When a mere lad, now more than fifty years ago, I heard one of the then oldest residents of Peacham explain the origin of the name of that “bad eminence” known as Devil hill. The story may have been familiar to the old residents of the town a half century ago; but that generation has passed away and it is doubtful if there is a single inhabitant of Peacham now living with the possible exception of Leonard Johnson who remembers it or who can give any clue to the origin of the suggestive name of the old town’s famous hill.
As I remember the story towards the close of the last century there came to the house of Simeon Walker who we believe has descendants living in St. Johnsbury a very peculiar and eccentric man who gave his name as Miers. Walker at that time lived upon a farm in the southeastern part of Peacham now owned and occupied by a Mr. Livingstone. Miers seemed to be considerably past the middle age of life. He had a wild and haggard look and was very secretive, so secretive indeed that no one was ever able to find out his given name or where he came from, and he claimed that he had no relatives on earth, but when hard pressed by inquisitive neighbors he would sometimes say that he was fourth cousin to the ”Wandering Jew.” He professed to be a mechanic and secured from Mr. Walker the privilege of building a small shop on his farm, and the moss covered stones of the well near where this shop was built may still be seen forty or fifty rods in front of the present residence of Mr. Livingstone. For five years Miers occupied this building for a shop and dwelling. Nobody else was ever known to enter it. It was kept locked night and day. It is certain that some kind of work was going on there but nobody knew what it was. From vague hints dropped by the old man some people thought he was building a machine to demonstrate the possibility of perpetual motion, while from the peculiar light emitted by his chimney late at night certain seasons of the year other people thought he was an alchemist experimenting to discover a process of transmuting silver into gold. Occasionally an evil disposed person suspected the old man was a counterfeiter, or possibly, to use the flash language of crime, a “shover of the queer;” and not a few of the more superstitious believed that he had sold himself to the devil and practiced the “Black Art.” At any rate there was an air of mystery about the old man and an unsociability which repelled all approaches and even the inquisitive small boy had a wholesome fear of “Wizard Miers,” as they called him, and gave a wide berth to his mysterious cabin.
Directly under the hill below the Walker farm on the spot now; occupied by the house of a Mr. Graham, there was a hotel known in those days and for, many years after as the “Bed House,” built and occupied at that time by one David Elkins a son of that Dea. David Elkins, one of the first settlers of Peacham, who was captured by the Indians during the Revolutionary war and sent a prisoner with Ethan Allen , and others to England. Close by the hotel was a distillery for the manufacture of potato whiskey. About this hotel and distillery there happened to be gathered one night in the fall of the year several of the leading citizens of Peacham, Simeon Walker, Captain Bailey, Joel Blanchard, Jonathan Elkins and others. While these worthies were drinking potato whiskey there were no prohibitionists in Peacham at that time and discussing the question of the orthodoxy of Mr. Wooster, then gravely doubted by the Scotch Presbyterians of Barnet, there came up a violent thunder shower and almost instantly after a fearful clap of thunder, the whole hill above the tavern was in a blaze of light. The party were almost stupefied by the electric shock but Captain Bailey afterward made oath that immediately following that clap of thunder, as he raised his face to drain a mug of potato whiskey, he saw a strange, threatening and uncouth figure flying through the air holding a blazing brand in his hand. Almost as quick as a flash of lightning this marvelous apparition seemed to flash across the sky from the direction of the Walker farm in a southwesterly course, and then to disappear with a terrible hiss in the “Great Bog.” Immediately the top of the hill adjoining the bog which from that night has been called Devil Hill, was wrapped in flames. The trees and the very soil were burnt off and to this day the bare granite ledges and boulders there show clear indications of having been subjected to a tremendous heat. When Walker returned home after the shower he found the cabin of Miers entirely consumed. Miers was never heard of again; he probably perished in the flames. It was reported afterwards that he often made nightly trips to Devil hill and believed that he had discovered a silver mine there often carrying pieces of the supposed ore to his cabin to be tested a report corroborated by the the fact that there were found in the ashes of his cabin fragments of crucibles and other materials used in smelting processes.
Such is the substance of the story which so struck my youthful imagination that the wanderings and vicissitudes of half a century have not effaced it from my mind a story which may explain why the staid and pious people of Peacham gave a disreputable name to an eminence which commands one of the noblest prospects in the state a story which for want of a better name I call The Legend of Devil Hill.
The Legend of Devil Hill, The St Johnsbury Caledonian (St. Johnsbury, Vermont) on Thu, 07 Apr 1887, Page 2, col. 2+3.