Long before European settlers arrived, Native Americans fished and hunted in the Silver Lake area.They fashioned tools from the hard quartzite found nearby.Artifacts found along the shoreline suggest that the area was also a winter encampment site.Two dugout canoes, each several hundred years old, lie on the bottom of the lake.
At an elevation of 1250 feet above sea level, Silver Lake is nestled between mountain ridges.The steep, rocky ground surrounding the lake was valued especially for it oil.
According to local lore, a local resident, John Bullock, obtained the land for a “barrel of liquor”.He bequeathed it to his adopted son, John Chandler Bullock who died during a diphtheria epidemic in 1863.Ultimately his natural brother, Frank Chandler, a missionary from Montreal, inherited the land.
Frank Chandler experienced a divine revelation and was inspired to start a religious camp meeting at Silver Lake.By 1879, he had built a road to the lake through the Leicester Hollow and the first camp meeting was held in a primitive log building.Over the next few years more buildings were built including the Silver Lake Hotel.
The hotel faced the lake at the site of the present picnic area, with a sizeable orchard in the rear.Originally constructed as a seminary, it was impressive site: the hotel was 36 feet wide, 86 feet long, three stories high and had a massive porch that extended 200 feet, connecting it to other buildings.The first floor had the dining room and kitchen: the second, sleeping quarters for guests, and on the third floor, the chapel.The fifty to sixty room hotel boasted a bathtub on wheels that was pushed from room to room.Out back was a “ten-holer” (a big outhouse)!
A large red barn with a slate roof east of the hotel was adorned with hand carved posts and window frames.“It was something to see,” recalled a local physician.Horses were stabled there while their owners “got religion” at the camp.Along the shoreline the “Tobacco Monument”, a granite marker inscribed “Godliness, Holiness and Cleanliness,” was erected in honor of those who gave up their cigars, pipes and cigarettes during camp meetings.Other buildings nearby included a cottage and two boat houses.
In 1911, Mr. Chandler sold the water rights to the Hortonia Light and Power Company (which subsequently became Central VT Public Service Corp.).After a dam was built at the north end of the lake in 1914, the water level rose about 10 feet, slightly changing the shoreline.By 1919, the hotel was abandoned and Mr. Chandler had moved to Brandon after the death of his wife.A fire destroyed the hotel in 1942.The remaining abandoned buildings deteriorated.
In 1947, Mr. Chandler’s heirs sold the land surrounding Silver Lake to the U.S.D.A. Forest Service, Green Mt. National Forest, who now mange the area to maintain its semi-private character.It is closed to motors of all kinds during the snow free months.
Geology of Silver Lake
Silver Lake sits 670 feet above Lake Dunmore in a basin that was scoured by glaciers more than 10,000 years ago.The lake is about one mile long and ¼ mile wide at its widest point.Chandler Ridge, with a core extremely hard rock known as the Cheshire Quartzite, offers a scenic backdrop for the west side of the lake.This layer of quartzite rises steeply out of the Champlain Valley to make up the west edge of the Green Mountains.Watch the beautiful sunsets from several vantage points along this ridge.Beneath Silver Lake, the hard quartzite abuts the much softer Forest Dale dolomite to the east.The dolomite consists of carbonate (“limey”) minerals.
Over hundreds of thousands of years, naturally acidic rainwater flowing through numerous cracks in the Forest Dale dolomite dissolved the limey rock.This process gradually widened the cracks in the rock creating channels for strong underground flows entering Silver Lake underwater.These are the primary natural sources of water entering Silver Lake since no permanent surface streams flow into the lake.Drinking water for the old hotel and barns flowed from a similar crack in a ledge on a hillside east of the lake.
Native American Indians fashioned stone implements from the hard Cheshire quartzite.At nearby localities, the quartzite was also a source of kaolin clay, which was used in pottery.Ochre, a clay stained red with iron, was used as a pigment in early paints.Early colonists used the Forest Dale dolomite as a source of lime.Some of the dolomite also contained iron, lead, and zinc minerals.The iron was mined and smelted in the nearby town of Forrest Dale where the term “pig iron” was coined.It was so-called because molten iron from furnaces flowed into a series of molds resembling piglets suckling a sow.The lead mineral galena is similar in appearance to silver and is the source of many fabled lost silver mines in the area, which never had any real significant impact on the local economy.
The relatively level and sandy east and north shoreline is called “kame terrace”.Glaciers melting from the land about ten thousand years ago deposited these sands and gravels, which were often removed for road surfacing and fill.Settlers often cultivated the soils that formed in these sands because they were quite well drained and relatively easily worked though often exceedingly stony.A part of the kame terrace around the old hotel on the north end of the lake has been cultivated in the past as have some areas east of the Leicester Hollow Trail.
Plants and Trees
A rich variety or native and non-native plant species and even few plants carried in by settlers blanket the basin in which Silver Lake lies.Hemlocks, maples, birches and beech similar to those surrounding the lake in the late 1700’s, eke out an existence along the dry, rocky south and west shorelines.Seven rare plant species, including Habenaria viridis (Long-bracted Orchis) and Malaxis unifolia (Green Adder’s Mouth) have been discovered in limey areas near the south end of the lake.Along the sandy east and north shores, settlers often planted imported species in gardens and along fence rows.The fields and gardens were abandoned in the early 1900’s.New forest that re-invaded the old fields contain an unusually wide variety of trees.Many of the old oaks growing in a line along and near the Leicester Hollow Trail grew up in old field fence rows.The much smaller and younger trees inside these old fence rows, like paper birch, black birch, red spruce, white pine red maple and Northern red oak were often the first trees to re-invade the previously cultivated areas.
As the lands surrounding Silver Lake slowly reverted to the forested conditions we have today, the types of animals living in the area also changed.As you stroll through these woodlands it is easy to see the evidence of our current wildlife.Black bear snowshoe hare, moose and porcupine have all returned.The trees, their bark, branches and broken tops, all bear witness to the efforts of these woodland dwellers as they seek life sustaining foods like beech nut and acorns.
Listen carefully.These forests are the home of a wonderful mixture of natural musicians – the woodland birds.Gone are the bluebirds, meadowlarks and cardinals from yesteryear’s open landscape.In their place are ovenbirds, veerys and hermit thrushes (the Vermont State bird).Combining their songs, these birds provide the listener unparalleled, natural entertainment.
Silver Lake is but one stop for water on its long fall to a hydroelectric generator located on Route 53 near Branbury State Park.
Sugar Hill reservoir (Goshen Dam) first stores water flowing from a several thousand-acre watershed high above Silver Lake.Build between 1915 and 1920 by Central Vermont Public Service Corporation (CVPS); its manually controlled gates control the flow of water into Sucker Brook.Several miles downstream, a small dam diverts water from this and another large brook to Silver Lake through a 7,000-foot long underground pipe 30 inches in diameter called a penstock.A partially buried concrete and fiberglass penstock replace an original wooden flume.From a bridge near the picnic area, you can listen and watch this water thunder down through an open cement flume on its last 300 feet into Silver Lake.
The 0.8-mile long, 670-foot drop from Silver Lake was one of the longest in the east and was considered quite a marvel when it was built.To send water to the generator at Lake Dunmore, a gate at Silver Lake dam is opened electrically from the Rutland headquarters via a telephone line.The penstock exiting the dam, leads to a tall, silo-like “surge” tank, which reduces pressure surges that occur when the generating station is shut down.Water from Silver Lake has the capacity to generate about 6,600,000 kilowatt hours of electricity each year.This is enough electricity to fulfill the average annual requirements of 820 home.It would take 11,000 barrels of oil each containing 42 gallons to generate this much electricity.
The remote Silver Lake, nestled high in the Green Mountain National Forest, is closed to motors and motor vehicles of all types except snowmobiles during the winter.During snow free seasons, no motors of any kind are allowed except for service and emergency vehicles.
Park on the east side of VT Route 53, 0.2 miles south of Branbury State Park and follow the 1.6-mile long trail (an old road) past the Falls of Lana to Silver Lake.A one-mile long trail branches from this trail near the Falls of Lana and takes you to Rattlesnake Point.
Silver Lake offers diverse recreational activities.A sandy shoreline with a picnic area at the north end of the lake and seventeen free campsites are available first come first served for up to 14 days.There are fire rings, hand water pumps, and vault toilets.
The Leicester Hollow Trail (3.5 miles long), the Chandler Ridge Trail (4 miles long), and the interpretive trail around the lake are scenic hikes.The blackberry picking is usually great during August.Fishing is allowed according to State fish and wildlife laws.
Mountain bikes and horses are allowed on the trail from Route 53, on Forest Road 27, and on the Leicester Hollow and Minnie Baker trails.They are not allowed in the campground or picnic area.