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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 It has been replaced by Thomson Fuels and Alarmco.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.

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.   


Monday, June 4, 2018

Good Dog, Bad Dog

OUR DOG HENRY. This 8-year old standard poodle is better than medicine at keeping his staff (the author and spouse Carolyn) healthy and busy with walks, play and trips in and out of the back door.  He is one of a long line of dogs we have owned and is generally a good dog. 
Journal Opinion May 30, 2018
This Currier & Ives print features a Newfoundland dog having rescued a child. This breed of dogs possesses a natural instinct to rescue individuals from drowning. There are numerous 19th century stories of these dogs participating in water rescues.  

For centuries dogs have either scavenged for their food or accepted leftover from the family meal.  Around 1860, English businessman James Spratt introduced the first commercially-prepared dog food to the British market. It became available in America in the 1890s.

DOGS OF WAR.  Since colonial times, dogs have worked with American soldiers.  They have been guards, messengers, scouts and companions. It is estimated that scout dogs saved 10,000 American lives during the Vietnam War.  Pictured are several of those canines accompanying American soldiers in that war. 
"Osmo’s a year and a half old chocolate lab. And I have not been his biggest fan.  He’s been so naughty, but I’ve realizing now that he belongs with us. So what if he’s eaten $600 worth of shoes.”

Jennifer Martin Benware, Bradford, VT, 2018 

On May 16, this newspaper published the 2018 Pet Parade  The photo feature highlighted dogs as well as other pets. This column describes the roles dogs played in our history. Sources include A Dog’s History of America by Mark Derr, Pets in America by Katherine Grier, newspaper archives and stories sent to me by local residents.

While searching my collection of local histories, I found almost nothing on local dogs. They were so taken for granted the authors did not find them noteworthy. Even earlier local newspaper stories were likely to be about dogs from afar.  

Canines were humans’ first domesticated animal and their roles in human culture were well established by the time they accompanied their masters to this hemisphere over 30,000 years ago. For Native Americans, they were guards, hunters, beasts of burden, companions, and, in some cases, worshiped or eaten. 

Dogs also accompanied European settlers to the New World. In early New England, colonists used dogs to guard homes, manage livestock, kill wolves and vermin, power machinery, pull carts and pursue enemies. Species included mastiffs, spaniels and greyhounds.

Although unmentioned in local histories, it seems likely that settlers of this region brought dogs with them as companions and protections against the dangers of the frontier. Since they were untaxed, dogs were not mentioned as possessions or listed in wills.

 In 1853, Vermont historian Zadock Thompson wrote, “In Vermont, each family in the country usually finds it convenient to keep one dog…in the villages a few dogs are kept, better if fewer.”   

While not all wandering dogs created problems, tramps or uncontrolled dogs have always been a problem. Some were merely “free range,” following their owners or patrolling their neighborhoods. As scavengers, they were somewhat desirable. In 1877, the Bradford Opinion said that a dog “that wanders, looking for a handout or a chance to steal whatever he may find to eat.” It reported that Orford’s Willard Brothers had a tramp dog “which all people will do well to pass on the other side.”  This spoke to the  fear of attacks, dog bites, rabies, and hydrophobia, believed to be a symptom of rabies in humans. 

These fears were not unfounded. Local newspapers carried stories of humans being attacked by “mad dogs,” but most reports were from locations afar.

As early as 1801, several urban areas passed ordinances forbidding dogs from running at large. In one case, they were required to wear wire-basket muzzles. These cities also attempted to control wandering as a cause of unwanted pregnancies. Some cities sponsored “dog killing sprees.”

The attacks that were local and caused considerable damage were against livestock, especially sheep.  In 1878, the St. Albans Messenger carried an article calling for a “more stringent” control of dogs.  It quoted one farmer who believed that “sheep would prosper if dogs were annihilated.” The article used the word “slut” in reference to these  “miserable mongrels.” An article in The United Opinion in 1886 suggested “A dog is only a civilized wolf anyway.” 

Locally, dog attacks on sheep  created a “sad havoc.” In 1877, dogs killed more than 20 sheep belonging to Mrs. H. Keyes of Newbury. In Vershire in February, 1884, it was reported that a dog “killed forty sheep recently, and its owner has just sacrificed the animal.” In 1900, the Smith family of South Newbury abandoned sheep because of the damage inflicted by dogs.

The Vermont Department of Agriculture report of 1920 reported that the damage inflicted by “four worthless curs” was an example of dogs that “slink off and destroy sheep or kill poultry…and even kill hogs and small cattle. You must control the dog!”

 There have been a few reports of dog attacks on sheep in this newspaper in the last 30. Iinterviews with those who keep sheep today indicate they keep up their guard, but attacks are not a significant problem. 

Attacks on deer were, and still are,  another problem. Local articles from Newbury and Vershire in the first decade of the 20th century refer to deer being harassed by local dogs. The 1892 report of the Vermont Fish Commission stated that the use of dogs to hunt deer is illegal and the law permits the killing of dogs running at large and killing deer. Leash laws have limited the number of dogs allowed to run without supervision. New Hampshire has a state-wide leash law while Vermont leaves it to individual communities. 

Licensing was another technique used to control dogs. Vermont required dogs to be licensed in 1876.   Individual towns in New Hampshire began that practice as early as 1871 and the state  began requiring towns to license in 1891. Towns collected fees and placed them in a dog fund from which compensation for damage caused by dogs against sheep was paid, “but it  was never enough.”        

While attacks on livestock and deer were prohibited, hunting dogs have been prized. Orford’s Mt Cube is said to be originally named Mt. Cuba in honor of a favorite hunting dog killed by a bear on its slopes.     In 1871, it was reported that “Edgar Bragg of West Fairlee has a dog that has caught and killed one hundred and five woodchucks during the summer and is good for as many more.”     

While earlier dogs, on the whole, had been “mistreated and held in contempt,” by the mid-19th century, many dogs were looked upon by their owners as good, loyal and adoring pets. Generally, dogs ownership reflected both the personality  and economic status of owners. The wealthy were more likely to own purebred dogs while the poorer often had mixed breed common dogs as companions or workers. 

Breeding purebred dogs became more common in the mid-19th century. In 1884 the American Kennel Club was created to promote them. Dog shows were held to exhibit the breeds best specimens. Dorr writes that some imported breeds became the object of fads. One of the most popular was the St. Bernard. In 1887, The United Opinion suggested “Everyone should see these noble animals.”

By the 1880s, the Scotch collie became the new fashionable dog followed by the Boston terrier.  Breeders treated dogs as a consumer products  and skillful breeding changed their shape and markings to meet the customer demands.

Images of dogs began to appear in commercial trade cards, greeting cards, calendars, children’s books and as ceramic figurines.  Increasingly, stories of dogs implied that they possessed human emotions. Theft of valuable dogs was not uncommon.

Articles on the treatment of dogs proliferated. The New Hampshire Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was established in 1842, one of the earliest animal welfare groups in the nation. Despite calls for it, the Vermont SPCA was not established until 1889 and  cruelty to livestock seemed to be its first focus.

In 1893, The Country Gentleman included the following: “If you own a good dog, do not kick him outdoors when you go to bed and tell him to shift for himself.  He cannot expect to remain a good dog long.” The United Opinion published a long article in January, 1895, on kindness to house dogs, with suggestions for housing, feeding and bathing. 

Many families fed their dogs food scraps from their tables, bathed them in homemade soap and doctored them at home.  Around 1900, commercial dog food began to appear. In 1908, an ad for Spratt’s Famous Dog Cakes & Puppy Bread appeared in a Vermont newspaper claiming “What oatmeal is to Scotch children, Spratt’s food is to Dogs.”

Dogs have always played a role in America’s armed services. During colonial wars, they were used hunt enemies and haul supplies. Soldier dogs accompanied units in the Civil War. “Mike” was the pet dog of the 1st Vermont Calvary. In World War I, “Stubby” a pet for the Yankee Division, was decorated by General Pershing and was made an honorary Sergeant. In addition to being companions for soldiers, dogs carried messages, detected hidden bombs, acted as guards and scouts and hauled supplies, functions they continued to perform in later wars. In World War II, a dog named “Chips” was awarded a Purple Heart, despite having nipped Gen. Eisenhower.

Scout-dogs were used in Vietnam to detect ambushes and find booby traps. It is estimated that they saved 10,000 American lives during that conflict. The bonds that developed between the handlers and their dog in that and later conflicts, have been tearfully chronicled as, after 1971, they are reunited in America following discharge. 

Dogs also played a role as police dogs and became attached to fire companies. Their extraordinary sense of smell and an ability to be trained, made them invaluable as search-and-rescue dogs. Over the years, the same talents that led to the rescue of lost children was used to track runaway slaves and inmates. The same protective instincts that rescued families from attack or fire was used by police against protesters.  

The concept of training service dogs began in the 1930’s with assistance for visually-impaired. Service dogs now assist those who are hearing-impaired or suffer from a wide number of conditions including PTSD, epilepsy, stress and diabetes.

Some dogs have become famous. There have been Presidential dogs including FDR’s Fala and Obama’s Bo. Television and films have made Rin Tin Tin, Lassie, Benji and Old Yeller dog screen legends. The Little Rascals had Petey while at the opposite end of entertainment dogdom, Stephen King’s created the  terrifying canine, Cujo.  

In times past, there were a number of dogs that caught the attention of the public. In the 1890’s there was Owney, the railroad dog. For a number of years, this postal dog hitched rides on trains throughout the Northeast. He would get off a different stations to “inspect” and was cared for by railroad employees. The United Opinion mentioned that about once a year Owney would take a trip through Vermont. 

In 1903, Bud, a bull terrier, rode shot-gun on the first successful cross-country auto trip.  Picked up in Idaho by Burlington physician H. Nelson Jackson and his mechanic Sewell Crocker, Bud was outfitted with googles for the remainder of the New York-bound excursion.

Locally, there were well-known dogs.  In 1897, a published report mentioned the death of Rover, “the faithful old dog” that belonged to Charles Smith of West Topsham. “His familiar figure will be missed by everyone in the village as he was a universal favorite.” That same year there was a “tale of a sagacious dog” from Corinth who sought help when its elder mistress Mrs. George Jewell fell while out of doors in a storm.

 And there were dogs known for their astuteness. In 1895, there was a report of a shepherd dog in Bradford that was especially adept at herding cows for his master. One day he abandoned his herding to run off into the woods. His master discovered that the dog had found a break in a fence and guarded it to prevent his herd from straying. In 1917, a tongue in cheek report was published about a Newbury Center dog who left the neighborhood in an attempt to evade taxation. That, the report concluded, was a “wise dog.”

I requested dog stories from locals.  I was told about Hockey Puck, the Rottweiller of Piermont who  fell into a manure lagoon while chasing a cat. There were Corkey and Rusty who saved a West Newbury youngster from the “threat” of a woodchuck. Tatters grew up in the 1950s as a partner in the most daring of imaginative adventures with little Cynthia. 

Teddy was a cocker spaniel just a few weeks older than his master. When the family moved from a village home to a farm, it took Teddy several years to stop making daily three-mile round trip to the old home. Sam was described as a “gentle protector” that once led a three year old youngster away from the dangers of a nearby road.  And, of course, there was Osmo, the shoe-destroying chocolate lab. 

If you were to look back at the photos in the Pet parade, you will see a number of good dogs.  Some were named  Shadow, Lacy, Moose and Brady. I am sure that the proud and loving owners of all dogs pictured would agree with author Mark Dorr: “We often say that a dog in a loving family is a lucky dog, but the really lucky party is the family.”

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Taxes of the Past: Rebellion and Revision

This notice was posted around Bradford in 1883 as a notice to taxpayers. Barron Hay, co-owner of the Prichard and Hay Store at the corner of Bank Street, served as treasurer for both the village and town of Bradford. A good choice as he was described as being "strong in business affairs." (Bradford Historical Society)  

TOPSHAM TAX TIME: In 1885, Finette (Jones) Frost, widow of John Frost, was taxed $9/76 on the Power Springs Road farm that she and her husband had established.  It was at a time when many
Vermont farmers were feeling the impact of property taxes levied by both the state and local governments. (Town of Topsham)

This 1942 poster was distributed by the War Production Board.  Financing war efforts from the colonial wars forward meant that governments had to raise taxes as well as borrow.

"previous to any law being made to raise a tax, the purpose for which it is to be raised ought to appear evidence to the Legislature to be of more service to the community than the money would be if not collected.’   Vermont Constitution, 1793

The earliest movement to separate the American colonies from Great Britain s inspired by the issue of taxes.  As soon as New Hampshire and Vermont were established as political entities, their governing bodies moved to collect taxes from the inhabitants to cover governmental expenses.

This column explores the history of taxation in the two states from their beginnings to the early 1940s.  Information was collected from town histories, newspapers and online sources. Especially helpful was the Vermont History article “The Evolution of Vermont State Tax System” by Paul Gillies. 

This history of taxation is too complicated and controversial to cover thoroughly in an article of this length. The following touches on just some of the major developments during this history..  

When I taught units on taxation, I described the characteristics of an effective tax system. These include fairness, with each taxpayer paying his fair share, based on ability to pay. The system should be adequate to meet the basic needs of government programs. It should be easily understood and complied with. Transparency of the tax system means easy access to information from collection to appropriations. Finally, it should not be too costly to collect.

Over the years, there has been general acceptance that “the best tax is always the lightest.” 

Governments levy taxes for a number of reasons with the need to pay for government programs being primary. So-called sin taxes are levied on items or behaviors considered undesirable, such as tobacco or liquor. Tariffs can be used to protect domestic industries. Licenses and fees regulate those who are allowed to practice a profession or activity. 

New Hampshire was a royal province from 1680 to 1776. Taxes were generally decided by the Royal Governor and his appointed Executive Council. The representative assembly was given the power of consent. Property taxes were levied based on the value of assets and on the assumption that those who owned the greatest amount of property were the most able to pay. Taxes were also levied on shipping, mills and craftsmen.

Once the pattern of taxation was established there were few changes until the 1770s. There was a consistent problem of concealment of assets from assessors and taxes were often met with “mutinous and rebellious disposition.”  

During the period from 1688 to 1763 there were a series of intercolonial conflicts known as the French and Indian Wars. New Hampshire communities found themselves on the front lines of those wars and the extraordinary cost of protection was borne in part by the province and its taxpayers. Lotteries, fees, fines and bonds offered some relief from property taxes.

Those expenses also created a financial burden for Great Britain. The resulting new taxes levied by Parliament on the colonies  were a major cause of the American Revolution.   

Most of the towns in our region were part of the New Hampshire Grants and were under the control of the provincial government. Until property transferred to resident owners, the initial taxpayers were often absentee proprietors. Local property taxes were determined by meetings of the eligible male voters. 

The lack of a stable and convenient currency created a problem for local tax collectors. Local taxes for  the town church, roads and schools were often paid in kind through labor or crops. Taxes paid in corn or wheat put the local government in the produce business. In 1791, Haverhill’s highway taxes could be paid “in labor at three shillings per day, or other articles in proportion.”

 Although it continued to be a policy until the early 19th century, taxes to support the town church created resistance from some locals.

As Vermont became a separate entity, the cost of government was borne in part by the sale of property confiscated from Tories. The resulting low tax burden made Vermont attractive to new settlers. Except for a state tax on towns to pay for the war, state government’s needs were small and the attitude toward new taxes was very conservative. In towns such as Corinth, suffering from the financial recession of the late 18th century, the threat of property seizure was needed to assure compliance.

Early in their statehood, both states made a major change in their voting laws and allowed all free adult males to vote without a property requirement and with the payment of a small poll or head tax.

Both states and their local communities recognized the need for public education. By 1810, district primary schools supported by property tax were established in area towns. In 1811, for example, Newbury voters raised one cent on the dollar of appraised value for schools. In  1828, New Hampshire created its Literary Fund, marking the first time that state funds were allocated to towns.

In 1849, New Hampshire became the first state to authorize towns to levy taxes in support of public libraries.  Vermont followed suit in 1865.

During the same period, the national government relied on tariffs and an excise tax on liquor as major sources of income.  They were controversial. In 1791, the federal government placed an excise tax on distilled liquor to pay for the debts of the Revolution. In 1794, the farmers of western Pennsylvania  were in openly revolting against that tax.

A series of tariffs passed by Congress to protect northern industries from foreign competition was a major cause of the sectionalism that resulted in the Civil War. To finance that war, the United States passed the first federal income tax in 1861. Local towns were saddled with debt from  bonuses they awarded to local combatants.  

Like during the colonial period, assessment of property remained a problem. Property owners were allow to appraise their own property. With some assets easily hidden, the system was open to underreporting and fraud. It was not until 1833 in New Hampshire and 1841 in Vermont that full appraisal by local listers was established. 

An article in The New England Farmer in 1860 referred to property tax as being “unjust and oppressive.” This inequality of taxation had “a tendency to discourage young men from engaging in agricultural pursuits. Farm and stock cannot, like cash and notes of hand, be concealed.”  There was also the problem of taxing standing timber prior to it being harvested. This practice help to encourage deforestation.   

In the latter half of the 19th century, both states frequently tackled with tax issues. New taxes were levied in both states against railroads, financial institutions and telegraph and insurance companies. In 1896, Vermont passed its first inheritance tax.  

These new laws impacted local businesses. In April 1898, the following notice appeared in The United Opinion: “On account of the excessive state corporation license tax, the North Thetford Water Company voted to annul their charter and cease to do business as a corporation.”

New laws defined the responsibilities of local communities, their power to tax and the role of the grand lists and listers. In 1890, Vermont passed a law requiring towns to appropriate funds for the support of public schools. 

All levels of government attempted to deal with tax evasion. Notices in The Vermont Phoenix in 1882 referred to the significant penalty for failing to report an accurate personal list of taxable property. In Vermont it could result in a doubling of the amount due, while in New Hampshire the offender was forced to pay a quadrupled tax.  

A search of Vermont newspapers reveals that local tax collectors or treasurers published notice of taxes due. They often set up collections in local hotels and offered discounts for early payment. As communities took on new responsibilities, taxes were increased. For example, as free bridges replaced toll, towns had to assume the financial burdens involved. 

An example of the impact of local taxes can be seen in the 1891 statistics for Newbury. The town’s grand list was $15,599, a figure that represents one percent of the appraised value of taxable property.  The voters had accepted a town tax of 50 cents and a highway tax of 15 cents. The latter raised $12, 479, which along with the town’s share of state highway tax helped Newbury maintain its extensive road system.

Two decades later, The United Opinion carried the following: “ There is a prospect of a 90 cent school tax for the coming year instead of $1. Let us all rise up and sing ‘There is sunshine in our home today.’ The taxpayers of Newbury should congratulate themselves in the able and business manner their affairs have been conducted this past year.”

Not was all sunshine. Property was seized for non-payment of taxes, with seizures increasing during economic downturns. In 1887, the assets of the Vermont Copper Mining Company in Vershire were sold in a tax sale.

There were those who often felt they were not getting a proper return for their taxes. In 1896, a resident of the Ricker’s Mill neighborhood complained that there was no local benefit from Groton’s snowrollers. “We pay our taxes and get little in return.”

In 1904, a letter to the St. Johnsbury Caledonian pointed out that taxing women without giving them the vote was taxation without representation.    

Despite that, property tax remained the principle source of revenue. As villages residents began to require services not needed or practical for rural areas, villages governments were established. The Woodsville Fire District was chartered in 1878, Wells River Village in 1888 and the Village of Bradford in 1890. Property owners within those district were taxed for sidewalks, village streets and fire protection.

The federal government expanded its tax base significantly in the first four decades of the 20th century. A tax on capital gains was implemented in 1913. In 1916, the passage of the Sixteenth Amendment cleared away legal challenges to a federal income tax. That year a federal estate tax was also passed. A federal gasoline tax was added in 1932.  In 1935, the Social Security program was created, with benefits going first to workers and later expanded to survivors and the disabled.

During the two world wars, the tax rates were raised to meet the expanded military budgets. During World War II, the government implemented payroll withholding of income taxes.  

During that same period of time, Vermont’s tax system underwent major changes.  During the first three decades of the 20th century, both states added or increased excise taxes on items ranging from gasoline and Christmas trees to ice cream.  In 1915, Vermont’s state property tax was increased to support reorganization of local schools.

World War I added costs to both local and state governments and taxes were raised accordingly. An article in several Vermont newspapers in 1919 stated that New Hampshire taxes had almost tripled and Vermont taxes had doubled in just one year. A portion of those increases were for bonuses for service personnel.

For the five years after the flood of 1927, Vermont adopted a special flood tax to cover the costs of rebuilding damaged public infrastructure. In 1929, both states considered adding an income tax.

In Vermont the Legislature adopted an income tax in 1931. It replaced the state highway and education tax as well as the general property tax. This tax became the basis of state revenues at that time.

In New Hampshire, an income tax was first considered in 1929 and then again in 1937.  While the state came close to passing the tax, the Boston Globe caught the opposing mood of the residents: “Around the big-bellied stove of a country store in a New Hampshire town men sit and growl about taxes.”

Since that time each  states have struggled with the need to finance essential government services. Vermont added a sales tax in 1969. Guarded by The Pledge against them, New Hampshire has resisted the passage of either a general sales tax or an income tax. Taxes on businesses, a state property tax and room and meals taxes are its major sources of tax revenue.

The Tax Foundation figures for 2015 show the differences between the impact of taxes in the two states. In Vermont, the per capita local and state tax burden was $11, 176 with 43.8 percent coming from property taxes. New Hampshire’s per capita was $8, 012 with 65.7% derived from property taxes. 

Throughout our history, taxes have been the topic of considerable debate and even rebellion. Most citizens begrudgingly pay their taxes. They are usually more willingly when the taxes support programs  of personal benefit.   

Their attitudes are somewhere between fiscal philosophy of the late U. S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Homes and the late New Hampshire Gov. Meldrim Thompson of Orford. The former said,  “I like to pay taxes. With them I buy civilization.”  The latter said, “Low taxes are the result of low spending” Therefore, “Ax the Tax.”     


Saturday, March 10, 2018

World War I: Locals At Home

A century ago residents of our area were faced with the impact of World War I and faced shortages, cold weather and influenza. This is a collection of World War I posters that appeal to the general public for support.

Journal Opinion, March 7, 2018 

“We are facing conditions which are unique for this generation in these days of war.”

Harry E. Parker, Editor, The United Opinion

Between April 1917 and November 1918, the United States sent 2 million men to fight “the war to end all wars.” Ultimately, 16,000 Vermonters and over 20,000 from New Hampshire, including hundreds of locals, joined that force. In April 2017, this blog featured an article on that fighting force entitled “Locals Over There.” It can be accessed at larrycoffin.blogspot.com.

This essay deals with impact of the war on the civilian population of the two states a century ago.  As  Parker suggested, the impacts were significant and affected every aspect of daily life.     

Even before America entered the war, demands from European combatants for American goods helped fuel an economic boom in the nation, a boom that was felt in Northern New England. This included a demand for machine tools, textiles, armaments, lumber, shipping and agricultural products.

The national government reversed the traditional policies of laissez-fair. Special boards were given unprecedented control over both the economy and personal life. The federal government took control of telephone and telegraph systems as well as merchant shipping and railroads. Other boards included Fuel Administration, War Industries Board, War Labor Board and Food Administration. Every attempt was made to operate the economy more effectively to meet the demands of “total war.”

In 1917, the federal government established the Committee on Public Information to cultivate public support for the war and “guard secrets of value.”  Thousands of so-called Four-Minute Men appeared at public gatherings with prepared brief speeches, “every one having the carry of shrapnel.” Posters and bulletins and newspaper columns advanced the patriotic fervor.

As with citizens nationwide, local residents embraced the war effort, viewing it as both a moral crusade and a matter of national self-defense. In June 1917, the film “Stand By the President” was shown at the Fairlee Opera House. “Win-the-War” meetings were held locally.  

Support for the war was necessary, it was explained, “because if the Germans should win they will take everything away from the people of America.” Newspapers carried news of German atrocities against neutral nations. It was later determined that British propaganda exaggerated both the threats and the atrocities in order to incite America’s participation in the war. 

Both New Hampshire and Vermont passed legislation to mobilize their citizens and defend against  possible saboteurs. The New Hampshire Legislature led by Governor Henry Keyes of Haverhill set a record for martial legislation, including the registration of aliens, regulation of firearms and explosives and conservation of resources.  An espionage act was passed in Vermont permitting the warrantless arrest of individuals suspected of plotting against the government or giving aid and comfort to the enemy.

Across the nation, the vigilante American Protective League, claiming members in most towns, set out “to run down slackers and seditious aliens.” It was difficult and dangerous to oppose the war. There were few actual cases of antiwar prosecutions in the two states. As in other states, there were efforts to reduce German influence. This led the  Berlin (NH) Mills to change its name to Brown. Newspapers  referred to German measles as liberty measles.     

 Anti-war songs such as “I Didn’t Raise My Boy to Be A Soldier” were replaced with songs such as “Over There” in support of the war efforts.   

There was a certain degree of paranoia with accidents or fires sometimes blamed on German saboteurs. Troops were stationed at valley railroad bridges including the ones in Bradford and between Wells River and Woodsville. These bridges were of significance as they were used by troops traveling to Quebec before shipping to Europe.   

Two-thirds of the American cost of the war was financed by loans. A series of Liberty Loan Drives were held. Additionally, these bond drives helped to fight inflation by taking excess money out of circulation.  

Full-page advertisements for these drives appeared in The United Opinion. Vermont raised over $55 million for the five drives. Local communities met the goals set. In 1917,  Bradford raised an oversubscription of $88,000.

War savings stamps were sold with special emphasis on school sales. Vermonters raised $13.90 per capita and New Hampshire followed with $11.78. Fairlee was one of the top three Vermont communities raising $27.43 per capita. As in other communities, locals in Orfordville proudly displayed their Liberty Loan Flag.

The needs of the American armed forces as well as the Allies in Europe led to shortages at home. There were shortages of wheat, sugar, fats and meat. Using the slogan “Food Wins the War,” the government attempted to meet the shortages by altering the diet of the American public.

Americans  were encouraged by food boards at all levels to observe wheatless, meatless and sugarless days. Tremendous quantities of meat and wheat were voluntarily saved for shipment to American forces and their allies overseas. Sugar saved by rationing was used in the manufacture of munitions. In 1918, 50-50 regulations were adopted requiring customers to purchase half their flour from alternate grains such as corn meal, oats or barley flour.

 The public was encouraged to buy local produce to reduce the pressure on the transportation system. Newspapers discouraged hoarding and encouraged families to stretch food supplies and “practice the gospel of the clean plate.” The bumper crop of potatoes in 1918 led to a two-state campaign to use potatoes in place of other foods. One poster encouraged residents to “Be A Potatriot.” 

War gardens were created throughout the two-state area. Parks and front lawns were sometimes plowed up and planted with vegetables. Grange organizations gave canning lessons. In Vermont, the Green Mountain Guard recruited 30,000 boys and girls to assist on farms and gardens. Camp Veil in Lyndonville was established to train older boys in farm work. The U.S. School Garden Army motto was “We Eat Because We Work.” 

 Coal, used as a primary fuel in both homes and businesses, was in especially short supply. Reserved for other war efforts, railroad cars were unavailable  for shipping coal to Northern New England  created the situation. The especially severe winter of 1917-18 setting records for sustained low temperatures compounded the problem. 

According to Haskins’ History of Bradford, starting in late December and continuing to early February there were 40 consecutive days when the thermometer recorded temperatures below zero. On 30 of those days it never got above zero.

Correspondents for The United Opinion from neighboring towns wrote of unofficial temperatures of 35 to 60 degrees below zero.  In Newbury, there were five days when it never rose above nine below zero. Pipes froze and then froze again. 

To deal with the fuel shortages, fuel committees were appointed to deal with distribution in each Vermont community. Rationed coal was “dribbled out to consumers.” It was said “A weekly supply was cause for congratulations; a month’s supply, Heaven-sent relief.” Consumers were encouraged to “save that shovelful of coal a day for Uncle Sam.”

In Dec 1917, the Hanover Gazette reported on the situation in Orford. “A shortage of coal and very little wood for sale has caused considerable anxiety among all classes of people here.” The anxiety was shared by other area residents.

A state program, entitled Cut-A-Cord, encouraged men and boys to seek surplus fuel from Vermont forests. It was so successful that the amount of firewood was doubled during the winter of 1917-18.

Other efforts to conserve fuel included restricting the number of days nonessential plants and places of entertainment could be open. Churches were encouraged to hold union services with other churches.  In January, 1918, school vacations were extended.  For a 10-week period there was even an attempt to have “heatless Mondays.”

To add to the burdens facing locals, influenza struck the area in 1918. The epidemic was part of a pandemic that killed over 100 million. Over one-quarter of Americans became ill and 675,000 died directly or indirectly from the disease. It was known as “Spanish flu.” Local notices in Bradford and Orford claimed that the disease originated in the German army and was “a Kaiser’s contribution to this country.”

The United Opinion of September 27, 1918 reported that local health officials were warned by the State Board of Health that, “the apparent seriousness of the disease makes it necessary that some precautions be taken to limit its spread….patients should be isolated in the home.”  Affected families were told to keep their children from school and family members from public gatherings.

As the disease spread, schools were closed in all area towns and some businesses closed for lack of adequate staff.  By October, the State Board of Health ordered the closing of all public meeting places and prohibiting public assemblies throughout the state.

The disease had  an especially high toll along younger residents. Health workers were overwhelmed by the case load and often fell ill themselves. 

Before the epidemic faded there were over 1,772 flu-related deaths in Vermont and about 3,000 in New Hampshire. Caskets were in very short supply. 

There was also a major shortage of available laborers to work on farms, in factories, mines and forests and in the shipyards of southern New Hampshire. Vermont lost up to one-third of its male workers. This shortage was caused by the number of men who joined the service or sought employment elsewhere.   

Many of those places of work were vital to the war effort. Some factories began round-the-clock production. The government introduced daylight saving time to give additional time for outdoor labor.  In Vermont, over 7,000 women and 1,300 children were part of the labor force, many for the first time. 

One example of the impact of the war on the local economy was the reopening of Corinth’s Pike Hill copper mines. Farmers were able to sell their crops, often at very high prices.

During the severe wool shortage, Orson Clements of Corinth refused to sell his wool to the government at the offered price. It was confiscated at what the government considered a fair price. After Clements’ death, wool he had hidden from government agents was found around his farm. 

As much as possible, volunteers attempted to share the burdens the war brought to the home front.   Virtually every non-profit organization stepped up their work. In addition to the churches of the two states, organizations such as the Boys Scouts, Camp Fire Girls, YMCA, YWCA, Knights of Columbus,  Masonic groups, Granges and the Salvation Army assisted the war effort.

Primary among those groups was the Red Cross. Local Red Cross units were established in area towns where they had not been previously. Red Cross membership campaigns in Vermont resulted in membership increasing from 1,200 to 80,703. The Red Cross provided services ranging from canteens for servicemen at railroad centers such as White River, Jct. to assisting with the wounded in France. 

The funds for those activities were raised through Red Cross fund drives and by programs sponsored by the other organizations mentioned above.  Throughout the valley, plays, suppers and concerts benefited the Red Cross.

The Red Cross also organized shipment of bandages, knitted items and personal care items to the servicemen. They encouraged others to join in this effort.

During 1918, 16-year old Catherine Murphy of Bradford kept a diary entitled “In the Service.” It chronicled her family and school’s support for her brother Pat who was stationed in France.  Pat Murphy and his best friend Fred Louanis enlisted in the service in 1917 near the end of their sophomore year at Bradford Academy.

Catherine’s diary listed the dates when boxes were sent to Pat and Fred, the contents and the postal cost. For example, on Dec. 12, 1918, a 25-pound box containing mittens, stockings, fruit cake, candies, writing supplies and reading materials was shipped at a cost of 55 cents. In the spring, the family send two pounds of maple sugar along with boxes for other Bradford soldiers. 

Her Bradford Academy class sent boxes with similar items as well as shoe laces, toothpaste, soap and handkerchiefs.  Listed in the diary were items the soldiers mailed in return, including French coins, handmade hankies and buttons from German uniforms.

One of the most poignant impacts of the war was the absence of so many young men and women. Families yearned for news of those overseas, even when letters were censored or conditions were redacted. Blue star flags were displayed in the windows of the homes of absent servicemen. Tragically, sometimes those blue stars were replaced by gold indicating a service casualty. 

The conditions borne by the citizens of the two states during the Great War are reflected in the following review of  Vermont’s role published in 1928. “The spirit shown by her inhabitants in days long gone by, still lived in 1917 and 1918 in the breasts of all her stalwart men and women and now, as then and always, Vermonters bear their full burden with an unfaltering and grim determination.”

Little did they know that in just a few years they would be called upon to again bear the burdens of a total war at home and abroad.