Vermont's disappearing gold mines

The heyday of Vermont's gold rush may have been a small dab of paint on the state's 215-year-old historic canvas, but the remains of nearly a dozen mines and test shafts pepper the landscape in the Bridgewater-Plymouth area of Windsor County.

Windsor County was the prime focus of Vermont's 1850s-1880s gold rush era.

In 1855, a California gold miner returning home to Vermont found gold flakes and a small nugget in Reading Pound Brook. Within a few months, Reading Pound, Broad and Buffalo brooks were swarming with panners looking for gold.

The first-phase of Vermont's Gold Rush was centered around Plymouth Five Corners and lasted four years. In true frontier-style, hotels and saloons sprung up in Five Corners to service miners, merchants and hangers on. However, by 1861-when civil strife broke out between the North and South-young Vermonters headed off for battlefields instead of the Windsor gold fields.

Vermont's Windsor County gold field was forgotten-until a brief, final spurt in the 1880s.

The town of Five Corners was abandoned in the 1860s. All that remained were cellar holes, stone sluice walls, and rare privy artifacts.

For professional outdoor guide and veteran caver Rick Pingree of Rutland the gold rush-era history of Vermont is a treasure that deserves better; the period is sadly ignored by most historians perhaps due to its lack of many written and photographic records.

Not a single state historic roadside marker stands to commemorate Vermont's forgotten gold-rush era; yet the state has erected markers to recognize far less historically significant events and individuals.

While the state shows little interest in preserving its gold rush past, Pingree enjoys keeping it alive by leading tours to old mine sites.

"My great grandfather, Ira Sumner, was a gold mine worker in Windsor County," Pingree said. "Unfortunately, there aren't a lot of records from the time."

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