There's a good reason why the Great Vermont Gold Rush isn't world famous: It didn't produce much gold. But it was still pretty great.
During the craziness in the 1800s, hundreds of people chased Vermont gold, which is real (!) and concentrated along the Ottauquechee River in Bridgewater and Plymouth. More than 30 mines have been identified on old town maps. Multistory crusher mills once stood on hillsides, grinding quartz to free the gold within.
Unfortunately, what really got crushed were the dreams of Vermonters. When a Woodstock resident named Coleman Hoyt gave a talk on the gold rush during a historical tour in 1996, he said there were only two known ways to make money from Vermont gold: selling stock in a mining company and then bolting with the money ... and giving a talk on the history of the rush during a tour.
The rush began after a fellow named Matthew Kennedy noticed a gleam in the stream while fishing in Bridgewater back in 1851. Kennedy knew gold when he saw it, because had joined thousands of others chasing a fortune in California during what really was a great gold rush there, in 1849. Another 49er, William Hankerson, made a similar find in Plymouth in 1855.
That got the madness started. The swindles that followed were no joke. The owners of one company enticed investors with an ingot that, if real, certainly didn’t come from Vermont. Another set of scoundrels sold stock to build a railroad from the Carbino mine in Bridgewater to a four-story crusher mill in Chateaugay, only to take the money. Still others salted their streams with nuggets planted to generate interest. It took decades of disappointments for the gold fever to subside.
All that said, there is gold in them thar hills -- just not an abundance of it. The Woodstock History Center’s collection contains a set of two decanters and four glasses rimmed with Bridgewater gold, loaned by The Lakota Club.
These days Matt Powers, the current director of the center, occasionally notices someone panning for gold at a nearby bend in the Ottauquechee. They’ll find it, too -- though if they’re making an honest fortune by recovering Vermont gold, they’d be the first!
Doesn't a Gold Rush Tour sound great? You should join the History Hikers! This new program explores the history of our community. Small groups (6-12 people) will visit about the rich history of the Prosper Ski Area and cabin, Taftsville center, and The Pogue. Light food and refreshments will be supplied. This will be a free program, however registration will be required. Stay tuned for details!
The information for this post came from the files of the Woodstock History Center -- most notably a copy of Coleman Hoyt’s talk at the Bridgewater Hill Cemetery during the gold rush tour on Aug. 17, 1996.