Brownington has one of Orleans County’s most distinctive buildings known as the Old Stone House, a four-story granite structure created as a student dormitory in the 1830s. It is now a museum and the focal point of a historic district that is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places. The Old Stone House was designed and built by the Rev. Alexander Twilight, a schoolmaster who is believed to be America’s first African American college graduate and first African American legislator.
Brownington was granted to Daniel and Timothy Brown in 1790. The town is bounded on the south by Barton, on the west by Irasburg and Coventry, on the north by Derby, and on the east by Charleston and Westmore. One of the first roads in Orleans County went through Brownington, connecting Greensboro to Derby. Brownington Village, which is close to Interstate 91, was once a stopping point for stagecoaches traveling between Boston and Canada.
The Brownington Historic District, where the Old Stone House Museum is located, is in the northern part of the village. The museum is operated by the Orleans County Historical Society and includes six buildings on 55 acres. The stone house itself has 21 rooms of exhibits focusing on 19th century life in northern Vermont.
Alexander Twilight, a man of mixed African-American ancestry, first saw Brownington in 1829, when he arrived to become minister of the Congregational Church and principal of the Orleans County Grammar School, also called Brownington Academy. The academy had been created just six years earlier, and was the only secondary, or high school, in the county.
Twilight felt strongly that if the academy was to compete successfully with other institutions, it should have a well-equipped dormitory for its students. He was unable to convince the school’s trustees of that need and decided he would build it as a private venture. How he accomplished that is a mystery. Some people believe he did it all himself with the assistance of an ox.
The completed building was named Athenian Hall out of admiration for the ancient Greeks. But many simply called it the Stone Boarding House.
The building was acquired in 1916 by the Orleans County Historical Society for $500 to preserve it for eventual use as a museum. Another potential buyer wanted to tear it down to use the granite blocks as railroad bridge abutments.
Vermont author Howard Frank Mosher wrote movingly about the Old Stone House in 1996 for Vermont Life Magazine: “I like the way the Stone House still looms up on that hilltop, where the wind blows all the time. There it sits, unshaken and monolithic, as I write this sentence and as you read it, every bit as astonishing today as the day it was completed. What a tribute to the faith of its creator, the Reverend Alexander Twilight: scholar, husband, teacher, preacher, legislator father-away-from-home to nearly 3,000 boys and girls, an African American and a Vermonter of great vision, whose remains today lie buried in the church-yard just up the maple-lined dirt road from his granite school, in what surely was, and still is, one of the last best places anywhere.“