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Friday, July 29, 2011

That Old Home Spirit

Early Morning for Old Home. Bradford's Main Street is decked out in anticipation of the town's Old Home Week from August 11-17, 1901. It was described as one of the happiest weeks in Bradford's history. (Bradford Historical Society)

Take Me Back to Old Vermont. Heavy with nostalgia, this song was written in 1907 by J. C. Jones, music by H. F. Stafford and published by the Vermont Music Company of Rutland. It reflected the spirit of the Old Home movement.

Staged Alarm. At the August 1911 Thetford Pageant, local residents portray earoly Thetford families heading for safety in response to an impending British raid. Over 3,000 people viewed the three-day events staged along the Connecticut River in North Thetford. (Thetford Historical Society)

As printed in the Journal-Opinion on July 27, 2011

“Take me back to old Vermont
Where plenty smiles on every want.
Amid her winding vales, there let me roam,
By her famous pools and rills,
Marble, slate and granite hills,
And best of all, my old green mountain home.”

This is the chorus of “Take Me Back to Old Vermont,” composed in 1907 by Joseph Jones and Harry Stafford. They dedicated it to, “the sons and daughters of Vermont who have wandered from her green hills.” It reflected the mood of the Old Home Week movement of the previous decade.

This column describes how that movement was reflected in local celebrations. In addition to standard local histories, the information is taken from The Hill Country of Northern New England by Harold Wilson and The Vermont of Today, authored by Arthur Stone in 1929.

After 1820, area towns experienced a decline in population. The lure of western farm lands and urban economic opportunities drew many away. This decline raised fear that small towns in the two states were dying. Efforts were made to stem the exodus as well as draw new residents. It was out of these efforts that the Old Home Week idea was born.

It was first proposed in an 1897 article in the New England Magazine by New Hampshire’s Frank W. Rollins. Rollins called on those who had moved to revisit the town where they were born. “I wish that in the ear of every son and daughter of New Hampshire, in the summer days might be heard the persuasive word: come back, come back,” he mused.

The feeling was, Wilson wrote, “The temporary influx would freshen the humdrum lives of those who had stayed at home, and at the same time, bring a little money into the old home town.” In addition to the money spent on lodging, souvenirs and amusements, well-to-do visitors might purchase a piece of property or donate funds for a civic improvement.

This was not the first time that towns held special gatherings. Agricultural fairs, such as the ones held in Bradford after 1852, brought a community together, “and former residents made it the occasion for returning to visit relatives and revive moribund friendships.”

In 1885, Lyme held a major celebration on the common at which some 3000 present and former residents dined under a 325-foot-long tent. In 1897, Haverhill Academy had a grand reunion of alumni to celebrate the completion of the new Academy building.

It was not until 1899, however, that Frank Rollins, acting as governor, recommended that an “Old Home Week” be set aside. With the help of the Grange and the Agriculture Department, the proposal won wide acceptance and the last week in August, was set aside for the observance.

Sixty-five communities, including Piermont, formed Old Home Week Associations and invitations were sent out for the celebration. It was a marked success. Towns spruced up and decorated. Residents and visitors enjoyed parades, speeches, concerts, picnics, banquets, historic performances, and family reunions. Those who could not return because of distance, held observances by gathering in places as far away as California.

An editorial in The United Opinion praised the success of the New Hampshire program: “The idea was a novel one, but as carried out was a great success.” Pointing out that Vermont is famous for, “the men she gives to other states,” the editor encouraged the state to “profit from the example of its neighbor.” He concluded: “Think it over and next summer lets (sic) have a grand reunion of Vermonters.”

That very next year, the Vermont Legislature designated the week in August that included Bennington Battle Day as the state’s first Old Home Week. Governor William Stickney extended the state’s invitation promising: “To all her returning children we shall be glad to share hospitality and divide with them something of the strength of the hills.”

Communities across the state began, “amazing elaborate preparations.” Stone writes: “Vermonters are not given to sudden enthusiasms, so that the wide acceptance of the Old Home Week idea is the more notable, for the scheme was novel.” Forty-five towns including Bradford, Chelsea, and Peacham began early to plan programs. “Strafford started preparations late, but wound up with colors flying.”

Bradford’s Old Home Week was planned for August 11-17, 1901. Committees, including the community’s most prominent citizens, were formed to plan every aspect of the celebration. The Town appropriated $100 and private donations were solicited. One thousand invitations were sent out to former residents and descendants of former residents.

When the week arrived the town was gaily decorated with flags. The festivities began with two services of worship. On Tuesday, Captain Charles E. Clark, “Bradford’s most distinguished and noble son,” arrived to a welcoming crowd. That evening, the first annual meeting of the Bradford Academy Alumni Association was held at the Hotel Low. The week continued with banquets, historic sketches, entertainment, and speeches by residents and distinguished visitors.

As with other towns, these public events were, “…given second place to the private reunions, the renewal of acquaintances with friends and places, the revival of old ideas and affections and inspirations, the seeing again the homes of our youth with the eyes of maturity.”

The United Opinion concluded: “Bradford has, indeed, spent one of the happiest weeks in its history. Crowds of people from far and near have revisited the old home. Those who have returned for this Old Home Week must feel a sense of pride that the old town has neither retrograded nor stood still during the years which have elapsed since their residence here. Instead they return to a town that has kept up with the progress of the times.”

On July 1-2, 1902, an Old Home celebration was held in East Corinth to dedicate the Blake Memorial Library. Three children of Nathan and Susan Blake given the money to buy the land and build in library in memory of their parents. “Church services, picnics, dinners and hours of reminiscences” preceded the dedication ceremony. Long after the speeches were lost from memory, the story was told of the speaker, “who supplied the one moment of hysteria when his false teeth flew out from the grandstand in the middle of his eloquent discourse.”

In succeeding years, Old Home Weeks, or the more reduced Old Home Days, were held in towns throughout the area. In Pike and East Haverhill, they were sponsored by the Pike Manufacturing Company. In Bradford in 1909, the Fourth of July celebration seemed to be the event of the summer season. Over the years, the Old Home events were incorporated into the annual August Bradford Fair.

The chartering anniversary of area towns became a significant opportunity for celebrations. A century ago, towns across the two states observed their 150th anniversaries with historic pageants. Stone says that 1911 was, “called the pageant year…and marked the real beginning of the pageant as a feature in civic celebrations.” He writes that “the big three of 1911” were Bennington, Hartford and Thetford.

Thetford’s pageant was organized by William Chauncy Langdon, an educator from New York who advocated the use of pageants to promote civic awareness. He was drawn to the project by Thetford camp founders Luther Gulick and Professor and Mrs. Charles Farnsworth. He believed that: “The pageant is a drama in which the place is the hero and the development of the community is the plot.” He was an advocate of the New Country Life movement that called for the revitalization of America’s rural life. His role is the subject of a chapter in David Glassberg’s 1990 study of American historical pageantry.

Langdon worked with a local committee of year-round and summer residents. Duties, including that of assembling a large cast, were assigned to local community groups. Langdon secured a letter of endorsement from President Theodore Roosevelt. It read, in part, “I am much pleased to learn that the people of the town of Thetford are doing all they can to develop their resources under the direction of the University of Vermont and of the United States Department of Agriculture.”

The three-day pageant was held on the banks of the Connecticut River before large crowds. The cast of 500 residents and summer visitors, including youngsters from Camps Hanoum and Aloha, presented a series of symbolic episodes. Scenes described a nostalgic view of Thetford’s history, including its agricultural past, its role in the nation’s wars and the coming of the railroad. One scene predicted a better future for Thetford, including reversals of the previous century’s declines. .

Stone writes, “The best criticism of the whole event was made by one of the most honored citizens of the town. ‘I have lived in this town over seventy years, but this day makes it all worth while.’ ”

A more homegrown 150th celebration was held in Newbury in August 1912. The week was described by a front page article in the Groton Times. “The residents of Newbury have been preparing for this event and Sunday dawned upon that historic town dressed in gala attire, the homes open to cordially welcome the home-coming guests and strangers who came to join in the week’s festivities. Newbury people did themselves honor in this event.”

In addition to worship services, band concerts, and meals served in all sections of Newbury, the community celebrated with the dedication of five monuments. The one to General Jacob Bayley was unveiled on the Newbury village green before a crowd of 3500. A three-act play, “The Difference,” depicting a fictional account of the settlement of the town was presented at nearby Chadwick Hall. Special days celebrated Newbury Seminary and the area’s Civil War veterans. A Grand Reunion Day in West Newbury d

Haverhill held its 150th celebration in September 1912. The Soldiers’ Monument in North Haverhill was dedicated before a large crowd. A historic program was held at the Town Hall and the Village Hall served as a museum. In his remarks summarizing the history of the community, William Whitcher said: “Our heritage is a goodly one. May we transmit it not only unimpaired, but enriched to our children.” The day’s events concluded with a concert.

Orford held a 150th anniversary celebration in August 1915. It started with a parade along the common. Included in the parade was, “a hay-rack carrying about five elderly people” who had been there for the centennial observance in 1865. A banquet was served in a large tent and a ceremony was held in the Congregational Church.
drew a crowd of 600.

Old Home observances evolved after 1915. In some communities, they would only occur
on significant milestones, such as the 200th anniversaries of town chartering in the 1960’s, the bicentennial of the nation in 1976 and the anniversary of Vermont statehood in 1991.

Some towns adopted a different theme for a summer/fall celebration. Beginning in 1925, Fairlee residents worked with “summer people” to hold an annual Fairlee Day. Contests, parades, baseball games and camp activities were included. In 1926, the town used the occasion for the dedication of the Soldiers’ Monument on the Green. Fairlee Day has been held from time to time since.

On August 20, 1932, 400 people gathered in Piermont for the presentation of a “colorful historical pageant.” as part of a weekend of Old Home activities. At its conclusion, the organizing committee offered its thanks to the whole community, “for the success of this undertaking became a matter of great moment to all, and surely deserves to be long remembered in the annals of Piermont.”

Beginning in 1947, Orford used the Fourth of July as Old Home Day. Lyme had an Old Home Day Association from 1948 to 1958. About the same time, Groton began taking advantage of the influx of tourists in October to host Fall Foliage Day. Several towns moved their yearly celebration to Labor Day.

The Upper Valley is in the midst of another significant observance, the 250th anniversary of the Middle Grants. Events began this year and will continue through at least 2015, when Orford and Bradford celebrate the 250th anniversary of their settlements. Fairlee has already set a good example with its July 4th weekend celebration. Thetford will replicate the 1911 pageant on August 12-14 at Thetford Academy. Both towns have published updated histories.

Many of the successful observances mentioned above have common characteristics. They include wide community co-operating and planning, a respect for heritage mingled with a dose of nostalgia and a realistic view of current and future situations, an opportunity for fun-filled get-togethers, a celebration of family and friends and a hearty welcome for the returning visitor or stranger. Whether a local community is an old home or a new one to a town’s residents, these are attributes worth celebrating well beyond festive days.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Old Barn

MARTIN FARM--This barn is an example of a Vermont barn still serving its purpose.

Located on the farm of Larry and Sue Martin's dairy farm in Fairlee, it plays a major role in the childhood memories of my wife, Carolyn and her siblings, Charlotte, Larry. Gene and Cathy.

Yankee Barn--This early barn is owned by Trudy and Stanton Fadden and is located on Rogers Hill Road in Bradford. At some time in the past, it was moved to this site onto an existing stone foundation. It represents as style of barn architecture that became popular in the 1820's.

Bradford Historical Society)

Houghton's Folly--byuilt in 1878 in lower Orford, this elaborate barn was the centerpiece of the Pavilion Stock Farm. Said to have been the size of 18 good-sized barns, it was built for Boston merchant S. S. Houghton. First used for housing harness race horses, it was destroyed by fire in 1930. (Orford Historical Society)

IN THE ROUND--Located south of Wells River, this round barn was built in 1903 by Hammon Baldwin. The style featured a central silo and a covered high drive ramp and was designed to save labor. The barn is currently part of the Knox farms. (Michelle Sherburne)

GRAY OLD LADY--Moving toward its tipping point, this barn is located on Route 5 south of the Bradford-Fairlee line. While once a centerpiece of the Gray family farm, it now sits idle with nature taking its toll. In 2014 this barn was torn down. (Larry Coffin)


As published in the Journal-Opinion, June 22, 2011

“The barn is vernacular architecture. It is a reflection of the people and history of the region. Few of us can determine the age of a barn or its specific purpose at a glance, but we admire the classical proportions, the harvest design and sturdy construction, and the use of native materials. We can imagine how the building represented the aspirations and success of its first owner.”

This quote from Charles Leik’s Barns was sent to me by Jeannette Nordham of Bradford. Jeannette spearheaded a Bradford barn census a year ago for the Bradford Historical Society. She and her team documented the history of 50 barns that had been used for agriculture and built before 1958. Tony Brainerd photographed each of the structures. This census was conducted in connection with a state-wide program of the Vermont Department of Historic Preservation.

Last October, Nancy Boone of the DHP presented the history of Vermont barns to a large local audience. She had high praise for the work accomplished by the Bradford team. She included a few of Brainerd’s photographs in her standard presentation. On Wednesday, August 17, the Society will present a program on Bradford barns using the photographs and information collected for the census. This program will be held in the Bradford Academy auditorium and will be open to the general public.

This column deals with the development of area barns, tangible evidence of the evolution of agriculture in the area. It uses information from local histories, Field Guide to New England Barns and Farm Buildings by Thomas Visser and Boone’s presentation.

If the first structures built by settlers were houses, they were soon followed by barns. As in the European countries from which they came, barns were essential to subsistence farmers. They provided space for animals and equipment and for the processing and storage of crops. As with the first log cabins, log barns were rude structures. As quickly as framed homes were built, barns were framed as well.

Using local timber, many early barn builders used traditional English designs adapted to the harsher climate of northern New England. The so-called English barn, commonly 30’ x 40’, had a large door on the eaves side. The central area was a threshing floor with bays on either side.

Framing timbers were hewn from tree trunks with broad axes, sometimes smoothed with an adze and fastened in place with wooden pegs. For roofing, wooden shingles were used instead of thatch. Green framing sheathing was applied loosely, using hand-wrought nails. As the boards dried, cracks developed between them admitting light and ventilation. One 1855 observer wrote that barns often had, “cracks wide and numerous enough to thoroughly ventilate the barn, and keep it cool, especially in the winter.”

The following story about Aaron Mann’s barn building experience appears in Joel Mann’s 1865 “Centennial Celebration of Orford” speech. “Having occasion to board a new barn, and the boards being rather green, he tacked them on, as was customary, for shrinking before the final fastening, and retired to his bed, always sweet to the laboring man. During the night there arose, or rather descended one of those [Orford] mountain winds, and on viewing his barn in the morning, he found all the nails were driven ‘spang in to the head.’ ”

By the 1820’s, modifications in this traditional style appeared. Known as the Yankee barn, it had a similar internal design to earlier barns, but with the main door moved to the shorter gable end, allowing additional bays to be added as needed. Machine-made nails and timber sawed on circular saws replaced earlier materials allowing for tighter construction. Some windows, including small glass panes known as transom “lights” over the door, became common.

Farmers’ publications of the 1850’s advised against building too large or fancy a barn, noting that, “Few farmers can afford to erect a building equal to the one they can plan.” Encouraging farmers to retain the “common-place and meager” styles, J. H. Hammond warned in 1858: “Farmers should be put on their guard against laying out extravagant sums for the sake of making their barns ‘artistic’ and elegant structures….we have contended that decorations are useless on a dwelling-house: they are utterly senseless on a barn.”

These publications also included the debates over the wisdom of constructing a cellar. In 1857, a contributor to The New England Farmer wrote that: “A good cellar is as indispensable to a barn as to a house.” The cellar was used as extra space for the storage of crops, housing for animals and for the storage of manure, the benefits of which as fertilizer was being encouraged.

Barn size and architecture evolved with changes in agriculture in the two-state area. The introduction of sheep after 1810 resulted in barns with wide south-facing open shelters and a wool room. The decline of wheat as a major crop reduced the need for a threshing floor. The rise of the dairy industry required larger barns with stanchions. Raising horses required barns that could accommodate stalls. Farmers sometimes built hay barns in the outer pastures to store hay until it was needed. Many village homes also had barns to house carriages and horses and perhaps chickens and a family milk (milch) cow.

As barns were often the largest buildings around, they were sometimes pressed into other uses. In Bradford, one of the earliest schools was in a barn. In Thetford and Haverhill, newly formed congregations began by holding services in barns. In 1832, 500 mourners attended a funeral for three sisters in a large Piermont barn. Musters, town meetings, weddings, work bees and dances were held in barns. Later, the large exterior walls became billboards for products and events. Even later, barns became artist studios, theatres and apartment or business locations.

The hilly terrain of the area led to the building of bank barns. Similar in appearance to earlier barns, these structures were built in to the side of a hill to create a cellar. This style of barn often featured ventilators and cupolas, sometimes topped by weathervanes. Tighter building construction created the need to vent moisture from cattle and manure.

In some cases, a high drive ramp was built from the hillside to the upper floor, allowing hay to be easily transported for storage. Farmers used gravity for pitching hay from the loft and for shoveling manure through a hatch to the cellar below. This was especially important when there was a shortage of labor caused by the exodus of young men.

Just as new styles of construction were used, new labor-saving machines were constantly being introduced. Horse-powered fork lift raised hay to the lofts, later replaced by engine-powers methods. As the 19th century drew to a close, concrete began to replace fieldstone and planks for foundations and flooring. New building materials and techniques improved barn construction. Silos created feeding alternatives to hay and oats. Gable-front barns and ground level stable barns were built to accommodate larger herds. Milk houses were added to conform to changing health regulations.

Many barns in the styles mentioned above can still be seen around the area. There were also several built in dramatically different styles. The round or polygonal barn was not common although there were a few built in the area. Barns of this type were often up to four stories tall and were designed for maximum labor efficiency. Often a covered ramp led to the hayloft and cattle were stabled facing inward to a central silo. Two that survive include the one on the Knox farm south of Wells River and a 16-sided barn on the Schmidt farm on Route 10 in Piermont.

The most elaborate barn in the area was the centerpiece of the Pavilion Stock Farm, south of Orford village. A prime example of the more ornate structures, it was built in 1878 by S. S. Houghton of Boston. Built at a cost of $40,000, it was 240’ by 200’ with four floors topped by a clock tower, 150’ high. It had the capacity of 18 good-sized barns and could accommodate 200 horses. The building was destroyed by fire on July 26, 1930.

Of course, barns were the centerpiece of a myriad of smaller support buildings. This included a silo, corn crib, granary, smokehouse, root cellar, woodshed, spring house, privy, piggery and a sugar house. One unique feature that developed in our two-state area was the connected barn. This style of continuous architecture connected the barn to the main house with a series of support buildings. This offered a sheltered corridor when the dooryard was plagued with deep snow and sub-zero temperatures. The danger of fire spreading to engulf the connected structures has led to alterations disconnecting the house and barn.

Fire has always been a constant threat to barns. Spontaneous combustion caused by improperly cured hay or dust has destroyed many of them. In the 19th century, several area towns went through an outbreak of intentional barn burnings. Having one’s barn burn and crops and livestock destroyed strikes most heavily at a farmer’s spirit and well-being. If initial barn-raisings promotes neighborliness, so does the response to the loss of a barn by fire.

Fire is not the only danger to barns. The decline of farming has made many barns a liability. With the increasing cost of maintaining barns, they fall into disrepair to the point of collapse. Several of the oldest barns in Bradford have been removed, their boards and beams becoming building material for new buildings elsewhere.

Pauline Whittemore of Lyme is quoted in that town’s Patterns and Pieces about a barn that had reached a tipping point: “The barn was beginning to return to nature. A beam had parted in the corner and poles had been put up to hold it for just a little longer…an empty barn that is not in use loses a shingle here and there. With each fall of snow and with the freezing and thawing and the rushing waters of spring clawing at the foundation, the walls will settle and stress begin. The winter winds and summer storms rack and push an empty barn. With the help of time, they have their way and gradually take it back from whence it came many years ago.”

Jeannette Nordham and her husband Bob are owners of an 1840 English-style barn in Bradford. When asked about her interest in old barns, she said that it stems from childhood visits to her grandfather’s farm in Iowa. Together they provided me with the following: “Those barn owners who have maintained and/or restored their barns, are glad they did. Barns can still have useful purposes. They add to the beauty of the rural landscape and are a worthwhile investment!”

In her October presentation, Nancy Boone said that at the present rate of destruction, some towns will have no barns remaining. She encouraged other towns to follow Bradford’s example by conducting a barn census. Owners of barns should also be aware of state and private grants available to preserve their structures. Although they are small and highly competitive, these grants offer some funds for repairs and maintenance. Some New Hampshire towns, including Haverhill, have taken advantage of a state law allowing property tax advantages to owners of historic barns.

This spring it was announced that the number of dairy farms in Vermont had dropped below 1000. Farm diversification takes some of the sting out of that statistic. There is no doubt that a part of the tourist attraction for our area lies in its pastoral landscape resplendent with carefully tended farms. Because of their importance to both our cultural heritage and current economy, we need to tend to our area barns. Let’s not lock the barn door after its too late.