Reprint from Northern Woodlands magazine, June 3, 2014 from the research of frequent climber Judy Chaves.
Frank A. Lewis bought the Jones-Smith farm on the west side of Mt. Philo in 1887, a good 40 years after sheep fever had ended and farms in Vermont were struggling to survive. Frank and his wife Clara farmed the land, but also turned the farm into a summer tourist destination, offering, as advertised in their brochure, “a delightful retreat from the heat and turmoil of the city,” promoting the healthful benefits of “the best of fresh country fare, butter, eggs, milk, and vegetables fresh from our own farm.” They razed the farmhouse, built an inn, and established a colony of canvas tents for guests wanting a more rustic experience.
Inn guests James and Frances Humphreys, of Dorchester, Massachusetts, first came in 1900 and grew so enamored of the place that they began buying much of the farmland on the mountain, built a summer home at its base, and urged the Lewises to build a carriage road for guests. In 1902, the road was complete, as were roadside gazebos, foot trails, benches, overlooks, and a summit observation tower. “The mountain road,” reads the inn brochure, “threading its way through open fields and woods affords a variety and intensity of scenic beauty seldom equaled in New England.”
The mountain, which 50 years prior had been cleared of trees and grazed by sheep, was now pasture on much of its lower half and forest on its upper: the epitome of the bucolic landscape being encouraged statewide as a lure for tourists. While other northern states were wooing urban vacationers with rugged wilderness, Vermont was offering the pastoral life, with easy access to nature. “Everything possible is done to make the way safe as well as agreeable,” Bassett quotes James Humphreys as saying about the carriage road. “All precipitous places are boarded by neatly painted iron railings, and at short intervals resting places are provided.”