Southern Vermont College, pictured above, is one such place. It sits in the hills above the small rural town of Bennington. It consists of a small campus, with a few dorms, a gymnasium and finally a large stone mansion at the end of the road that winds up the hill.
The mansion is a formidable sight, a looming expanse of gray stone with stained glass windows and sloped brown-orange roof tiles. It sits beneath the rest of the tree-filled hill that rises behind it.
The scene changes with the season, a white wonderland in winter becomes bright greens in spring and summer which begets vistas of vivid orange, yellow and red colors in the fall. From the mansion, you can see the hills and valleys and village below.
Behind the mansion is a stone-floored courtyard with a fascinating fountain that rises up the hill.
The fountain has long since dried up, leaving empty pools and strange statuesque faces at various levels. In the woods beyond the fountain lie more strange statuary, a stone vase, smashed visages of gods and goddesses, unidentifiable pieces of masonry. There are also stretches of rock wall, half-fallen over, standing in the midst of the forest for no discernible reason, and a large circle of cement as well, looking like a giant well with debris within. You may ask why are these things here, in the woods, forgotten and half-destroyed. I will get to that.
In front of the mansion are the grounds, fields of green with low stone walls encircling and separating stretches of grass. stone steps lead to a small area surrounded by another stone wall and trees beyond it. It was once a beautiful rose garden.
The estate is breathtaking. An imposing structure set against nature, with well-kept grounds around it and a forest of trees beyond it. Just on seeing it, the mind abounds with questions. The imagination runs wild. What happened here? What brought this place to be? And, the most useful question for a writer, what could happen here?
The history does not disappoint.
(note: Information taken from SVC’s website: http://svc.edu/history/index.html)
Edward Everett was a bottle salesmen and a gifted businessman who eventually garnered great success and wealth, rivaling the great magnates who would come after him in the oil industry. He constructed two mansions, one in DC and one in Bennington Vermont. He had three daughters with his first wife and two with his second. His second wife was not liked by his first three daughters which led to a legal battle over his wealth after he died.
The cost of the estate was estimated at two million dollars and covered 500 acres. In Everett’s day in the early 1900s, it held a two-acre spring-fed pond, tennis courts, along with walkways and gardens that held over 100 statues.
“The exterior of the building was built from goldstone quarried from the property and from the neighboring town of Pownal. Thirty stonemasons from Italy worked seven days per week, ten hours per day, to complete the exterior of the Mansion within a six-month period.”
Now, this estate is not without it’s own ghosts. Legend has it Edward’s first wife died, drowning in the pond. In 1920, he remarried. When he died, he left all but a tenth of his wealth to his wife, the rest to his daughters. His daughters took this to court in a long and very public legal battle.
After the Everett family eventually left the estate, Catholic monks took it over and lived there. They are believed to be the ones who broke the statues of gods and goddesses that stood in the woods. Eventually, the monks gave the estate over to the college.
Many have said they’ve seen a woman in white on the grounds, who then disappears. Many have also reported hearing things they could not explain or of things happening that don’t make sense, the regular ghostly reports.
After being there and seeing this place, it is easy to believe how creepy the place might be on a dark night. The mind abounds with tales, with the stories that could be told in a setting such as this. The creepy mansion realized in real life. These places are gems and why history holds such a fascination, or should for writers. History is stories, sometimes stranger than fiction and always inspirational to creators. Go find a story somewhere.