Popple Dungeon Pest House

Local History BY RON PATCH

Sometimes I have a small piece of local history but not enough information to write about it. In those cases I often ask people I know if they know anything about that subject.

Such was the case with the Popple Dungeon Pest House. Sometime ago I read about the Popple Dungeon Pest House in an old newspaper clipping. That clipping offered very little, only mentioning that there had once been a Pest House in Popple Dungeon. A Pest House is where people with a communicable disease were quarantined.

I asked several people if they knew about the Pest House. Ken Barrett was able to shed some light on this subject. Ken hadn’t heard of the Pest House but was familiar with the Pest Cemetery in Popple Dungeon.

Popple Dungeon native Bert Lyons had told Ken about the Pest Cemetery years ago. One day, Bert took Ken to the Pest Cemetery. Bert also told Ken what he knew about it, which Ken shared with me and Danny Clemons.

Below are the epidemics that affected Vermont in the 1800s. Which of these epidemics led to our Pest House, I do not know.

1820-1823 was a nationwide fever epidemic. 1831-1832 was a national epidemic of Asiatic Cholera brought by English immigrants. In the 1840s-1850s there was a nationwide epidemic of Yellow Fever and cholera. Throughout the 1850s – 1860s were scattered epidemics of Yellow Fever and Cholera. Not all affected Vermont. One of these epidemics or the 1793 epidemic below is the reason for the Pest Cemetery.

In 1793, Vermont was afflicted with a “putrid fever.” Other names for putrid fever are: camp fever, jail fever and famine fever or as we know it today Typhus.

Symptoms include: high fever, cough, rash, delirium and finally death. It is caused by human lice that are infected with the disease. After being bitten, a rash appears on the victim’s chest and then spreads to legs and arms. Death follows.

Unsure of how to treat the disease or what caused it, victims were quarantined in remote parts of a town. Chester’s Pest House was in Popple Dungeon and was probably located close to the Pest Cemetery.

The Popple Dungeon Pest Cemetery is located off Nudist Camp Road on the Williams Road. There are a number of people buried there marked only with simple fieldstone grave markers. There are no names on any of the graves. Bert Lyons told Ken that many members of the Arnold Family were buried there. Bert’s great-grandmother was an Arnold. Ebenezer Arnold appears on the 1790 census as living in Popple Dungeon so the Arnolds were living in Popple Dungeon in 1793.

It was obvious studying the grave markers that many of the deceased were children. The head and foot stones are only about three feet apart indicating children. It is a rather sad place to visit.

The photo with this article is the Pest Cemetery in Popple Dungeon. The tallest markers are about a foot tall. Others are as short as six inches. The graves are neatly arranged in rows. Bert Lyons had what little written information that was known about this cemetery but it was lost in a fire. That document was said to identify those interred there.

I checked with Virginia Blake Clark, author of “The Source: Popple Dungeon, Vermont.” Her book has a little information but much remains unknown. I doubt many people are aware of this piece of Chester’s history.

It’s that time of year when Danny Clemons and I visit area cemeteries. This year Steve Lavoie and Ken Barrett have joined us. It amazes me how much individual knowledge is revealed as we travel around. We really enjoy sharing and learning what the others know. Sometimes the smallest piece of information leads to a discovery like the Popple Dungeon Pest House and Pest Cemetery.

I urge readers to go and visit area cemeteries. It’ll get you out in the fresh air and get you a little exercise. Who knows what discoveries you might find?

I always take my camera and photograph graves that I find interesting. When I get home I research the Civil War soldiers I found that day. In the Windham Center Cemetery we located the grave of Vermont Civil War soldier Charles Gould. Gould was a Medal of Honor recipient and hero at Petersburg, Virginia on April 2, 1865.

This week’s old saying is from Yogi Berra. “No one goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.”

Pest Cemetery for the Pest House on Popple Dungeon. Photo by Ron Patch
Pest Cemetery for the Pest House on Popple Dungeon. Photo by Ron Patch



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