Posts Tagged ‘Madame Sherri Forest’


Last week I decided to visit Indian Pond in Chesterfield. I’d heard about it but had never been so off I went. The trail I was to follow to the pond took me very near a place I know well, so I took a short detour to the ruins of Madame Sherri’s summer home, which is called the “castle.” Madame Sherri was a French costume designer who worked in New York City in the roaring twenties (1920s) and designed costumes for the Ziegfeld Follies and others. The chalet style castle was built of local stone found on the property, and I think what draws people to the site is what’s left of the arched outdoor stairway shown above. Two of the largest arches have come apart, so I fear this well-known local landmark won’t be standing much longer unless it is repaired.


This view shows the side entrance. Large windows were set in between stone pillars. I’m guessing that Madame Sherri had a lot of visitors from New York in the fall, because the colors were amazing. The place still gets plenty of visitors and a second parking lot had to be built to accommodate the overflow. They come in droves from all over the world, but especially in autumn.


This old photo shows the castle as it was before it was destroyed by fire on October 18, 1962; nearly 54 years ago to the day, which I didn’t know when I went there. Madame Sherri died penniless and a ward of the town of Brattleboro, Vermont in 1965 at the age of 84.


Back when I was a teenager I used to come here often and in those days you could sit here all day and not see a soul. One year an outdoor rock concert was held with the ruins of the castle as the stage and the popularity of the place has grown ever since until today, you’d have a hard time finding that you had the place to yourself. The last time I was here I had to avoid interrupting a professional photo shoot, costumed model and all. That day it was more like a circus than a nature walk.

The Ann Stokes that the sign refers to is the lady who bought the land and graciously donated it to the public. Indian Pond, it is said, was where Madame and her guests would swim in seclusion. I’m not sure why I never visited the pond years ago.


The first thing you come to is a beaver pond. I didn’t see any signs of recent activity so the beavers might have abandoned it. All the grass in the distance tells me it has silted up. Soon shrubs will start growing there and then the forest will eventually reclaim it.


New England asters bloomed along the edge of the pond.


I’ve searched for a nurse log for many years and finally found one here by the beaver pond. A nurse log is a log which has decayed enough to provide a fertile bed for tree seedlings, either of its own or another species. They aren’t common; this is the first one I’ve seen. I believe those are birch seedlings growing near the old root ball of the log.


Considering how dry it has been I was surprised to see a few mushrooms dotted here and there. I haven’t been able to identify these orange ones with small caps that seemed out of proportion to their long stems. I wondered if they were stunted due to the dryness.


I think these examples were Jack O’ Lantern mushrooms (Omphalotus illudens,) which grow in clusters on wood. Some experts say that through a process called bioluminescence the gills of Jack O’ Lanterns glow green in the dark, but others say that they don’t. I don’t have time to shut myself in a closet with them to find out, so I don’t suppose I’ll ever know for sure. They are definitely poisonous but smell very good and that can tempt people into eating them. They shouldn’t be confused with chanterelles, which don’t grow in clusters and don’t grow on wood. Those pictured grew on a log.


The hike to Indian Pond is described as “an easy 45 minute round trip hike to a secluded, beautiful mountain lake.” Define easy, I muttered as I climbed up and up at a steep enough grade to have me stopping to catch my breath. But a twelve year old could have run up to the pond and back with ease, I’m sure. In fact I met quite a few people of that age on the trail and could sense them obviously itching to do just that. Did I have that much energy at twelve, I wondered?


There are a couple of bridges to help you negotiate a stream which on this day had dried up completely. I’ve seen an alarming number of streams and ponds dry up this year and there is still no rain in sight.


There were lots of witch hazels (Hamamelis virginiana) blooming. They’re our latest blooming native understory shrub, so when you see these flowers you know winter is near.


I think a lot of people who come to New England in the fall believe that seeing the colorful foliage is the extent of it, but there’s much more to it than that. The crisp air, the rustle of the leaves as you walk through them, the soft whisper of acorns hitting the leaves as they fall and the earthy fragrance that surrounds you are all part of what we call autumn, and walking through a forest like this one is the only way to be completely immersed in the experience.


There are a few well-placed signs pointing you to where you want to go. I took a right turn at this one. From here it’s just a short walk to the pond.


The stunning foliage colors at the pond made the uphill hike worthwhile, and I sat an enjoyed them while I had the whole place to myself.


The pond really isn’t that big; I certainly wouldn’t call it a lake, but it is secluded. If I’d had more time I would have tried to find a trail around it.


Someone had a campfire, or maybe there have been many years of campfires here. A fire probably wouldn’t be a great idea right now considering how dry it is.


After a last look at the foliage I headed back down the hill, thinking of the photo of a yellow lady’s slipper that I had seen which was taken somewhere in these woods. I’ve never seen a yellow lady’s slipper so knowing they grow here will get me be back in the spring.


On my way back to the parking area I had to stop and admire the reflected colors in the beaver pond. The colors this year are truly amazing; better than I think anyone expected.

Explore often. Only then will you know how small you are and how big the world is.~ Pradeepa Pandiyan

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Chesterfield, New Hampshire is a small town that lies west of Keene between Keene and Brattleboro, Vermont. There is a mountain there called Rattlesnake mountain, named after the timber rattlers that called it home many years ago. These snakes are now endangered and rarely seen. In the 1930s a lady named Antoinette Sherri bought several hundred acres on the east side of the mountain and built a house there.  The house, which some called a “castle,” stood until 1962, when it was vandalized and burned. The picture below shows some of what little is left. I’m sorry about the harsh lighting, but the sun is low in the sky.

1. Madame Sherrie's Stairway

Mrs. Sherri was a costume designer from New York City who called herself “Madame Sherri.” Anyone from New York comes to a small town with rumors in tow, but this was especially true of Madame Sherri, who blew into town in a cream colored, convertible, chauffeur driven, Packard Touring car. Her interesting story is too long and involved to go into here, but if you are interested an article that is about as close to the truth as anything can be found here.

 2. Sherri House

Everyone always wants to know what the house looked like in its heyday, so here is one of very few pictures of it. It was said to be “chalet style” and allegedly had 15 rooms. If you stand in the middle of the foundation however, you quickly realize that if this place had 15 rooms they had to have been squirrel sized. My guess would be 6 rooms, including one on the second story and one in the basement.  Even that is a stretch-it probably had only one or two rooms on the main floor. The house ruins and 488 acres of land are now part of a forest preserve open to the public.

3. Girl With Parasol

I used to visit this place when I was a teenager just because it was so unusual. It was always a quiet place in the woods where you could get away for a while, but not now-now it is a circus. The day I stopped in for a visit there must have been 10 cars in the lot and there was even a professional photo shoot going on-with beautiful live models balanced on the old stone walls.

4. Stone Wall at Madame Sherri's

This is a closer look at the wall that the model was balanced on. This used to be one of the walls that surrounded a small man made pond on the property. The walls have crumbled over time and the pond has mostly drained away, except for a few inches of water.

5. Beaver Dam Behing Stone Wall

Beavers had a better idea and the dammed the small stream that fed the man-made pond. This dam is very big and very old.

 6. Beaver Dam Breech

It was easy to tell that the beavers had moved on-they would never put up with a breech in their dam like this one. When I took this picture I was standing in just about the same spot that the model was standing in earlier.

7. Beaver Lodge

Beavers often build their lodges at the pond edge, but I’ve never seen one on dry land. The only explanation is that the water level has dropped considerably. This, coupled with the fact that there were no trees recently felled, were more signs that the beavers had moved away.  There is still a lot of activity at their pond though-a deer family came to drink while I was there but was almost immediately scared off by a lady walking the trail with two dogs. This outraged the professional photographer, who told me just what he thought about people who brought dogs into the woods-probably because I was the only other person with a camera around their neck.

 8. Black Witch's Butter

I decided to get away from the carnival atmosphere and see what nature had to offer. I didn’t have to look too hard-this oak limb was covered with black witch’s butter (Exidia glandulosa.) It was a bit shriveled-probably from either the cold or the lack of rain. One old yarn about this fungus says that throwing a log that has witch’s butter on it into a fire will counteract a witch’s spells.

9. Turkey Tails

Colorful turkey tails (Trametes versicolor) grew on an old beaver stump. 

10. Yellow Lichens

On stones near water is a good place to look for lichens. These yellow lichens covered a large part of this stone.  I don’t see yellow lichens that often, but the way these fade to white at their edges means they could possibly be sulphur firedot lichens (Caloplaca flavovirescens.) 

11. Blue Hills

If you climb high enough, you can see the Vermont hills.

I suppose that I could complain about finding so much activity in a place that was once so quiet that you could hear chipmunks rustling through the leaves, but since I am someone who is forever telling people that they should get out and enjoy nature, I think that would be a bit hypocritical. I will say that, since the conservation commission took it over, the land here is much tidier.

When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world ~John Muir

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