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Friday, August 30, 2013

Labor Days: Labor's Gains and Summer's Farewell

EAST CORINTH PARADE.  "Liberty" is the theme of this elaborate float, one of many that were included in the 1939 East Corinth Labor Day Parade.  The floats were constructed by small groups and represented areas of Corinth and surrounding towns.  It is thought that Lady Liberty might be 16-year old Eris Metcalf of Taplin Hill, now Eris Eastman of Bradford. (Eris Eastman) 




  
Journal Opinion August 28, 2013

The first Labor Day parade was held on Sept. 5, 1882 in New York City.  Thirty thousand workers
took an unpaid day off to march in support of labor unions and labor reform.  



Labor Day symbolizes the unofficial end of summer. With cooler, foggier mornings, shorter days and just a hint of colorful foliage, the change of seasons is forcast. After the long weekend, vacations conclude and schools reopen. But that was not the original meaning of the day. This article explains the origins of Labor Day and how it has been observed locally.

The information is drawn from online sources, local interviews and town histories, The United Opinion and its successor, The Journal Opinion.

Labor Day was first suggested in America in the 1880s to promote the goals of fledgling labor unions. One early labor leader described it as an honor to those “who from rude nature have delved and carved all the grandeur we behold.” At that time it was common for workers to work 60 to 70-hour each weeks with perhaps Sunday off. Vacations were non-existent and the only holidays were New Year’s Day, Independence Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas. Labor Day was a day off, independent of other celebrations, on which workers could “celebrate working by not.”

The first Labor Day parade was held on Tuesday, Sept. 5, 1882 in New York City. Thirty thousand workers took an unpaid day off and marched. One New York newspaper described the post-parade festivities as “speeches, a picnic, an abundance of cigars and Lager beer kegs.” Bradford’s newspaper, in an edition heavy with news of strikes around the nation, gave it a one-line description, reducing the number of marchers to 20,000. In 1884 the observance was moved to the first Monday in September where it has remained ever since.

 By 1894, Labor Day was a legal holiday in 31 states. New Hampshire was one of those, having adopted the legislation in 1889. In 1894, Congress passed legislation making Labor Day a federal holiday. President Grover Cleveland, pressured to heal the turmoil left by the bitter Pullman Strike, signed it into law. The benefit of this law did not extend beyond some federal workers.

Vermont did not adopt Labor Day legislation until 1898. The first observances were held the following year in Barre, Rutland and Burlington, all communities with stronger union sentiments. By the turn of the century there were major parades and demonstrations in cities across the nation, the day being an opportunity to advocate for labor reform.

 A review of The United Opinion between 1884 and 1920 shows little evidence of the Monday holiday being observed in reportable fashion. Perhaps the “grand rally” held by area Republicans in Cookeville on Labor Day in1896 took advantage of the holiday. The editorial column in September 1908 does mention it: “Labor Day, not the ordinary three hundred and sixty-five, but the one with a capital letter, ushered in this week with a holiday.”

 While school openings occurred on the first Tuesday of September and there were back-to-school advertisements for local businesses, no mention was made of Labor Day during the early years of the 20th century. It must have been customary for stores to close, however, because in 1921 there was just the smallest notice with no fanfare announcing that Bradford stores would be closed on Labor Day.

 Major celebrations on Labor Day were held during the period from 1920 to 1939, first in Newbury and then in East Corinth. On Sept. 6, 1920 the Newbury chapter of Modern Woodmen of America sponsored the first of a series of Labor Day celebrations in Newbury village. These celebrations featured a parade of floats, horribles, marchers and bands followed by band concerts, horse racing, a vaudeville show, baseball games, and an airplane flyover. The evening events included a carnival, open-air movies and dance. The Woodmen donated the proceeds to community causes including the fund to replace the hall adjacent to the high school, the old one having burned in 1924.

The Newbury column in The United Opinion described the success of each year’s event, even in years when it rained. It was written that at the 1924 celebration “thousands were present to witness and assist in making possible one of the most successful and in many respects the most enjoyable good times staged in years. It was reported that nearly 300 couples attended the evening dance and enjoyed the music of Klark’s Orchestra until 1 a.m. Several other town columnists mentioned the Newbury event. The Pike column contained the following: “Labor Day passed very quiet as many in the village went to Newbury.”

The last of these major Newbury celebrations was held in 1929 as the series became victim of the Woodmen chapter’s demise and competition from other area events. Those other events include Whoope Boxing bouts at an outdoor stadium sponsored by the Bradford Athletic Club, the St. Johnsbury fair and a midnight dance at Lake Morey. The United Opinion summed up that year’s holiday with an editorial stating that the day was a “tribute to all, including the housewife.”

 Between 1930 and 1938 East Corinth was the center of Labor Day activities. Director and community leader Harry Hunter sought to revive the fair that had been held there prior to 1907. The report of the first year’s event noted that despite some morning rain, the parade, horse pulling, foot races, ball game and rolling pin throwing contest all attracted large crowds. The writer concluded that “the well-known community spirit of the district was in full evidence.”

 Yearly the Opinion featured a major front-page article describing the East Corinth celebration. Over the years the crowds grew until, in 1938, there were 2,000 in attendance, many from other communities. In 1931 and 1938 the governor of Vermont was the special guest. Each year the East Corinth baseball team faced off against a town team from Bradford, Chelsea or East Barre or lacking that, between the single and married men of the community. Area bands played for the parade, concerts and an evening dance.

 Eris Eastman of Bradford recalls growing up on Taplin Hill and participating in the “huge” annual parade. She said that groups of families created floats, hiding them from prying eyes, “practically guarding it with shotguns.” Some floats reflected an historical theme whereas others were, according to the Opinion, “highly amusing…demonstrating that the Yankee sense of humor cannot be suppressed by any old depression.”

Another feature was the rolling pin throwing contest, with divisions for married and unmarried women. The reporter wrote, “Each lady was allowed four throws and her score computed by the number of hits on the effigy…if we were a burglar, we would rather face the man of the house with a gun in his hand than the missus with a rolling pin, after seeing what happened to the poor effigy.” A paper published by the Corinth Historical Society describes the demise of the East Corinth celebration.

 Following the death of Harry Hunter in Jan.1940, “An attempt was made to continue the celebration, but the enthusiasm was gone.” There were other events in the area, although none seem to be as ambitious as the one in East Corinth. The Women’s Club in Newbury held an annual chicken pie supper along with a small fair. There was an annual fair in Groton. The Dreamland Pavilion in Bradford held a Dawn Dance from midnight Sunday to 5 a.m. In the period after 1939 war news drove the reports of celebrations from the front page of the local newspaper

. In 1940 there was a Labor Day festival in Bradford, a State Championship Baseball game at Currier Park in Fairlee between the Fairlee team and Randolph and a dance at Lake Morey Casino. As in previous years, the newspaper reported the close of summer youth camps and the opening of area schools. During the years of World War II, Labor Day celebrations were dampened by the absence of so many men and the rationing of gas and tires. In 1944, the Dreamland Pavilion again held its Dawn Dance with George Bedell prompting.

Celebrations were reinvigorated in the post-war years. Bradford’s American Legion Post held a carnival on the old fairground in 1947. The next year, J. Arthur Peters and his students began the Connecticut Valley Fair. For the next few years it would be held on or around Labor Day weekend. In 1951, despite miserable weather, more than 5000 attended the fair held on Memorial Field. A ball game between the nearly undefeated East Corinth Little League with Harry McLam and Peter and Gene Pierson against the Bradford team attracted a crowd. For several years, beginning in 1947, Fairlee’s Recreation Council sponsored a Labor Day Festival. It centered at the Casino and featured round and square dancing. It featured Don Durlacher, a “national leader in the square dance world.” The East Corinth Fairgrounds hosted jalopy races, a predecessor of later, more elaborate, auto racing. In the years that followed, Labor Day observances fell into a predictable pattern

. As with the events described above there was little emphasis on the efforts of labor unions, although the eight-hour day and 40-hour work week reforms encouraged celebrations over three-day weekends. In 1953 a Bradford National Bank advertisement praised the efforts of both labor and management: “giving more cause to celebrate as each Labor Day appears.”

 One could expect Labor Day to feature dawn dances, community chicken barbecues, band concerts, auctions, yard sales and family gatherings. Summer vacationers began their “annual exodus” and seasonal businesses closed. Other businesses, having observed a summer break, opened for the new season. More and more, it became summer’s last gasp. An editorial in this newspaper in 1998 noted that many experienced “end of summer blues.”

 In the years before I-91 opened, holiday traffic fatalities and numerous arrests for speeding were reported along with heavy traffic on area highways. Drivers were encouraged to turn on their headlights and lower their speed for safety.

 There are three area events that will highlight this year’s Labor Day weekend. All three have been held annually for over 35 years. The Thetford Volunteer Fire Department Labor Day Chicken Barbecue was first held in 1960 to raise money for the department. Over the years, a parade, flea market and educational displays have been added to the annual event held at the Post Mills fire station on Route 244. This year’s Labor Day parade will begin at 11:30 a.m. and lines will immediately form for the barbecued chicken and homemade pies.

Bradford’s Bear Ridge Speedway will hold its annual Labor Day Classic, an event that has been held every year since the track opened in 1968. Held this year on Aug. 31, the Classic will feature six classes including the Sprint Cars of New England Fast Four Madness. The speedway draws a weekly crowd of over 900 spectators and participants and this year’s holiday event will, according to owner Butch Elms, be the same.

The Men’s and Co-ed Slow-pitch Softball Tournament will be held at Mills Memorial Field in South Ryegate, Aug. 30 to Sept. 2. This Labor Day classic, according to director David Eastman, began in the late 1970s and draws “a heck of a lot of people,” both as spectators and participants. This year he expects over 50 teams playing on four fields over the four-day tournament.

 Time off from labor is more frequent today. It is no longer common for most workers to endure backbreaking working hours and conditions. Many of those reforms are the result of the efforts of the organizations that first promoted Labor Day in the 1880s. As labor unions have not been common in the area, it is not surprising that the holiday lacks a reformer’s tone. Residents of the Upper Valley, along with other New Englanders, have a tradition of and respect for hard work. It is from those characteristic that Labor Day takes its meaning.

 Those enjoying a barbecue, a ball game or some other late summer outing might reflect on the extended weekend. Perhaps, in reading this article, they might think for a moment about the following editorial in The United Opinion prior to Labor Day 1926. “No emotion is more essential to the individual engaged in any line of endeavor than that of pride.Labor Day is labor’s ‘pride day.’ Then the toiler rests for the moment, and has the leisure to give himself to contemplation, to inward appreciation of the highly important place he and his fellows occupy in the world’s affairs.The victories of labor have changed the whole structure of the world’s social system. They deserve a special day for remembering.”

Monday, August 5, 2013

Bayley-Hazen Road: Path to the Wilderness

Journal-Opinion July 31, 2013 On July 6, as part of the 250th celebration in Wells River, a ceremony was held at the Welcome Center rededicating a monument to the Bayley-Hazen Military Road. The monument had been placed north of the village in 1912 during the 150th anniversary of the chartering of Newbury. It marked the assumed spot where northern Vermont’s premier wilderness road began. Changes in the highway at that location had made the monument less obvious and the decision was reached to move it to a more central spot at the Welcome Center. When the monument was erected in 1912, the town of Newbury decided to honor Jacob Bayley as well. Both Bayley and Moses Hazen were involved in the road’s construction. The following article is adapted from remarks that I made at the rededication ceremony. My sources include the writings of Frederick W. Baldwin and Marcus McCorison as well as local history books. Around 1770, Col. Jacob Bayley of Newbury wrote “The whole country is rapidly filling up with a very desirable class of settlers and what was ten years since, a howling wilderness is now fast becoming fruitful farms.” Despite this description, this area, known as the Coos, was still on the edge of the frontier. The early military conflicts of the American Revolution were centered in southern New England. Therefore some believed that the Connecticut River Valley was a likely invasion route for British forces and their allies from Canada. What loaded weapons the residents possessed were never far away. Stockades were built and area men patrolled to the north watching for attackers. With many men leaving to join the revolutionary army, the area felt increasingly vulnerable. The fall of Fort Ticonderoga to the British in 1777, “caused great consternation” in surrounding communities. Col. Israel Morey of Orford summed up that fear in a July, 1777 letter: “Our Frontier Towns are really in a dangerous and critical situation. We are entirely laid open to the sudden attack…” At that time, the Americans were involved in an ill-fated campaign to capture Canada. Additional supplies and reinforcements were needed to assist in their siege of Quebec. Bayley repeatedly wrote to Gen. George Washington promoting the idea of a road from Newbury to Fort St. John’s on the Richelieu. Bayley believed the safety of New England lay in the conquest of Canada and, until that was done, the Coos was not safe. He sent Washington a report of a possible 92-mile route blazed by a party led by Col. Thomas Johnson in March 1776. That party included Joseph Susap, known locally as Indian Joe, as well as other Abenaki familiar with the region. The route was about 73 miles and 10 marching days shorter than the established Crown Point Military Road from Fort Number 4 in Charlestown, NH to St. John’s via Lake Champlain. Washington wrote to Bayley in late April instructing him to “set about the Road you propose as soon as possible.” He gave Bayley assurances that he would be reimbursed for the expenses. Bayley immediately began construction at Wells River following a route laid out by James Whitelaw of Ryegate He employed between 60 and 110 men, paying them the equivalent of $10 per month along with board and a half pint of rum every day for 45 days. The road was constructed to allow for the passage of wagons and its course kept to the highlands as much a possible. The men cut trees, created corduroy roads through swamps and bridges across streams. Other trees along the roadside were girdled, and left to die so as to let in the sun and dry the ground. By mid-June the road was constructed to a point six miles above Peacham. Washington then wrote to Bayley saying that as American troops were retreating from Quebec continued work on the road would be “inexpedient” as it would “provide an easy pass for the enemy to invade.” Bayley stopped work on the road immediately. Other than the 250 pounds sent to him to start the work, the Continental Congress never repaid Bayley for his additional expenses of over 700 pounds for the summer’s work. In the summer of 1778 another Canadian campaign was proposed and the route was again surveyed. In April 1779 Col. Moses Hazen, brother of Haverhill’s John Hazen, received orders to complete the road to St. John’s. Starting at the road head in Peacham in June, Hazen’s Continental regiment continued the road in a northwesterly direction, ever concerned about possible ambush. To aid in their defense, they constructed blockhouses on Cabot Plain, Walden and near Caspian Lake in Greensboro. These were 20 foot by 40 foot log structures with port holes. A stockade of upright logs and a cleared space beyond added to the defense. In Albany and Lowell, the 90 or so men built up the steeper slopes by laying logs against trees and filled them with dirt and timber. In late summer Hazen called a halt to the work at what became known as Hazen’s Notch northwest of Lowell, 40 miles short of St. Johns. While waiting in what he called his “Camp at the end of the Road” he asked for a resupply of provision to include 2600 pounds of “flower” and about 3000 pounds of fresh beef, adding he wanted no more “stinking beef.” He then abandoned the road, except for the blockhouse 12 miles above Peacham. Why did he stop? On August 24, Hazen wrote to Col Timothy Bedel of Haverhill about the fear of attack. He had received word of a force dispatched from St. Johns to capture his workers. It has also been suggested that there was never an actual second invasion of Canada planned. Perhaps the proposed continuation of the road was part of a ruse to discourage a British attack from Canada against New York. Perhaps the residents of the Coos felt extra vulnerability to attack along a completed road as Continental troops were withdrawn from the area. Their uncertainty was enhanced as the future of the Republic of Vermont was being debated in Congress, with New York and New Hampshire both pressing their claims to the territory. For whatever reason, Bayley’s and Hazen’s work appeared to be a wasted effort, for other than patrols, there was no military use to it. Also, it was a continual aggravation to the residents of the area as it opened them to frequent alarms. It appears that the British and their allies used it more than the Americans. While a major invasion never took place, the fears never really went away. In October 1780 there was a “Great Alarm” as 300 natives and Tories made plans to attack Newbury in retaliation for the death of a British general. Wells’s Newbury history states “Terror magnified the invading force into an army.” Being warned that Newbury was anticipating an attack, the force veered west and attacked Royalton and Tunbridge instead. While the war subsided elsewhere after 1781, this area was a tempting target and experienced a succession of alarms over the final two years of the war. Enemy actions kept the nerves of the residents on edge. Between 1780 and 1782, raiding parties came to the area to destroy property and harass, capture or kill local residents, especially local leaders like Bayley and Col. Thomas Johnson. Although less than an advantage during the war, this road through the northern wilderness proved useful afterwards for it permitted increased access to the interior of northern Vermont and helped to speed its settlement. Its route was through the present towns of Ryegate, Barnet, Peacham, Danville, Cabot, Walden, Hardwick, Greensboro, Craftsbury, Albany and Lowell to the notch in Westfield. Of course those are current names that replaced place names such as Lutterlock (Albany), Deweysburg (Danville/Peacham), Kelleyvale (Lowell), Mindon (Craftsbury) and Steven’s Village (East Hardwick). Often the first settlements north of Peacham were made on what became known as the Hazen Road with even the blockhouses used. The first settler of Walden lived in that blockhouse, the first child was born there and it served as the first school and first place of worship. In Greensboro, the first settlers made the blockhouse their home in 1789. The experience of the first family in Cabot, as related by the local historical society, tells us of the migrants’ determination to settle this newly accessible territory. In 1782, Benjamin Webster of Salisbury, NH, made his pitch on the Cabot Plain on the Hazen Road, cleared the forest and built a log cabin. The following spring he moved his family. He drove a cow through up to 4 feet of snow. His wife, Judith Webster, on snowshoes and with the help of a hired man, drew their goods in a hand-sled on which was a washtub containing their 2-year old daughter Hannah. Once his family was settled, Benjamin walked the 24 miles back to Newbury for provisions. While he was away Judith tapped trees and made 40 pounds of sugar. It was said that “she could chop as well as a man” and helped to clear their farm. Family after family moved to the area, funneled by the Hazen Road. Taverns, stores, homes, farms and villages grew up along the road. At one time, Ryegate had seven inns along it. Roads were constructed from it to other parts of towns and between towns. The Hinman Settler Road was built in the early 1790s, linking the road in Greensboro with Canada. By the early 1800s,the Hazen Road was a main stagecoach road. In 1805, the Vermont Legislature included the road in an incorporated company entitled the “The Boston & Montreal Turnpike Company. Towns were expected to keep up the road. In 1821, the section from Wells River to Ryegate was declared to be part of a market road to Canada, thereby making it eligible to receive state funds for half the cost of alterations and improvements. Between 1824 and 1841 the route of the highway was altered, with portions abandoned. Today, significant portions of this historic road go through meadows and forest land. The remaining portions still can be travelled on town roads and state highways. Over the years, monuments have been placed along it to remind passersby of its route and significance. In 1976 a group hiked the original route of the Bayley-Hazen Road. People could join or leave this trip at any point, with only five individuals completing the entire route. Among those five were Gilbert McClintock and Edward and Helen Vervoort, all residents of Newbury. I walked with the group during the first day, starting from the monument in Wells River. We went up over the hill, along roadways and through the woods. What I remember most vividly about that day’s hike was an ancient maple tree located on an abandoned section of the road near the Newbury-Ryegate line. Its gigantic size suggested that it was a survivor of the virgin forests through which the road had been constructed. The hikers joined hands around its ancient and gnarled trunk and speculated on what it might had “seen” over its long life on the shoulder of the now abandoned road. Passing it had been surveyors, road builders, attackers and defenders, settlers with hand sleds, wagon pull by teams of oxen and horse-drawn stagecoaches. It was as majestic a monument to the history of that road as any erected by man. The local historian Frederick Wells wrote an address for the dedication of the marker in 1912. He called the old military road “an historic treasure.” He closed his address with the following: “Therefore, the citizens of Newbury do well to mark the spot where this ancient road begins. They also do well in asking that its name henceforth include that of it projector, the founder of the town. Let this memorial of bronze and granite remain here to speak to coming generations and tell the story of the Bayley-Hazen Road.” In its new location that monument will continue to speak, but more prominently and to a larger audience. On July 8, Carolyn and I drove the roads that still follow the route of the Bayley-Hazen Road. We stopped to see monuments along the way, including the one on Hardwick Street. All along the route were buildings that must have been constructed during the road’s heyday. We marveled at how straight some of the sections were and what a challenge the slopes must have presented. We made it to Hazen’s Notch and found the stone marking it terminus.