NEB&W Guide to South Hero, VT
During the Revolutionary War, Ethan Allen, his brother and the Green Mountain Boys captured Fort Ticonderoga by catching the Redcoats by surprise. In a burst of egotism, they named the largest islands in Champlain after themselves, the "Hero" islands, north and south.
Even the largest, South Hero, was never more than a minuscule cluster of buildings at a convenient crossroads, some of which were stone farmhouses dating back to this period.
South Hero is a small farming community. Down by the depot was a corn cannery and a dry bean elevator. The land throughout the island is not much above lake level, and there are many swampy areas.
America has only just recognized the importance of wetlands in preserving the overall ecology. Among other things, migrating birds use these as resting points in their long seasonal journeys. Land-based predators can not move quickly through swampy areas such as this, so the birds can regain some strength in relative safety, while feeding on the insects, fishes or lush grasses that inhabit wetlands year-round. At this time of year (late September), Canadian Geese take a respite from their migration south. The geese are commercially available European-type geese which were repainted to match the markings of North American fowl.
In 1915, the Twitchell & Champlain Company of Maine built a plant here for the purpose of buying local sweet corn, processing it from cob to can, and shipping it by rail throughout New England under their brand name, "Maine's Finest Corn." The steam-powered plant only operated for some six weeks every September. Wagon loads of unhusked corn would draw up and unload for preparing, cooking, canning, sealing and packaging. Around 1930, the depressed market price for corn and a plague of ear worms forced the plant to close.
The cornfield was modeled using a floor mat, with the alternate rows cut away. Should we find a better way to model corn, we will gladly replace this field.
In 1918, the Belden, Inc. of Geneseo, NY built a plant here to clean, sort, and store dry beans grown locally. Belden already owned 25-30 such elevators in New England and New York, including one at nearby North Hero. This seasonal operation, starting in late October, lasted some ten to twenty weeks. Ten women employees processed 500 bags (100 lbs. each) for a box car load each week. Around 1930, Belden sold out to Friend Brothers of Boston, whose baked beans are still sold today.
Prices for the beans varied between 7 and 18 cents per pound and farmers found it profitable to plant a portion of their farms in beans. During WWII, the government pegged the price at 8-1/2 cents/lb. Milk and dairy prices, however, continued to rise, and farmers no longer planted beans in favor of dairy products. The dwindling supply of beans forced the closing of both this and the North Hero plant. The South Hero plant was abandoned and torn down in 1945.
Although South Hero had a creamery, at the time we didn't know it was still standing (but hidden in the trees), so we chose to model the original wood-frame structure from Grand Isle in its place.
- Lacking information at the time about the South Hero creamery, we chose to model the earlier Grand Isle one, which was destroyed by fire around 1929 and rebuilt in glazed cinder block. (The glazed block version was used in our Grand Isle scene. See this section for info on both versions.
- Much to our surprise, after we had modeled the earlier Grand Isle creamery, we found the actual South Hero facility still standing. The owner was very generous in allowing Jeff English and I access to photograph it c. 1990. (You have to figure out what is original and what was altered since its creamery days.)
- Prototype views of South Hero:
Fisk Fifield's House
- The owner (Fisk Fifield) of the cannery's house just up the hill. (We haven't modeled this yet.) Modelers would call this a "Sears" home but it is really a Georgian Revival c. 1900.
- Apple orchards are typical all over the islands. This orchard was made from Woodland Scenics trees by Alexei Sacks, who also scratchbuilt the fence from toothpicks.
- Some Canadian geese take a respite on their trip south.
South Hero Summer Cabins
- Some summer cabins in South Hero.
South Hero Not Modeled
- Keeler's Bay was just north of the depot area. (See topo, above.)
- The road that followed a sand bar out to South Hero.
- There was a structure on South Hero that looked like a bandstand. I would guess it was actually a large gazebo on the grounds of a hotel (maybe something called the "Waverly House"?)