Nearly two hundred years ago, in what is now Hawk Mountain Lodge at Zoar Outdoor, a young boy and his family lived with a farmer and friend of the boy’s mother. This time of year, they would have just finished celebrating Thanksgiving and would be preparing for the winter. The boy was Charles Dudley Warner, who would later move to Hartford, become an editor for the Hartford Courant, develop a close friendship with Mark Twain, and lead the National Institute of Arts and Letters as its first president. But in the early 1800s, he was just a farmer boy living in Charlemont, Massachusetts. His book, Being a Boy, written in adulthood about his childhood days on the farm, allows us a glimpse into his life in Charlemont in the 1820s.
Warner looked forward to Thanksgiving every year. The weeks leading up to the holiday kept him busy preparing ingredients for the big feast. He had to work on the “pounding and paring and cutting up and mixing (not being allowed to taste much), until the world seemed to him to be made of fragrant spices, green fruits, raisins, and pastry,” Warner recalls. In those weeks before Thanksgiving, “there were dainties enough cooked…to have made the entire year luscious with good living, if they had been scattered along it.”
The meal would have been a huge spread, filling every corner of the house with delightful aromas and treats. Warner tells of as many as twenty four pies being baked for the occasion. And being a young boy, he seemed to want to eat as much of the food as he could. It’s easy to imagine the downstairs rooms of the farmhouse abuzz with guests merrily chatting and dining, while Warner shoveled down the food he’d been craving for so long. But as continues to be true of Thanksgiving, no matter how many hungry guests there were, they never ate all that was laid out for them so there were plentiful leftovers. “There were weeks deep of chicken-pie and other pastry. The cold buttery was a cave of Aladdin, and it took a long time to excavate all its riches,” Warner writes.
Despite the banquet on Thursday, it was the Friday after Thanksgiving that the young Warner looked forward to the most. “Then were the merry-making parties, and perhaps the skating and sleigh rides, for the freezing weather came before the governor’s proclamation in many parts of New England,” he writes. That was the day where he would sing and dance, and perhaps get the chance to talk to some beautiful girl. The day would melt into night, when Warner would stay awake, filled with excitement.
The end of Thanksgiving signaled the beginning of winter, when the young farm boy would not have to dig things out of the ground or take the cattle around to pasture, but would instead wake up early in the bitter winter mornings to trek over to the barn and feed the animals. This was hardly Warner’s favorite part of the day, and he writes that “the journey to the barn, in the pale light of dawn, over the creaking snow, was like an exile’s trip to Siberia.”
In spite of his complaining about early morning chores, however, Warner enjoyed winter for all the playing it provided – snowball fights, ice skating, and sliding down hills. By the end of the winter, he claims, every boy would have learned to slide down a hill “with or without a board, on his seat, on his stomach, or on his feet.”
After long days of play and learning, Warner would return to the farmhouse in the evenings to take shelter from the cold winter wind. He describes the sight of the building: “a remote farmhouse, standing a little off the road, banked up with sawdust and earth to keep the frost out of the cellar, blockaded with snow, and flying a blue flag of smoke from its chimney, looks like a besieged fort…into which the family retire when the New England winter on the hills really sets in.”
Today as the cold weather settles in, Hawk Mountain Lodge fulfills that same role of providing safety from the New England winter. Though there may not be a farm family there, it offers comfort for travelers looking to take advantage of the winter in much the way Warner did as a child. With an alpine ski resort across the street, a cross country ski resort just fifteen minutes away, and the village of Shelburne falls also fifteen minutes away, it’s a home away from home for those seeking fun in the snow.
And though much may have changed around Warner’s home, some things remain. Looking west from the Lodge, you can see what was once called the Forbidden Mountain, now Florida Mountain, rising above the Deerfield River. Heading across the river in Charlemont on the steel and concrete bridge, you can imagine the old covered bridge that stood in its place, where Warner would spend summer days swimming and fishing. And as you unwind for the night at the Lodge, you can picture a young boy, playing with his toys by the fire, enjoying his free time at the end of a long day on the farm.