ST. ALBANS – Two years ago this summer, a handful of seemingly disparate historical sites in the towns stretched along Route 7 were threaded together for the first time into a heritage trail, unifying a story of Vermont in the Civil War.
Earlier this week, the Saint Albans Museum celebrated the official Vermont in the Civil War Heritage Trail’s birthday with a modest presentation of the trail, an open house and a cake cut in honor of what, according to trail organizers, had been an enormous success for Vermont’s historical storytellers.
“It’s gathering steam and it’s gathering awareness,” said Bill Kaigle, the president of the Milton Historical Society and a member of the trail’s coordinating committee.
The Vermont in the Civil War Heritage Trail isn’t as much of a physical trail as it is a suggested route to follow for those interested in learning more about Vermont’s connections to the Civil War.
The trail winds north along Route 7 from Bennington to St. Albans, thread between vacation spots for the Lincoln family, stops on the Underground Railroad, and geographic ties to famous names like Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln and John Brown.
Franklin County features several stops toward the trail’s end in St. Albans.
A stop in Georgia identifies the birthplace of General George J. Stannard, the Union general whose orders at the Battle of Gettysburg crumpled Pickett’s Charge and, according to historians, won the landmark battle for the north.
A branch of the trail bends onto Route 105 toward Sheldon, following Confederate raiders to the site of the covered bridge they’d hoped to burn in their escape to Canada over the Highgate border.
The trail culminates in St. Albans, where Stannard lived and managed a foundry and the site of the St. Albans Raid, the northernmost land action during the Civil War and an event that, per Saint Albans Museum director Alex Lehning, “really defines St. Albans” in the ways it ties into St. Albans’s industrial and agricultural histories and in the raid’s connections to the railroad.
Since its foundation in 2017, the trail’s organizers have coordinated physical signage for some locations along the trail, including one for the Saint Albans Museum.
They’ve also printed brochures for navigating the trail and have stepped up fundraising, and they’ve also coordinated with the Vermont Dept. of Tourism to have the trail listed on the state’s official tourism site.
The Saint Albans Museum sponsors the trail, a fact that, when shared with the museum’s audience Tuesday night, won the museum’s staff and volunteers a round of applause.
According to Kaigle and Milton’s Terry Richards, the trail came from research their historical society was doing into Stannard’s home in Milton, currently undergoing a partial restoration.
“What we stumbled across is that Route 7, from north-to-south and south-to-north, has far more of these unknown sites,” Richards said. “We started a little bit of research… and found there’s a nice little thread.”
The state’s ties to the Civil War stretch beyond Route 7, but, per Richards, “there was nothing as rich or as varied as that Route 7 corridor.”
Richards outlined a few of those sites for their St. Albans audience Tuesday, running from the Rokeby Museum’s restored Underground Railroad stop to Robert Todd Lincoln’s mansion in Manchester and the Winooski Mill Museum’s celebration of the industries that processed textiles for the Union’s war effort.
“The benefits are to uncover history that’s there that folks maybe don’t know about,” said Kaigle. “Route 7 provides several great sites and a cohesive structure to give the visitor a great Civil War story.”
That led into a short walkthrough of the St. Albans Raid itself, described by Lehning as a “really great story of the Civil War and the role Vermonters played in it.”
The raid, denoted by a historical marker in Taylor Park, is a centerpiece in the Saint Albans Museum, where artifacts of one of the raid’s best-known characters, Capt. George Conger, are presented in museum’s first floor entrance.
As the presentation wound down, Lehning and Kaigle cut the celebratory cake, and an open house at the museum resumed.
Those interested in following the heritage trail on any of its stretches can learn more at https://www.vtcivilwarheritage.net/.
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