Brattleboro’s Cold Spring

A long time ago, this was one of Brattleboro, Vermont’s storied tourist attractions. It was called the Cold Spring: it’s still there, but you may never have seen it, much less known of its existence. One hundred fifty years ago, the pursuit of leisure unfolded at a slower pace and often in a more pastoral setting. Six Flags this was not.

cold spring postcard 1

A hand-colored vintage postcard of Cold Spring in its heyday.

A helpful background description can be found in the Brattleboro Retreat’s nomination document to the National Register of Historic Places (structure number 41):

Cold Spring (1845)
This spring is located just west of Upper Dummerston Road where it joins Route 30. A source of pure water, it was the destination of daily walks by patrons of Dr. Wesselhoeft’s Hydropathic Institution, located in Brattleboro. In 1899 the Retreat built a stone hood over the spring and a rustic bridge of boulders over the ravine. It became a favorite resting place for Retreat patients on their daily walks.

cold spring postcard 2

Another historic postcard view, probably a bit later than the previous, circa 1906.

The Brattleboro History website, a wonderful collection of articles compiled by historian Thomas St. John, has a section devoted to this now-forgotten landmark, noting that the first recorded mention of the namesake spring was a journal entry on September 20, 1796 by one Thomas Chapman, Esq. He stopped to visit the property’s owner, the Congregational Rev. William Wells, and wrote (sic) “The Farm is every where well Watered with excellent Springs of Soft Water, and his House & Farm yard supplied from Springs Adjacent which is conducted under ground in Wooden Tubes…” Availing himself of the clear, cold spring water, the good Reverend had opened an English malt house in 1797, soliciting barley, oats, and rye from his farming neighbors. The Wells residence was later converted into the Burnside Military School (founded 1859); the cadets and officers made substantial improvements to the Cold Spring on their watch.

cold spring stone bridge

The stone bridge and walled pathway as it is seen today, just off busy VT Route 30.

Following is an excerpt from the Brattleboro History article, a florid paen to the trysting spot which appeared in the Vermont Phoenix in 1865, penned by a writer who signed himself as “X”:

“Would you know a pleasant terminus of a comfortable stroll from the village, just long enough for a summer twilight? Go to Cold Spring. Are there times of heat when you would repair to a seat in a spot of delightful shade, and would quaff the sweetest of cool, spring water? I commend you to Cold Spring. Or, do you desire a quiet nook by the wayside where you may sit with another by moonlight under a grand canopy of graceful branches? Let Cold Spring be the place. But let the hour be late, or you may find the blue uniforms preoccupying the coveted seat.”

cold spring grottoThe spring grotto, still flowing…

From Picturesque Brattleboro by Frank Pomeroy:

“… the pleasant nook by the roadside, where as long as man can remember, have bubbled up the waters of Cold Spring… at which the travelers of all these years have in passing been wont to stop and drink.”

cold spring view from top of hillView from the top of the hill

Brattleborobrief at Blogspot posted an article on this hidden gem nearly three years ago; it’s barely off the beaten path but still almost unnoticed. Just west of Upper Dummerston Road, immediately after it forks left from Vermont Route 30 North (just past the Retreat Farm), you can part the undergrowth on the side of the road and find it for yourself!

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8 thoughts on “Brattleboro’s Cold Spring

    • Glad you enjoyed it, John. Yes, you could have a lot of fun with Mr. X’s tribute. Stefon would certainly do it justice, “Cold Spring is definitely one of Brattleboro’s hottest spots. They’ve thought of everything…”

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    • Thanks for reading – I hope you find it as delightful as i did. I am recommending it to an area photographer for private portrait shoot locations (he does regular work for the Retreat but was unaware of this little hideaway). Happy to have some locals finding this post!Thanks again.

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  1. Great entry on the Cold Spring!

    Just one thing, though, the link you provide which you say is to the Brattleboro Historical Society’s section on Cold Spring, is in fact, not their website, but that of another local historian, Thomas St. John.

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    • Thank you for dropping in to read the Cold Spring post, SphinxVictorian. I stand corrected and have made the needed corrections to the text, with attribution to Mr.Thomas St. John. His site has been an invaluable resource to me, and many others, I am sure. I appreciate your input and will keep it in mind for future articles.

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    • Hi Rob! Exactly – the spring grotto itself is just mud these days. There is some interest in restoring the area; perhaps the spring could be brought back, although aquifers may have shifted with all the settler activity. The immediate area was well-known historically for multiple springs and was a center for native settlement, as I am rediscovering slowly. It is quite possible the “Cold Spring” was used by indigenous travellers along the river trail, as well as for domestic use. Most early settler activities are a “smoking gun” for previous, established native usages.

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