A full photo gallery is also available to complement this article.
Little River State Park is a Vermont State Park located on Little River Road, just off River Road between Bolton and Waterbury. Joseph Ricker established the community, back in the 1800’s, on what was known as “Ricker Mountain”. Rocks and stumps were cleared out and fields created in Ricker Basin and Cotton Brook. Later in the mid 1800’s when the railroad made it’s way into Waterbury, the farming community began to take root in the area. Although the timber industry’s 3 sawmills were the driving force for the small community, trading and other creative uses of local resources also helped people to get by. However, life was never easy at Ricker Basin (or Ricker Mills), for the 50 or so families that lived there. As the years passed into the late 1800’s, families started to abandon their homes and land. The steep landscape and issues with soil quality made life on Ricker Mountain difficult.
The Waterbury Last Block Co., sawmill operated from 1916 until 1922 and was a resource for gunstocks and ammo cases for the first World War. The mill at one time had 35 men working and a 44 teams of horses along with a truck. The steam powered sawmill came to an end in 1922 after it’s short run. A flood in 1927, caused by unceasing rainfall and rising waters, sealed the fate of the area forever. By 1934, another flood drove out the few families who had remained in the community after the first flood. This was also the time that prompted the construction of the Waterbury Dam and Reservoir that submerged much of what remained of the Ricker Basin community.
As of 2014, what remains of the community of Ricker Basin aka Ricker Mills is unfortunately, very little to nothing. The one house still standing is the Almeron Goodell Farm. It is a creepy, dilapidated and sad little house, open to the elements of nature and the carelessness of mankind. The roof is covered with moss and decay. The inside is covered with graffiti and ravaged by vandalism. The stench of age and bat guano fill the air with only peeks of sunlight peeking in through broken windows. Restoration seems very unlikely and it will only be a matter of time before this homestead is allowed to rot to it’s stone foundations, like all of the other Ricker Basin farms in the abandoned community.
The Almeron Goodell Farm – View the complete Ricker Basin photo gallery
Is Ricker Basin haunted?
There are those who claim that it is with some intriguing yarns that supposedly back up that claim. One story is that a hunter went hiking through the hills of Ricker Basin, camping out for a few nights, only to experience some very unusual events. Fact or fiction? Who knows. But like anything else, perhaps it wise not to “piss off fate”, as the poor fellow in the story goes on to explain how he inadvertently used a broken headstone to construct a makeshift fire pit.
The Horrifying McCaffrey Murder at Cotton Brook
According to Mable Harvey, of Waterbury, VT., the Cotton Brook area was also the scene of a grim murder. When the Civil War came to a close, Matthew McCaffrey, a veteran of the war, returned home to Greensboro, VT and took a wife. They moved to the Cotton Brook area in Waterbury, where they all lived with his mother. The family consisted of a son, daughter, twins and possibly other children.
They all resided in a farm house on a road with a brook running by it, surrounded by an apple orchard. With acres of standing timber it was an ideal place for McCaffrey to carry on work in lumber operations.
However, all was not well. McCaffrey road horseback to Waterbury one day with a chain around the neck of his horses, claiming that the horses were going to kill his family. Naturally, the neighbors thought was something was definitely amiss.
Madness leads to murder
Just a few nights later, McCaffrey thought he was hearing the cries of wild animals. He took a light into the bedroom and told his older children to look after the younger ones. He then proceeded to take an ax and brutally kill both his wife and mother. Wrapping the bodies in blankets, he carried them to the cellar. His 14 year old son either seeing or hearing the commotion, ran to the nearest neighbor for help. The bodies of the hapless victims were recovered by the authorities and buried in Greensboro.
Matthew McCaffrey was imprisoned but after the trail, he was moved for treatment to the Brattleboro Retreat. Eventually, he was moved to the Vermont State Hospital, where he remained confined for a total of 29 years. Cotton Brook is a remote area where only foundations of homes long gone, still remain. McCaffrey maintained an apple orchard and the trees are still there, on the right as you hike uphill.
Another sad murder in the area…
A child’s gravestone located at the Duxbury Corner Cemetery reads: “Alice Meaker, April 18, 1880, aged nine years, eight months, nine days; Oh the agony and grief when the poisonous cup was given, and death came to her relief, and Alice sleeps in heaven.“
Alice Meaker lived with her grandmother,at the top of Dillon Hill across from the present town clerk’s office in Waterbury. Someone named “Uncle Almon” also resided in the Meaker home. Not much was known of the mysterious “Uncle Almon” who came to live with the family. It was much later believed that the grandmother fearing the child would communicate to easily with the “Uncle”, decided to get rid of her.
What is known is that someone gave Alice poison. The person or persons then took her out of the house by night, carried her in a wagon to the Little River section and buried her body underground, partially under a trough and by a wet muddy swamp, known as Mutton Hollow.
Alice came up missing, so local farmers and residents started a search. They came upon her body with evidence indicating that she had not been dead when buried. Authorities arrested the grandmother along with “Uncle Almon”. The grandmother was convicted of murder, becoming the first and only woman ever hung for murder in the state of Vermont.
Mr. Meaker wept openly during the trial. It is reported that in the courtroom there were some people who spat; “Damn you, you weep too late.”
Uncle Almon was dispatched to State’s Prison in Windsor, VT for a number of years. He was later pardoned and sent home to resume the remainder of his life.
An Autumn Hike
Hiking Ricker Basin (or Ricker Mills) in late September 2014 was quite an experience. Certainly not a ghostly or ominous one. The air was crisp and clean on an unusually warm autumn day. There were only 2 or 3 other hikers around so it did feel a bit odd to be so alone there, as I was enjoying a solo hike. The long incline of the Hedgehog Hill Trail was a bit of a challenge due to the incline. The terrain itself was excellent but the long walk upwards wasn’t nearly as easy as when I was 25 years old. I wish I would have had the time and energy to explore the entire area but a five mile hike was enough for me by day’s end.
At no time did I feel anything “haunted” or weird, even during a brief relaxation at the cemetery, where I pondered what life must have been like for these people back in those days. All of them now long dead for nearly 100 years. If anything, a feeling of comfort and peacefulness permeated the air with only the sounds of birds, the wind, swaying trees and crackling branches. It was lonely but in a good way that’s hard to describe. I have to admit that I am very skeptical about the existence of ghosts. Were I to meet one, I’d probably have invited him or her to join me on my hike. I’d love to hear the stories of how these people lived and the hardships they endured.
Yeah, a ghostly tour guide would have been perfect. I just don’t think I would have wanted to meet one coming up from the basement of the Almeron Goodsell farm house! That place was truly creepy for safety reasons, especially when you’re hiking solo.
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