in 1863 &1864. Abe Lincoln was to visit the following year but was assassinated. Across the street is the lovely 1811 House Inn which was owned for over thirty years by Mary Isham, Abraham Lincoln’s granddaughter, who later lived in Hildene.
Leave 7A at the Skinner Library taking West Road about three miles to route 30. Go left for half a mile then turn left onto Dorset West Road. After about 2 miles on West Road, stop at the corner of Nichols Hill Road. Looking at the awesome view to the east, note the small out-cropping of an abandoned marble quarry known as the Gettysburg quarry (tombstones at Gettysburg came from that quarry). The “Kent House” on the corner is the former home of Lincoln Isham, Abraham Lincoln’s great grandson, who was in Dorset for over 20 years.
Continue on West Road about a mile to Church Street and make a right. Proceed for half a mile through quintessential Dorset Village (listed on the National Register of Historic Places). Turn right on route 30, go about two and a half miles to Morse Hill Road, then go three and a half miles to route 7A. Turn right (south) on 7A for less than 2 miles past the wonderful Inn at Willow Pond which hid slaves in a basement (intact today) on the Underground Railroad route. Continue south two and a half miles to Barnumville Road.
For a side trip take scenic Barnumville Road two miles to Johnnycake Road. Original research from Hildene discovered that the Cummings family who lived in the Johnnycake area during the Civil Was had the largest loss of a life (seven family members) by a single family due to any US war.
Backtrack to historic 7A and go south for about two miles, returning to the 1811 House (and Bennington to the south).
This backroad tour of the spectacular Taconic and Green Mountains should give you a feel for the surprising ties southwest Vermont has to the Lincoln family and events in the Civil War, along with a greater appreciation of our beautiful state. Please contact local historical societies, Bennington Museum, Hildene, the Inns, etc. for elaborations and additional information.