By Sharon Lakey
On a rainy October day, 2011, Dave Houston and Hollis Prior, committee heads for the Greenbank’s Hollow Historical Park, met a busload of Danville second graders at the covered bridge. The children lined both sides under cover of the bridge, eating bagged lunches, and listening to the constant rush of water rolling down Joe’s Brook. Afterwards, they trekked up the hill after David and Hollis to the old school site where the new kiosk stands.
One of the children exclaimed, “My daddy gave the wood for this.” The impressive structure was newly up by the efforts of the Danville road crew, the area groomed and landscaped, surrounded by the foundation stones of the old school. No information was on the kiosk yet, but the whole idea of group of children standing in the middle of the schoolhouse site was historic in itself. After some conversation and questions about its history, the group again fell in behind David and Hollis and moved down to the bridge. There they stood on the spot, imagining the huge five-story woolen mill that used to stand next to the little bridge.
Probably most fun was sending the children in groups with an adult and a map on a scavenger hunt, looking for old cellar holes. Using the site markers, they found and read aloud which site they had located, even scrambling up the wet foundation trail to discover the site of a Greenbank’s home site. When the visit was over, Hollis and David were all smiles. The Park had held up well and the children’s enthusiasm had given them a sense of what they had accomplished. This was an educational event, the kind historians aim for—sharing history in a way that passes through to the younger generation a sense wonder about time and place.
The covered bridge is one of Danville’s most treasured historical features and has drawn visitors to the site for many years. But there is more to the story than the bridge. David Warden, who owned land and the historical Lowell house near the bridge in the 1960’s, wanted that larger story to live on. Working with Mary Prior and Margaret Springer of the Danville Historical Society, they came up with an idea to capture that depth of history for visitors and townspeople by preserving and developing the site on Danville’s forgotten village. Warden added serious weight to the idea by donating the remaining land he owned at the site to the Society for that purpose. The deed was completed in the spring of 2004 and included approximately six acres on which the old schoolhouse stood as well as foundations of early homes and businesses.
In November of that year, the Society voted to request the Danville Select Board to accept the deed to the property with the Society accepting the custodial role for improvement of it. Shortly after the initial deeding of land, Cecil Lyon, who owned another 3.9 acres adjacent to park site, agreed to give that land to the site as well. Now, there would be land enough to create a nature trail, adding to the attraction of the park.
The initial development committee included David Houston, Hollis Prior, Fred Kitchel and John Matsinger with the first order of business to consider what to do with the old school building, tree removal, identifying boundaries and how to tame the invasive knotweed. David Houston, who had previous experience in trail and site development, knew it wasn’t going to be easy project. “Mary always wanted things to be done right now,” said Houston with a smile, “but I assured her that these things take time.” After evaluation by Sally Fishburn as “too far gone,” the old schoolhouse renovation was deemed out of the question, and it was voted to demolish the building.
The committee then turned to designing and implementing a long-term plan for the site by addressing some basic questions: how was it going to be used? (Public Use); how, and by whom, was it going to be maintained? (Stewardship); how was the community to be encouraged to embrace its value? (Outreach). The answers to these questions would guide them through the process of development.
Now, seven years into the project, most of the elements dreamed of are in place. David and Hollis led the committee with hard work, patience, foresight and a long list of volunteers. The Danville Historical Society, by the careful recording of David and Hollis, gratefully acknowledges the efforts of the following:
For the land: David Warden for donating the original park site and related historical information; Cecil Lyon for donating the land for the nature trail; Bruce Palmer and Kimberly Gilding of Downs, Rachlin and Martin PLLC for donating preparation of the deed for the Lyon gift; Bill Willis for donating the survey of the Lyon parcel; John Deleo of Lyndon State College for donating the GPS/GIS survey for map production; the Danville Road Crew for removing hazardous trees and chipping brush.
For Volunteer Park maintenance and improvement: Fred and Rita Kitchel for routinely mowing and trimming the woolen mill area; Jim and Deborah Hunt for building and stewarding the nature trail; Martha Hamilton for constructing and maintaining a flower bed; Dave and Calvin Willard for felling trees around some foundations; Aaron Balivet for clearing out a cellar foundation; Ransom Hudson for clearing the foundation trail and cellar foundation; Bruce Melendy for brush-hogging areas; Fred Orr for hanging seasonal wreaths on the covered bridge; Amber Bennett for arranging students from Caledonia School to help mow and trim; Roger Legendre, Bill Bailey, Craig Vance and Anthony Rose for mowing areas other than the woolen mill site; Danville Woman’s Club for donating and planting shrubs and several benches for the Park.
For the kiosk: Alex Wright for donating the cedar wood for building the kiosk; Danville High School shop class for assisting in the construction of the kiosk; Danville Road Crew Kevin Gadapee, Jeremy Withers, Donald Lamont, Bill Bailey and Howard Hatch for preparing the school site and erecting the kiosk.
For the brochure: Sandra Elliott for producing the prototype as a part of her senior project.
For financial support: the Danville Chamber of Commerce and the Town of Danville.
Special Thanks: Mary Prior and Margaret Springer for providing the initial vision and support, and the Danville Board of Selectmen who accepted the Park from the Danville Historical Society and trusted that the Society would continue to develop and promote the Park in the best interest of the Town.
On December 14, 1885, a fire destroyed the five-story woolen mill, store, several residences and covered bridge in the hamlet of Greenbank’s Hollow. On Saturday, December 11, 2011, the Danville Historical Society invited the public to a Celebratory Burn at the Greenbank’s Historical Park. Vermonters are hardy creatures!
To view a photo album of the bonfire and picnic, click here. All photos courtesy of Kim Prior