Wright’s Mountain: Sylvia’s Gift

UVLT President Jeanie McIntyre shared a condensed version of this story with Vermont Public Radio as part of the Women in Nature series. Credit is due former Valley News writer Bob Hookway, whose 2002 article about Sylvia’s life is a treasure for all of us who enjoy Wright’s Mountain. Credit is also due to the hundreds of volunteers, the generosity of additional landowners and the marvelous leadership of the Bradford Conservation Commission who have embraced the stewardship and expansion of the Wright’s Mountain Conservation Area.

One of the highest points in Orange County is Wright’s Mountain. It sits in a back corner of Bradford amidst 500 acres of rugged forest laced with trails: Ernie’s Trail, Sylvia’s Trail, Appreciation Way, and more. How this land came to be owned by the Town of Bradford begins with a love story – the story of Sylvia and Ernie and a mountain.

Sylvia was an 18-year old town girl from Waterbury when she laid eyes on Ernie Appleton and his brand new blue Chevrolet. It was 1948. He was 13 years older than she was.  In short order Sylvia and Ernie were married and she was relocated to the Appleton’s farm, a remote place that had only recently gotten electricity and was frequently isolated from Bradford village by snow. She shared the home with her mother-in-law, cooking and cleaning for an extended family. There was lots of hard work – cows to milk and plowing, gardening, canning, sugaring.

There were also 350 acres and a mountain. Sylvia and Ernie loved the mountain. In the 1960’s they built a little cabin atop a ledge where they could look across the patchwork of farm and forestland below, where they could watch hawks ride the air from the valley floor. Ernie made signs to direct visitors to the best views. Townspeople came to treasure the place as Ernie and Sylvia did.

Sylvia was putting down strong roots. She’d had a difficult childhood. Her grandparents had come from Quebec for work in the Barre quarries; four of her eight siblings had not survived childhood. Her toughness and indomitable spirit of hospitality to neighbors and family shined in the life she made out in the far corner of Bradford.

Ernie died of cancer in 1985. Sylvia had cared for him at home through his illness. Over the years, portions of the Appleton land were sold, but Sylvia was determined that the mountain would remain intact.

In 1994, Sylvia’s wish was fulfilled. The Town of Bradford, the Upper Valley Land Trust and the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board came together to conserve the land and bring it into public ownership. For 77 years the Appleton family had cared for the mountain. Now, townspeople would take up its stewardship. Sylvia was thrilled. After the acquisition was complete she said, “You can’t describe it. We really wanted it to go this way – for the town to be able to have something like this.”

Over the years, more properties have been added to expand the public land at Wright’s Mountain helped by generous landowners, hundreds of volunteers, students and businesses. People from around the world have hiked there.

 Sylvia’s 2002 obituary noted that she “most enjoyed the simple life of being a true Vermonter.” A simple and powerful gift of a mountain, is Sylvia’s legacy for us.

A Wright’s Mountain photo album is here.