A Hidden Northeast Kingdom Gem – Brighton, Island Pond, Vermont
The primary attraction of this general area is its wilderness: mountains with tree-covered slopes, fast running rivers and streams and clear lakes. The land northeast and southeast of Island Pond is especially suited to the fisherman, the hunter, or the outdoor lover and is virtually without roads or towns. Logging roads into the deeper reaches of this area are numerous and offer interesting side trips.
Brighton State Park is a wilderness haven with few roads and plentiful wildlife with numerous cold rivers, streams and lakes. Located in the northeastern area of the state between Island Pond and Spectacle Pond, the park offers day use and overnight facilities. The town of Island Pond had its heyday in the 1800’s up until the Depression years, when the railroad from Montreal, Canada to Portland, Maine passed through. The population was much larger than it is today. The streets were lively with railroad men and rugged loggers from around the region, and 13 tracks passed through the town. Only two tracks remain today, and the unique wooden bridge which once traversed all 13 tracks is gone. The heritage of railroading is still evident in the train station and a few other massive structures at the north end of town.
Interestingly, Island Pond was the site of the first international railroad junction in the United States.
Brighton State Park sits on 152 acres between Island Pond and Spectacle Pond offering camping, picnicking, hiking, a swimming beach, concession, nature museum, playground, theater, wildlife viewing, fishing and access to hunting grounds. Cross-country skiing permitted in winter by walking around entrance gate; all facilities closed including restrooms.
Once a railroad town, Brighton now rests peacefully on the western shores of the 600 acre lake called Island Pond, so named because of the lake’s 22 acre island in its midst. In Essex County in the Northeast Kingdom at 44° 47′ latitude and 71°52′ longitude, sixteen miles south of Quebec, Canada, sits this town whose people have worked in the forests, mills, and on the railroad. Surrounding Brighton are towns and unorganized townships of similar shape and size: Morgan, Warren Grant, Warren Gore, and Avery Gore to the north; Lewis and Ferdinand to the east; to the south, East Haven and Newark and to the west, Westmore, Charleston, and Morgan.
The village of Island Pond has been the community center and population nucleus of Brighton, since the 1850s when it housed the halfway station between Montreal and Boston on the Grand Trunk Railroad line (See “Railroads” below). Before the 1850s, Brighton relied on its forests for money through the Fitzgerald Land and Lumber Company that in 1899 had been a leading private industry for over a quarter of a century.
With the arrival of the railroad, however, business quickly sprang up around the station. Island Pond’s population swelled from 105 in 1830 to 2,000 in 1870 (Time and Change…, p.185). Many of the 600 Irish laborers who worked on the railroads stayed to work in the mills or on farms (Ruth Harvey Kaufman). Brighton’s population peaked at 2,500 during World War II. However, with the decline of the railroads and the advent of the Great Depression, the population dwindled steadily to a low of 1,365 residents in 1960.
The town known as “Gilead”, later to become Brighton, was chartered on August 13, 1780 by a group of pioneering men from Connecticut. However, the town went up for sale again because of the group’s failure to pay and it sat officially unclaimed. A little over a year later on August 30, 1781, a group of Rhode Island investors lead by Colonel Joseph Nightingale of the Continental Army, bought the town and in 1820, Enos Bishop became the area’s first white settler. The population grew slowly to 193 people by the end of the 1800s.
Before the English gave it a name, Brighton and Island Pond were known only in the tribal tongue of the Nulheganock Indians. Part of the Algonquin family that flourished in the eastern region of the state and New England, the Nulheganock Indians hunted and grew their food. The physical traces they left behind have yet to be uncovered. (Harold Meeks, Time and Change in Vermont, p.7)
The area then became “Gilead” in 1780, with a title that captured the Biblical nature of the hills and lookouts. Gilead was a city in ancient Palestine, though in more recent times the name refers to the 4,000 foot Gilead Mountain east of the Jordan River.
While the town waited for a buyer, local dwellers called it simply “Number 31”. It was only one of several Northeast Kingdom towns that Vermont was selling to support itself. When Colonel Nightingale bought the town, he named it “Random” after the manner in which they selected “Number 31” for purchase.
Before the turn of the century, the town received its last and final name. The 1832 State Legislature acting upon the advice of the settlers who considered “Random” an unattractive name, renamed the town Brighton. The name had previously been used for several Massachusetts and New York communities that were named after the English resort.
The Northeast Kingdom Community Church Incident
The once controversial Northeast Kingdom Community Church (known also as the Island Pond Community Church, the Community at Island Pond, and The Apostolic Order) lives in Brighton. The community moved to Island Pond in 1978 from Tennessee in hopes of establishing a commune where members gave up material possessions and declared themselves self-sufficient. When they entered the commune, members agreed to work in community enterprises like the restaurant and furniture-making shops. In keeping with the Bible, the commune freely used corporal punishment for disciplining the community’s children.
By 1994, the church had fourteen declared sites including five sites in Vermont, six elsewhere in the United States, and other sites in Winnipeg, France, Brazil and New Zealand. The church (at that time was known as the Messianic Communities) made its first debut in Vermont news when Stuart Lavin went to court to have his former wife, Rosemary Lavin, evaluated when she took four of their six children to the community church. Lavin testified that his children described being hit by their mother with a rod, being prohibited from watching TV, reading books, playing or imagining in the commune. (Burlington Free Press, 5/17/94, AP. p. 3B.)
The Community Church’s sustained presence in the news came with the infamous 1984 raid on the local sect led by Vermont state agents and agencies. About 150 state officials, including state police troopers and social workers, raided twenty sect homes at dawn on June 22, 1984 in an attempt to investigate what the state said were seventeen allegations of child abuse. According to the papers, defectors from the Church brought forth the allegations, leading the state to believe that the Church was a cult. Already the state was disgruntled by the Church’s refusal to register births and by complaints of truancy and of practicing medicine without a license.
The Governor at the time, Richard Snelling, and Attorney General at the time, John J. Easton, Jr., approved in conjunction the plan to seize all of the children, take them into custody, and check them for signs of abuse. Acting under the authority of a search warrant, troopers went to about twenty houses, knocked on doors, and rounded up 112 children. As far as reporters could see, they met no resistance.
The troopers loaded the children into buses and transported them 24 miles to the Newport District Court. The fifty social workers who were also on the scene, accompanied the children. The district judge at the time, Frank G. Mahady, was to preside over the hearings. But late in the day, he ruled that many of the children couldn’t be detained and he turned down the state’s request for a 72 hour detention period. He was quoted calling the raid a “massive systematic disregard for individual rights.” Mahady also dismissed the state’s juvenile petitions in the raid, and the state decided not to appeal. (Rutland Herald, June 19, 1994, 04:1)
When church members said they had no interest in suing the state for damages, it appeared the legal file on the raid was closed. But one of the 112 children picked up in the raid was not a member of the sect. ACLU brought suit on this girl’s behalf in May 1986. The girl, Tiffany, then 13, was visiting her aunt who was a member of the church at the time of the raid. The defendants did not have probable cause to believe Tiffany was being abused; the search warrant used in the raid was invalid. The suit may force the state to open its books on the affair. The suit names five defendants, all key players in the raid: then-Deputy Attorney General Charles Bristow, then-Social and Rehabilitation Services (SRS) Commissioner John Burchard, then-Public Safety Commissioner Paul Philbrook, then-SRS District Director Conrad Grims, and Orleans County State’s Attorney Philip White.
The Community Church has owned in the past as many as 17 buildings and land in Island Pond. Futon Vermont, Cobbler’s Shop, Strictly Vermont Candle, Parchment Press (John Howly, Mgr..), Common Sense, and Simon the Tanner are all businesses either owned by the Church presently or in the past. The Church membership has diminished from around 400 to half that number, though it has also spread into fifteen communities of living Christians in the United States, Canada, and Europe. Church member Robert Chambers told the press in 1994 that the group now registers its births and deaths and maintains good relations with the Department of Education which evaluates its home-schooling programs.
According to 1994 papers, the late Judge Joseph Wolchik who issued the warrant allowing the raid allegedly told the legislative committee in 1989 that he had done so based on “bad information” (Burlington Free Press, June 19, 1994, 1B:2). The controversy no doubt lingers in residents’ minds and even in the papers from time to time. Perhaps fueled by the high emotions surrounding this event, Vermont writer Archer Mayor based his 1990 Borderlines on the religious group.
Rudy Vallee. Island Pond is the birthplace of Rudy Vallee, popular “crooner” and band leader born on July 28, 1901. His family house, on a hill overlooking the village is still there. (Chesny, 1986). Vallee, was called the “Vagabond Lover” and is considered as first of a string of star singers like Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, and Elvis Presley. In 1932, he returned to Island Pond with his band and threw the biggest dance party Essex County had ever seen. He died on July 3, 1986.
Bradley Crowe of Island Pond was among 83 members of the intelligence ship USS Pueblo, which was captured by North Korea in January, 1968. Eleven months later, Crowe was reunited with his parents in San Diego on Christmas Day.
- 1781 – Soldiers from Rhode Island buy the town called Gilead and Number 31 and rename it Random (Kelly, 1991). – 1820 – Random’s first settler Enos Bishop comes to town.
- 1832 – The Vermont State Legislature changes the town’s name to Brighton (Kelly, 1991).
- 1853 – The first international railroad, running between Portland, Maine, and Montreal, links up in Island Pond. The railroad becomes part of Canadian National Railway (Kelly, 1991).
- 1856 – Disastrous fire almost levels entire village.
- 1901 – Rudy Vallee, popular “crooner” and band leader, is born on July 28, 1901
- 1978 – The controversial Northeast Kingdom Community Church which was begun in Tennessee, in 1971, moves to Brighton to settle in Island Pond.
- 1984 – State officials raid homes of the Northeast Kingdom Community Church members in Island Pond, citing child abuse as the impetus. The case attracts nationwide attention. Judge Frank G. Mahady rules that the raid was unconstitutional and orders the children returned to their parents (Kelly, 1991).
- 1991 – Common Sense, a bakery and general store located in the middle of Island Pond and run by the Northeast Kingdom Community Church, burns to the ground.
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