On Christmas Eve, a building known as the Stone Hut at the top of Mt. Mansfield caught fire. The blaze destroyed the historic building’s wood elements. Now, an effort is underway to rebuild.
The Stone Hut was built in 1936 by the Civilian Conservation Corps to serve as a warming hut. The cabin is owned by the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation, which rents it out for overnight stays during the winter, when it’s accessible by a chair lift at the Stowe Mountain Resort.
With its wooden bunks, woodstove and massive stone chimney, the Stone Hut was a much-beloved rustic getaway. Michael Snyder, commissioner of the Vermont Department of Forest, Parks and Recreation, says the location of the cabin and its historical status make rebuilding a challenge. But he says the state is committed to the project.
"It’s not going to be cheap and easy to rebuild," says Snyder. "But we know that everyone wants it and we concur. And we’re enthusiastic about heading towards that."
Snyder says the fire basically gutted the Stone Hut.
"It’s a stone structure ... but a lot of wood inside, that’s all gone, and the stone structure kind of remains," he explains. "But we’ve stabilized it. We’ve protected it and we’ve made it safe. And now we’re working through planning, design, permitting all with an eye towards rebuilding as soon as we can."
Stowe residents Jake and Donna Carpenter, the founder and CEO of Burton Snowboards, were renting the cabin at the time of the fire. A state fire investigation report says the Carpenters’ sons and some friends unintentionally set the hut on fire.
The report says the group started a fire in the cabin’s wood stove in preparation for a family friend’s visit on the afternoon of Dec. 23. Wet firewood was stacked up against the woodstove to dry and the stove door was propped open to draft the fire. But the family friend did not arrive that evening. And a resort lift mechanic spotted the empty cabin ablaze early the next morning.
Stowe firefighters tapped into snowmaking lines to put out the fire that morning, and again later in the day when it rekindled. But what took a night and a day to burn down will take much longer to rebuild, according to Michael Snyder.
"My hope is that we would be through the design, planning, permitting and beginning within a year," Snyder estimates. "I think it might be just practically unrealistic to think that it would be open for use within that timeframe. But we’re going to push it as best we can."
The Carpenters could not be reached to comment on this story. However, the family has made a large donation toward the rebuild.
Sarah Alberghini Winters is the executive director of Vermont Parks Forever, a nonprofit foundation that raises money for Vermont State Parks. She says the organization is accepting Stone Hut donations through the mail and online.
"We have so far had unsolicited donations for the Stone Hut rebuild ranging from $20 to a very generous donation from Jake and Donna Carpenter of $150,000," she says. "Each time we get a donation, there’s a note or an anecdote or an article that comes along with it from some very passionate supporter of the Stone Hut who’s had great memories there. So we get to hear a little bit about the history of the users of the Stone Hut and who loves it."
Alberghini Winters says the fundraising effort is just getting underway and the amount that needs to be raised is still unclear.
"These donations coming from the Stone Hut are unsolicited," she says. "We haven’t opened an official fundraising effort for this because we don’t know what that total is yet. So once we have that number, we’ll see if we have a gap or not, and then we’ll reassess and go from there."
Meanwhile, the Department of Forest, Parks and Recreation says an insurance claim has been filed, although there is a $100,000 deductible. The state is waiting on the status of that claim, in addition to construction figures. In the meantime, Commissioner Snyder reassures fans of the Stone Hut that the restoration will start as soon as possible.
"It’s much loved," he says. "A fantastic history, a great piece of Vermont’s history, built by the CCC and just generations of folks who have experienced it and enjoyed it. And so it was really a sad day on Christmas Eve when it burned. And we’re eager to rebuild."
Online donations to the Stone Hut rebuild can be made at VermontParksForever.org.