Taft Lodge 100th anniversary hike, 2020
Taft Lodge 100th anniversary hike, 2020

Taft Lodge is the oldest Long Trail shelter. Built in 1920, it was the gift of Elihu B. Taft, a well-known Burlington lawyer. Construction of Taft Lodge was overseen by Judge C. P. Cowles of Burlington who “made 27 trips up to the site while construction was going on.” [Ridge Lines; vol 23, no 3; Jan 1994.

Taft Lodge is a very heavily used structure. Although its official capacity is 32, Ben Davis has seen over 60 people in residence overnight. Numbers in the 40’s and 50’s are not uncommon. This puts tremendous stress on the shelter, its water supply, and its outhouse. And overnight use is only part of the problem. Taft is a popular stop-over point for day hikers on the way from Smuggler’s Notch to the Chin. Taft has a full-time caretaker during the summer months and into the fall, but evidence suggests that winter use takes a heavy toll on the shelter since hikers and skiers visit the shelter without GMC supervision. [Ridge Lines; vol 23, No 4; Mar 1994]

This lodge is perched on a shelf below the Chin with a view east. This log shelter, the largest of the LT shelters. sleeps 24. Originally built in 1920 by the Burlington Section. it was a gift of Judge Elihu B. Taft of Burlington. In 1996 a large corps of volunteers, spearheaded by the Burlington Section, reconstructed the lodge. Daan Zwick, Taft caretaker from 1938 to 1940, funded the project. Water is found in a reliable brook on the Profanity Trail approximately 100 yds. from the LT. A GMC caretaker is in residence during the hiking season to assist, educate hikers, and maintain the site. A fee is charged for overnight use. Wood fires are prohibitm 1920 to present. [GB 24th Edition 1996]

Elihu Barber Taft (1847–1929)
Elihu Barber Taft (1847–1929)

Burtis, Cowles, Mr. Badgley, ?,  and Chris at Taft Lodge, 1920
Burtis, Cowles, Mr. Badgley, ?, and Chris at Taft Lodge, 1920

In April of 1918, Theron Dean suggested that the Burlington Section build another cabin or two on its section of trail in anticipation of the crowds of people who will come from NY City and Boston to get away from war worries. This plea was answered in 1919 with a gift from Elihu B. Taft, a local lawyer and judge, for a lodge to be built before 1920. Judge Cowles and others had scouted the area for a possible location on such a lodge. At that time there was a logging road up the shoulder making access for building there much easier that it is now. Materials were dragged up by teams instead of on human backs. So, Taft Lodge came into being and was dedicated on schedule in 1920. Many blankets were purchased for it, plus a few tents, dishes, and other comforts being added as the years went by. It was voted in 1920 that this luxurious accommodation should have a caretaker. Judge Cowles, E. H. Smith, and J.P. Taylor were the committee to attend to this. Judge Cowles put in a short stint as caretaker himself. In 1923 Taft Lodge brought in $167.95 in fees. The caretaker was paid $132.50 for the season plus $74.38 in supplies to see him through. By 1926 over 1500 people had signed the register. [Burlington Section Records, 1910 – 1927]

It was a substantial log cabin and is equipped for the accommodation of about thirty overnight guests. There are comfortable bunks, blankets to rent and a stove for the use of trampers. [O’Kane, 1926]

Judge Cowles remained an active hiker and trail worker long after his 1910-11 work on the Long Trail, but for the most part he chose to concentrate on Mansfield, rather than extending the LT farther north or south. He built at least five other trails on the mountain as well as its most prominent hikers’ shelter, Taft Lodge. [Forest & Crag by Laura & Guy Waterman, 1989] About 800 registered at Taft Lodge during the past season, coming from 23 states, the District of Columbia, and 8 foreign countries. [The LT News, August 1977]

Taft Lodge on Mount Mansfield, 1935
Taft Lodge on Mount Mansfield, 1935

[REMINISCENCES ABOUT ROY. BUCHANAN AND THE LONG TRAIL by Chet Buchanan] While I was on the LT- Patrol gang (in the 1932-to-1936 time span) one of our jobs was to replace all the logs in the north end of Taft Lodge. The LTP at that time consisted of Dad, Joe Joslin, and me. The procedure we used was first to remove the 3 bottom logs. Then we replaced the one at the bottom of the opening and removed the one at the top. That way, we chased the opening up to the peak of the roof where it disappeared.

We cut appropriated trees up the slope from Taft, peeled the bark off and slid them down to the lodge. Some parts of the slope were steep enough so the logs would slide on their own. We’d run ahead of and to one side of them holding ropes tied to the chains around the log. That way, we could steer it and, we hoped, arrest it, if it decided to head directly for the lodge. One time, Joe fell in front of a log, rolled onto his back, planted both feet on the end of the log and it pushed him a short distance until it stopped.

It was at Taft that we encountered Thelma Bonney and Erna Clayton. They were hiking a section of the LT, some each summer. We ran into them on one or two other occasions when we were building or repairing cabins, but I don’t remember where. At Taft, they stayed an extra couple of days and helped by chinking the cracks between the logs with sphagnum moss. I think we ate somewhat better when they were with us. I seem to remember blueberry pies Erna was a dietitian.

THE RESCUE OF A SYMBOL
by Larry Dean

Hovering far up under the northeast shadow of Mt. Mansfield’s Chin is one of the GMC’s oldest shelters. This cabin, built of logs from those very steeps, cut and rolled into place by the sweat of men, has after the storms of twenty-one years begun to show age.

Some half dozen years ago the LT Patrol performed an emergency operation and checked a fatal “skin disease,” removing bark from the logs and replacing badly rotted and crumbling timber. But years of heavy snows had begun to force the structure to its knees. This summer a gang from Burlington got into a huddle, scratched their heads, rolled up their sleeves, spit on their hands, and went to work. Jacks cable, dills, hammers, and steel pegs were packed up over the Sunset Ridge trail from the Halfway House. The old cabin was pulled back to a standing position and anchored to the ledges of the mountain, to stay until the mountain should move. Caretaker Daan Zwick packed rolls of roofing across the ridge of Mansfield, from the Hotel and down Profanity, on some trips carrying 120 pounds to the load.

It took seven week-end trips to slap on the roofing, lay a metal ridge cap, put in a stove pipe chimney, cut a new window space in the logs on the east wall, and install three window sashes. Daan gave the cabin a creosote lotioning and chinked up the sides. Now the once ailing old Taft Lodge stands up strong after passing under the healing hands of Daan and Pierre Zwick, Elton Beal, Lee Brown, Den Douglas, Ken Fisher, Jerry Grow, Profs. Buchanan and Puffer, Larry Dean, and others.
Taft lodge has offered shelter to many hikers in the past and, it is hoped, will to many more in years to come. Above all, Taft lodge stands as a symbol of the thought and unselfish energy exerted by such men as Judge C. P. Cowles, who made 27 trips up to the site when the lodge was being built, and by those other workers during the 31 year of Club existence who have made the trails and shelters possible to trail lovers in and out of the state. One has but to watch those men and women at work, to work with them to realize the full value of the Long Trail.

May the big rescues along the Long Trail in the future ever be one of volunteer cooperation. May we never become dependent on other agencies to do the work. May rt always be said, “It was wrought in mountain pioneer spirit and maintained in the spirit” – the spirit-of which Taft Lodge is a true symbol.

Long Trail News, Nov. 1941

This lodge was extensively repaired by the LT Patrol in 1962. The bottom front log was replaced. The front part of the roof leaked and was repaired with rolled roofing. [LT New, Nov. 1962] The Patrol spent 3 weeks at this lodge. Four logs put in on the south end, a new roof, floor replaced, bunks repaired, and a new outhouse completed. The Mountain Co. hauled our supplies up to the top of the new lift. [LT News, November 1968] On March 16, 1969, we had the rededication of the lodge which was attended by a large group. The over-nighters dug about 9 feet of snow for water in the brook which wasn’t there for some reason. The Lodge had snow completely covering the upstairs window on the north side. [LT News, May 1969].

Taft Lodge – A Restoration in The GMC Tradition
In the summer of 1930, an eight-year-old boy, his sister, and father climbed the Halfway House Trail up the western side of Mt. Mansfield. Once on the mountain’s ridge, they walked north to Lake of the Clouds. “There, my father put us to bed under an overhanging rock, and he went down to Taft Lodge to play cards with the caretaker,” said Daan Zwick, remembering that trip of 60 years ago. Taft Lodge, in 1930, was just 2 years older than Zwick.
“The lodge fee was one of the reasons my dad had us camping out,” Zwick said. “I think he wanted to give us that outdoor experience, but I think he also was avoiding the fee,” for staying overnight. By 1940, it cost $.50 to sleep in one of the 32 bunk spaces in Taft Lodge.
Zwick and his father, Pierre, and his sister, Hudde, climbed to the summit of Mt. Mansfield many times over the next 8 years. and only occasionally did they sleep at Taft. But the boy who so rarely got to stay in the largest and oldest-remaining LT shelter was soon to become caretaker of the lodge and eventually to fund its reconstruction. … Taft Lodge is part of the cultural history surrounding the national conservation movement that was underway in the early twentieth century, according to Curtis Johnson, a historian in the Division of Historic Preservation and a GMC member. … Historic Preservation asked only that the general appearance of the lodge be preserved (in the restoration) given the difficulties of working on a site three-quarters of the way up the state’s highest mountain …. Although the current reconstruction of Taft is the most complete the lodge has seen, it is not the first. Varying historical accounts note at least three significant efforts to repair the cabin, as logs rotted and the structure settled in 1934, just fourteen years after the lodge was built, several logs were replaced Scattered in among the official repair projects were at least a few improvements made by caretakers … By 1941 … snow build-up behind the cabin had pushed the base out a little bit Burlington Section members attached cables to the lodge and to the rock behind it and “pulled the cabin up straight again.” … They also replaced the roof.
Another significant repair job took place in 1961, when the Long Trail Patrol removed a rotten log from the south end of the lodge.
The toll road proved invaluable during these projects … Without the road or the type of generous assistance the Vermont National Guard provided this year with helicopters, horses would have had to pull the logs and lumber up the mountain All the smaller supplies and tools would have been packed up by volunteers … To prepare for the helicopters to crop the materials. a volunteer crew cleared trees from in front of the lodge. … Even with the help of the National Guard and power tools such as chain saws and drills, work conditions at the site are rough. It quickly becomes clear that although (Fred) Gilbert, who has twenty-five years of-experience in construction, contracted with the GMC to rebuild the lodge, he is doing the work out of his dedication of the lodge which was attended by a large group. The over-nighters dug about 9 feet of snow for water in the brook which wasn’t there for some reason. The Lodge had snow completely covering the upstairs window on the north side.

Long Trail News, May 1969

Change Of Plans for Taft Lodge Reconstruction

A shift of gears in planning for the reconstruction of Taft lodge became necessary after a meeting between representatives of the GMC and the State Historical Preservation Division. Taft Lodge, located near the chin of Mt Mansfield many times over the next 8 years. and only occasionally did they sleep at Taft. But the boy who so rarely got to stay in the largest and oldest-remaining LT shelter was soon to become caretaker of the lodge and eventually to fund its reconstruction. … Taft Lodge is part of the cultural history surrounding the national conservation movement that was underway in the early twentieth century, according to Curtis Johnson, a historian in the Division of Historic Preservation and a GMC member. … Historic Preservation asked only that the general appearance of the lodge be preserved (in the restoration) given the difficulties of working on a site three-quarters of the way up the state’s highest mountain …. Although the current reconstruction of Taft is the most complete the lodge has seen, it is not the first. Varying historical accounts note at least three significant efforts to repair the cabin, as logs rotted and the structure settled in 1934, just fourteen years after the lodge was built, several logs were replaced Scattered in among the official repair projects were at least a few improvements made by caretakers … By 1941 … snow build-up behind the cabin had pushed the base out a little bit Burlington Section members attached cables to the lodge and to the rock behind it and “pulled the cabin up straight again.” … They also replaced the roof.

Another significant repair job took place in 1961, when the Long Trail Patrol removed a rotten log from the south end of the lodge.

The toll road proved invaluable during these projects … Without the road or the type of generous assistance the Vermont National Guard provided this year with helicopters, horses would have had to pull the logs and lumber up the mountain All the smaller supplies and tools would have been packed up by volunteers … To prepare for the helicopters to crop the materials. a volunteer crew cleared trees from in front of the lodge. … Even with the help of the National Guard and power tools such as chain saws and drills, work conditions at the site are rough. It quickly becomes clear that although (Fred) Gilbert, who has twenty-five years of-experience in construction, contracted with the GMC to rebuild the lodge, he is doing the work out of his dedication to the Club. Gilbert is a lifelong GMC member, a Long Trail end-to-end hiker. and an active GMC volunteer. He and (John) Bennett live on site in tents five days a week, including every weekend. They work regardless of the bugs, the sun, or, this summer, the cold. Rainy days confine them to their tents, and sunny days sentence them to workdays of as many as sixteen hours.

Once the supplies were on-site, Gilbert. Bennet. and several crews of volunteers spent a few days gathering the strewn lumber and other materials and organizing the site. Then Gilbert and Bennett tore out the lodge’s bunks and floor. They also found a time capsule concealed below the floor. Once the floor was gone, they cut the walls out with a chain saw and installed the truss system to support the roof. In order to keep the roof, which is no longer connected to anything, from blowing into the mountainside, they tied it down with ropes running from each corner out to four of the larger trees around the cabin. Then they started hauling rocks and water to build the stone foundation …. The new foundation, which required sixty bags of mortar, will mean an extra step of two up to enter the cabin.

… reconstruction is on schedule …In addition to the long days Gilbert and Bennett work, as many as fifteen volunteers help each weekend, while others help during the week A new time capsule will be placed in Taft, and GMC is seeking ideas for what to put in the capsule. Please contact Dana Baron, Fred Gilbert, or Len Carpens possible. The Taft lodge Committee had considered both of these options previously but eventually decided to proceed with a complete replacement of the shelter. Based on the outcome of the December 9 meeting, this decision must now be revisited… [Ridge Lines: Vol 24. no 3; January 1995] [More information on Taft Lodge renovation may be found in issues of Ridges Lines, the Burlington Section newsletter wit,h ntire article may be found in the LT News. Fall 1996]

Taft Lodge Complete!

After three years of planning and a summer of hard work, volunteers and staff completed the reconstruction of Taft lodge on Sept. 5; 1996 Construction supervisor Fred Gilbert and his assistant John Bennet, who lived on Mt. Mansfield for the summer, have packed up their tools and personal gear and headed down the mountain for the last time.

A complete renovation gave Taft Lodge – the oldest, largest, and most heavily used of LT shelters – a new lease on life. Workers replaced the logs and other materials and installed a new, green enamel metal roof. A new interior layout features stronger bunks, a larger table, more headroom, and a built-in closet for the caretaker’s supplies and equipment. Volunteers also built a new outhouse with scrap lumber left over from the reconstruction. Trail relocations for the LT and Profanity Trail now route traffic around the shelter to take pressure off the site.

Once the supplies were on-site, Gilbert. Bennet. and several crews of volunteers spent a few days gathering the strewn lumber and other materials and organizing the site. Then Gilbert and Bennett tore out the lodge’s bunks and floor. They also found a time capsule concealed below the floor. Once the floor was gone, they cut the walls out with a chain saw and installed the truss system to support the roof. In order to keep the roof, which is no longer connected to anything, from blowing into the mountainside, they tied it down with ropes running from each corner out to four of the larger trees around the cabin. Then they started hauling rocks and water to build the stone foundation …. The new foundation, which required sixty bags of mortar, will mean an extra step of two up to enter the cabin.

… reconstruction is on schedule …In addition to the long days Gilbert and Bennett work, as many as fifteen volunteers help each weekend, while others help during the week A new time capsule will be placed in Taft, and GMC is seeking ideas for what to put in the capsule. Please contact Dana Baron, Fred Gilbert, or Len Carpens possible. The Taft lodge Committee had considered both of these options previously but eventually decided to proceed with a complete replacement of the shelter. Based on the outcome of the December 9 meeting, this decision must now be revisited… [Ridge Lines: Vol 24. no 3; January 1995] [More information on Taft Lodge renovation may be found in issues of Ridges Lines, the Burlington Section newsletter wit,h ntire article may be found in the LT News. Fall 1996]

On October 6, a beautiful fall day, 50 people hiked up to Taft to dedicate the new shelter. After the dedication, the Club recognized the many people involved with the renovation at a small gathering at the GMC headquarters.

Although Taft is spiffy and new, when one sits on the ledge in front of the shelter and looks back at the venerable lodge nestled below the Chin, there can be no mistake that this is still Taft Lodge. Somehow, with all the newness. the essential character of Taft has been preserved. As the shelter grows old and settles into the mountain, the history of Taft Lodge will continue for another 75 years, and more. [LTN Winter 1996]