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Thursday, October 5, 2017

Under the Auctioneer's Hammer

"Having Sold My Farm" was a normal message for farm auctions flyers.  In this 1908 case, the farm property and homestead was being offered under the auctioneer's hammer.

West Fairlee auctioneer Bill Godfrey was profiled in this 1953 magazine cover.  Godfrey spend nearly 60 years in the auction business. .

George Clement of Landaff conducted more than 3,000 auctions during his career. They were held under tents and in his own auction barn.  Auctioneer Archie Steenburgh began his auction career with Clement in 1971.

Since 1956, Herb Gray has continued the family auction tradition begun by his father Carlton. This 1960 photo shows Gray auctioning rabbits.  He is now best known for auctioning automobiles and machines.

During his 30-plus years as an auctioneer, Chuck Eaton of West Fairlee has help non-profits raise more than a half-million dollars at charity auctions.  Even in his retirement he continues this worthwhile practice. (Carolyn Coffin) 
As usual at this season of the year much property is changing hands under the hammer of the auctioneer. It is mostly personal property, however; but little real estate is being sold.” Bradford Opinion, October 21, 1876

 New Englanders have always used auctions to sell real estate, personal property, crops and other commodities. Auctions offer a quick way of transferring ownership and has been used as such since ancient times.

This column describes local auctions since the early 19th century. It includes stories from the careers of several famous local auctioneers. Katharine Blaisdell’s books, town histories, online sources, periodicals and interviews with local auctioneers are sources of information.

When property owners faced foreclosure, downsizing, retirement, the death of a spouse or the desire to move to better territory, they turned to the auctioneer to help dispense with their goods and property. Auctioneers distributed handbills and posters describing the contents of the sale.

Local communities also used auctions for other purposes. The auctioning of ferry rights and church pews were a common practice. In early Newbury, funds for a new townhouse came from the sale of the pews to the highest bidders. The new owners paid with 903 bushels of wheat, equal to $3,250. While these pews went to the highest bidder, sometimes the purchasers were those who offered the least amount in a descending reverse auction.

In several local communities prior to the establishment of town farms, the support of the homeless poor was offered at auction in town meeting and “struck off to the lowest bidder.” Well into the middle of the 19th century, some school districts auctioned off the board and room of the local teacher in the same manner.

The most frequent mention of auctions in Vermont newspapers prior to the Civil War was in articles condemning the sale of slaves in Southern auction houses. 

Early auctions were usually held in the owner’s yard, barn or home.  Until the 1930s, it was customary for owners to provide lunch. Traditionally, this was Vermont crackers, cheese and lots of hot coffee, served to a largely male crowd.

Earlier, refreshments might include liquor. A handbill for an 1832 Haverhill auction mentioned that “a barrel of choice whiskey would be opened for the benefit of the purchasers.” 

Auction offerings were sometimes not what they seemed. Although reputable auctioneers make every attempt to describe items accurately, older newspapers  have many stories of items sold otherwise.

After 1830, eastern cities were plagued by mock auctions, also known as Peter Funk auctions. The unsuspecting were lured into an auction in which shills placed in the audience bid up prices on counterfeit or defective items. When the victim made a bid, the fraudster would promptly close the sale.

In 1838, The Vermont Phoenix included an article entitled “Another Auction Shave.” John Barton of Strafford was the victim who lost $29.70 at a New York City mock auction. To reassure customers, several Vermont auction advertisements in the 1860s stated, “The public is assured there will be NO ‘Peter Funk’ operators at our Auction Sale.”      

Even legitimate auctions are staged events. The experienced auctioneer knows that everything from the introductions of the staff, the cadence or pace of the bidding and the use of stories and humor are techniques useful to the sale. As one experienced auctioneer put it, “A good story now and then helps keep the people in good humor and also keeps their minds on the sale.”

Each local town had at least one licensed auctioneer during the 19th century and into the early 20th. Advertisements and news items in local newspapers list some of them as follows. Bradford: Ellis Bliss, J. H. Gilman, John Peckett and C. F. Smith; Ryegate: J. D. McAllister and J. H. Moore; Newbury: John Bailey Jr; Corinth: E. Clough; Lyme D. R. Mativa; West Fairlee: C.O. Burnham, George W. Cook; and Fairlee: Charles Kemp. 

During the Civil War, colonels in Union regiments were in charge of selling confiscated property. It became the custom for post-war auctioneers to adopt the title of colonel. While there were New Hampshire and Vermont auctioneers who used this title, I could find only one local auctioneer who did. He was Col. Aaron P. Gould of Piermont who was active around 1872. Gould was listed as the colonel of the 13th New Hampshire Regiment in 1844.

There have been a number of local auctioneers whose careers spanned decades and whose reputation is still well-known.  

Beginning with his first auction in 1903, Dan Perry of Barre presided over close to 6,000 New England auctions during his 60-year career. As with many auctioneers, Perry used that skill to augment other businesses. His auctioneering was an outgrowth of a real estate business. For many years, he owned a Ford dealership in Barre.

Perry was known for his Yankee droll and ready wit. He knew how to work a  crowd and is quoted as saying that a good auctioneer “can see the bids coming many times before the bidder says a word.” In addition to home and farm auctions, Perry conducted many livestock auctions.

During the Great Depression, the number of auctions declined. Perry wrote “the few people who had the courage to put on sales were heartbroken at the prices their property would bring.”   

In the Midwest, neighbors would sometimes come to the rescue of a farmer facing foreclosure and enter a winning bid of only a penny for each item. The next day all the equipment would be returned to its owner.

The only example that I could find that came close to this “penny auction” practice was one conducted by Perry in Corinth in 1913. The local newspaper reported that the night before the auction the farmer’s barn burned to the ground. The auction was held and the remaining items brought “exceptionally high prices.”

Legendary local auctioneer Bill Godfrey of West Fairlee began working with Perry in Wells River in 1923 and continued conducting auctions until retiring in 1981.

Ron Strickland wrote about Godfrey in his 1986 book Vermonters: Oral Histories. He referred to Godfrey’s many talents as an “auctioneer, neighbor, farmer, funeral director, story-teller and humorist.”

Godfrey presided over as many as 60 auctions each year “attired in a straw hat; a bow tie; an impeccably starched button-down shirt; a vest, with pocket watch; black lace-up boots; and perhaps, as protection against manure, a pair of overalls.”

Strickland quoted one of Godfrey’s admirers: “Godfrey gives the crowd the feeling that he is a conspirator in the dangerous, daredevil process of bidding, whereas the no-nonsense commercial mood created by many younger auctioneers subtly alienates the audience.”

Another auctioneer who got his start with Dan Perry was Carlton Gray. In 1947, Gray founded the East Thetford Commission Sales and the Monday night livestock auctions were a local institution until the operation closed in 1992. He brought to the operation his experience as a farmer and trader of livestock. His wife Beulah was, in the words of their son Herb, “the backbone of the operation.”  

In 1956, Gray sent his two sons, Larry and Herb, to auction school in Iowa. The family conducted numerous farm auctions during the years of dairy farm decline in Vermont and New Hampshire. “Having Sold Our Farm” was the headline on many auction notices. Herb remembered that his father once told him “we are selling ourselves out of business.” Herb says there are few farm auctions any more.

Carlton retired in 1976.  About that time, the Grays began equipment sale at Gray’s Field in Fairlee, a practice that continues currently. For the past 23 years, Herb has been conducting the weekly Connecticut Valley Auto Auctions in Hartford.  Rather than going out of business, the Gray family continues the tradition to a third and fourth generation of auctioneers.

Around 1957, Peter Gallerani opened Gallerani’s Commission Sales in West Bradford and held Thursday livestock auctions year-round. In the early 1970’s his son Paul brought out his father. In a recent interview, Paul described the atmosphere of the auction. He said that the buyers were primarily men who knew each other and humor was part of the interplay. The only woman he recalled was Liva Sinclair who owned a large dairy farm in Bradford. Paul acted as ringmaster for the auctions and recalled how important it was for him to know the bidders and the value of the animals being sold. 

George Clement of Landaff was another local career auctioneer. His first auction was in 1933 and over his career he conducted as many as 3,000 sales. Some were held in tents, or later, in his own auction barn. His auctions included a number of hotels and businesses, the most famous being the contents sale of the Mount Washington Hotel in Bretton Woods, NH.

In 1971, Archie Steenburgh began attending Clement’s auction and gradually became involved. He became a partner and then bought Clement out.  His wife Martha and his son Joshua are both important members of the team that conduct over 30 auctions annually.

One of the most important auctions is the Steenburghs’ Annual Labor Day sale held in East Haverhill.  The 2017 auction celebrated 45 years in business.  Hundreds bid for consignments of antiques, art work and other high-value items.  As with other auctions, handbills and posters have been replaced by online sites and cell phone bidding. 

Two other auctioneers who started at about the same time are Chuck Eaton and Ernie Stevens. Eaton went to auction school in 1983 and continued holding auctions until 2014. In the early years of his career, he and Ernie worked together at the Ely Commission Sales auction house.  Eaton then established his well-known auctions at his Elmwood Farm barn in West Fairlee. 

In a recent interview, Eaton talked about the auction experience.  He said auctions are “like a play, with two weeks of rehearsal.” Being familiar with the items allowed the auctioneer to carry out the performance with accuracy and  speed. At the end of the day all is gone.

Prices for items fall somewhere between wholesale and retail. While dealers have to consider potential resale prices, avid collectors sometimes bid prices for rare items above fair market. The uninitiated may fall victim to the “winner’s curse” and pay too much.

As with some other auctioneers, Eaton has conducted a number of charity auctions. Over his career he has helped various non-profits raise more than a half million dollars. 

His auction barn is quiet now, the business having been taken over by his associate Uriah Wallace. Wallace has held a number of auctions and estate sales at  Elmwood Farm, the Bradford Community Center and onsite at private homes. 

For the past 44 years, Ernie Stevens has been holding commission sales. Beginning in West Canaan, NH, he then began holding sales in Ely.  In 1992, he moved his Ely Commission Sales to Bradford. 

In a recent interview, Stevens recalled that he had no formal training as an auctioneer.  Sitting in his auction house surrounded by items collected in anticipation for one of his twice-weekly sales, Stevens said that his auctions attract about 160. He quipped that some come just for his wife Carol’s mac and cheese.  

Despite the title, very few items are sold on commission. Stevens has built his business around purchasing entire households and so most of the items sold are his own. He commented that the bottom has fallen out of the furniture market and what were once a family’s heirloom pieces are not getting the prices of yesteryear.

 While most local auctions are of the ordinary type, there have been several that lasted for more than one day, drew crowds from around the nation or even from foreign countries and offered very valuable and often extraordinary items. 

These include the 1970 sale of the purebred Holstein herd of the Mallary Farm that brought a crowd of 2,000 to Fairlee; the Gray’s auction of animals from Fairlee’s Rare Bird and Animal Farm also in 1970, the nine-day auction of the contents of Freddie Miller’s iconic store in East Topsham in 1990, the East Orange auction by Christie’s of New York of the gold bullion and vintage automobiles from the estate of A. K. Miller in 1996 and the two-day auction by Archie Steenburgh at the MacDonald farm in Topsham in 2004.

Auctioneers have been described as the “oldest recyclers in the world.” Attendees find them more  fascinating and entertaining than eBay or Craigslist. With a good auctioneer, they can also be a history lesson on personal possessions. With luck, you may find that one item you have been looking for to complete your collection, furnish your home or add to your livestock.


Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Capt. Clark, The Oregon and Company G

KEEPING WATCH OVER DOWNTOWN BRADFORD: Since 1926, this statue of Capt. Charles Edgar Clark has stood in Memorial Park near the Bradford Public Library. In bronze and granite, it honors the hero of the Spanish-American War and his leadership of the battleship Oregon.  Those who raised the public funds for the statue believed that Bradford-born Clark stood for "what is best in private and public life."

BULLDOG OF THE NAVY: The USS Oregon played a pivotal role in the American victory over a Spanish fleet at Santiago, Cuba on July 3, 1898. That role, after its historic 15,000-mile voyage around South America, popularized both Capt. Charles Clark and his vessel with the American public. (Bradford Historical Society)  

OFFICERS AT CAMP THOMAS: Bradford-area Company G of the First Vermont Regiment was stationed at Camp Thomas, Chickamauga Park, GA in 1898. The company was led by (from l to r) 1st Lt. Moses Brock of West Newbury, Capt. Herbert T. Johnson and 2nd Lt. Sullivan W. Emerson of Bradford. Despite being ready, the regiment never saw battle, except for harsh living conditions..(Bradford Historical Society)  

Journal Opinion  July 26, 2017
“Only the men who were with him on July 3 know what kind of man he is in the heat of battle—always what we call a ‘good captain’ in the navy; none of us thought him as good as we found him on that glorious 3d.” St. Johnsbury Caledonian, August 3, 1898.

Why would a small town in landlocked Vermont have a splendid statue of a naval hero overlooking its town center? Why would that hero be from a generally forgotten short conflict rather than a Union soldier or a hero from one of the world wars?  Certainly, there are heroes from those other conflicts worthy of being honored in bronze and granite. 

The statue is of Capt. Charles Edgar Clark, a Bradford native, one of the three widely-recognized heroes to emerge from the Spanish-American War of 1898. The statue, financed by public subscription, was dedicated on October 12, 1926 before a large crowd that filled the downtown.

This column describes Clark’s links with Bradford and Vermont and his connections with the battleship Oregon and the Battle of Santiago Bay. The details of the Spanish-American War and the role played by local men in that short conflict are covered.

Clark was born in Bradford on August 10, 1843 in a house that still stands on South Main. He was the son of James and Mary Clark. He attended the district village school and Bradford Academy until he was 16 years old.  

His father was a book binder and, about this time, attempted to publish a school textbook. The venture was not successful and he lost heavily. The family moved to Montpelier where the demand for books was greater and there achieved success. 

Clark’s father was a friend of Sen. Justin Morrill and when young Charles expressed an interest in attending West Point, they contacted Morrill. The senator had already made his annual appointment to the military academy, but offered an appointment to the Naval Academy. Clark passed the required examination and entered as a midshipman in 1860 just as the Civil War broke out.

As the war developed, the Naval Academy was moved to Newport, R. I. In 1863, Ensign Clark was assigned to a sloop attached to the blockade squadron under Adm. David Farragut.  Clark’s ship participated in the Battle of Mobile Bay and other Gulf of Mexico encounters. He received steady promotions and by 1868 was lieutenant commander. The next year he married Maria Louise Davis.

In 1894, Clark was in command of a fleet of 12 ships in the northern Pacific on patrol against seal poachers.  In San Francisco, on March 19, 1898, Captain Clark was given command of the Oregon, the greatest battleship afloat. His nearly 40 years of naval experience fitted him for this responsible position. 

Two days later, they sailed south with orders to join the American fleet off Santiago, Cuba. The trip around the Horn and the dangerous waters of Tierra del Fuego was an estimated 14,900-mile voyage. It included stops at foreign ports to resupply and refuel.

Bradford’s John Fatherley describes this dangerous voyage in his book “The Vortex.”  He writes that the challenge of the voyage was “not a reasonable expectation.” Additionally, there was the apprehension created by the possible Spanish threats posed by both the torpedo boat Temerario and the Cape Verde Fleet, either of which could have seriously damaged or destroyed the Oregon.

Clark and the ship met the challenge in record time. After a two-month news blackout, the ship’s arrival at Key West was met with public acclaim. The voyage highlighted the need for a canal across the Isthmus of Panama.

What Clark was sailing into was a war with Spain. This conflict had all the elements that could conceivably promote popular support among Americans. It was fought for very clear reasons including self-defense and the welfare of Cubans, suffering under Spanish colonial rule.

The sinking of the American battleship Maine in Havana harbor with the heavy loss of life on February 15, 1898 led to a declaration of war against Spain. Spain was an aging colonial power with control over Cuba and the Philippines and it was there that the war centered.

The war that followed was short, filled with dramatic American victories and heroes and few American casualties. It was, in the words of Secretary of State John Hay, “a splendid little war.” In less than a year, America gained both an enhanced reputation as an emerging world power and a far-flung empire. 

The naval phase of the war outshone the army’s. Vermont provided two of the heroes, Clark and Commodore George Dewey. Dewey commanded the American squadron at Manila Bay in the Philippines. On the morning of May 1, the American fleet crushed 12 ships of the Spanish fleet without the loss of a single American ship and only slight injury to a few American sailors.

The second major naval victory was in Cuban waters. The Oregon had taken up station with the American fleet off Santiago Bay to blockade the Spanish fleet. On July 3, the Spanish tried to escape. The timing caught the Americans generally unprepared for battle.

With engines ready, the Oregon was able to move quickly in pursuit, and with guns blazing began a running fight with the escaping fleet. The battle, in which the Oregon played a decisive role, was over in a matter of hours. The entire Spanish fleet was destroyed or captured.  As with the Manila battle, no American ship suffered serious damage and only one American life was lost.

 The official reports and the popular press gave the Oregon and Captain Clark the highest credit for the extent of the victory.  For its historic voyage and battle participation, the battleship was given the nickname “Bulldog of the Navy.”

The war was successfully completed within months and America obtained Cuba, Guam, Puerto Rico and the Philippines as spoils of war. In a nation still haunted by the memories of the Civil War, this war helped to create a unified sense of patriotism as the nation entered a new century.

Clark was not the only man with local ties to go to war with Spain.  Vermont was assigned a quota of 654 and filled it with a regiment of 1008 men and officers.  The First New Hampshire Infantry included about the same number of volunteers. 

American troops on the ground experienced the war quite differently. On April 29, The United Opinion reported that the Bradford Guards was seeking new members to fill their ranks. “This was a warlike order and caused some excitement in the village.”  The Guards included men from Bradford, Piermont, Orford , Newbury, and other area towns. Four Dartmouth students also enlisted.

On May 6, the Bradford Guards marched down Main Street to board a train for Fort Ethan Allen.  Under the command of Capt. Herbert T. Johnson of Bradford and 1st Lt. Moses Brock of West Newbury, the 84 men and officers became Company G of the First Regiment of Infantry, Vermont National Guard.  The regiment left Vermont for Camp Thomas at Chickamauga Park, GA on May 24. The New Hampshire men joined them there. 

This is as close to combat as these men came. What followed was a disappointment for these eager troops. The booklet on their assignment reads: “It was there that the Vermonters put in nearly three months of monotonous inactivity, weary waiting and suffering from climatic diseases and fevers, which constituted their patriotic sacrifice for their country.” Both regiments returned home never having seen battle. 

Harold Haskins adds: “Life in camp had been hard. The food was bad, the heat and humidity was worse, sanitation was almost non-existent, medical supplies and services were woefully inadequate, and the daily routine of camp life, without the hope of the excitement and challenge of battle was irksome indeed. Malaria, dysentery and even yellow fever, worse in Cuba but bad enough in our South, left life-long effects on many a soldier.”

 Vermont lost 33 men from disease, New Hampshire 32. Although a significant number of  men from the Bradford area suffered from illness, none perished.

The United Opinion had supported the war and the paper was filled with patriotic symbols and articles.  Letters from Company G were a regular feature.  Despite the disappointments, veterans and area residents felt pride in their role in the war effort. 

In 1899 and again in 1901, Clark was honored during a visit to Bradford. He spent a portion of that visit with students gathered at Bradford Academy and later met old friends and other area residents at an evening reception.  

In a September 1901 speech before the Reunion Society of Vermont Officers, Vice President Theodore Roosevelt said: “You have a right to be proud of Captain Clark. In all of the history of the Navy, I can remember hardly anything so romantic as the trip of the Oregon, which arrived in time to give the finishing stroke to the last remnant of the Spanish fleet.”

As the leader of the Rough Riders, Roosevelt was another hero of the war and this speech was given just days before he became acceded to the office of President upon the death of President McKinley.  

In 1902, Clark was promoted to the rank of rear admiral and he retired in 1905. His fame mellowed and waned with a dignity that seemed typical of the man who sought no glory for himself. The Oregon, after being the subject of much national attention was, like the admiral, gradually retired from active duty.

At the time of his death in 1922, an editorial in the United Opinion stated: “We the people of Bradford feel that ‘Capt’ Clark belongs to us and that he is one of our greatest gifts to the nation’s service.”

 In 1926, funds were raised to erect the statue of Clark to be placed in Memorial Park, north of the Library.  Personal contributions were supplemented by fund-raising dances and other events.  In requesting funds, the Bradford Memorial Park Association wrote: “All the best traditions of valor, modesty and patriotism are symbolized by this man, a son of Bradford…In honoring him we honor all our patriots in all wars and of peace.  He stands for what is best in private and public life.”

The Memorial Park had been created in 1921 and featured a granite monument with bronze tablets listing Bradford’s veterans from the Revolution, Civil War and Spanish-American War, along with a flag pole and a cannon from 1863.

The sculptor of the five-foot seven-inch bronze statue was Magnus Urdahl of Boston.  It was made in the foundries of Albert Russell & Sons in Newburyport, Massachusetts. The pedestal is of Barre granite with bronze plaques commemorating Clark’s accomplishments.

On Tuesday, October 12, 1926 more than  four thousand people, including Clark’s widow and many dignitaries, watched little Virginia Cole unveil the statue. It was described as being a “truthful reproduction” of the man. Buildings in the area were professionally draped with patriotic bunting and the U.S. Marine Band played. In the words of Opinion editor Harry Parker, it was “Bradford’s red-letter day.”

In 1900, the Vermont legislature commissioned portraits of both Clark and Dewey to be hung in the State House in Montpelier. When the Oregon was decommissioned, one set of its gangway headboards were donated to the Bradford Academy and are displayed inside the front doors of the Academy Building.

For many years the athletic teams at Bradford Academy were called the Admirals and the year book was known as The Admiral.

A display of Clark-Oregon memorabilia is located in the Bradford Historical Society’s museum on the third floor. This includes a large portrait of the Captain painted by Ruth Jewett Burgess about 1902.  The museum is open Fridays from 10 am to noon, June through October or by special appointment. 


Sunday, July 2, 2017

Privy To Indoor Plumbing

VILLAGE PRIVY: This privy is adjacent to the woodshed in a Bradford village home. Perhaps those using this "necessity "were expected to bring an armload of wood into the nearby kitchen. Unused for decades, this little room featured an electric light, decorative wall paper and a child-size hole to the right of these two adult ones.   

SIZED FOR CONVENIENCE: This three-holer featured a small, medium and large seats to accommodate the needs of an entire Vermont family.  The pit below would have been mucked out once a year and the contents spread on nearby fields. (Green Mountain Timber)

GROWING UP IN GROTON; Theresa Cassady Shepard grew up in a farm house without electricity near Groton village.  From 1918 until she left to be married in 1927, she knew what it was to use a privy in the shed, have a chamber pot under her bed and take a bath in a tub in front of the kitchen stove. (Meroa Benjamin)

STANDARD SANITARY: In its 1911 catalog, the Standard Sanitary Mfg. Co. offered "sanitary and modern plumbing fixtures." By that time, newly constructed homes were expected to have modern indoor plumbing rather than the outmoded backhouse privy and wash tub.  
“The sanitary equipment of the house is an all-important matter, as there is no other feature of the home which will afford more comfort and be so conducive to perfect health as good plumbing.”             St. Johnsbury Caledonian, May 23, 1906

From the beginning of human activity, each society has developed norms regarding the disposal of human waste and the cleansing of the body. Some early civilizations developed elaborate structures to meet those needs and others were far more informal about it.

This column surveys the use of the outhouse in rural Vermont and New Hampshire and the development of indoor plumbing. It also describes changing attitudes toward bathing that lead to the development of bathrooms. 

Colonial New Englanders avoided bathing as it opened one to “the ravages of various diseases.” Washing up or sponging off meant cleaning hands and face. That, combined with infrequent changing of clothes, meant that they were “blissfully unaware of their own stench.”

Most families had an outhouse, called a privy after the Latin term for private. Even village homes had  privies until municipal sewage systems were developed in the late 19th century.  Area farms were more likely to rely on outhouses into the 20th century.  It some cases, the privy was attached to the house and in others located a short distance away as a protection against well water pollution and smell. This facility, often featuring two or three holes, was located over a pit. 

Once a year the farmer would muck out the pit, mix the excrement, sometimes called night soil, with something like sawdust or wood ashes and spread it on the fields as fertilizer. Farmers Almanacs from the 1840s encouraged this practice because the so-called poudrette was “universally wasted.” 

The author of a letter in an 1876 edition of Vermont Farmer wrote: “I have seen the manure from a family of eight sufficient to enrich four acres of land fit for any crop.”

A dangerous problem was created when the privy was located near drinking water sources. After 1870, the Vermont Board of Health warned against diseases such as typhoid, diphtheria and dysentery that were being contracted by farm families when sewerage entered their water source. 

In 1871, the report of the Board included the following: “At the bottom of the garden, or even further away, stands a temple of defame, the common privy. From this establishment arises in warm weather the vilest smell imaginable; while in winter, cold air blasts through loose boards and also up from under the seat, causing infinite discomfort and danger.”

The New Hampshire Board of Health’s 1885 report added: “The privy is a detestable and dangerous necessity.  It is so near the well as to pollute that, so near the kitchen as to lend an odor to that, and so near enough to the parlor to remind us of what is unpleasant.” The report went on to suggest improvements that might mitigate these problems. 


Until the introduction of toilet paper, privies often had a pile of corn cobs or catalogs and almanacs available. Cobs were used only when fresh or when boiled to soften them. Publications such as the Sears Roebuck catalog were free and widely available. When changes were made in paper manufacturing in the early 1930s these publications were less suitable.

Joseph Gayetty created the first commercial toilet paper in 1857 and it was advertised as “the greatest necessity of the age.” The Scott Paper Company offered the first rolled toilet paper in 1879. In 1882, the St. Johnsbury newspaper advertised six packs of toilet tissue for twenty-five cents. In the early 1890s toilet tissue was being manufactured by Bradford’s Waits River Paper Company and Wells Rivers’ Adams Paper Company. Toilet paper fixtures were stocked in most hardware stores.

By that time, in many households, the toilet and bath were moving indoors. More homes were being built with bathrooms featuring flush toilets connected to indoor plumbing systems. The earlier problem of venting sewer gases was being solved by new valve designs. There were still those who felt that the additional construction cost of a bathroom did not make sense.

Water closets in ordinary homes began to be mentioned in Vermont newspapers after the 1870s. Prior to that time they were only found in upscale hotels and the homes of the wealthy and the ads for them were from Boston plumbing outlets.   

 In the 1880s, water closets featured a high 10-gallon tank suspended above the toilet and operated by a pull chain. In the 1920s, the tank type toilet was introduced, reducing a flush to five to seven gallons.  Sears Roebuck offered a basic “modern water closet” for $11.95.

Running water usually meant a gravity feed from a spring or well into a box or tub in the kitchen. By 1900, earlier log pipes were being replaced by ones made of lead.  An advertisement for a Vermont farm for sale in 1900 mentioned “running water to the house” as a positive feature. That was a definite advantage over the handpump in the yard.  

For many, bathing still mean a washtub in the kitchen.  Many bedrooms were equipped with a wash stand or dry sink that held a porcelain pitcher and wash basin and towel rack. The earlier prejudices against bathing were replaced by the realization of the value of washing to prevent disease. Soap designed specifically for bathing was introduced.  

By the late 1880s, companies such as Mott Iron Works began to advertise claw bathtubs. By then the ritual of the Saturday night bath was observed by many. That made sense in anticipation of Sunday church services and weekend visitors.  

I interviewed two individuals who grew up in local farm houses and confirmed what is described above. Eighty-nine-year-old Theresa Cassady Shepard of Bradford grew up three miles from the village of Groton. From the time she was born in 1928 until she was married and moved to a farm in Piermont in 1947, Shepard lived in a home without indoor plumbing or running water. This condition was primarily the result of not having electricity.

The family backhouse was a two-holer attached to the backside of the woodshed.  Each bedroom had a chamber pot. When the pit began to smell, her mother or father would apply lime or sawdust. She said that every Spring her father would remove the back of the pit and using a wagon and horses would carry the contents to be spread on the hayfield.   

Bathing was usually accomplished in a large galvanized tub set in the kitchen. Water was heated in the reservoir attached to the wood-burning kitchen stove. The tub only held several inches of water.  Asked if it was Saturday night ritual, she said that you took a bath “when you couldn’t stand yourself.”   After she bathed and went off to bed, her father would use the same water for his bath. 

Otherwise, bathing was with a wash cloth and a basin of water for a daily washing up. Water came from a large metal container with gravity feed. Sometimes in the summer, the well would begin to dry up and the family would have to prime the handpump in order to get water for the house.   

The 1940 census revealed that nearly half of American houses lacked piped hot water, a bathtub or shower, or a flush toilet. Census figures showed that about 29 percent of households in Vermont did not have flush toilets. In New Hampshire, it was about 25 percent of household. 

One of those homes was near Sunday Mountain in Orford. The second interview was with a woman who lived there from the 1940s to the early 60s. She told me they had running water to the kitchen and to a tub in the bathroom, but no flush toilet. Cold water was piped into a holding tank above the kitchen. From there, water flowed into a tank next to the wood stove to be heated.

 “Luckily, the outhouse was located off the bathroom that included an enclosed passageway through an unheated area in the back of two sheds. It was a well-crafted two holer on the east corner of the house that looked like a small addition. So that we didn’t have to make the long trek at night, each member of the family was provided with a chamber pot under the bed that was emptied each morning.”

During two recent speaking engagements, I asked for comments about privies and indoor plumbing. Descriptions of the outhouse facilities varied. One person mentioned their childhood outhouse was wall-papered with the same gold paper as the living room.

Some participants responded by telling about the fear of snakes, bees and flies and the need to carry a “spider switch” when visiting the privy. They told of pranks played against the unsuspecting, especially at Halloween. When the topic of wintertime visits was raised, the universal response was “you did what you had to do.”  

Those who lived in villages and cities had to deal with sewage on a larger scale and public health concerns led to the decline of urban outhouse. Homes and businesses began to be required to connect to municipal sewer systems. After installing a municipal water system in 1891, the Village of Bradford turned to the issue of a sewer system to replace individual cesspools.  One result of not having a proper sewer system was the loss to Ludlow of the proposed Vermont Odd Fellows’ Home in 1895.

The first vote to create a village system failed at a special Village meeting in 1896. It was not until 1927 that the Village voted to construct a sewage system.

As with most municipal systems, raw sewage was flushed into nearby waterways. In the 1950s, the Connecticut River was being described as the “world’s best landscaped sewer.”  Until Bradford’s sewage treatment plant began to operate in October, 1978, the nearby Waits River received the village sewage.    

In 1903, the Vermont Board of Health report contained the following description of the situation in Ryegate: “several sewers running, one down Main street and the others which empty into the bed of the river as it formerly ran…a most filthy and unwholesome place.”

 In 1972, and after the State passed legislation to deal with pollution in the state’s waterways, Ryegate voted to acquire land in both East and South Ryegate for sewer treatment sites.

Wells River and Woodsville both used adjacent rivers for sewers until the early 1980s when a treatment plant was built in Woodsville to serve those two villages and portions of North Haverhill.

Until these improvements were made, nearby rivers and lakes were often so polluted as to make them unusable for drinking water. Woodsville Water Works, begun in 1885, suspended using the Ammonoosuc as a source of drinking water in 1906 because of sewage and industrial waste from upriver towns.

Advancements in sewage treatment were also reflected in home facilities. By 1960, the number of New Hampshire and Vermont homes without a flush toilet was less than eight percent.  That was less than half the number of a decade before.  

Nationwide, a high percentage of all new homes have 2 or more bathrooms. The National Association of Home Builders has found that buyers like the number of bathrooms “to roughly equal the number of bedrooms.” While that may not be as common in the Upper Valley, selling a house without at least a second half or full bathroom is difficult. High-end bathrooms now feature spa-like amenities such as elaborate tubs, luxury showers, heated floors, accent lighting and duel-flush toilets.   

There are a number of titles given to what use to be called “the necessity.” The toilet, john, lavatory, or the head, the facilities, the loo and the powder room. The latest AARP Bulletin reports that June is National Bathroom Reading Month. 

Regardless of what you call the little room and whether or not you have a stack of reading materials nearby, consider how far we have come from the cold and drafty privy in the backyard and the skimpy warm water in a tub in the kitchen. Give regular thanks for that.   






Monday, May 15, 2017

Pedaling Along: Bicycles Ups and Downs

“The bicycle fever is at its full height; on any country road, in any direction from town, you will meet young gentlemen in knicker-bockers and leggings, spinning along at a comfortable pace.”  The Vermont Phoenix, Nov. 15, 1878.

"The Ordinary" or high wheeler made its appearance in the early 1870s. "Taking a header" was one of the dangers of riding this high bike on rough roads.

Safety Bike: With improvements in brakes, tires, spokes and gears, the safety bike made its appearance in the 1890s. This Burlington youngster shows off his new bike in the 1890s. (Courtesy Glenn Eames)

Liberating Women: Cycling had a liberating impact on many women. Susan B. Anthony said, Let me tell you what I think of bicycling.  It has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. These two young Bradford women are show at a Main Street home, c. 1890. (Bradford Historical Society)    

Bicycle for Two: Lee Morrill (captain) and Paul Barber (navigator) rode in the 1963 Bradford Fair Parade on an antique tandem Schwinn bicycle that had been restored by Paul's father, George Barber. The young men, both seniors at Bradford Academy, were dressed in the outfits they wore while working at the nearby Super Duper supermarket. (JO file photo)  

1950s Models:  By the 1950s, many young people had bicycles such as the ones shown above. My dad, Ray Coffin sold similar ones from our Orford Bridge Street home.

Bradford Elementary School Bike Program:  The BES Recess Riding Program provides the opportunity for vigorous exercise during recess time.  Staff had raised the funds to purchase bikes to supplement those brought to school by students. Below, representatives of a bicycle education program from Burlington train students on bike safety and bike inspection as part of the program (Courtesy BESchool)    

May is National Bicycle Month and this year is the bicentennial of the laufmaschine, the first two-wheeled human-powered device. This column explores the bicycle’s development from its first local appearances to the 1960s. Information was taken from The National Bicycle History Archive, Vermont newspapers, online sources and research on Orford provided by Art Pease.

As with many inventions, there were a number of individuals connected with the bicycle’s advent. In 1817, there were reports of a horseless carriage, “two-wheeled, peddle-less device propelled by pushing your feet against the ground.”  Invented by European Karl Von Drais, it was known as the draisine or fastwalker. 

The drasine or “dandy-horse” appeared in America in 1819. After an initial popularity, the fad rapidly subsided. Bicycles were too expensive for most, could not be balanced on rough roads and lacked practical usefulness. The riders who could afford them faced significant ridicule.

When metal wheels replace wooden ones and pedals were added in the early 1860s, interest in bikes increased. A new device known as the Velocipede or bone shaker came on the market in a craze that last just one year. Indoor riding rinks using these opened across the nation.  

In 1869, Bradford’s National Opinion reported the opening “in full blast” of two Velocipedes, one at Waterbury and the other at Littleton. “Fifteen cents is the price for witnessing the comical features of amateur performers.”    

The “Ordinary” or high wheeler, with its oversized front wheel, made its appearance in the early 1870s.  It was the first all-metal bicycle and featured pedals, solid rubber tires and a smoother ride than earlier models. But it was still very expensive and since the rider was perched high, “taking a header” was likely when riding on rough roads.

The first American manufacturing of cycles began in 1878 with the Columbia Bicycle by Weed Sewing Machine Company. Advertisements for this bicycle appeared in Vermont newspapers the following year. 

Cycling began to be more organized with the creation of the Brattleboro-based Vermont Wheel Club in 1884. It was one of the pioneer cycling organizations in America. Its beautifully-appointed meeting rooms were an indication of the prosperity of its members.  Similar clubs were created in Rutland and Manchester, New Hampshire, and sponsored tours for the members.

 In 1886, the “Vermont Bicycle” cycling journal was established in West Rutland and published in West Randolph. It promoted itself as being “devoted to good roads, healthful recreation and the wheel interest.”

Improvements in brakes, tires, spokes and gears led to the development of the so-called “safety bike.” In appearance closer to the modern bicycle, it was mass produced and experienced increased popularity in the 1890s.

  “Bradford needs a bicycle agency.” The United Opinion stated in its May 28, 1893  edition, “The machine now here has created a desire among the youth and older ones to own a wheel.” Within two years, both J.M. Warden and V. A. Doty, both of Bradford were offering the Lovell Diamond Bicycle and Doe Bros. was an agent for Columbia.

In 1896, F. W. Bittinger open a bicycle shop in Woodsville and in 1897, C. E. Flanders became an agent for Hudson Bicycles in Post Mills. Willard’s of Orford began to offer “anything in bicycles you want.”  During those years, every edition of the local newspaper carried at least one large ad for one of these dealers. 

The interest in cycling was noted in a number of newspaper articles. In Orford in 1893: “Bicycles are all the rage here now.” In 1896: “Bicycling is increasing in favor this season and more ladies are riding than ever. Thus far it can be said to their credit, that they have adhered to conservative costumes and therefore maintain their womanly dignity.”

Cycling had a liberating impact on many women. Women’s rights advocate Susan B. Anthony spoke of that in 1896: “Let me tell you what I think of bicycling.  I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world.  I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel.  It gives woman a feeling of freedom and self-reliance.”

One Vermont newspaper reported in 1896 on the bicycle’s increased popularity. “The bicycle trade in Vermont this season is going to be something remarkable. There never was such a demand for wheels.”  That same year, Vermont made bicycle theft punishable by a two-year sentence in the State prison, the most severe law in the nation.

From the precarious heights of a high-wheeler to more modern bikes, the chances of accidents were common. In 1884 Mark Twain wrote: “Get a bicycle.  You will not regret it if you live.”

Newspaper columns often reported broken collarbones or arms. Attacks by dogs were another cause for injury to cyclists. Collisions with vehicles, either horse drawn or motorized usually meant more injury to the rider than the vehicle.

Riding bicycles on local sidewalks created problems and crashes involving pedestrians lead to restrictions.  In 1893, the Bradford Village Trustees posted notices forbidding the riding of bicycles on the sidewalks.

Bradford historian Harold Haskins confirmed, “the action was hastened by the reckless riding of a few boys, whose only desire was to ride as fast as possible, regardless of the safety of pedestrians.”   

On July 23, 1897, the newspaper reported that Orford selectmen had posted notice “forbidding riding bicycles on the sidewalks.” A week later a report indicated they had changed their mind, “allowing bicycles to be ridden on the sidewalks from sunrise to sunset by having a bell on them which shall be rung twenty feet before meeting or passing any person.”  

The sidewalks in Fairlee, however, were widened in 1898 as “it was quite dusty for ladies to ride on the main road.”

The most noteworthy local bicycle accident occurred in September 1896 and involved David Blakely, an accomplished publisher and manager for John Philips Sousa.  Blakely was injured when riding down Bradford’s Bank Street, resulting in a broken collar bone and bruises. 

After recuperating at his Low Mansion home for a month, he returned to his office in New York City. On November 7, he died suddenly and his body was returned to Bradford for burial. The family claimed his death was the result of the bicycle accident triggering a double indemnity clause in his life insurance policy. 

Blakely’s body was exhumed and returned to the city for an autopsy. The insurance company claimed the death was the result of apoplexy and the coroner agreed. The body was returned to Bradford for reburial.

Both professional and amateur cyclists participated in races. In 1895, The United Opinion reported: “Professional racing seems to have a certain hold on cycling enthusiasts throughout the country, and a prize race is now look for at every fair.”  Vermont races drew up to 5,000 spectators.  Cash purses were awarded to professionals and amateurs received items as prizes.  

Bicycle touring in New Hampshire and Vermont became popular in the 1890s. It was not uncommon for the newspaper to carry reports of local residents taking  extended bicycling vacations. Tours made the Green and White Mountains a popular destination. For many, a day-tour was enough.

The trips taken by cyclist George Trussell and Charlie Finney of Orford included the following: In July 1894, the two rode from Orfordville to New York City.  “George rode ninety miles in one day. They had a pleasant trip and would not object to trying it again.” 

The next year, the Topsham column reported that two men from Barton arrived locally, having ridden 70 miles in a single day.  Apparently, these cyclists subscribed to the following 1895 Doe Bros. bicycle ad: “All you need is to get outdoors and let the topic of rapid motion put new blood into your veins and tissues.”

In the late 1880s, cyclists became part of the “good roads” movement.  They were joined by early automobile manufacturers in a highway improvement campaign that promoted the construction of hard, smooth roads. Actually, some of the early automobile producers were bicycle manufacturers and the mechanisms used in bicycles were adapted for automobiles. 

Bicycle parades became a regular part of local fairs and holiday parades. From the 1890s to the present, children have decorated their bikes to win ribbons. 

In the new century, adult interest in bicycles was eclipsed by the automobile. Bicycles became considered just for youngsters. Kids bikes were introduced after World War I by several manufacturers and sold by local dealers and major catalog companies. 

In 1917, the Fisk Rubber Company sponsored a nation-wide organization of bicycle clubs for boys. The company manufactured bicycle tires and used illustrator Norman Rockwell to create ads depicting boys and bikes. When one of the Fisk Bicycle Clubs was organized in Brattleboro in 1919, it was reported that there were 20,000 similar clubs nationwide.

The St. Johnsbury Caledonian highlighted the appeal of bikes for children: “A bicycle is the king of all a youngster’s desire and the best of all gifts for them.”  

Those who grew up in the period from 1930s to the early 1960s provided me with interesting stores.  Bicycles were obtained by selling Grit newspapers, mowing lawns, as Christmas or birthday gifts or as hand-me-downs from older siblings.

 One senior from North Haverhill said he received a bike in 1939 as a Christmas gift and promptly ran it into a post.  He spent the rest of Christmas in bed. 

A woman who grew up in Waits River recalled getting a Schwinn bicycle for her birthday in 1940. Her sister and she would ride to East Corinth to get ice cream. The kids from the Martin farm on the Fairlee-Bradford line rode their bikes up Rte. 5 to Bonnie Brae store to get candy and then around the mountain near the Mallary Farm.

One enterprising girl saved her pennies and, in 1957, bought a used bicycle for $4.  She rented it out for five cents a day to others in her Vershire neighborhood. She said that one boy rode away and promptly ended up in the nearby brook.

Very interesting to me was the story of a man who grew up on Turkey Hill in Corinth. He worked for his dad to earn a nearly new $60 Huffman single-speed bike. He said that it has a basket, white wall balloon tires, mirror, mud flaps chrome attachments and a speedometer. He used it to ride to school or just for “horsing around.”  

When I asked him where he purchased it, he said from the dealer just across the bridge in Orford.  That dealer was my Dad who offered bicycles for rent and sale from our Bridge Street home.    

A number of the seniors with whom I spoke had no bicycle stories. They indicated they could not afford a bicycle, especially when they came from families with many children. Almost as problematic were those who had to share a bike with a sibling or two.   

Bikes could be “souped-up” with home-made or purchased attachments.  These might be as simple as a clothespin and card  “strumming” against the spokes, creating a motor-like sound.  A horn, bell, miniature license plate, race decals or a generator headlight provided added features.

Whatever safety these additions might have provided were often mitigated by the dare-devil antics of youthful riders. Stories of hair-raising, peddles-whirling rides down Dame Hill in Orford or Fairground Road in Bradford were probably not shared with parents. Seeing who could go fastest or how far one could go without touching the brakes was the challenge. Youthful wipe-outs have left road scars that still appear on aging bodies.

 The editors of Bicycling magazine sum up the significance of what they call “the noblest invention.” “The inventions that change the world are often those that carry the most sublime versatility, a seamless transfer from one use to the next. The bicycle is one such invention.  It is simultaneously transportation, recreation, freedom, and mobility.”

Local residents, whether they think about it or not, have agreed, both in time past and now.


Saturday, April 29, 2017

Watching The Time

RARE BRADFORD CLOCK. This banjo-style clock was crafted by Bradford clockmaker Johnson Arad Hardy in the 1850s. It was recently sold at an estate auction in Geneseo, New York. (Courtesy Cottone Auctions)

This steeple clock in Woodsville's Opera House was installed with funds raised by the Woodsville Women's Club after 1924. It is the only area steeple clock not found in a church.  Photos of some of the 14 Church steeple clocks follow the article. 

Haverhill Corner Brick Church Stephen Hasham clock installed 1844.

WATCH REPAIRER AT WORK.  Fred Doe repaired watch at the Doe Brothers store on Bradford's Main Street in the 1939 photo.  Doe was the owner of the store from 1885 until it closed in 1968. The photo was taken by Lee Russell working for the Farm Security Administration (Library of Congress)   
“In the present generation we have become so accustomed to the use of accurate time and the ready means of obtaining it, that we hardly realize how dependent we are upon it,” wrote William Francis Allen in an article entitled “The Reformation in Time”  for the December 1884 edition of Popular Science Monthly.

This column examines the development of watches and clock as reflected in local history. It includes both personal time pieces and town clocks. The Vermont Historical Society’s collection devoted to the history of clockmakers, local town histories, historic publications and online sources provided background.  

This is a timely topic leading up to New Year’s Eve. As midnight approaches that night, more local residents look at their watches and clocks simultaneously than at any other time of the year. 

Simultaneous coordination was also a major event in the fall of 1883. The proliferation of railroads and telegraph created a demand for precision in determining time. To avoid accidents and missed trains, there needed to be uniformity in time.

 “Llocal time” had been widely used  with each community relying on something like a town clock to set the exact time for activities locally. On Nov. 18, 1883, millions of clocks across the nation were altered to conform to the new system of standardized time developed by the major railroad companies.  Locally, that might have occurred on Oct. 7 when the Central Vermont Railroad adopted the system of standard time.  

Town or tower clocks were introduced into the local area when one was installed in the Norwich Congregational Church in 1816. Over the next 120 years, at least 14 tower clocks were installed in local church steeples. High above the community, these clocks rang out the hour and residents set watches and domestic clocks for uniform local time. Their installation was a source of civic pride for the communities.  In some cases the tax on personal timepieces encouraged the installation of a town clock.

There are at least four clockmakers represented by tower clocks still in place. Stephen Hasham of Charlestown, New Hampshire placed one of his clocks in the Haverhill Corner Brick Church in 1844. Benjamin Morrill of Boscawen installed a clock in the Orford Congregational Church in the 1850s. Of the seven known Morrill clocks this is the only one still in its original location. 

Seth Thomas of Connecticut began working on clocks in 1807. The firm he later created continued to manufacture clocks of all types until the 1980s. There are at least seven Seth Thomas tower clocks in the region. They are located in the following churches: Thetford Hill Congregational (1895), North Thetford Congregational (1895), Thetford Center United Methodist (circa 1904), Groton United Methodist (1912), Post Mills Congregational (1915), Wells River Congregational (1932), South Ryegate United Presbyterian (1936).

 Edward Howard of Massachusetts began manufacturing  clocks in 1842.  As with Thomas, his clocks are of several types. The four local Howard tower clocks are located at Bradford Congregational (1875, replaced with an electronic one in 2015-6), Lyme Congregational (1921), Fairlee Federated (1926) and Newbury Congregational (date unknown).  There two other churches with tower clocks by unknown manufacturers: Warren Methodist and Ryegate Corner Presbyterian.

There is only one tower clock in a building other than a church. In 1924 the Woodsville Women’s Club raised the funds to install a clock in the  Woodsville Opera House built in 1890.

While each clock fulfilled its function as the community’s “common arbiter of time,” each has aspects of its history that are similar to and different from the others. Most seem to be the first town clock in the community.  However several references are made to a Bradford town clock located south of the Waits River bridge on what is now Route 5 prior to the construction of the new Congregational Church in 1875.  

Several clocks were given by donors “for the benefit of the citizens” of the community whereas others were included in the original building costs or purchased with funds raised by taxes or group fund drives

Other variations include the number of clock dials and the material from which they are made.  While most are wooden, several of them are translucent allowing for interior lighting. While earlier clocks often had only an hour hand, all now include minute hands.   

The clocks have stopped from time to time and some are not working presently. Most have had significant repairs over the years. The most frequent repairs are having the internal works electrified, the hands replaced and the clock dial(s) restored. Major work was usually undertaken by accomplished craftsmen.

The question of the use of public funds for the maintenance of clocks located in churches was address by the Vermont Supreme Court in 1890. It determined that since a so-called town clock represented “an object of common convenience and necessity,” public funds could be used for repairs. 

There have been individuals who often spent decades as the “appointed” keeper of the clock. This included winding it and keeping the mechanism in general working order. The timekeeper would have to climbing narrow stairs or ladders to the winding mechanism about once a week.  It also meant removing an occasional bird, bat or squirrel that might have caused the clock to malfunction. 

Before personal watches, domestic clocks and tower clocks became common, there were those who relied on the sun and stars to determine time.  The Newbury history mentions that “most of the houses had their ‘noon marks’ to indicate that hour.” Apparently, “in the absence of clocks, people were often skillful in telling the hour of the night by the position of the heavenly bodies.”    

By the time  local communities were settled  in the second half of the 18th century  some residents had watches and clocks. Some were imported whereas others were manufactured by craftsmen in southern New England.  Early records indicate that those that needed repair often had to be shipped to places such as Newburyport, Massachusetts. By 1830, timepieces were more common and the Ryegate census included a report of one gold and 12 silver watches and 37 brass clocks.  

Soon there were watch and clockmakers in the local area. Between 1770 and 1920 there were over 50 local clock and watch makers, repairers and jewelers specializing in the sale of watches and clocks.  Over time, the number of makers diminished in favor of the latter two groups. 

Industrialization affected the industry.  After the 1820s the increase in cast brass brought an end to wooden clock movements. The introduction of standardized watch parts in 1857 made watches more reliable.

After World War I, wrist watches became popular, replacing men’s pocket watches and women’s pendant watches.  Cheaper watches and clocks reduced the number of those who repaired clocks and watches.  The names Elgin and Waltham were more likely to appear on watches than any local name. 

As space does not allow for all of the information that was gathered about 50 plus watch and clock craftsmen and merchants, I will highlight a few of the most significant local individuals. 

John Osgood of Haverhill was a clockmaker from 1793 to 1840. “His shop had two rooms, the front one a salesroom and the rear one a workshop where was a forge for melting the brass for the clocks…” Each Osgood clock was numbered and a current dealer indicates that he has seen clocks registered in excess of 370.

 Osgood clock were tall-cased or grandfather type standing over 8 feet with eight-day brass works. They featured painted dials and moon phases and calendar apertures.  The cases for Osgood’s clocks were often crafted by his uncles Michael Carleton of Haverhill and Dudley Carleton of Newbury.  

The only other style clock Osgood made was a gallery clock presented to the First Congregational Church of Haverhill in 1838. A photo of one of Osgood tall-case clocks has been posted on my blog at larrycoffin.blogspot.com as part of my article on furniture makers.

The Hardy family of Bradford included several generations of craftsmen who worked with clocks and watches. Oliver Hardy came to Bradford in 1802. A man of many talents he was a tanner, currier, blacksmith and shoemaker. Silas McKeen’s history indicates,  “As there was no one to clean and repair clocks and watches, locals brought them to him.”

Oliver’s son, Johnson Arad Hardy opened “the first scientific clock, watch and jewelry establishment in Bradford” in 1829 a business he continued until several years before his death in 1874.

The younger Hardy cleared and repaired over 33,000 watches. Through advertisement in Bradford’s National Opinion he offered his services to deal with the “real wants of fine watches.” He also made watches and clocks “of different styles and prices.”

 He made and donated a gallery clock to the Congregational Society of Bradford, one that required winding only 12 times a year. Two of Jefferson’s sons, Oliver and William followed their father in the business, the former in Alabama and the latter, who also farmed, in Fairlee.     

Recently I received a call from a person who had purchased a rare J. A. Hardy banjo style clock at an estate sale.  It has a 53” mahogany case with an unusual eight-day skeletonized weight, brass movement and second bit hand.

There may have actually been another early clock and watch maker in Bradford. Beginning in 1805, Isaac Walker operated a business. His later advertisement read:  “Ladies and gentlemen who will favor him with their custom may depend upon having their work done with neatness and dispatch.” His name is connected with the “air clock,” an instrument equipped with bellows from which escaping air regulated the driving weights. 

William K. Wallace was born in Newbury in 1833.  From 1855 to 1872, except for a nine-month enlistment in the Union Army, Wallace operated a watch making and jewelry business on Main Street in Newbury. 

He later moved to Haverhill and opened his business in the Weeks Block on Woodsville’s Central Street, remaining there until 1889. He was also known for raising horses.  His obituary in 1909 called him “one of the best known horsemen of the north country.” 

Peter M. Paul operated a watch shop in Groton beginning around 1856.  He was described as a “fine watchmaker” and equally adept as a cabinetmaker. It was not uncommon for watch makers to have other occupations. For example, J.W. Buzzell, watchmaker in Thetford Center from 1872 to 1880 was also listed as a dentist and pastor.

Major A. Stevens manufactured watches on Main Street in West Fairlee from 1872 until at least 1898.  His nephew Charles Stevens was in the jewelry business there until 1912.

Members of the Doe Family were jewelers and watch repairers in both Bradford and Woodsville.

The Doe Brothers store in Bradford opened in 1885 offering watches along with clothing and other merchandise. Fred Dow was described as a “practical watchmaker,” advertising  in 1897 that the store offered “nice watches at right prices!” In 1955, his son Franklin “Lin” Doe took over operation of the store and continued to do so until it closed in 1968.

The Woodsville store open around 1898 on Central Street. The jeweler’s sign that hung outside the store was a large gilt watch set at 18 past 8 to mark the time President Lincoln was shot. The store relocated several times within the business district before selling to C. Tabor Gates in 1913.     

One of the employees of Doe’s Woodsville store was Samuel F. McAllister Sr. A native of Ryegate, McAllister trained to be a watch maker at the Walham Horological Institute.  He came to Woodsville in 1901 and worked for both Doe Brothers and Gates. He bought the business in 1923 and operated it in the Opera Block. 

In 1953 his grandson David took over the business and moved it to the present location on Central Street  in 1963.  His son Scott has operated the store since 1986 and told me that they still repair some types of watches, but not clocks.

Elwin Chase of East Topsham bought, sold and repaired old clocks in his home from the early 1950s until he moved to Connecticut in 1974.  David Chipman of Shelburne said that Chase “was very skilled.” Chipman  said that he purchased at least five clocks from Chase and still has an American Regulator school clock in his office.   

There are still those who repair steeple and personal clocks.  Norman Boyden of the Green Mt Clock Company in Williston had done so for over four decades. In a recent conversation Boyden said: “It is a thrill to put my hands on a clock that is over 100 years old and make it run again.” That is something that those who rely on modern clocks cannot appreciate.

Whether you are fortunate enough to own a clock that has been in your family for generations or use a modern timepiece, on New Year’s Eve you will join others watching the time displayed as it helps us embrace the move from the old to the new. 

Fairlee Federated Church Edward Howard clock added 1926
Wells River Congregational Church Seth Thomas clock added 1932
South Ryegate Presbyterian Church Seth Thomas clock added 1936 

Groton Methodist Seth Thomas Clock added 1912