The first flurries of winter floated around a gathering of 30 or so loyal GMC-ers in Burlington to unveil the state’s newest roadside historical marker commemorating the founding of the Green Mountain Club and the club’s lasting contributions to the state of Vermont.
The crowd included past and current GMC Board members, GMC section volunteers and leaders, and several longtime club legends. As midday traffic surged by the busy downtown street corner, a series of speakers recognized the historical contributions of the GMC founders and the importance of recognizing their undertaking today.
The Green Mountain Club was founded 111 years ago, at the Van Ness House, today a TD Bank. The process of installing a historical marker at that site has been underway since at least 2018. The research that established the justification for the marker was conducted by (and cited repeatedly in the formal application process) Vermont historian and former Montpelier Section president Reidun Nuquist, and published in the 1985 Vermont History News. Reidun’s husband and former GMC Board President Andrew attended the ceremony as well.
The process of navigating the application process was led by Tom Candon, Annette Seidenglanz, Ted Albers, and Mike DeBonis. The application was submitted in 2018 and approved and installed in in the summer of 2021 with no fanfare. The Burlington Section took on the task or organizing last week’s unveiling ceremony. Tom consulted Philip Daniels, Regional Market President for TD Bank, and Mr. Daniels enthusiastically agreed that the project was a worthy one. Laura Trieschmann, the State Historic Preservation Officer, steadily supported this project and Devin Colman, State Architectural Historian, attended the unveiling. Many thanks to all who played a role in the application, approval, and unveiling process.
The ceremony opened with none other than the unveiling of the marker, draped in green GMC regalia (okay, a tablecloth). GMC Board President Howard VanBenthuysen called on past presidents John Page, Rich Windish, Andrew Nuquist, and Marge Fish. Together, they stretched to reach the edges of the draping and pulled it off to dramatically reveal the striking cast-aluminum green and gold plaque.
What is a Roadside Historical Marker?
Devin Colman, State Architectural Historian, spoke on the significance of historical markers around Vermont: “They vary in what they document. Some are very local and highlight a specific individual and are really locally significant. Others, like this one, are of statewide importance. The events that took place here, founding the Green Mountain Club and eventually the Long Trail, that has had a major impact on Vermont as we know it today.”
The state roadside historical marker program began in 1947 and the GMC plaque is the 282nd to be installed. There is a historical marker commemorating the Long Trail itself, installed in 1949 and located at the parking lot on Route 2 in Bolton. There is also one at Smuggler’s Notch, in front of the Barnes Camp Visitor Center, which commemorates the road as a route for cattle smugglers and “Lake Champlain pirates.” As Devin explained at the ceremony, historical markers are community-led initiatives and rely on members of the public to submit locations, events, and individuals that meaningfully contribute to Vermont history.
John P. Taylor’s Inspiration and Vision
John Page, who has a personal connection to the Van Ness House, explained the historical significance of the building and GMC’s founder, who lived there for much of his adult life: “The Van Ness House stood on this site from 1870 until it burned in 1951. Much of that time it was the best hotel in Burlington, and hosted many important political and diplomatic visitors. We are here today to celebrate a meeting of hiking enthusiasts who gathered here on March 11, 1910. The meeting was organized by James P. Taylor, who was then the assistant headmaster at Vermont Academy in Saxtons River. Taylor enjoyed taking his students hiking on nearby mountains, particularly Mt. Ascutney. However, few Vermont mountains at the time had real hiking trails or shelters for camping, and Taylor became frustrated at the lack of hiking opportunities…. Eventually Taylor’s frustrations gave birth to the idea of a series of trails up each of the many peaks that form the north-south spine of Vermont, with connecting trails in between, so as to form on long trail from Massachusetts to Canada — The Long Trail.”
Page continued, “Armed with ‘nothing more than a line on a map and a spiel,’ Taylor pursued movers and shakers wherever he could find them, always promoting his dream.” Eventually Taylor’s efforts led to a meeting of 23 others at the Van Ness House, where the Green Mountain Club was formally chartered. At the time, they adopted the pledge: ‘The object of the Green Mountain Club shall be to make the mountains play a larger part in the life of the people,’ which is still the language of the Green Mountain Club’s mission statement today. Taylor was the organizing genius behind the GMC. His dream was a completely new idea in trail building at the time. It was truly pioneering. It was the first conception of a long-distance hiking trail as the ultimate expression of mountain walking.”
Much of the information in John’s historical account was pulled from Forest and Crag: A History of Hiking, Trail Blazing and Adventure in the Northeast Mountains.
Remembering our History Today
GMC Executive Director Mike DeBonis closed out the ceremony: “Marking the physical space is important, because it serves as a reminder that after 111 years, the Green Mountain Club is still here. We still have work to do to make the mountains of Vermont play a larger role in the life of the people…For all of us involved, remembering the history and the reason the club was created keeps us focused on the importance of the mission and our responsibility to ensure that the Long Trail System is open to everyone, and that the trail is protected and maintained to the highest standard.”
Today, hundreds of thousands of hikers, walkers, and nature enthusiasts set foot on the Long Trail each year, and thousands have hiked it from end to end. The Green Mountain Club is nearly 10,000 members strong, and its members and volunteers continue to sustain the mission and build and maintain the first long distance hiking trail in the United States’ modern history. Next time you are in Burlington, check out the marker and the former site of the Van Ness House at the southwest corner of Main Street and St. Paul Street, in front of TD Bank.
The text of the marker reads as such:
Green Mountain Club
Birthplace – March 11, 1910
The Green Mountain Club was born at a meeting of Vermont hiking enthusiasts in the Van Ness House hotel, which stood on this site from 1870 until it burned in 1951. The Club’s mission is to “make the Vermont mountains play a larger part in the life of the people.” This resulted in the Long Trail, the first long-distance hiking trail in the nation. Vermont’s “footpath in in the wilderness,” the Long Trail traces a roughly 272-mile path along the high ridges of the Green Mountains from Massachusetts to Canada, crossing Vermont’s highest peaks. The trail, completed in 1930, continues to be maintained by the club. The Green Mountain Club’s founder, James P. Taylor, lived in the Van Ness House much of his adult life.