Did you ever wonder what the story was with the large building overlooking the pond and dam on the site of another building housing the Vernon Post Office? While the building as it stands now was rebuilt in 1973, it actually has an interesting history.
Born in Lincoln, Massachusetts in 1797, Marshall Whithed settled in Vernon at the age of 23, becoming an enterprising businessman and a substantial landowner. His store and hotel (next to today’s Union Church where the entrance to the Town Garages is) were the only ones in town for several years. In partnership with David Ball of Winchester, New Hampshire he built a towering three-story mill on Town Brook, sometime between 1839 and 1856. The stone dam and wheel pit were constructed for $6,500, while the slate-roofed building cost $800.
Power was furnished by a 25-foot overshot water wheel. The basement held the gristmill, a sawmill was at ground level, and on the upper floor was a bone mill. There, skeletons of farm animals were collected and crushed, producing bonemeal, an ingredient in chicken feed. Reportedly the top floor was used for fairs and dances.
In 1867, Ball had full ownership and he sold the mill to John Hunt. Then Lafayette Whithed, Marshall’s son, regained the property in 1869. Much of the year the water supply couldn’t keep up with the demand for power and one crew of workers would saw lumber in the morning to allow the millpond to refill. A night shift arrived later to grind grain, quitting at midnight so that water could once again restore the pond. Succeeding generations of the Whitheds followed other careers and the family deeded their holdings to Vernon in the early 1900’s. The town stored its snow roller and other machinery in the mill.
In 1927, Jason Bushnell, a Brattleboro grocer, purchased the mill property, using it to house his vast and varied collections. He called the property the “Old Red Mill,” but it has been known as “The Bushnell Museum.” It was described as “evidence of the packrat instinct at its worst.” It held everything from a cassowary egg to cowtail holders, much of it for sale. An interesting attraction for visitors and local folk, the building and its contents were lost to fire in August, 1962.
In 1971 the site was transferred from Bushnell et al to the Nick George family. “The mill” was rebuilt in 1973 to overlook the pond/brook once again. The one story adjacent building, the site of the Vernon Post Office, was constructed in 1988. Both buildings have housed various businesses over the past 30 years.