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Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Decades of Change: 1980-84

BRADFORD-PIERMONT INSTITUTION: Remembrance "Mem" Martin was the local police chief in Piermont for 34 years which overlapped with 16 years in the same office for the Village of Bradford.  When he died inJune 1981 the Journal Opinion editorial described him as being in the Vermont tradition of "hard work, service to others, along with stubborn pride." 

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NEW LIFE FOR OLD MILL:In August 1883, "amidst much hoopla, lots of praise," the newly renovated 1847 Bradford Mill
opened as a business and cultural center. Over 1,500 attended to view the work masterminded by Ray and Tina Clark. 
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OLD BRICK STORE, FAIRLEE TO LYME: On October 10, 1982 Fairlee's Hearthside Candle and Gift Shop burned. The building was built in the federal sytle in 1846 and was the oldest commercial building on Main Street. Upstairs was the author's first home in 1942 as his parents Ray and Lillian Coffin operated a garage in the building. It was later rebuilt in Bayne Stevenson's 13 Dartmouth College Highway development in Lyme where it is now an apartment building.

Journal Opinion, November 27, 2013

“What I know from my studies and from my life is that there is no such thing as a true event. We know dates and times and locations and participants but accounts of what happened depend upon the perspective from which the event is viewed.”
Ordinary Grace
William Kent Krueger

As I reread the 1980-1984 editions of the Journal Opinion I was also reading the novel mentioned above. Krueger’s closing comment on the events depicted in his story was a reminder that the article you see before you is largely colored by the perspectives of both the newspaper and this writer. There were events and trends that one or both skipped that others would have highlighted.

The Journal Opinion during this period frequently reported on property lost to fire. Some were businesses including the Copeland Factory and Our Place Restaurant in Bradford, the Hearthside Candle and Gift Shop in Fairlee and several country stores. The Woodsville-Bath covered bridge and Union 36 Elementary School were targets of arson. Bradford’s Low mansion and Corliss Tavern, both historic structures, were destroyed.

There were numerous home and barn fires. Often livestock was lost. Remarkably there was no loss of life either among residents or firefighters. Those impacted knew the feelings of loss that are experienced by losing one’s possessions.

Local volunteer firefighters often fought fires in the face of water shortages, dangerous conditions, remote locations and extreme temperatures. They held regular training sessions and sought support from voters for new equipment. New firehouses were built in Ryegate Corner and West Topsham.

The area was impacted by the national recession of the early 1980s. In 1982 unemployment nationally was 10.8%, with Vermont and New Hampshire unemployment rates at 6.6% and 7.6% repectively. At the same time there were periods of record inflation with 18% increases. Higher food prices meant that it took $87 a week to feed a family of four. By 1984 the economy had recovered and the two states were reporting some of the lowest unemployment in the nation.

Higher energy costs added to residents’ concerns. The newspaper reported in 1980: “Virtually every gas station has priced their gas over one dollar a gallon.” Home heating oil prices and electrical rates went up and people were encouraged to turn their thermostats down. Car pooling was encouraged and the new Stagecoach service offered local public transportation.

Several hydroelectric projects were created to offer some replacement for electricity from fossil fuel plants. Central Vermont Public Service rebuilt the Bradford dam and new dams were built on the Passumpsic River in East Barnet and on Eastman Brook in Piermont. There were proposals to replace older dams at Boltonville and on Dodge Falls between Bath and Ryegate.

The impact of these changing economic conditions was mixed. In 1980 Real Homes discontinued its planned Lake Tarleton development. Subdivisions in Newbury, Woodsville and Fairlee were shelved for economic or environmental reasons. For a time Lyme placed on hold plans to expand Bayne Stevenson’s complex at 13 Dartmouth College Highway.

Huntington Construction had mixed success in developments in Bradford and Thetford. Mountain Lakes residents purchased their defunct ski area and Haverhill sold 30 lots in that development in a major tax sale. One development that came to a sudden halt was one planned for Bradford’s Hackett Hill when its developer was arrested for dealing drugs and using the money to purchase the property.

A number of new businesses opened but subsequently closed or moved. They included the Agway Plant, Bankware, Crossroad Pharmacy and Maska in Bradford and Haverhill’s Burndy Manufacturing. Valley Floors and Shur-Auto Parts also opened and remained. The renovated Opera Block in Woodsville offered new senior housing and the Grist Mill in Bradford became a business and cultural center.

There was concern over police protection as crime rates increased. Lyme hired its first full-time police chief, Orford’s police chief battled citizen concerns over performance and Bradford tried to figure out its police security. In April 1981 the Village’s long-time chief “Mem” Martin was fired. Makeshift attempts to fill the position resulted in security officers with little training and reliance on the Vermont State Police Eastside Cluster. There was a prolonged fear that a fully-manned Bradford police department would cause costs to escalate as they had in Haverhill.

Controversies kept some residents on edge for much of the period. Military maneuvers held locally in 1983 brought protests by antiwar activists. Warren had a “missile crisis” when it was suggested that its Redstone rocket be moved to Derry, NH. The use of animal traps caused concerns for animal rights activists. Legislative efforts to raise the drinking age, adopt the Equal Rights Amendment, raise taxes and reform the state’s blue laws all brought strong local reactions.

Two issues raised at local town meetings attracted national attention. In 1982 many towns in Vermont and New Hampshire voted for a nuclear weapon freeze. Piermont, Orford, Lyme, Fairlee, Ryegate and Bradford were among them. At the Bradford Town Meeting, the majority voted favorably when highly-respected resident Jim Perry advanced the motion with the comment “I’m not sure it will do any good, but it certainly couldn’t hurt.” The next year towns along I-91 discussed articles calling for a halt to “secret” shipments of nuclear waste from Canada through the local area. CBS News covered the discussion at the Thetford town meeting.

There were other environmental concerns. As in the previous decade, wastewater treatment and solid waste disposal continued to be issues for local communities. Local Vermont towns sought to find a permanent landfill option. A proposed landfill near West Bradford was denied, a landfill in Thetford was thought to be polluting local drinking water and in Newbury two landfills operated. Volunteers in Bradford opened a bottle redemption center and wind and solar power were being explored.

South Ryegate, Wells River and Woodsville all developed wastewater projects during this time. Fairlee, Piermont village and Haverhill Corner worried about water pollution. Open burning at dumps in Orford, Warren and Piermont continued to raise concerns. In 1983, the state ordered these dumps closed and then issued a reprieve.

Schools continued to be of high interest and controversy. Increased student population, higher school costs and teacher contracts issues were constant topics for discussion and debate. A proposal to enlarge Bradford Elementary School brought initial rejection. Thetford and Orford voters continued to debate about where to send their high school students. In the end, Thetford Academy retained its town’s designation and Orford High School remained open.

Posters depicting Soviet Communist leaders in one Oxbow classroom caused a short-lived tempest that was noted in an edition of Playboy magazine. Legal suits by Oxbow and Blue Mountain against the manufacturer of their faulty roofing material were finally settled with both schools getting large damage payments. Discipline policies and the use of drugs, alcohol and tobacco concerned school personnel, parents and students.

Countering these school controversies were articles about the great things happening in area schools. Many classrooms were alive with innovative programs and special projects. Computers, initially labeled as “a plaything,” began to find a place as teaching and administrative tools. Local schools produced challenging science fairs and theatrical productions. Athletic teams won division and state championships with regularity.

Adult organizations also took an active role in community affairs. Lions Clubs, Jaycees, PTOs, Grange, Masonic, church and veteran organizations joined merchant groups to improve life in their respective towns. Their fund-raising ideas were as normal as chicken pie suppers and as unique as bath-tub races.

Bradford’s Midnight Madness was mimicked in the Wells River-Woodsville 11th Hour Sale. Groton’s Foliage Festival, Fairlee’s Lobster Dinners and Bradford’s Wild Game Supper as well as the Connecticut Valley and Haverhill Fairs were held annually. Bear Ridge auto racing and slo-pitch softball games continued to attract the attention of loyal fans and participants.

In addition to the fires mentioned above, the local area suffered some of the most disastrous floods in a decade. In these and other situations, communities responded generously to the plight of their neighbors. In 1982 a local man needed a heart transplant and the area residents raised $49,000 so that he could have the successful operation. In 1984 a 10-year old Fairlee child needed blood platelets to combat her leukemia and dozens of local residents went to Boston to provide them. Her battle was ultimately unsuccessful. Annually Operation Santa Claus transformed the local generosity into Christmas gifts for needy children. Regular blood drives met ambitious goals as did other service efforts.

Each year death by accidents, crime and disease robbed local communities of residents. Auto accidents were common. AIDS made national headlines during the period and took the life of at least one local resident. Many residents died of old age.

At the risk of ignoring many who experienced a life well lived, I mention just three local elders who died during this period. They exemplify the idea that the spirit of a small town is often personified by its long-time residents. Their concerns often determine the town’s priorities and their efforts are the town’s achievement.

One was Lucy Bugbee of Bradford, known as the “fern and flower” lady. She was a dedicated environmentalist before most knew what that meant. The second was W. Putnam Blodgett also of Bradford, a dedicated public servant who, with his wife Charlotte, amassed a large collection of historic items. The Blodgetts’ collection forms a major part of the Billings Farm and Museum in Woodstock, VT.

The third was Charles Pike of Fairlee, that town’s last living WW I veteran. Charles and his wife Mamie lived on a farm opposite the Fairlee Diner. He was a hoarder, the caretaker of the neighboring tramp house, a storyteller and one who could claim that he had bested Carlton Gray in a cattle deal. As I child often went to the Pike home. I thought of them as being very old, but now realized they were younger then than I am now.

Town government and elections continued to make news. While most discussion reflected “good sense and civilized conduct” there was just enough rebellion, especially over budgets, to remind local officials of voters’ concerns. Town planning and zoning seemed to have lost some of the edge that had characterized their role during the 70s. History was made when Democrat Madeline Kunin was elected governor of Vermont in 1984.

Another topic that had less news coverage was farming. Those farms still in operation struggled with the creation of new marketing strategies and a surplus of milk. While Future Farmers of America and 4-H clubs continued to be popular, the number of young people going into farming declined. Some farms were doing very well and there were news reports of outstanding production and model farming. In 1983 Dustin White of Corinth was named Vermont Dairyman of the Year. He, along with his wife Jane, had turned a rundown hill farm into a model one.

There are a number of items that do not fit into any of the above categories. They include the introduction of Cable and satellite TV, Channel 31, ATMs, Cabbage Patch Kids, PAC-Man, Rubik Cubes and PCs. A Laotian refugee family came to Bradford and stayed for a while. So did the measles. Country Singer Doc Williams and Chubby Checker came to the area for an evening. Robin Williams and a cast of Hollywood personalities arrived during the winter of 1982 to produce a movie, but left when essential snow came “too little, too late.”

All of the topics mentioned above and many more were covered by this newspaper. In 1984 a letter to the editor reproached it for not covering school and community events. The Editor’s response: “Are you sure you are reading the Journal Opinion?” This article is a mere hint at the local news so adequately covered.

In 1980, as the decade was at its opening, the editor of the newspaper suggested with foresight that “the decade of the eighties reminds us that things are no longer the same as they used to be.” Now we can look back at the 80’s with even sharper hindsight to know that he was so right. As we look back at the hopes, dreams, accomplishments and disappointments of this period, we might ask the question posed by the Old Testament prophet: “How does it look to you now?”

Friday, November 1, 2013

Carved in Stone

Journal Opinion October 30, 2013 “Beneath those rugged elms, that yew-tree’s shade, Where heaves the turf in many a moldering heap. Each in his narrow cell for ever laid, The rude forefathers of the hamlet sleep.” Thomas Gray, 1751 Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard

Death was a constant companion among the first settlers of our region. Soon after settlement they created a community cemetery in which to bury family members. With Halloween this week, stories of vampires, zombies witches and ghosts are rampant and superstitions about graveyards plague many. It would be easy to link all of these in this month’s column. But I resist the temptation. Rather, this column examines the development of cemeteries in local communities and the monuments that mark the graves.

The information comes from local town histories, Burial Grounds of Vermont edited by Bradford’s Arthur and Frances Hyde and a recent presentation in Warren by cemetery historian Glenn Knoblock. I also used Stone & Bones: Using Tombstones as Textbooks, an 86-page curriculum that I help three other Vermont teachers create and distribute to classrooms around the state and beyond.

Soon after settlement, towns had to deal with the burial of the dead. The oldest marked burial in Bradford’s Upper Plain Cemetery was of young Andrew McFarland who drowned in the Waits River in 1770. A portion of the East Common granted to Orford in 1773 by Israel Morey was for a burying ground. The Old Burying Ground, now the Ladd Street Cemetery in Haverhill was set aside in 1774. Zelpha Abbot was Groton’s first death and in 1784 she was buried at her home place, the beginnings of the Groton-Peacham burial grounds. Every community in our area has at least five known cemeteries. Thetford and Topsham have 13 each, Newbury 12, Groton 10, Piermont 8 and Bradford has five. Each neighborhood selected a location nearby, often in an elevated and well-drained location. William Little in his 1870 history of Warren, reflected on the desirability of local burial: “In the country, every man, woman and child, goes down to the dust amid those who have known them from their youth, and all miss them from their place.”

Some graveyards, like the Union Village Cemetery, Corinth’s Meadow Meeting House Cemetery and the East Orange Cemetery are located adjacent to a churchyard. Orford’s Dame Hill cemetery was so located, except that the church was relocated downhill in Orfordville. Lyme’s oldest cemetery has always been near the town’s meetinghouse, even as the original building was rebuilt at an adjacent location on the Common. Topsham’s Currier Hill cemetery, the town’s oldest, was located in the area of the town that was first settled. Ryegate’s Old Scotch Cemetery was located east of the original Commons. As these neighborhoods did not grow as expected, the number of graves located there are few or have been moved to more established cemeteries.

The opposite was true in Wells River where, as the village grew, the Grove Street Cemetery, first used in 1801, was replaced in 1867 by a new cemetery on nearby Bible Hill. In 1890 the bodily remains in the old village cemetery were moved to that new location. As the years passed and the number of graves increased, many primary cemeteries were enlarged. As town population levels changed it was not uncommon for there to be more dead than alive in a community. It was said of some towns that “the only thing growing was the cemetery.” As early as 1875, Bradford historian Silas McKeen noted that there were 1666 graves in the Upper Plain Cemetery, one of four in the town with a population of 1500. In neighborhoods that became deserted during the period after the Civil War, abandoned burial grounds may be the only sign that the area was once an active settlement.

Most of the earliest cemeteries were town owned. Some cemeteries are maintained by private associations. In Newbury, the cemeteries at Jefferson Hill, Boltonville, Wells River and the Oxbow are cared for by local associations. Bradford'sSawyer Cemetery is operated by the Bradford Cemetery Association and the town. There was also a 19th century tradition of farm or family burial spots, many now abandoned. Through the mid-19th century, these small cemeteries kept deceased family members close to the home place. Examples include the Whiting family plot in Fairlee with its three fieldstone markers, Thetford’s Mills Family Cemetery with five graves surrounded by a wall of granite blocks and the Manchester family’s three graves enclosed by a stone wall in Ryegate. In recent years there have been several Vermont court cases arising from these small burial plots as land ownership changes.

Many of the earliest gravestones in the area were carved by local artisans. Two of the earliest sources have been identified by the symbols the carvers consistently used. In 1771, established Connecticut carver Gershom Bartlett moved to Norwich and over the next 28 years produced hundreds of gravestones still found in area cemeteries. From 1786 to 1835, three generations of the Risley family of Hanover produced local stones, some of which still mark local graves. The materials used by these early craftsmen include field stone, slate and soapstone. Orford had two quarries of soapstone, the largest of which was at Cottonstone Mountain, also known locally as Gravestone Mountain.

In the 19th century, power tools replaced hammer and chisels with stones being manufactured in larger stone sheds often manned by immigrant workers. Ryegate, and to a lesser extent Groton, quarried and manufactured granite monuments during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Vermont is one of the largest domestic sources of slate, granite and marble, the three most common stones used for grave markers. The first marble quarry in the United States opened in Dorset, VT in 1785, the beginning of a major Vermont industry. Barre’s granite industry began in the 1820s and grew into one of the nation’s largest providers of monuments. From 1874 to 1914 a company in Connecticut manufactured zinc metal monuments that could be ordered through catalogues. One such monument can be found in the Upper Plain Cemetery in Bradford.

While the earliest grave markers were on boulders of common fieldstone, these quickly gave way to the doorway-shaped headstone, thinly cut and simple in design, suggesting the passage from this life to the next. In the 19th century pedestals, obelisks and even pyramid-shaped monuments began to appear. In cemeteries throughout the area the graves of prominent individuals and families are marked with obelisks, their size overshadowing adjacent stones. The gravesite of Nathaniel Niles in the West Fairlee Center cemetery has a pyramid adjacent to his 1828 marker. After 1900 markers were sometimes fashioned in designs ranging from angels to trees. The Hope Cemetery in Barre and the Pinehurst Cemetery in South Ryegate have very ornate memorials, often fashioned by the families of the stone crafters who worked in the local industry. Some gravesites have footstones as well as headstones and a family marker. In addition to the more common family plot cornerstones, some earlier plots were set off with stone curbing or metal fences. What was carved on grave stones changed over time.

In early New England symbols reflected almost exclusively religious attitudes toward life and death. The death’s head symbol was common. A familiar epitaph was “Death is a debt to Nature due. Which I have paid and so must you.” With the Great Awakening in the mid-18th century attitudes changed from mortality to immortality and salvation. This was reflected in the use of birds, angels and soul images as symbols of the belief in the resurrection. By the early 19th century imagery became more ornate reflecting the attitudes of the Enlightenment. Weeping willows and urns were more commonly used and epitaphs reflected beliefs in eternal peace and reunions in heaven, written to soothe the bereaved. Some appeared to defy death altogether. Inscriptions reflected the individual’s biographical information, personal characteristics, accomplishments, relationship to others buried nearby and circumstances of their death. In the late 19th century the use of epitaphs declined but carved images continued. Modern techniques now allow a headstone to be inscribed with complex etchings and even color.

In the earliest graveyards, gravesites were often in haphazard rows. After 1800 cemeteries became more organized with orderly grave location, roads, plantings and the addition of vaults for the placement of bodies awaiting spring burial. The Sawyer Chapel in the Upper Plain Cemetery was built in 1912 as both a vault and a building in which funeral services could be held. In some cases cemeteries took on the look of parks.

Even before it was required by state law, most cemeteries were surrounded by fences, some with stonewalls and others with a board fence, often with granite posts. The small Munn-Rowell cemetery in South Corinth has a unique slatted steel fence with granite posts. The fence around Orford’s West Burying Ground was first constructed in 1811 and after some years fell into disrepair. Despite the comment of one earlier caretaker that there was no reason to repair it, as “the people in there can’t get out,” that fence is now fine. Some graves are unmarked. This may be because they were never marked or because the markers have disappeared. Weathering and acid rain have made many markings illegible.

Some gravesites are cenotaphs or “empty tombs.” During the Civil War, with embalming in its infancy, many of the battle dead were not returned home but markers were sometimes erected in memory of the departed. The grave of Mary Sumner Hoyt in the Upper Plain Cemetery is marked, but with a question. The only information on the stone other than her name is “She lived, what more can be said? She died and that’s all we know, she’s dead.” Those who died on town poor farms were buried at town expense often with the smallest of markers. One exception to this can be found in a Corinth cemetery where, according to an 1880 newspaper report, “a handsome marble slab has been placed by the Selectmen at the head of an aged woman who died this spring in the town poor house.” This apparently was in recognition of her “industrious and prudent” nature.

Since 1868 many indigents who died at the Grafton County Home in North Haverhill have been buried in a paupers’ cemetery adjacent to the Horse Meadow Cemetery. Each grave is marked by a simple stone with the name, age, date of death and the Grafton County town from which the deceased came. At one point, even this information was omitted in favor of a simple number corresponding to records kept by the County Clerk.

The graves of veterans receive special attention. Their graves are marked annually with flags often placed in holders representing membership in veterans’ organizations. When leading groups on tours of the Upper Plain Cemetery I draw their attention to the marker for Bradford’s Charles Smith who died of his battle wounds in 1864. The stone that marks his cenotaph bears an epitaph that reflects his attitude toward life and the cause for which he died. “God is with the right and sooner or later the right must prevail. God help me to be ever in the right.”

In closing, I salute the work of groups such as the Vermont Old Cemetery Association, including members such as Frances and the late Arthur Hyde, that work to prevent old cemeteries from being “weed grown, forlorn, forgotten, headstones bent, some fallen away.” This includes local towns that regularly appropriate funds to maintain their cemeteries. This is especially important as many deceased no longer have descendants locally. It has been said that a town’s character can be judged by how well they maintain their cemeteries. I consider graveyard vandalism to be a serious crime against a community. The role of one of my students in the vandalism of a cemetery in the early 1990s led to the development of the Stone & Bones curriculum.

I appreciate those in local schools who take their classes to local cemeteries as part of a study of history, art or other subjects. As a genealogist and historian I am drawn to cemeteries. I have visited the gravesites of family members in England and New England as far back as nine generations. As I do not subscribe to the horror stories connected to cemeteries, I find them interesting and peaceful. I appreciate that the memory of those, known and unknown, are carved in stone. I can tell much about the history of a town or neighborhood by visiting the local cemetery. In May 1966, The United Opinion reporter Marilyn Spooner wrote of her visit to the older section of Haverhill’s Ladd Street Cemetery. Her comment reflects a lasting attitude toward cemeteries. She wrote “There is stillness in the air throughout the cemetery. Not the uneasy sort that frightens, but rather, one of tranquility. It speaks of death, yet softly.”