A Short History of the Green Mountain Club
By Valerie Wilkins
The tale of how the Green Mountain Club and the Long Trail came to be has been told in many wonderful articles and books over the years. But, on the eve of the celebration of the centennial of the Green Mountain Club, we thought it would be appropriate to provide a short history of the Club in this edition of Ridge Lines. For those in the Green Mountain Club, the name James P. Taylor is a household word, as he is the person who had the vision and energy to get the ball rolling for the creation of the Long Trail in the early 1900s. As the Assistant Headmaster of the Vermont Academy in Windsor, Taylor was frustrated by the lack of “mountain hospitality” available in Vermont. He believed that robust outdoor exercise was an important part of the boys’ education. However, beyond the trails and the rustic shelter on nearby Ascutney Mountain, there were few resources available to hikers in Vermont. In 1909, Taylor first conceived of the idea of a state-long skyline pathway connecting the mountains from the Massachusetts line to the Canadian border. Next came the challenge of how to make this lofty dream of “the Long Trail” a reality. Taylor was well known as a speaker, publicist, and organizer. (He eventually left education to work for the Chamber of Commerce.) He put these skills to work to find individuals and organizations willing to join him on this project. Failing to find a willing partner in the Appalachian Mountain Club in Boston, whose members deemed Vermont to be “flat as a pancake”, Taylor turned his attention closer to home. In the first few years, he used every opportunity he could to promote his vision throughout the state. (One historian refers to him as a “compulsive after-dinner speaker”.) Eventually, Taylor felt he had enough statewide support. The founding meeting of the Green Mountain Club was held at the Van Ness House in Burlington, Vermont on March 11, 1910.
At the historic 3/11/1910 meeting, the organizers pledged to “make the Vermont mountains play a larger part in the life of the people”. James Taylor continued to be the spokesperson and motivating force behind the Long Trail. However, it was many others within Vermont and from neighboring states who took up the tools and did the hard, physical work of scouting and clearing the trail. Notable in the history of the Green Mountain Club are Judge Clarence Cowles, who helped construct many trails around Mt. Mansfield; the State Forest Service, for their early work on the section of trail from Camels Hump to Killington; Will S. Monroe, who helped re-route the trail to the ridgeline extending from Camels Hump south to Middlebury Gap; and Roy Buchanan, who helped close the gap from Jay Peak to the Canadian border. Many of these names are familiar to us, as they later became names of popular trails and shelters on the Long Trail.
The final section of the Long Trail was finished in the summer of 1930, just 20 years after the founding of the Green Mountain Club. Since then, the Club has continued to bring together people that share a love for hiking and a commitment to preserving and protecting the Long Trail System. The Burlington Section plays an important part in the success of the Club. With our large and dedicated group of volunteers – including the Executive Committee, Trail and Shelter Adopters, Outing Leaders, Event Organizers, Ridgelines Team, and many other hard-working section members – we help continue the wonderful vision that began 100 years ago.
For those interested in Burlington history
The Van Ness House was a prominent hotel at the corner of Main and St. Paul Streets for many years. The original structure was built in 1871. In 1881, it was purchased by Urban A. Woodbury (who served as Governor from 1894 to 1896). In 1883 and again in 1892, the hotel was expanded – eventually having room to accommodate 400 guests. Over the years, the Van Ness House was a hub of business and social life in Burlington. James P. Taylor himself lived at the Van Ness House. Many well-known people visited the hotel, including three United States presidents: William McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, and William Howard Taft. The Van Ness House burned in 1951. Today, you’ll find the Howard Bank on the site formerly occupied by the hotel. You can easily find images on the Internet of the Van Ness House in its heyday.
[Editors note: see also the 80 page History of the Burlington Section from 1910 to 1999, edited by Dot Myer. I suggest you ‘right-click and save-as’ the file. The document is wonderful! ]