Early Times: The Sixties

The paragraphs below are transcribed and edited from the “Early Times” section of the Equinox Mountain website, specifically from a page on Joseph George Davidson and his wife Madeleine, the generous donors who bequeathed the land now established as the American Carthusian Foundation.

[…] As for the Equinox-Carthusian connection, Mrs. Davidson remembered that the first contact took place one day in the late 1950s, when Davidson received a visit from Brother Paul. The monk was a member of the Carthusian community then located not far from the big Harriman hydroelectric complex in Whitingham, where the Catholic order had been given some property by the Grace shipping lines family. Aside from his religious calling, Brother Paul held a degree in civil engineering and hoped to utilize a small stream on the property to generate electricity; he had heard about Davidson’s talent for developing hydroelectric power. Davidson immediately concluded that the stream was insufficient for a turbine, but in the course of several visits, George and Madeleine became fond of Brother Paul […]

The friendship deepened, and the Davidsons came to know several other fathers and brothers of the Carthusian community, whose chief problem at the time seemed to be a lack of the seclusion the order required. A Carthusian charterhouse is ideally situated in “a mountain valley.” The Whitingham site not only failed to fit that description, but a state highway brought too much traffic distractingly close to monks whose purpose it was to remain “far removed from contact with the exterior world.”

As Father Raphael Diamond, Prior of the Carthusian Monastery for some twenty years, clearly recalled in 1990, it was Mrs. Davidson who first suggested because she and George had been unable to have children, it might be ideal to bequeath land on Mt. Equinox for a Carthusian charterhouse; surely several sites existed there that fit the definition of remote mountain valley. Davidson was Roman Catholic who had a kind of faith as Father Diamond put it, that did not need to be fulfilled by attending weekly services. But the couple’s religious ties were strong. They were close friends of the Catholic Bishop of Vermont, the Most Reverend Robert F. Joyce of Burlington.

One of Davidson’s few mistakes – the construction of a building he once intended to use as a ski lodge – was put to good advantage. It contained central rooms, kitchen facilities, and many suites under its twelve gables, and thus became a suitable structure for a temporary Carthusian charterhouse. Cubicles designed for transient skiers became hermitages for the monks. Despite Davidson’s caution “I’m not easy to live with,” the unused ski lodge was remodeled during the summer of 1960 and the monks moved in on a trial basis.

The experiment worked. Davidson began transferring land in fifty-acre parcels, for tax purposes, to the Carthusian Order. The eventual gift would total seven thousand acres. Plans were made to build a charterhouse designed by architect Victor Christ-Janer & Associates of New Canaan, Connecticut. It was fabricated of stark Vermont Rock of Ages Granite, each of which measured 3.5 feet by 9.5 feet by 18 inches thick. These vertical blocks would become both interior and exterior, with spaces between filled with concrete.

The new monastery was substantially completed by the time Davidson died. He made plans to be transported by ambulance to participate in the first mass in the chapel of the new charterhouse, but he was too ill for his wishes to be carried out. The monastery opened in the spring of 1970, when its first and only public open house was held – after which no woman, not even Mrs. Davidson, has been allowed inside.

In October 1969, suffering from a respiratory condition, Davidson became the first patient admitted to Putnam Memorial Hospital’s new fourth-floor extended-care unit, built with some of the few federal funds ever granted for the hospital construction. He was visited by, among others, Dr. W. Philip Giddings, the surgeon and former hospital chief of staff, who observed that Davidson’s bed had been moved so he could have a grand view from the north facing window of “my mountain”– a minor infraction of rules that was overlooked for the former chairman of the board.

Another visitor during that final illness was Father Diamond, who said he was able to leave Davidson with the comforting thought that in 480 years he would probably not be remembered for his work at Union Carbide, but he would still be known as the founder of the first Carthusian monastery in the United States. Davidson was affected deeply by that idea. The night before he died, Davidson verbally turned over management of the mountain to Father Diamond and Father Stephen Boylan, who accepted the responsibility on behalf of the Carthusian order. The next morning, October 9 1969, he spoke in cheerful spirits to a nurse, read a newspaper, and then died in peace, unattended. […]


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