McCallum: Lost Landmark

Feb 8, 2016

The Stone Hut on Mt. Mansfield was a rustic cottage built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1936 as a shelter for crews working on Vermont’s highest mountain during the Great Depression. There were no ski lifts, and ascending the peak to build trails or ski down meant trudging steadily upward first. But when the hut went up in flames this winter, local firefighters used a quad ski lift to haul equipment to the summit to fight the inferno that nevertheless gutted the building and devastated a Vermont landmark.

The loss of the small backcountry lodge with its view to the world took me back to winter overnights there during the 1990s. Operated by the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation, it was a popular rental for scores of devoted locals and tourists who loved spending the night on the lofty peak while the lights of Stowe village glittered silently below. Those who won a spot through a reservation lottery system each fall returned often over the decades and considered the tiny retreat hallowed ground.

With giant log beams, wooden bunk platforms and sleeping loft beneath its peaked roof, the hut offered up to twelve occupants a memorable night gathered in camaraderie around the wood stove. We carried water from the nearby mountaintop snack bar that left its bathrooms unlocked after hours. While fire wood was provided, we brought kindling and stoked the stove for cooking and keeping toasty through the long winter nights.

News of the fire spread quickly among the ski community and townspeople of Stowe. Investigation pointed to renter carelessness and lack of experience with wood stoves as the factors that took down this piece of Mansfield history - leaving charred ruins, massive log beams burned through, window frames melted and timbers gone. Only the thick walls, made from stone gathered from the summit to build the hut eighty years earlier, remained standing. While donations poured in, plans to rebuild remain unclear.

I’m glad I was among the lucky ones who experienced the Stone Hut in its rustic glory. Each time we rode the lift to the top, carrying only what sleeping gear and provisions we could fit on our laps, we were filled with the anticipation of a night spent with friends surrounded by vast snowy silence or winds howling around the hut. We’d hike down the mountain at dawn through sun, fog or snow, lugging our equipment past skiers who looked astonished to see us on foot as they went whizzing by.