• Laurel Contributor

The Secret Room

by Donna Rhodes


Few early residents of Highlands could match the brilliance and feistiness of Dr. Charles L. Frost. His micro-mini resumé could have read: a man of passion, mystery, honor, and adventure.

Travel back to the fall of 1880 when Dr. Charles L. Frost of Hampstead, New York, hobbled into Highlands, 59 years old and in poorest of health. He’d read about Highlands’ moderate climate, its clear water, and its curative environment. Frost gathered his determination and his belongings and headed for the hills.

One would imagine him, coming from a Quaker background, to be a man of faith and conviction. In a way he was, but in school, his temper was appalling to peers and teachers. Even so, that disposition didn’t get in the way of his graduation from Columbia University’s School of Physicians and Surgeons at age 21.

Wanderlust eventually overcame him. In 1849 he boarded a ship and headed for the California Gold Rush. The ship’s officers shorted food to the would-be miners, so he led a mutiny, resulting in a narrow escape. He bolted to a mining camp where his roughneck ways matched the rough-and-tumble lifestyle of the mining crew. As evidence, a lawyer tried to swindle him out of a claim payment. Enraged, he gave that lawyer a deadline to set things straight and promptly received his deed, no questions asked.

Out West, he tangled with an Indian who jabbed Frost’s leg with a poisoned arrow. He survived but limped ever after. The Indian wasn’t so lucky.

He retired to Highlands with his daughter, Sarah, her mother having died. They moved into the unfinished Hutchinson House, which Frost completed. His granddaughter, Helen Hill Norris, told a story about a secret room, discovered years later in a repair. It was a small windowless room off the dining area.

“What on earth Grandfather Frost had that room built for,” she exclaimed, “none of us will ever know. It has held the secret through all the years.”

To learn more about Highlands’ secrets, read Ran Shaffner’s “Heart of the Blue Ridge’” borrowable at local libraries or purchase-able through the Highlands Historical Society online at highlandshistory.com or email highlandshistory@nctv.com. After Memorial Day check the website for Highlands Historical Museum visiting hours.

The Laurel Magazine

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