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Thursday, February 7, 2019

Old Fashioned Winter Fun




FOR A BETTER RUN. In the late 19th century, the toboggan was introduced as a safer alternative to the "murderous double runner" or traverse.  Local toboggan clubs were started and toboggan chutes were center to winter carnivals.
BURLINGTON WINTER CARNIVAL. Beginning in 1884, the Burlington Coasting Club began to hold a Winter Carnival modeled after carnivals held in Montreal. Thousands attended.   

NO COASTING ALLOWED. As early as 1869, coasting on public roads was being prohibited across the two states.  The United Opinion supported this measure, writing "Sliding I the street is dangerous to both boys who slide and the people who walk or ride." .

The steerable Flexible Flyer was introduced in 1889. Ads said that their use meant that runs lasted longer, went fasters and damaged boys' shoes less.

This group of free-range youngers get ready for the down hill adventure that was sledding (Library of Congress) 
“This winter is one of the old-fashioned kind, with plenty of cold and snow. The snow has furnished an infinite amount of amusements.  Not for a long time has there been such a carnival of fun. This is the season of enjoyment, therefore we say welcome to the snow which is the only thing that can make old winter endurable”  Burlington Weekly Free Press, Jan. 24, 1879

As I write this column, snow is falling heavily in Bradford. It seems an appropriate time to delve into the history of winter fun in New Hampshire and Vermont, especially in the 19th and early 20th centuries.  Because they  are model designer states for winter activities, this article will review the history of some of the many activities that have engaged residents in winter-time fun.

As there is so much information on the history of hockey and skiing in New Hampshire and Vermont, the history of those activities will have to wait until a future column.   

 The traverse sled is one of several winter toys that began as a working device. For centuries, they were used to haul supplies, lumber and stone, drawn by human or animal power. In the 1870s, Vermont newspapers began to describe them being used for downhill adventures.

Known as “double-rippers or double runners,” the  traverse was two sleds connected by a plank. The front sled could be manipulated to steer. The number of riders depended on the length of the plank, with reports of sleds that accommodated up to 20 riders.

A horse, truck or tractor was often used to pull the sled up a steep and long hill or road. Roy Belyea of Piermont recalls growing up in Warren and riding an 8-person traverse down both Moosilauke Inn Road and Rt. 118.

Hauled by a truck up the road, the sled ride would be as much as five miles. The truck would go ahead to warn the occasional oncoming traffic and the ride would often end up in a snowbank. Goshen Road in Bradford and Piermont Heights were two of the many appealing traverse runs in the area. 

Those trips were exciting and dangerous. Reports from across the two states described broken bones, gorged torsos and even fatalities. Many of the reports mirrored a 1885 comment in a St. Johnsbury newspaper: “Thin ice and a traverse sleds are the boys’ greatest danger now.”   

The toboggan was another tool that was modified for winter excitement.  It was first mentioned in Vermont newspapers in 1870. In 1884, The Vermont Watchman encouraged towns and villages to “banish the murderous double-runner…and introduce the Indian toboggan, a vehicle swift as an arrow’s flight, but yielding a harmless sport, indescribably fascinating and exhilarating.”

In 1887, the Star and Burlington brand toboggans “were in high use in St. Johnsbury.” Toboggan clubs were formed in Burlington, Montpelier and St. Johnsbury and toboggan suits were manufactured in Saxton’s River, Vermont.  

Bobsledding was described as the “winter sport that has an element of danger.” The term bobsled was first used for the farm sled used to haul lumber or hay. In the later 19th century  it was also used in reference to the regular traverse. In the 1880s, riders in both Switzerland and upstate New York, added a steering wheel to the traverse. By 1909, bobsled races were being held over an iced course.   

Decades before these toboggans, youngsters had been sliding or coasting down local hills and roads. Bradford’s National Opinion of Feb. 13, 1874 reported on “the downhill tendency of American youth.” It went to report that a single company in Montpelier sold 11,000 sleds for children last winter.

Early sleds were advertised as high sleds or mollycoddles for girls and low sleds for boys. All that was improved when, in 1889, Samuel Leeds Allen patented the first steerable runner sled. Sold as the Flexible Flyer, a 1904 ad declared that it would “last longer, go faster and save boys’ shoes.”

Dragging sleds behind, youngsters sometimes tackled a hill of new fallen snow. A heavy woolen snowsuit or jeans and buckled overshoes, hat and mittens were their costumes. They were as free range as the family dogs that tagged along. If the boots leaked, one could always pull a bread bag over them. Steering could be done by hand, belly-down or sitting up and using feet.  It was said that girls used the latter whereas boys were more likely to start with a running “belly bumper.”

The first couple of attempts were short-lived until a path was packed down. Walking back up hill in the path was frowned upon. If a hill was icy, cardboard or an inner tube could replace the sled. I recall that the hill outside the Orfordville school was just right for these substitutes. 

The jack jumper or snow bob added an exciting toy. Patented in 1904 by  Peter Perrault of Brattleboro, the jumper was sold in stores. One could also be made at home with a barrel stave or sawed-off ski as the runner.  An upright piece held the attached seat. Using one’s flailing feet and arms for balance , the jumper sends the courageous rider sailing down a snow-covered hill.    

Diners at a recent East Orange Senior Center luncheon confirmed these coasting details. Long before the flying saucer was marketed, one person recalled a group ride using an auto hood. 

Bradford’s Forrest Thurston remembered starting at the top of South Road and sliding more than a mile past the district school he attended. During recess or lunch, students at that school used the road for sliding.

This 87-year old diner said that there was little traffic and the roads were rarely sanded after snow. But there was traffic and other dangers on roads used by throngs of children and some “frisky older people.”

Beginning in the 1860s, newspaper reports regularly reported accidents between coasters and pedestrians, horses, utility poles, barbed wire, railroad cars, and vehicles. 

While some communities set aside designated streets for sliding, others began to restrict it. In Dec. 1869, believing “the practice of coasting upon the Highways of Bradford Village is alike dangerous to live and property,” Bradford selectmen moved to forbid it.

In 1877, a new Vermont law allowed town selectmen to prohibit sliding on all town roadways. The United Opinion supported the measure, writing  “Sliding in the street is dangerous to both the boys who slide and the people who walk or ride.”   In 1883, New Hampshire passed a similar law, but also allowed communities to appropriate funds for “controlled suitable sliding, coasting and skating.”

 Beginning that same year, many northern New Englanders travelled to Montreal and Quebec City for  winter carnivals. Railroads offered special excursion tickets for the events. The spectators from New Hampshire and Vermont  were so taken by the activities that  communities and colleges began to organize their own winter carnivals. 

In 1884, Burlington’s Coasting Club held a five-day gathering in which coasting and tobogganing were the main events.  Its 250 members created a chute 30 ft in height and 1,400 ft in sliding length. Two years later, the enlarged event included skating, curling, coasting, ice-boating, trotting races on Lake Champlain, sleighing, snowshoe races and hockey matches. The hockey matches involving both local and Canadian teams is described as the first international hockey  tournament.  

Winter carnivals were also held in New Hampshire. In Jan. 1893, a winter carnival was held in Concord   and, in 1916, Newport began a winter carnival that is still being held today. In 1921, the New Hampshire Hotel Association encouraged local winter festivals to promote tourism.   

In 1910, the Dartmouth Outing Club held its first winter carnival.  Over the years, skiing events  and other outdoor sports of all types along with snow sculptures were added. From  the beginning this all-male student body realized “Winter Carnival will not succeed without girls.”  More on this carnival and Dartmouth’s contributions to skiing in a later column.

Other colleges also held similar events. In 1920, Middlebury began the tradition of “Winter Holiday.” That college indicates their festival is “the oldest student-run winter carnival in the nation.”  In 1921, the University of Vermont held winter events that included both college and high school students. The next year, the University of New Hampshire’s Forest Club held that school’s first winter carnival.  

In 1920, Washington’s Birthday became the focus of a mid-winter carnival  in Stowe. The organizers “wanted to bring the people in town out of economic and winter doldrums.” It was very successful and, in the mid-1930s, drew large crowds. Suspended during WW II, it did not resume until 1974.

Local high schools were attracted to the thrills of a winter carnival. In the 1930s, Bradford Academy held an annual  interscholastic Saturday carnival that included students from Hanover, Lebanon, Orford and Woodsville. This would evolve into indoor and outdoor contests between BA students held on the last day of school prior to winter vacation topped by a dance with student royalty.

At the same time, a number of winter competitions were held in Orford involving both high school and junior high students.  In 1932, Lake Morey was the site of sporting events for 7th  and 8th graders.  An area-wide competition was held in 1937  and included students from Haverhill, Thetford, Bradford, Newbury and Orford.  In the late 1950’s, many of events were held in the field adjacent to the high school.

Ice skating was introduced in America in the 1740s by British soldiers. Early skates were attached to the wearer’s shoes or boots. Between 1848 and 1865 improvements included one-piece skates. Skating became very popular as it was the only sporting activity that included both men and women. It was not unusual for a skating party and a bonfire to follow a day of ice harvesting.  

According to Katharine Blaisdell’s history of Haverhill, beginning in the 1890s, there was skating on the Ammonoosuc River near Woodsville,  on Sleeper’s mill pond in North Haverhill and the eddy of the Connecticut River at Haverhill Corner.

 Over the years, there have been a number of skating rinks throughout Haverhill, both on established rinks and ones created by users shoveling a clear surface. As elsewhere, these rinks were used for hockey and individual skating. 

On Christmas morning, 1895, a skating outing was held on Lake Fairlee and “much fancy skating was indulged in.” The next year, Warden’s Store in Bradford sold “skates for 30 cents and up.” 

Skaters on rivers and ponds were joined by those involved in ice fishing. Newspaper reports indicated that in the late 1890s, concerns for overfishing during the winter began to lead to restrictions. In 1894,  ice fishing in both Lake Fairlee and Lake Morey was prohibited.

 Concern for the pickerel population led the New Hampshire Fish and Game Commission to recommend that all ice fishing be stopped in all but the largest lakes. Their concern was the negative impact on fishing during other seasons.  

However, in the new century, catches seem to increase.  In January 1911, it was reported  that, in one day, two Bradford men caught 30 pickerel in Haverhill. In 1922, ice fishing on Lake Fairlee resulted “in exceptionally good luck.”

In addition to the above activities, sending a group of children out on a snowy day led to numerous informal winter activities. Building a snow fort and having a snowball fight along with molding a snowman could fill as many hours as the temperatures and appetites allowed.

 An untouched field of new fallen snow was just right for creating a game of fox and geese.  That winter game of tag  was played on a large circle, divided like a pie with connecting paths.  A snow pile created just the right setting for a King of the Hill challenge.

In 1922, The Brattleboro Daily Reformer concluded: “Vermont is beginning to realize on its permanent interest in winter.  We have been paying for winter, lo, these may years, but have never realized on the investment in the share of health and pleasure. Now we are cashing in some of our dividends.” For over a century and a half, many New Hampshire and Vermont residents have and continue to enjoy the dividends of living through old-fashioned winters with old-fashioned fun.

Friday, January 4, 2019

Caring For Yesterday's Elders


CARE ON THE PLATEAU--The new Margaret Pratt Community facility in Bradford is the latest addition to a number of public and private locations that offer elders a home away from home. It opened in December 2018. (JO staff photo)


OLD AS THE HILLS--This 92-year-old Vermonter is typical of those older residents who relied on assets, health, and most importantly, family to provide care for them in their elder years.  Entitled "Oldest Man In Town," this Depression-era photo was taken by Louise Rosskam. (Farm Security Administration)     
Journal Opinion Dec. 26, 2018


 “It is an old custom for New Englanders to live to be as old as the hills.”

Edwin Valentine Mitchell,  It’s An Old New England Custom, 1946

In his chapter on growing old, Mitchell identifies examples of New Englanders who lived to be 100 or older. If he were writing today, he could easily selected local residents to match.  

On December 14, the Margaret Pratt Community assisted living facility opened on the plateau overlooking the plain where Pratt lived out her life. Its opening led me to think about how Americans have cared for their elders in times past. The following will focus on that topic from Colonial days to the passage of the Older Americans Act in 1965. 

The population of colonial New England was young, with only a minority reaching old age. Actually, if individuals lived to be 50, they had a pretty good chance of reaching 70. That is because of the high death rate among infants and women of child-bearing age. Research shows that New Englanders survived to old age in numbers unequaled elsewhere in both the colonies and England.

That society’s attitude toward elders was both complicated and often contradicting. Many positions of power and privilege were held by elderly men. These positions were generally denied to elderly women or men of the lower classes.  

There was generally no such thing as retirement. Even in their declining years, elders were expected to be “up and doing,” performing  tasks. This was especially important when towns offered charity to impoverished older persons. 

Property and children were keys to an elder’s security. Property usually passed to an eldest son, often in exchange for the care of his parents in their final years. One elderly farmer was quoted as offering his entire estate to any relative who would “find and provide for me wholesome and sufficient food, raiment, lodging, attendance, washing and other necessities, as well in sickness and weakness of old age as in health.”

As couples often had children late in life, there were often unmarried sons and daughter who provided care. In my 7th great grandparent’s house in Newburyport, Massachusetts is an adult-sized cradle used with ill or senile elders during their “sleeping period.”

An elder’s reluctance to pass land to the younger generation often led to resentment. Many of the early residents of our area came seeking the land that was denied them in southern New England.

Local 19th century biographies contain numerous examples of elders who lived in intergenerational homes with younger members of their families caring for them in their final years. Arrangements varied depending on the strength of family ties. A number of them are listed in Newbury,  were, according to one newspaper account, on January 1, 1894, “there were 43 persons past 80 years of age living in that town.”     

One Bradford woman was described as “passing the peaceful afternoon of her useful and somewhat protracted life at her old home in  Bradford with her beloved son.” Propertied individuals with no children might find a farm family who, for the property, undertook their support.    

These arrangements, however, did not always work out for the elder. In 1911, a notice appeared in several Vermont newspapers detailing the plight of Orrin Rice of Springfield. Born in 1820 and  “at one time one of the most prosperous farmers,” Rice had deeded his farm to his daughter with the understanding that he should be cared for. His son-in-law “made a failure of the farm and the poor nonagenarian ended his days at the town farm.” Rice was my great-great grandfather.

Indigent elders, like Rice, who had no means or a family to offer them shelter, sometimes had to resort to the humiliation of going on the public dole. Beginning in the 1830s, local towns established these under the titles of town farm or poor farm. Elders had to share space with the orphans, the poor, the mentally and physically disabled and the ill.  

The Overseer of the Poor and a resident manager were responsible for these establishments and made an attempt to make the farm self-sufficient. “Inmates” were expected to work as much as possible.

Admitting that one was unable to care for self was a measure of last report. One Stowe resident was quoted as saying “I’ll starve or freeze to death…before I will go to that accused poorhouse.” Being a  resident meant that one’s name and personal expenses to the taxpayers was published in the annual report of the town, adding to one’s humiliation.

The development of the county farm system in New Hampshire relieved local towns from the need to maintain town farms. The Grafton County farm began being established in 1867.  In Vermont, poor farms declined after 1880 as other helping organizations and agencies were created. 

Organizational homes for the elderly began when Philadelphia’s Indigent Widows’ and Single Women’s Society established one in 1823. By the mid-nineteenth century, fraternal, religious and trade organizations began opening nonprofit homes for their elder members.

In New Hampshire, the Odd Fellows and Rebecca groups opened a home in Concord in 1887.  The Masonic and Eastern Star Home was established in Manchester in 1904. The Vermont Eastern Star Home in Randolph opened in 1922 and served elderly members until 1988. The Gill Odd Fellows Home in Ludlow opened in 1896.

 About the same time, there were several non-profit homes for the elders created by civic-minded groups. In 1874, the Invalids’ Home was established in Keene by members of the Unitarian Church.  It was the first residential care facility in the state and offered “housing, comfort and aid to the lonely and forlorn women of the community.” In Vermont, the Burlington Home for Aged Women opened in 1888,  the Old Ladies’ Home opened in Rutland in 1890 and the  Brattleboro Home for the Aged and Disabled and the St. Johnsbury Home for Aged Women both were established in 1892. 

There were also a number of benevolent societies offering, among other benefits, old age assistance.  Members paid monthly dues when young and healthy to receive help when needed. The St. Andrew’s Benevolent Society of Vermont, chartered in 1892 and headquartered in Groton, had chapters around the state. Modern Woodmen of America was another example of this type of fraternal benevolent group.   

The local home nursing movement began in the two states in the 1890s, often offered first by large businesses to their employees and their families. In the 1920s, local classes on home nursing were held by the Red Cross and Home Demonstration groups under the auspice of the Orange County Farm Bureau.

To meet the needs of aging Civil War veterans both states established soldiers’ homes. Vermont opened its home in Bennington in 1887 and within the first ten years admitted 286 veterans.  New Hampshire open one in 1890 in Tilton and within the first two years admitted 143 veterans.

As with the poor farms, some elders resisted leaving their families and going to be cared for at public expense. While that was too shameful, receiving a veteran’s pension from the national government was not. Beginning in 1861, the Federal government began awarding pensions to disabled veterans and widows and orphans of the deceased. Veterans sometimes waited until they were elderly to apply for these benefits. 

In 1893, 28 years after the end of the war, there were 9,705 pensioners in New Hampshire and 10,069 in Vermont. Veterans’ benefits consumed 37% of the federal budget. The political clout of veterans’ groups kept benefits assured.

At the same time, there was considerable reluctance to offer compulsory old-age benefits to all elderly Americans, a benefit many Europeans enjoyed. Private pension benefits were offered by some companies, but many Americans relied on the traditional support from savings, property and family. This was at a time when the length of life was increasing and the length of employment was decreasing.  Retirement, forced or voluntary, was more likely, especially in more urbanized settings. 

At that time, progressive groups began to lobby for universal old-age benefits. A 1909 bill to extend veterans’ benefits to all Americans was proposed.  In 1911, Socialist Congressman Victor Bergen submitted an old age pension bill creating a government pension for all Americans at age 60 ”sufficient for their support.” One hundred Barre area citizens submitted a petition in support of the bill.  These bills never made it out of Congressional committees.

The Barre Daily Times supported these propositions: “The problem of dignified old age with some measure of independence  is one that troubles the sleep of half of humanity. But in our bustling country we seem to have left it to solve itself, while in Europe, governments, employers and above all, the people combined to find at least a partial solution.”

The idea of a government pension for all was denounced as a corrupt form of socialism, amoral and “destructive to the spirit of enterprise.” Neither major political party supported the idea.

Attitudes began to change, however,  in the 1920s with the rapid growth of poverty among elders. Poverty rates among elders increased from 23 percent in 1910 to 33 percent in 1922 and with the outbreak of the Great Depression, 40% by 1930 and 50% by 1935.

Major groups such as the Fraternal Order of Eagles set out to secure old age pensions, beginning at the state level.  By 1933, many states offered pensions.  In 1931, New Hampshire adopted a plan for residents 70 years and older who had been residents of their county for at least 15 years. In 1935, Vermont adopted a plan for those 65 and older, with citizenship and residency requirement.  Administered by the local Overseer of the Poor, the monthly benefit was $30 for individuals and $45 for couples.

In 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt introduced a proposal for a government pension program modeled after well-established European programs. With bipartisan support, including that of  Republican U. S. Sen. Henry Keyes of Haverhill, the bill became law. The resulting Social Security program created a federal safety net for those 65 and older based on payroll taxes paid during earlier employment.

The first person to receive an old-age monthly Social Security benefit check was 65-year old Ida Fuller of Ludlow, Vermont. On Jan. 3I, 1940, she received her first check for $22.54. Fuller continued to receive monthly checks under her death at age 100.         

Roosevelt chose not to include health care as part of Social Security because it was so controversial.  Opponents raised fears of government intrusion into the doctor-patient relationship and warned of “nationalized doctors.” In the late 1940s, President Harry S. Truman raised the issue of a health care benefit. Branding it as “un-American and “socialized medicine,” conservatives and the American Medical Association brought an end to his proposals. 

During the 1960 campaign, candidate John F. Kennedy promoted health care legislation.  He said the program was desperately  needed in “every city and town , every hospital and clinic, every neighborhood and rest home in America—wherever our older citizens live out their lives in want and despair under the shadow of illness.”  He wanted to build on a very limited health insurance that had passed in 1960, but was impacting only one percent of the elderly poor.

When he assumed the office of President,  Lyndon Johnson vowed to fulfill Kennedy’s promises. Proposals were, as they had been before, bottled up in Senate committees chaired by conservatives. The  landslide election of Democrats in 1964 opened the door for change.

 In 1965, Congress pass and Johnson signed into law the bill that led to Medicare and Medicaid. Those program, enhanced by additional benefits, have radically changed  health care for America’s aging adults. That year the Congress also passed the Older Americans Act. This was the first comprehensive federal program to provide home and community-based services for elders, especially for those who wish to remain in their own homes. 

The 2010 census revealed there were 8,694 New Hampshire residents who were 90 or older, with 232 at 100 years or older.  Vermont had 4,589 residents above 90 years with 133 listed as centenarians. In 2016, it was reported that Vermont had 14,000 residents age 85 and older. As that number continues to rise, New Hampshire and Vermont follow Maine in having residents with the highest median age. 

Most elders, even these of advanced age, hope to live out their lives in their own homes. Services such as senior centers, senior housing, adult day services, home-delivered meals and visiting nurses help to make that possible for many. As always, the keys to elder care are family, good health and assets. When those are not available, government programs make elder care generally available to even the poorest.

For those  who cannot live at home,  there are private and government facilities available. Even when one’s resources run out, and they are supported by what my Dad called “the federal gravy train”, there is quality care available.

The Margaret Pratt Community  facility joins the Atkinson House in Newbury, the Blue Spruce Home and Oasis in Bradford and On the Green and the Grafton County Nursing Home in Haverhill in providing care for the aged.  At age 76, and with a view to the future, I join those who are grateful that all these programs are available. Happy New Year.   

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Armistice Day to Veterans Day: A Centennial


Journal Opinion, Nov. 7, 2018
SINGING THE BOYS HOME. In the aftermath of World War I, thousands of American troops returned from Europe. Along with parades and receptions, popular songs such as the one above celebrated their return.

 
ORFORD MEMORIAL. In 1920, Orford became the first local community to honor WW I veterans with a public monument. Originally located at the top of Bridge Street, the monument now stands next to the Orford Congregational Church. (Photo courtesy of Arthur Pease) 
 


TOMB OF THE UNKNOWN SOLDIER.  On Armistice Day, 1921, a national holiday was observed as the nation established the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington Cemetery.  Built from Vermont marble, the shrine was the final resting place for an unknown American soldier brought home from France.



“To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the council of the nations…” Pres. Woodrow Wilson, Nov.1919

 World War I, the Great War, began in August 1914. The United States entered the conflict in April 1917 after Germany declared unrestricted submarine warfare on American vessels. Among the  4.7 million American who joined the military service were over 650 local men and women. The war cost the United States 53,402 battle deaths with an additional 204,000 wounded. Over 63,000 other service members died, many from the influenza pandemic. At least 35 locals died while in service. 

While these locals  served in every branch of the military, many men served in the Yankee Division. As part of the American Expeditionary Force, this division served on the Western Front longer than any other American unit. The American involvement tipped the stalemate in favor of the Allies. The Yankee Division was involved in heavy fighting right up to the armistice that brought an end to the  fighting at 11 a.m. Nov. 11, 1918.

The war had a major impact on the local home front. In order to mobilize the nation, the national government was given significant new powers to control the economy, the transportation system and the media. Government declarations promoted the war effort and encourage the sale of war bonds. As the country was assisting its allies, there were shortages of food and fuel. Citizens of all ages joined in the effort to meet the nation’s quotas.      

The nation rejoiced on that November day with school closings, church services, factory whistles blowing and “spontaneous” parades.

Bradford celebrated as people gathered in the streets in front of what is now the Bliss Village Store and “sang songs of joy and praise and thanksgiving, under a great star-spangled banner flying overhead across the street.” In Haverhill and Woodsville, as in other towns, the bells rang all day.  It was reported that “there was a clear satisfaction and joy written on the faces of everyone.”

On April 4, 1919, the first ship load of returning soldiers landed in Boston. Welcoming boats crowded with officials, families and friends met them. Later that month, full-dress parades were held at Fort Devens in Massachusetts and in Boston to honor the returnees before they were discharged.

In many area towns, welcome home receptions, banquets and dances were held. On July 5, 1919, Barre hosted a parade for Orange and Washington County veterans, complete with a victory arch erected in the center of the business district. 

Nov. 11 became known as Armistice Day in the United States and France and Remembrance Day in Canada and Britain. In 1919, President Wilson proclaimed the first Armistice Day anniversary observance with the statement at the beginning of this column. On that day, residents of Newbury and Haverhill hosted a car parade “rivaling the 4th of July.” The custom of observing moments of silence at 11 a.m. in remembrance of the war dead became widespread.

In 1920, the newly established American Legion Post in Woodsville observed the anniversary with a dinner, concert and dance. There were also Legion Posts in Bradford, Rumney, Lyme and Newbury.  Veterans of Foreign Wars Posts were established in Wells River, North Haverhill, Groton, Fairlee and Bradford, some before and some after World War II. 

Among their civic activities, these veterans groups sold artificial poppies to raise funds for the needy children of France and for disabled veterans. Communities also used the observance to promote annual Red Cross drives.  

Many veterans came home with physical wounds. Others suffered from shell shock, now known as post-traumatic stress disorder. While it is now known that the horrendous conditions of the Western Front was a major cause of the disorder, it was often thought at the time to be caused by a “lack of moral fiber.”

Returning soldiers also suffered from acute unemployment as the nation experienced a sharp post-war recession in 1920-21.This was caused by the shift from wartime to a peace time economy and the attempt to absorb millions of veterans into the economy.

The America Legion worked to find employment for veterans. In Sept 1921, the Caledonian-Record ran the following Legion announcement: “Figures alone do not tell the plight of the American unemployed veterans, for the great part of the jobless ex-soldier and ex-sailor are not only out of work, but are engaged at this moment in a struggle for existence with their backs to the wall of circumstance.” 

In 1921, Armistice Day was declared a national holiday as America established the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington Cemetery. Built of Vermont marble, the shrine became the final resting place for an unknown American soldier brought home from France.

The United Opinion reported the local observance. “Promptly at 12 o’clock noon today, church, school and fire bells will commence to toll…Vaneer mill and creamery whistles will boom out, and Bradford will bow in reverent silence to pay homage to American’s unknown hero.”     

 Local communities began to create monuments to honor those who served in the recent conflict. In 1920, Orford  created a monument complete with an honor roll. Originally placed at the top of Bridge Street, this monument now stands on the mall next to the Orford Congregational Church.  In 2003, that community dedicated a new monument to honor veterans of WW II.  It is located in front of the Town Offices.

In June 1921, a World War I monument was dedicated at Haverhill Corner. In August 1921, Bradford dedicated a Memorial Park north of the Library. A granite monument was erected bearing bronze tablets with the names of the soldiers and sailors of the Civil War, the Spanish American War and World War I.

Fairlee’s Soldiers’ Monument was dedicated in August 1926. While there had been discussion of listing the names of those being honored, it was decided to have a simple inscription that read “To Those Who Gave Their Lives in the Service of Our Nation.” At the dedication, Congressman Ernest Gibson’s comment on the inscription was that it was “all that could be said.”    

In the 1920s and ‘30s, most states established Armistice Day as a legal holiday.  Because the establishing of legal holidays was a state prerogative, it was not until 1938 that the Federal government made it a legal national holiday.

Only occasionally did local reporters for The United Opinion mentioned Armistice Day observances by schools and veterans organizations. Elders with whom I spoke recall that Memorial Day was more often observed with programs in schools than Armistice Day.      

In November 1929, an editorial entitled “Armistice Day Thoughts,” praised the work of the American Legion in support of war veterans and their dependents. As it cited the Legion’s civic programs, it decried the lack of support for ex-service men by the general public. 

 In 1935, the Bradford Legion Post used the newly-dedicated Academy gym as a location for an Armistice Day dance featuring the Bar X Cowboys and caller George Bedell. By that time it had become an established tradition for stores to close for the holiday. This practice continued for some time, although by the 1950’s only some businesses closed for the entire day.    

World War II and the Korean War created millions of additional veterans and, in the early 1950s, interest in observing a day in their honor grew. In 1953, a special Armistice Day assembly was held at Bradford Academy at which the school was presented with the flag that covered the casket of the late General Herbert T. Johnson of Bradford, former Adjutant General of Vermont.  Orators spoke of the meaning of Armistice Day. On that same day, Loyalty Day was observed in the Fairlee Elementary School. 

In 1954, President Eisenhower signed legislation changing Armistice Day to Veterans Day. In keeping with the theme of honoring all service men and women who had served, special ceremonies were held locally. As it is a day honoring all veterans, Veterans Day is spelled without an apostrophe. 

In 1968, the Federal government, as part of the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, moved Veterans Day to the fourth Monday in October. When the legislation took effect in 1971, some states began to move the observance back to November 11th. In 1978, with popular support, the Federal holiday observance reverted as well. 

For some years, the Legion Post in Woodsville has led other veterans groups for a ceremony  at the veterans monument on Woodsville’s Central Street. The ceremony draws up between 40 and 100 participants and spectators depending on the weather and the day of the week on which Veterans Day falls. The veterans groups also sell poppies.

Veteran Leonard Dobbins told me that Veterans Day ceremonies had been held in Bradford for decades. Scott Johnson, Bradford’s American Legion Commander, said that for some years a short Veterans Day observance were held at the Bradford Gazebo.

 In 2010, at a special Veterans Day assembly, Oxbow High School and River Bend Career Center dedicated an honor roll to the students, faculty and staff members who have served in America’s armed forces.  The plaque is located next to the flagpole on the front lawn. On November 8, 2018, the Bradford Historical Society met with the students and staff at the high school to honor veterans and commemorate the 100th anniversary of the armistice.   

On November 11, 2011, Bradford dedicated Veterans Honor Rolls for its veterans from World War II, Korea and Vietnam. The ceremony, which took place in the auditorium of the Bradford Academy, was attended by about 150 local residents, including some 6th graders from the Bradford Elementary School. The attractive wooden panels with engraved name plates were crafted and donated by Copeland Furniture.  

In 2012, Piermont’s Veterans Memorial was moved from its location in front of the old town hall to become the center piece of the new Piermont Memorial Gardens in the South Lawn Cemetery.

In May 2016, the Veterans Memorial that had been placed on Bradford’s Memorial Field in 1965 was moved to a more prominent location on the front lawn of the Bradford Academy. The dedication of this new setting was part of Bradford’s 250th celebration. 

There are no living World War I veterans in America.  Frank Woodruff Buckles passed away in 2011 at age 110. He was “our last living link” to that Great War. The ranks of World War II veterans are rapidly being depleted and the obituaries of  Korean and Vietnam conflicts veterans are increasingly common.   

This year, as in other years, newspapers will include mentions of Veterans Day in columns and advertisements. Television programs will make note of the day and may mention the centennial observance. Some businesses will close and others will offer special deals to service personnel and veterans. Veterans’ groups will hold ceremonies. Concerts, parades and wreath-laying ceremonies will be held across the nation. Flags and poppies will appear. Some will raise a glass to departed comrades.     

In November, 1926, The United Opinion featured a retrospective editorial entitled “Back to Plowshares” heralding the return to normalcy in the general population. But it went on to say, normalcy came to “…all except the shattered shell-shocked bodies and the bereft minds and morale of the unfortunate heroes. To them, then, is due all deference and reverence on Armistice Day, the first to respond, yet the most futile to restore and recompense, for an imperishable service.” 

For Veterans Day, 2018, with a whole new group of veterans returned from conflict, this is a timely message.  

 

 

 

 

 

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Closing the Books


CENTER OF LOCAL TRADE. Built in 1871 by Nelson Tewksbury, the Newbury Center store and post office was the retail location for this hamlet. (Photo by Sue Martin) 

OLD AND OLDER STORES GONE.  Two of Fairlee's historic retail outlets are pictured. In the background is the 1846 Brick Store that was destroyed in a fire in 1982. In the foreground is the Colby Block that housed a number of stores from 1910 until it burned in 2007. (Fairlee Historical Society)


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During the years, Bradford's Main Street has experienced a pattern of businesses opening and closing. Perry's Oil is gone. It has been replaced by Thomson Fuels and Alarmco.  Pictured above is the going out of business sign for North of the Falls shadowing the stone reminder of the Doe Brothers that occupied the storefront for many years.  The Space on Main will open on Oct. 12, 2018 and occupy the space left vacant by the demise of Hill's Five and Ten.

“I’m not much of a shopper, really, but I still feel a pang of regret when a local store with loads of history closes the books on it.”


Dan Mackey, Valley News , July 14, 2018

In July, Valley New columnist Dan Mackey wrote an article entitled “When All Shopping Was Local.” As a West Lebanon resident, his observations centered on that part of the Upper Valley. Informative and entertaining though it was, no mention was made of those retail stores that have come and gone in our immediate area.

This column will attempt to fill that void. It describes the rise of the first local country stores, the impact of village retail centers and  summary of those factors that have challenged those centers.. Faced with scores of local examples, I have used samples of retail establishments to illustrate historic trends. Information was taken from local town histories and newspaper as well as online sources.

Pioneers who settled this area were subsistence farmers and generally produced most articles they used. The few other consumer items they needed were brought overland on sleds or wagons, depending on the season, and on flatboats on the Connecticut River. Additionally, farm families would barter agricultural products for items from local craftsmen, including blacksmiths and shoemakers.

Col. William Wallace of Newbury was one of the first to establish a store. Beginning in 1775, he sold items he imported. As there was a general shortage of currency, he would accept fur, pot and pearl ash, ginseng root, handspun cloth or labor for the items families needed.  Early store owners or traders would stockpile local goods until they had enough to ship to down country markets. 

Some of the  other early stores in the area include the following: Jonathan Conant in Lyme, 1785; Gen. John Montgomery, North Haverhill, 1793; James Cameron, Ryegate, c. 1797; Josiah Marsh, Wells River, 1799; John Hill, Groton, c. 1802 and Daniel Wheeler, Orford, 1804.  Micah Barron opened the first store in Bradford around 1800 and opened stores in East Corinth and East Topsham between 1808 and 1810. General stores opened in each of Thetford’s villages at about the same time. 

Old account books indicate that the earliest country stores kept a limited number of items. “Indeed, but for the trade in ardent spirits, they could hardly have existed at all.” As the demand grew, the variety of  items carried increased. In 1814, Thomas Barstow’s establishment in Wells River offered dry goods, groceries, drugs, books and ardent spirits, “very much indeed of the latter.”

Population concentrated around hydro powered mills and transportation crossroads, leading to commercial villages in Bradford, Wells River and Lyme. With the expansion of the railroad at Woodsville, mining near West Fairlee, and tourism in Fairlee, those villages also developed retail offerings.    

Bradford in the 1850s was an example of the development of the mercantile economy. In addition to three hotels and a livery stable, there were five merchants that sold dry goods and groceries. These stores offered everything from medicines,  crockery, ready-made clothes and hardware to spices and ironware. By the 1870s, there was also a shoemaker and two tailors as well as four milliners along with harness makers, a dentist and three blacksmiths. 

Wells River continued to develop as a commercial center. By the 1880s, there were commercial buildings along Main Street offering consumer goods to customers from that village and outlying rural area.

The coming of the railroad  made it easier for merchants to offer a wider variety of good. It was not unusual for local merchants to offer items manufactured from both throughout the nation and from abroad. The changes in society brought an enhanced consumer demand for merchandise and retailers met those demands.


The coming of the railroad also made it easier for mail-order businesses such as Sears-Roebuck to offer merchandise sent directly to the consumers.  With the introduction of Rural Free Delivery in 1896, rural customers had access to a variety of merchandise beyond that offered by local stores. 

Woodsville was the last of the commercial centers to expand. The 1919 history of Woodsville lists the following businesses: five grocery stores, one jewelry store, two hardware/furniture stores, two banks, several clothing stores, one barber, three lawyers, three doctors, one hospital, one druggist, two hotels and a number of restaurants. 

Stores were generally owned by local entrepreneurial families and therefore reputations were highly significant. Distance of travel to the commercial center determined how frequently customers came to shop. As many stores were specialized, shopping entailed visits to a number of outlets.

Generally, the customer would approach the counter and indicate to the store staff the items desired. As many products were purchased by the store in large boxes or barrels, many items had to be weighted out and wrapped for the customer. Weekly or even monthly trips to the local general store also meant devoting some time to catching up on local happenings. 

The arrival of the automobile changed shopping habits. Trading was no longer as local and could be undertaken more frequently. A shopping trip from Corinth to Bradford, for instance, was no longer an all-day activity.

There were also peddlers selling tin ware and notions and salesmen with ice, meat and milk delivery wagons who visited rural areas. Even into the mid-20th century, the Sunbeam and Grand Union delivery men continued that practice.

In the 1940s, local retailing underwent major changes. Self-service grocery stores like First National and A & P, began to appear in commercial centers. The local First National stores, including those in Bradford, Fairlee and Woodsville, were supplied out of a regional distribution center in North Haverhill.    

Called supermarkets, these self-service stores offered aisles filled with a variety of food and household products. Customers pushed carts around, perhaps stopping briefly to order from the meat counter where the butcher would assist with selections. Checkout staff generally knew the regular customers and, depending on the lines, might spend a bit of time in conversation.     

In a similar fashion, department stores were likely to offer a larger selection of consumer products, organized into sections devoted to shoes, clothing and other supplies. Five & Ten Cents variety stores in Bradford and Wells River were examples of this type.  

In 1967, Bradford historian Harold Haskins described the mercantile profile of that community as a shopping center for area residents. Families made frequent trips to Bradford to take advantage of some of the following: one bank, three automobile agencies, two barber shops, a frozen-food bank, five beauty shops, a dairy, a greenhouse, two fuel dealers, three bottled gas dealers, eight gasoline stations, four plumbers, seven motels and cabins, a laundromat, three-year round restaurants and one summer dining room, a public typing service, and a funeral home.

There was also two doctors, one veterinarian and three dentists. Stores included three chain food stores and four independent, a meat market, three general hardware stores, a Five and Ten store, a men’s furnishing and jewelry, two ladies’ shops, a children’s clothing store, a furniture store, four appliance dealers, a drug store, a television and radio shop, three feed dealers, a state liquor store, two auto parts stores and a mail-order service.

These are in addition to two real estate brokers, three insurance agencies, three painters, four carpenters and builders, two electricians and a woodworking shop.

Growing up in Orford in the late 40s and 50s, my family made frequent visits to Bradford for many of the things we needed.  School shopping meant a visit to Hill’s and Doe Brothers. Bowling alleys and a movie theatre offered entertainment. My parents did their banking in Bradford and stored extra food in the frozen-food bank.

 Stores were open on Saturday night as many people got their paycheck that day. Even when it was changed to Friday night openings, crowds of shoppers made the weekly open night similar to the later Midnight Madness events.    

The four decades that followed saw major changes. Grocery stores became larger in a series of replacements. In 1963, a 5,000-square foot Super Duper opened in the former Bradford bowling allies and then moved to a new store on the Lower Plain. That store later became Grand Union, then P & C and in 2012 was taken over by Hannaford’s. That chain’s new 35,000-square foot store opened in 2012 and serves customers from throughout the area.    

In 1978, Gould’s of Piermont moved from the village to a new store at the corner of Rt 25 and River Road. Before being destroyed by fire in 2000, it also housed Stop & Save and Bronson’s.

Woodsville’s Butson family was involved in grocery sales for one hundred years. Known as People’s Market and later Butson’s, the grocery store occupied several buildings in central Woodsville and in 1985 moved to a new building on Rt. 302.  Shaw’s now occupies that site.

In Fairlee, the closing of the First National allowed Thetford’s Wing’s store to open in 1964 in the Colby Block. Its current store to the south opened in 1995. There continued to be a number of ”mom and pop” convenience stores in villages throughout the area.

In the 1960s, Rockdale’s, a large chain discount department store, opened in one of Lebanon’s abandoned mills. At first, items were often displayed in bins with every effort made to reduce overhead.  It was the beginning of a series of changes that challenged local retailers.

In 1967, a Forest Hills Factory Outlet opened in the former First National warehouse in North Haverhill.  It was replaced by the Ames store in 1975. Ames moved it operation to a new store on Woodsville’s Central Street in 1990. That store closed in 2002. Three years later Ocean State took over the building. Walmart opened its superstore in 2008. 

In 1969, Vermont adopted a sales tax on retail sales. New Hampshire did not, putting Vermont businesses along the boarder at a competitive disadvantage.

By the mid-1970’s, I-91 was extended to St. Johnsbury. That opened larger commercial centers in St. Johnsbury, Littleton and Lebanon to local shoppers. Predictions that Rt. 5 would become abandoned, with grass growing from the cracks did not materialize, but the impact was felt on some area business that could not compete. Areas adjacent to exits became a magnet for new businesses.

Scores of locally owned businesses opened, changed hands or closed during the period after 1964. In some cases, the businesses had served the area for decades.

Newer residents of the area may not recognize the following businesses that have disappeared: Doe’s Brothers, Erskine’s, Wells River’s Five & Ten, Clark’s IGA, Borden Walker-- Furniture King of the Valley, McLam’s Hardware, Hebb’s Store, Grossman’s, Martin’s General Store, Crossroad Pharmacy, Gove & Morrill Hardware, the Groton Village Store, Ryegate’s Corner Store and Perry’s Chrysler-Plymouth dealership.

To that list were numerous restaurants that opened and closed, as is the custom in that type of enterprise.

At the same time, new enterprises have been added. Those include Fogg’s Hardware, Wells River Chevrolet,  Copeland’s Factory Store, Subway, McDonald’s, Farm-Way, Oakes Hardware, Family Dollar, Colatina,  Kinney Drug, NAPA, RiteAid and Valley Floors. Some of these are locally owned either as independents or franchises. In addition to services or products, all  offer employment opportunity to  local residents.   

In 1993, the closing of  Bradford’s Hale’s Furniture and Gove & Bancroft Pharmacy led to suggestions that the business district was “rapidly becoming a ghost town.” The recent changes on Central Street in Woodsville with the loss of Hovey’s and in Bradford with the closing of Hill’s Five & Ten and the departure of Perry’s Oil may, again, raise that specter.

 In response to the earlier rumors, the late Charles Glazer wrote in the Journal Opinion that other businesses  would move in “to take up the slack.”  The opening of Thomson Fuel and the anticipated opening of The Space on Main on October 12 at the same time that North of the Falls is closing seems to indicate a mixed future for Bradford’s Main Street.

Added to the impact of the interstate highway, the Vermont sales tax and the arrival of businesses without close local ties is the rise of the internet. Sites such as Amazon offer a selection of items that even superstores like Walmart may not be able to provide. That leaves local store having to compete both with other local stores and a world of internet offerings.

With all of these forces going against them, it is not unreasonable to expect further changes in local retails. Do not be surprised to see “Going Out of Business” signs on your local favorite store.  Unless you want to share in Dan Mackey’s “pang of regret,” shop locally as much as possible. As one local bank’s radio ad suggests, the dollar spend locally is magnified as it circulates around the community. That was true in times past and remains true still.             

 

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Meeting Cancelled, Permanently


CRYSTAL LAKE I00F LODGE HALL. Built in the 1870s, the Post Mills Odd Fellows Hall house lodge activities as well as many community events. It still stands in the middle of that village.

GOLDEN AGE OF FRATERNALISM.  During the period from 1860 to 1920s, male-only groups such as the one pictured above med in lodges throughout New Hampshire and Vermont. While their ceremonies and regalia varied, they offered men opportunities for fellowship and civil involvement.
This well-worn 1894 honors Thomas Widley, the founder of the first Lodge of American Odd Fellows, Baltimore, April 1819.  A British emigrant, Widley brought the order from England to America. Surrounding his portrait are the symbols and activities of the order arrayed in a complicated mosaic.

Bradford lodge of the Knights of the Golden Eagle met for a few years following their establishment in 1898.  Next to their banner is the stamp of the Improved Order of Red Men which met locally for a short time.


July 25, 2018 Journal Opinion
“When a community gets the “get together” habit, reforms can be easier accomplished, and each man can look his neighbor in the face and say, with St. Paul, that he is the ‘citizen of no mean city.’”  St. Johnsbury Caledonian, Dec.18, 1907

In 1835, visiting French philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville observed, “Americans of all ages, all stations of life, and all disposition are forever forming associations.” In 2000, political scientist Robert D. Putnam wrote in his national bestseller Bowling Alone, that the nation was experiencing a decline of “active civil engagement.” That decline was characterized by the loss in membership and active participation by volunteers in traditional civic organizations.

Many organizations that have characterized local civic involvement for years in New Hampshire and Vermont have ceased to exist. Their memberships have melted away with age and conflicting interests.

This column describes some of the men’s groups that existed locally in times past. It is the first in a series that will, in future columns, cover groups for women and youngsters as well as literary societies. A future column will also describe the history of the Masons, Grange and Modern Woodmen of America.

This column details the history of just a few of the numerous organizations that have existed over the past 200 years.  Those selected are examples of once vibrant groups that have faded to near or complete oblivion and is in no way meant to suggest that others were not just as important to their host communities.  

The period from the 1860s to the 1920s was the “Golden Age of Fraternalism.” In 1899, there were over 200 different fraternal, benevolent, social, insurance, political, religious and temperance societies in the nation, many of them with secret ceremonies. 

The International Order of Odd Fellows is an example of a fraternal organization whose chapters or lodges once played an important civic role locally. The organization began in London in 1730 and spread to the United States in 1819. The title is thought to have been taken from the “odd” behavior of gentlemen in carrying out charitable work.

The first local lodge, Moosehillock Lodge in Haverhill Corner, was established in 1848. Bradford’s Champion Lodge and a lodge in Orford followed. The Haverhill Lodge surrendered its charter in 1858 and was reestablished in Woodsville in 1876. Lodges were also formed in Post Mills (1872), Barnet (1880), Wells River (1881), Groton (1900) and North Haverhill (1902).

With hundreds of members in both states, the Odd Fellows focused on individual improvement and social service. They also played an important social function by holding public dinners and dances. 

In 1851, the Odd Fellows became the first fraternal organization to have an affiliate auxiliary with open membership to both men and women. Known as the Rebekahs, affiliate lodges were opened in: Bradford (1890), Wells River (1892), Woodsville (1892), North Haverhill (1903),  Barnet (1895), Post Mills (1895) and Groton (1902).  

It was common for lodges to acquire property and erect lodge halls.  Crystal Lake Hall still stands in the center of Post Mills. The Bradford chapter owned what is now the Old Church Theatre until selling it in 1970. At one time, Bradford was considered as a possible site for the Vermont Odd Fellows Home, but lost out to Ludlow, where it still exists. 

All of the lodges mentioned above have ceased to exist. Some just surrendered their charter whereas others merged in a vain attempt to remain active. The Bradford Lodge closed in 1977 and merged with Barnet’s Connecticut River Lodge until it too closed in 2000. There are just seven active lodges in Vermont with 162 members remaining. From a high of 72 lodges, the Rebekahs have shrunk to six lodges and 109 members.      

The Knights of Pythias was another fraternal organization that grew during second half of the nineteenth century. It was founded during the Civil War with the objectives of “reestablishment of friendship and confidence” among Americans. The organization’s Vermont Grand Lodge was instituted in St. Johnsbury in 1889. By 1929, there were 32 lodges or castles in Vermont with 2,536 members. Nationally, there were nearly a million members.

Locally, there were lodges in Groton, West Topsham, Haverhill and Woodsville. In 1919, 100 members gathered at West Topsham for a Field Day complete with a supper and torch parade The Mount Gardner Lodge in Woodsville had a drill team and band and provided various financial and medical for members in need. In 1908, one newspaper article described its annual Easter Ball as “one of the leading social events of the season.”

As with other fraternal organizations, the Knights had both several higher levels of lodges and both youth and women’s auxiliaries. By the 1940’s, the local lodges had disbanded. There is no evidence of this organization currently in either state.    

One of the most unusual organizations was the New England Fat Men’s Club. It was established in Wells River in November 1903. At a time when “bulbous and overhanging abdomens and double chins” were indicative of wealth and success, this club met at Hale’s Tavern on the village’s Main Street.

Operating under the motto of “We’re fat and we’re making the most of it,” individual members observed “I’ve got to be good natured; I can’t fight, and I can’t run.”  Despite that observation, the annual gathering often included athletic contests, like the 50-yard dash. That was in addition to a nine-course dinner and entertainment.

The United Opinion described the game supper the club held in 1911 at which time the club claimed a membership of 5,000. The event got front-page coverage as the club’s secretary was publisher Harry E. Parker. At its height, this professional network of businessmen had a membership of twice that number, including members from around the nation.

Between 60 and 100 members met in Wells River for the annual meeting. Each was required to be at least 200 pounds at time of registration. In 1923, former President Howard Taft, well-known for his portly stature of about 300 pounds, joined the meeting. But just four years later, after some of the original members died, the group ceased to exist.

 In April 1909, the Bradford Brotherhood, a Methodist group, organized the Bradford Young Men’s Club. In its first year, the club organized baseball games and a fair. In 1926, the Bradford Men’s Club was established and, until at least 1939, promoted Bradford economically and provided social services in the community. In 1946, it was reorganized as the Bradford Community Club. 

The Community Club made substantial contribution to Bradford for over 70 years. Those included assisting with the operation of the Connecticut Valley Fair, turning a swampy area along the Waits River  into  Memorial Field, building the Bugbee Landing, assisting with the development of the Pierson Industrial Park and holding an annual Strawberry Festival. 

At its monthly meeting, the men voted to support youth groups, staff the local Prouty SAG stop, work at the Bugbee Landing and take stands on town issues.  Prior to the completion of I-91, the club sponsored the information booth on Main Street.

 In 2017, with membership declining, the remaining members decided to cancel further meetings, although individually several of the traditional projects have continued to be carried out by former members.

There have been several labor groups organized around specific local industries. In 1885, the South Ryegate local of the Granite Cutter’s National Union was organized. It stated purpose was, by collective action, to remedy the unsatisfactory working conditions for the approximately 100 men working at the Blue Mountain granite industry. The next several decades both confrontation and cooperation characterized the workers’ relationship with the granite companies’ management.

The Ryegate Paper Company was unionized in 1907 for a short period. The workers again unionized in 1944 as the East Ryegate local of the United Paper Workers International Union. The union remained through changes in management until the mill was closed permanently in 2001.

Beginning in 1921, three railroad labor groups met in Woodsville. They included the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen, the Order of Railway Clerks and the Brotherhood of Railway Trainmen. Their presence was indicative of the former importance of the railroad to that community. 

Some organizations appeared briefly and then disappeared. The Ethan Allen Castle of the Knights of the Golden Eagle was established in Bradford in 1898. There was no mention of this organization in Vermont after 1907. The Improved Order of Red Men had 10 tribes in Vermont in 1906 including locals in St. Johnsbury and Barre. The Woodsville tribe was organized in 1899 and existed until at least 1905. Despite its title, the organization’s membership was exclusively white men. 

The only evidence of this organization in Bradford is the following 1890 tongue-in- cheek news item: “There is no truth to the rumor that the Bradford Guard are to be called out to suppress the Hoccomocco tribe of Red Men in the area. The latter don’t indulge in firewater or the ghost dance.  Their existence is somewhat shadowy though.”

There have been other short-lived men’s groups over the past century and a half. In Bradford those include the Oriental Palm and Shell (c. 1884). West Fairlee had an Athletic Club (1898) and Corinth had the Men’s Welfare Club (circa 1921).  Haverhill had the Knights of the Maccabees  (1899) and Woodsville had Moose and Elks Lodges. For a short time in the 1920s, organizers of the Ku Klux Klan in the area passed the group off as a worthwhile civic group as well as protector of the status quo.     

Some of those short-lived organizations may have had a noteworthy albeit fleeting impact.  One such group was the Connecticut Valley Jaycees. Targeting men under 35 from all walks of life, the group was chartered in Bradford in 1965 and immediately became a major participant in community activities. They held field days, sponsored the Junior Miss pageant and raised funds for the new local mental health office. The local won many awards from the state organization.

 When the original group aged beyond 35, they rechartered the  then defunct Bradford Lions Club and continued many of the activities for a short time before disbanding. The Thetford Lions cooperated with the Bradford group in hosting several field days at Gray’s Field in Fairlee.  The Thetford group no longer exists.

There are currently several area Lions Clubs. The Cohase Lions Club gathers members from the Woodsville-Wells River area and is very active in sponsoring sports activities and granting scholarships. The Orford-Fairlee Lions have fewer active members and sometimes struggle to find workers for their activities. Both of these clubs opened membership to women in an effort to be both inclusive and viable.   

The Cohase Rotary Club, originally named the Woodsville-Wells River Rotary, was formed in 1926.  On the verge of disbanding last year, it has had a revival under the leadership of the new president Monique Priestley with membership going from 4 to 12 in the last few months.  

In “Bowling Alone,” Putnam suggests that voluntary civic organizations have been replaced by the “individualization” of leisure time resulting from the rise of television and the internet. This is not the first time new technologies have raised havoc with local activities.

 In beginning of the 20th century, local appearances by visiting musicians and lecturers as part of the Chautauqua circuit were very popular. Then, in the 1920s, that popularity  waned. I asked the late Bernard Crafts, the local  Chautauqua organizer, about the sudden loss of interest. He quickly responded, “the coming of the radio and the automobile.” 

There is no doubt that residents of our area have new interests other than belonging to volunteer civic groups. Many are drawn to groups and activities that benefit themselves and their families with much less emphasis on the ceremonies that characterized some of the groups in the past. 

\With that being said, thank goodness for those who are willing to devote time  to the “getting together habit” in organizations that help to make our communities better places.