Left in Andover: Ancient cellar holes a window to the past and future

By Susan Leader
©2020 Telegraph Publishing LLC

A hundred feet off my front doorstep lies the original cellar hole to the “West Place, so-called,” as my property is referred to on the deed.

Lucy Jones West bought her eponymous homestead in 1866, a year after her husband Henry West was mustered out of the Union Army. Possibly she had grown accustomed to managing the family’s affairs during his two years of service, during which he was wounded at the Battle of Monocacy in Maryland on July 9, 1864.

The West Place cellar hole nearby the Leader home.

Henry West was one of 34,500 Vermont patriots, roughly a tenth of the state’s total population, to serve in the Union army. Henry’s brush with mortality almost numbered him among the approximately 5,000 Vermonters who died on Civil War battlefields or from disease and infection afterward. Monuments erected on town greens throughout the state honor this sacrifice.

Vermont led the nation in abolishing slavery in its 1777 Constitution. Vermonters held onto that ideal, turning out in force for Abraham Lincoln in the presidential election of 1860. Whether this vote was informed by abolitionist fervor or faithfulness to the Union or both, the numbers are striking: Lincoln won the state by a two-thirds majority. Windsor County surged 80 to 90 percent in his favor.

There is no denying that a declaration of war has a unique capacity to unify compatriots. Ironically however, American wars in my lifetime in Vietnam and Iraq have had the reverse effect, seeding internal culture wars that have torn us asunder.

In 1906, the great American moral philosopher William James sounded a call for the “moral equivalent of war” whereby social cohesion might be attained when citizens join together in disciplined, non- violent service toward a common good. Black Lives Matter and climate change are two such existential causes for our time.

Lucy, relieved that Henry had returned alive from the war, was nevertheless mindful of her own family support system in purchasing the West Place. Her older sister Rebecca Jones Forbes lived close by. I enjoy imagining the sisters, who grew up in Rupert and Dorset, visiting back and forth along the quiet roads, to borrow an egg or share a bit of gossip.

The graves of Lucy and Henry West.

When I brought home an antique spinning wheel from a tag sale held by Rebecca’s descendants a few years ago, it may not have been the first time that relic of female material culture made its appearance on my property.

At the time, I speculated the wheel may have been used to spin wool from sheep raised in my own fields. Phebe Church Jones, Rebecca and Lucy’s mother, may well have sent it over the mountains for her two girls to share.

The burgeoning lilac, apple trees, and lily of the valley that crowd around my West Place cellar hole were here 70 years ago when I was a little girl. They feature in my earliest memories. As Robert Frost put it in Ghost House:

I dwell in a lonely house I know
That vanished many a summer ago,
And left no trace but the cellar walls,
And a cellar in which the daylight falls
And the purple-stemmed wild raspberries grow…
I know not who these mute folk are
Who share the unlit place with me…
And yet, in view of how many things,
As sweet companions as might be had.

Now I wonder what semi-permanent marks I too am leaving upon the landscape. A century from now, will my pile of Susan Leader Pottery shards in the woods intrigue someone? Will echoes of my fiddler’s dance reverberate off Markham Mountain?

The pile of Leader pottery shards on Susan’s property might one day be of interest to others.

Unlike his many peers who headed out West seeking new opportunities at the end of the Civil War, leaving Vermont with a historic population deficit, Henry returned home to Andover to stay.

In the decades that followed, Lucy sold their West Place, then bought it back again a few years later. In the interim, the couple lived on nearby Howard Hill. An explanation for this unusual back and forth may be found in Henry’s cause of death.

Henry died at age 55 in 1887 of consumption, or tuberculosis. This progressive bacterial infection of the lungs was the leading cause of death in turn of the century America. Veterans such as Henry may have picked it up during active service, but continued to struggle with it for the rest of their lives. He is buried at Simonsville Cemetery.

Lucy lived until 1908, the same year my immigrant grandparents arrived in Bennington from eastern Europe.

After Henry’s death, Lucy sold the old homestead again, this time to her daughter Carrie. The house was abandoned and eventually fell in. The West Place was subsumed into neighboring Popplewood Farm as ancillary field and pasture, its cultivars left to multiply or die on their own.

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Filed Under: Community and Arts LifeLeft in Andover

About the Author: Vermont native and noted potter Susan Leader grew up on Popplewood Farm in Andover. At age 17, she was inspired to take up the potter's wheel by "a charismatic potter" from the Society of Vermont Craftsman. She spent 18 months apprenticing at pottery villages throughout Japan. She returned to Popplewood Farm, where she and her husband, fiddle player John Specker, raised their two daughters.

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  1. Kathy Bentley says:

    I used to explore a lot of the abandoned cellar holes up and down Weston road and a lot of the side dirt roads. Lots of treasures used to be found.

  2. Tim Roper says:

    What a terrific perspective and feel for the human history of Andover and Vermont in general, you have, Susan. Thank you for sharing your thoughts here, with us.