The Yellow House

The following was transcribed without change from an original manuscript written by Archie W. Stone and is part of the Cabot Historical Society's collection of documents.

Cabot Plain, near the  site of the Yellow House tavern.  Photo by J.Brown, 2009.

The Yellow House was a famous tavern that stood beside the Hazen Road on Cabot Plain.

The Plain is a high, rolling tract of somewat level land about two miles long and one mile wide. It crowns the high watershed between the Onion and the Passumpsic rivers. It lies too near the clouds to be dependable tillage land, for there the snow lies deep in winter and lingers long in spring, and the autumn frosts come early. But it was here that the first comers chose to make their clearings, and there for twenty—five years was the business and political and social center of the town.

The hilltops seem to have suited the purpose or the liking of the pioneers. They seem not to have liked the valleys and riversides. Theirs was a hilltop civilization. Here and there one of the old hilltop settlements endured the vicissitudes of the years  and grew into a village; and some of those hilltop villages still flourish  Such villages as Irasburg and Craftsbury Common and Randolph Center with its wide tree-shaded street, and Danville and Lunenburg with its unrivalled view of the Connecticut and the Presidential Range. But most of them sooner or later were abandoned for newer settlements in the valleys.

Something of the ruggedness of the everlasting hills seems to have been bred in the souls of those hilltop dwellers, for those towns on the hills have ever stood staunchly for everything that is good and fine in our up—country civilization.

I know very well that there was little romance in the lives of the pioneers. I have been in the settlements along the Restigouche [New Brunswick, Canada] where even today settlers are rolling up log cabins, and hoeing potatoes in the stumpy clearings; and I know by the weariness in the drooping shoulders, and by the lonesomeness in the eyes of the women, and- by the listless play of the children that they find little joy in what they do. They are victims of the times: and so also were our great grandfathers. Their lives were drab and hard. But even among them were some who still could lift up their eyes to the hills and there find strength.

It must have been some such stouthearted seer of visions in the smoke of his log fires, some high souled lover of the grandeur of the hills who first pitched upon the Plain. From those high pasture ridges one sees toward the west almost the entire range of the Green Mountains, from the bold up-thrust of Jay Peak in the north to the long, blue line of Lincoln and the far, faint cone of Killington in the south and to the eastward beyond the purple abyss that is the valley of the Connecticut stand the rugged masses of the “White Mountains,” And there on the sward of a westward sloping pasture I love to sit in the warm haze of a September afternoon and gaze across the leagues of wooded hills, and, half dreaming, half awake, live over again the old days that my great-grandfather knew.

Little by little in those early days, as the north-country towns filled with settlers, traffic increased over the Hazen Road, and here and there taverns were built to accommodate the travelers and the army of teamsters. The Cottrell Turnpike crept up the Onion River from Burlington to Montpelier. The Paine Turnpike ran south from Montpelier to reach the Connecticut at White River. A County Road was cut over the hills from Montpelier through Calais and Cabot to join the Hazen Road on the Plain. The Hazen Road was extended north until it connected with roads running to St. Johns and Montreal. Another County Road was opened from Barton through Brownington and Derby, entering the Province at Derby Line. For twenty years or more a large part of the traffic over these routes converged upon the Hazen Road, and passed over the Plain. Here went Cottrell’s famous six-horse coaches, here went the slow freight teams hauling potash salts and pork and whiskey to Portland and Boston. Here went Ben Sperry, who was known from Barton to Boston as Uncle Ben, with his six-horse freight team which made the round trip from the Plain to Boston and back in about three weeks. Here in more prosperous years went the smugglers. Here went the circuit riders, grim, fearless men who rode up and down the settlements preaching and burying and marrying and scaring the wits out of men with their sulphureous blasts of hell-fire. Here went Hank Denny on his great black horse carrying the meager mail from Montpelier through Lyndon and Barton to Derby, then back through Irasburg and Craftsbury, a journey of ten days. At his saddle bow he carried a great tin horn, and when he winded a blast that went echoing along the hillsides, rnen, women and children dropped hoes, brooms and dolls, and ran to the road for the eventful letter or the copy of the “Vermont Watchman” that the echoing blast portended.

When Caledonia County was set off from Orange there was a strong prospect that Cabot could he the shire-town of the new county; and as a result there was a short lived building boom at the Plain.

Two brothers named Beardsley, who had recently come from Massachusetts, quick to grasp what they thought was an opportunity, cleared two acres of land, removing even the stones and stumps, as a site for the new county buildings. They then built the famous tavern which for thirty years was known as the Yellow House.

The tavern was the first frame house to be built in town. The Beardsleys sent messengers through the near-by towns to invite the settlers to the raising, and they cautioned the messengers to be sure to mention the fact that they had purchased a barrel of first-proof rum for the occasion. The settlers in Cabot, Danville and Peacham almost to the last man accepted the invitation, and sent back word that they could come and “drink the Beardsleys dry”. And that saying became a proverb along the Hazen Road. The Beardsleys squared their timbers, and shaved their pegs, and sent for another barrel of rum.

That raising was one of the great events in the settling of the north country, and its telling became a classic. Long years afterwords old men would tell the tale in senile glee, and declare that for them the raising lasted two days.

The Yellow House was a two-story building framed of hard-wood timbers that had been squared and smoothed by skilled adzemen. It was forty feet square, and had an ell that contained a hall which was intended for town-meetings and other gatherings. The hall was actually used as a lounging place for the freight teamsters, who often smelled a little too strongly of the stables for the pleasure of the travelers, who gathered before the fireplace in the great front room for an after—supper smoke and visit and discussion of politics. A long shed connected the building with the barns, which must have covered a good deal of ground, and probably were built of logs.

In after years old people used to say that in the hey-day of freighting some sixty or more heavy teams used to pass over the high Plain every day. And besides these were the coaches and the horseback travelers. A day’s haul for a heavy team-was about twenty-five miles. The taverns used to stand some six or eight miles apart along the freight roads. So, a tavern like the Yellow House would probably entertain each night some fifteen or twenty teamsters and their helpers, besides other travelers; and probably sixty or eighty horses and oxen would stand in the stables.

It requires no vivid imagination to see again the long trains of freighters coming in at dusk of a winter day, a column of snow-shrouded horses and oxen and loaded sleds, the horse-teamsters perched motionless on the high seats, the ox-drivers plodding wearily at the nigh shoulder; then the jingling of team bells, the whinnying of’ the weary horses, the lowing of the bow-galled oxen, and the barking of excited dogs ending in a free-for-all dog fight in the trampled snow. Then the teamsters entering the tavern through the long shed with a shaking of snowy coats and stamping of heavy hoots, the jovial shouts of recognition and welcome, the inevitable round of whiskey, and a scraping of chairs across the floor as the hungry drivers gathered at the supper table.

About the year 1810 business began to move away from the Plain to a new settlement at the Center, which in turn was abandoned for a still newer settlement down beside the river. Then, about 1820 a new road, called the Market Road, which cut off the long hard haul up to the Plain, took most of the freighters away from the Yellow House. But the old tavern had one last lively chapter in its story.

During the War of 1812, when smuggling across the Canadian border offered to certain venturesome spirits a quick but rather dangerous way to money, the Yellow House became the headquarters of a famous gang of smugglers. This gang openly declared that their guiding motto was, “If thine enemy thirst give him drink.” So they sent vast quantities of potato whiskey to the British armies in Canada. And with the whiskey went tons of beef on the hoof. They used the barns of the Yellow Tavern while they collected their trail herds, and in its cellar stored their stout oak barrels of whiskey until the portents were right for running it across the border.

A mile or so north of the old tavern—stand is a small lake that used to be called Smugglers’ Pond; and there is an old tale about a certain zealous customs officer who attempted to stop a trail herd in the road near the pond and was thrown without ceremony into the depths which contain more mud than water.

After the roaring days of the freighters the old house stood deserted and empty, with shattered windows and sagging doors, until finally it was torn down for its timbers in 1855. Today, in a sheep pasture, beside the faint trace of the Hazen Road, there is a shallow grass-grown hollow that once was a cellar, and a scattered square of old foundation stones, and some crumbling bricks where once stood a fire place. And there in the closely nibbled pasture sod we have set a granite slab on which we have carved the words “Smugglers’ House”. 

The stout old days are dead, and the winds that drive the low clouds across the ridges sing their requiem.    

--A. W. Stone [Archie Wilfred Stone, 1878-1946.]


Note:  Nick Dann, a Beardsley descendent,  confirms Horace and Gershom Beardsley were not brothers.  Horace Beardsley was Gershom's nephew.  Both are referred to as "doctor" and both practiced medicine in those early days.  According to “Vermont Historical Gazetteer,” published in 1867, the Beardsleys cleared two acres of land which, in 1867 when Ms. Hemenway compiled that history,  was a pasture owned by Samuel S. Batchelder, near the boundary with the Town of Walden.  The house was not completed at that spot, and after two years was taken down and then moved to the Plain.  There is a marker and hollows in the field on the west side of the road about mid way of the hill between the Cabot Plains Cemetery and Richard Spaulding’s Walbridge School, which indicates where the foundation/cellar for the tavern was. 

We don't have any pictures of the Yellow House, but Jenny Smith Donaldson taught her students the history of the old tavern and described it to them in some detail, probably from the information in Mr. Stone's story.  Fourth grade student Bonnie Stevens made this drawing.  Bonnie is now president of the Cabot Historical Society.

The key (upper right) to the Yellow House Tavern, later known as the "Smugglers House," was donated to the Cabot Historical Society by Florence Stone (Mrs. Hartwell Stone).  The Stone family owned the land after the Beardsleys and before Mr. Spaulding.  The bricks and stones were removed and the land around the old foundation was farmed.  The hay on the farm is harvested each year, but the only other crop is maple syrup.  Nearby is Foster Bridge, a covered bridge built by Richard Spaulding, spanning a small  spring-fed pond.  The bridge was constructed in 1989 in memory of Spaulding's great grandfather, Alonzo Foster. 

                                                                                                                                                                                                                         --Jane Brown, CHS, 2010; notes updated 2015.

Cabot Historical Society,
Jan 30, 2012, 7:37 AM