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
The Ricker Cemetery
According to an excellent article at Stowe Today, “You can also visit the Ricker cemetery and the grave of Florence Ricker, who was the last person buried here in the dead of a bitter winter exactly 75 years from her birth. Florence’s husband’s gravestone rests against hers, and surrounding the cemetery are white cedar trees. Not commonly found in Vermont forests, these trees were planted by the Rickers. According to History Hikes, published by the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation’s Agency of Natural Resources, the white cedars, or arborvitae, are known as the trees of life. The trees were planted to symbolically give life to the dead.”
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.
A few years ago, John (an experienced hunter) took a hike into Ricker Mountain to experience the outdoors. He planned to spend some time hunting and camping. Woodsmen are experienced people who plan carefully. He found a spot for the campsite, cleared it of brush & branches, and even laid out flat stones for a fire pit.
The next night, he awoke to the sound of someone or something, tugging at his tent straps. Again the woods fell into that eerie silence. He sat up in his sleeping bag and tried to assess the bizarre situation, but couldn’t really think about what to do other than wait for something to happen. The tugging soon stopped, and nothing ever happened. But he didn’t go back to sleep – and spent the rest of the night in anticipation, waiting until the sun rose. The next morning he noticed that the tent strap hadn’t just been pulled, it had been cut! It was a clean-cut, as done with a knife, yet he hadn’t heard the sound of tearing fabric, or the noises of any other human around.
On the third night of his camping trip, and John thought he had heard his sleeping bag being pulled while he was half asleep. He panicked when he felt someone violently grabbing for it while still gripping the tent wall.
He instinctively grabbed his shotgun next to him and yelled “try that again and you’ll be sorry!” but nothing happened. He noticed the eerie stillness of the forest that surrounded him before sighing in relief. Nothing was making a sound, and this time, he recalled being incredibly uncomfortable by it. Surely he would have heard whatever the intruder was, retreating across all the brittle fallen leaves near the campsite, but he didn’t.
He knew it would be foolish to leave in the middle of the night, especially because he didn’t know what was out there waiting for him. It would make no sense to attempt to get back down towards the road. The night passed and he didn’t sleep at all. He spent the time ready to fire his shotgun, and when dawn came, he began packing everything in preparation to leave.
As he took down his tent, he noticed something peculiar. As he was ensuring that the embers in the firepit were extinguished, he noticed something about one of the stones that formed the circular wall that he didn’t notice before. Somehow, he used a fallen headstone from an old, forgotten cemetery. It was nearly indistinguishable from the dead leaves and branches scattered on the ground.
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.
The above information came from an article from the Roots Web Vermont Archive
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.
Also, here are a few great hiking videos courtesy of Old Wooden Trunk Adventures.
For more information read the Little River and Ricker Basin History
Finding the McCaffrey Murder House on Cotton Brook Rd Waterbury Vermont