Pieces of History on Mount Philo in Charlotte | Happy Vermont

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Pieces of History on Mount Philo in Charlotte

Mount Philo in Charlotte stands at 968 feet.

Lower in elevation than the Empire State Building and tiny compared to the neighboring Green Mountains and Adirondacks, Mount Philo is everything you could want in a mountain. It’s accessible, easy to hike and offers some of the best views around.

The mountain also contains relics from another era: the footprints of an old summit tower, a crumbling concrete block where a gazebo once stood, and a former quarry.

Mount Philo became Vermont’s first state park 100 years ago. When it comes to landscape history—the deforestation of mountains, sheep farming, and eventually the reforestation and conversation movement—Mount Philo is a microcosm of everything that has happened over the past 200 years.

“What’s so cool about Mount Philo is that even though it’s this little, teeny spot, everything that happened here is a tiny version of what happened elsewhere in a much larger region,” says Judy Chaves of North Ferrisburgh and author of Secrets of Mount Philo: A Guide to the History of Vermont’s First State Park (Vermont Historical Society, 2018).

Chaves leads guided history walks on Mount Philo in the spring and fall. Here are some of the many questions she answers during her guided hikes.

Listen to the podcast episode

Mount Philo in Charlotte

-A stunning view of Lake Champlain and the Adirondacks from the summit of Mount Philo.

How did Mount Philo get its name?

There are all kinds of crazy theories, some of which contradict each other.

My favorite is from the Vermont Place-Names book by Esther Swift. She talks about how Mount Philo was probably named during an era in the 19th century when all things classical were much admired, like Greek revival architecture. Philo was a Greek philosopher. Esther Swift’s theory is that Mount Philo was named after Philo, the philosopher.

How did Mount Philo first attract visitors?

Compared to the White Mountains and Adirondacks, which were advertised as rugged, Vermont was marketing itself in a much more pastoral, civilized way. It was to experience nature but to be comfortable and safe. Stay at an inn rather than go camping, for example.

The Mount Philo Inn was one of those places. It was originally the farmhouse where Frank and Clara Lewis were having tourists come and stay for long vacations. Then they razed the farmhouse and put up the Mount Philo Inn. So people were coming and making use of not only the inn and the farmland but also hiking on Mount Philo.


-Stairs along a hiking trail on Mount Philo in Charlotte.

What’s the story behind the auto road to the summit?

James and Francis Humphreys of Boston loved hiking on the mountain. James probably came up daily while they were staying at the inn. They wanted the mountain to be experienced by as many people as possible, so they suggested that Frank Lewis build a carriage road to the summit.

How did it become Vermont’s first state park?

James and Francis Humphreys bought the land and helped Frank Lewis build the carriage road. They continued to come summer after summer. Eventually, they bought more land at the bottom of the mountain and built their own home, where they stayed for four months out of every year.

In 1914, James died. People asked Francis when she planned to cut down the lumber—which had now been coming back to the top of the mountain—to make some money.

And Francis said something along the lines of, “I’m not going to cut a stick of it. There are things in this world other than money.”

All she wanted was for the people in the area to enjoy Mount Philo. That was all she cared about—that people had the pleasure of the mountain. So, eventually, in 1924, she gave the mountain to the state of Vermont to be used as a park.


-Author Judy Chaves at Mount Philo. Courtesy photo.

Listen to the podcast episode

Visit Mount Philo

Mount Philo State Park offers hiking trails, limited camping and an 1930s-era auto road to the summit. The park is an ideal spot for views of the Champlain Valley and to watch autumn bird migrations.

The park also includes a 1930s lodge at the summit that can seat up to 60 people. It has electricity, grills, tables, chairs and a nearby restroom.

Mount Philo State Park’s official season for camping starts the Friday of Memorial Day Weekend to October 14. It’s open through October 27 for day use. (5425 Humphreys’ Road, Charlotte; vtstateparks.com/philo.html)

Happy Vermont Podcast

In this episode of Happy Vermont, Chaves talks about her love for Mount Philo, its history and why people love this tiny mountain in the Champlain Valley.

You can find Happy Vermont’s podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you find podcasts.

Listen to the podcast episode


Chittenden County, Farms, hiking trails, History, Outdoors, State Parks, Things To Do, Vermont Podcast
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