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Alexander Twilight: First African American with a Bachelor’s Degree

The Old Stone House
The Old Stone House
The Old Stone House — one of the most impressive buildings in New England — lies in the small, quiet town of Brownington, VT. The massive four-story granite structure contains the Orleans Historical Society collections. Handicrafts, needlework, and paintings relevant to the history of Orleans County are collected there.

Constructed by Alexander Twilight

The Old Stone House was originally constructed by Alexander Lucius Twilight, born in Corinth, VT, on September 23, 1795.

Twilight’s parents, Ichabod and Mary, were the first African-Americans to settle in Cornish, where they purchased a farm in 1798.

Early years

At the age of eight, Twilight was indentured by a neighboring farmer whom he resided with until he was 20. During that time, Twilight learned to read and write as he worked diligently to purchase his indentureship.

Soon after his indentureship, Twilight attended the Orange County School near Randolph. Six years later, Twilight graduated with the equivalency of college-level courses.

Graduating with a bachelor’s degree

In 1821, Alexander Twilight enrolled at Middlebury College and, in 1823, he graduated with a baccalaureate degree, making him the first African-American to do so.

Three years later, he married New Hampshire native Marry Ladd Merrill. At the time of his marriage, Twilight was teaching in Peru, NY, where he studied the ministry.

Twilight arrived in Brownington in 1829, where he became the principal at Brownington Academy, which housed students from all over the state. Because of the distance, only students who resided in Brownington lived at home. All others had to stay with families who lived nearby.

Twilight constructs a dormitory

Alexander Twilight
Alexander Lucius Twilight (1795-1857)

As the student population grew, more space became an issue. In 1830, Twilight approached the school’s presidential committee to raise funds for a dormitory. When his proposal was denied, Twilight decided to pay for the dormitory himself.

During the spring of 1836, a gift of land was deeded to Twilight to construct a boarding house that would accommodate the Orleans County Grammar School. The deed is one of the few remaining documents dealing with the building’s construction.

In addition to taking on financial responsibilities, Twilight was solely responsible for constructing the dormitory. When he finally finished the building, he dubbed it Athenian Hall (now known as The Old Stone House).

Its construction a mystery

The actual construction of the building remains a mystery. Some say Athenian Hall was built similarly to that of the pyramids. As the stones were laid in place and the walls rose, a ramp of earth was built around the building, allowing Twilight to drag the stones along the ramp. The theory goes that the dirt ramp was removed when the wall was completed.

Athenian Hall measured 36 by 66 feet and 24 feet at the gables. The inner sides of the granite walls were bricked and plastered to a total thickness of over 20 inches.

Saved from destruction

In 1916, the Orleans County Historical Society saved Alexander Twilight’s masterpiece from destruction. Currently, The Old Stone House and its surroundings are designated as a Natural Historic District.

Additionally, Twilight has an auditorium named after him at nearby Lyndon State College, while Middlebury College erected Alexander Twilight Hall in his memory.

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