Latin Gate – June 2020 Edition of History & Heritage
Updated: Apr 18
Welcome to this month’s edition of History & Heritage. Our purpose is to acquaint you with our mission to preserve the town’s rich history, highlight the legacy of those who have gone before and show how our past has shaped our present. We are a non-profit with 501(c)(3) status.
We are located at 421 Summer Street. Right now we are closed BUT we will re-open on July 7th, Tuesday through Thursdays, 10 – 4, to see how things go. Everyone that keeps the doors open at History & Heritage is in the high risk numbers of their life according to the virus statistics and we need to have everyone comfortable. This is your establishment and we encourage your support in making this historic home and barn a wonderful place for exhibiting, preserving and collecting St. Johnsbury’s history. Browse our web site at www.stjhistory.org and our Facebook page. Our mailing address is 421 Summer Street, St. Johnsbury, Vt., 05819 and phone number is 802 – 424 – 1090.
Sometimes all it takes is a phone call to set the wheels of memory in motion. Johanna Branson of the Peacham Historical Society called to inquire as to where the Latin Gate used to be. The first thing that came to mind was the many times that Mom and Dad took us four kids there for picnics; the second thing was how Graham Newell and Norman Atwood played a role in establishing the Latin Gate name; and the third was two articles hiding here in my home. The lost has been found and here is what I know.
The location, simply put, was reached by heading out past Mt. Pleasant Cemetery; don’t take any lefts or rights, and stay on the main road until you come to a steep hill (Creapault Hill or Pent’s Hill). At the top of the hill, on the left, is where the Latin Gate was.
In the Autumn 1956 edition of Vermont Life magazine, Alice Fuller wrote an article called Gates of the Kingdom. She begins her story by writing, “Vermonters are not supposed to be lyric. They are supposed to shy from the graceful, certainly from the classically graceful, and their mysteries must stem from the understatement and never from intent.” The gate on the lower side of the hill opened into a pasture with the Latin word “Ecce!” ( Behold) on the front. As you entered, you looked down over the Goss Hollow and Rabbit Plain area. When you left the view and returned to the gate, you saw Latin again on the back of the gate. This phrase – Semper haec meminisse juvabit, – roughly translates to It will always be a pleasure to recall this pleasant scene (from the Aeneid, Book I, line 203). Fuller then speaks of a second gate across the road that leads to higher ground. On this gate were the Latin words Circumspice et gaude (look around you and rejoice). She suggests that one could imagine that a scholar passing by was struck with the view and labeled it!
The story that Alice Fuller imagined was close to what really happened. In The Weekly News of June 24, 1987 (published in Lyndonville), Rich Beck wrote a story called “The Rise and Fall of the Latin Gate” interviewing Dr. Norman Atwood. Dr. Atwood and Rich were on site, with Norman admitting that he didn’t come up much anymore as the gates were gone, dense brush had grown up, and the land had become a dumping ground. Back in the early 1950’s when studying for his PhD and needing to qualify in Latin, Atwood said, “I’d come up here, sit on the hillside and read Vergil by the hour … It was a perfect place to study Latin.”
In time he found that a farmer had put up a small gate consisting of four small boards with cedar posts. Norman asked about writing on the gate and when given permission, his partner in this project was none other than Professor Graham Newell, who taught Latin at the St. Johnsbury Academy for years. The gate on the higher side, Dr. Atwood said, was the work of Senator Ralph Flanders.
As an aside to Crepeault Hill, going down that hill on a traverse or bobsled was also a memory you never forgot!!