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Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Horse Tales

PETERS' MORGANS: Members of Bradford's Peters family pose in front of their Upper Plain home with two of their most influential stallions.  The family's Morgans had a higher percentage of the blood of the original Just Morgan of any strain of the time.  Peter's Morgan (right) is the sire of Peter's Ethan Allen 2nd (left) The latter is cited as one of the most influential Morgans of his day. (Courtesy photo)

below: RURAL MAIL ROUTE: About 1904, 20 year old Walter Stearns took over a rural mail route in Bradford with this horse drawn cart. Other delivery wagons brought meat, milk, and other supplies directly to households.  Stearns continued his route until about 1921 when he went to Kansas City to learn automobile mechanics. (Bradford Historical Society),

HORSE POWER IN THE FIELD: Horses were a main source of power for America's farmers until the introduction of the tractor after 1930. In 1942, however, this horse stilled worked the fields at the Worthley farm on Taplin Hill in Corinth. (Philip Ross Hastings) 


“The greatest part of the labor upon the farms, and nearly all the whole of the travel and transportation in the state is performed by horses, and large numbers of fine horses are annually sent to market out of state.”  Zadock Thompson, History of Vermont, 1842.

Since settlers first came to establish local towns, horses have played an important part in their culture.  What follows is a collection of stories on the role of horses prior to 1920 as described in Vermont’s newspapers, local histories and journals.   

The first European explorers of the area came on foot. But the first families often came with a horse and a few possessions. For example, in 1765, John Mann and his wife came astride their horse from Hebron, CT to become the first settlers of Orford.

 Not all residents in these early communities owned a horse and, sometimes, an owner would loan his horse to another. The 1789 census of Ryegate listed 47 taxpayers but only 21 horses, with only two persons owning more than one. As the community grew, the number of horses increased as follows: 1800: 80 households, 60 horses; 1810: 152 households, 120 horses and 27 colts, and by 1840, 253 households and 285 horses.  

During a recent presentation, Orford historian Arthur Pease revealed that in 1850 the 10 local farmers with the most improved land had an average of 5.3 horses while the 10 with the least amount of improved land had only .7 horses.  

Early roads were generally too rough for wheeled vehicles drawn by horses. After 1810, sufficient improvements had been made to allow the use of horse-drawn carriages, buggies and farm wagons. Winter travel featured horse-drawn sleighs and sleds.

 Stage coaches began to operate on established routes. In 1814, a line of stages began to run from Haverhill to Concord, NH. In 1834, a stage left Haverhill three times a week for Albany via Chelsea. Stages were pulled by four, six or eight “steaming horses.”

Even after the coming of the railroad in 1848, stage routes connected outlying towns to railroad stations. For example, the route from East Orange and West Topsham to Bradford offered  passenger and mail service.  

There were a number of local horse breeders and trainers. The Peters family of Bradford was well known for the Morgan horses they raised. About 1850, Joseph Howard Peters, reacting to the decline in the sheep industry, turned to horses. He described the Morgan breed as “the cheapest kept, most hardy and most profitable horses.”

The Morgans he and his descendants developed had a high percentage of the original Justin Morgan blood of any strain at the time. The most famous Peters’ stallions included Peter’s Vermont, Peter’s Morgan, Damon and Peters Ethan Allen 2nd.

Morgan horses, known for their stamina, spirit and beauty, were consider general-purpose horses capable of performing a wide variety of tasks.  It was said: “The Morgan horse is one thing, all other horses are something else.”

At the time nearly every farmer in Vermont had one or more Morgans and the breed became synonymous with Vermont. Many were breeders. In 1888, Newbury had at least 30 farmers listed as breeders or trainers, although not all with Morgans.  

 When describing the attributes of the Morgan to my history classes, I upgraded an old description to one that would be understood by teenagers. A Morgan was like a good pickup truck.  One could use it to haul loads, shine it up to pick up a date and, in a challenge, could show off it speed over a short distance.  I think they understood.     

The S. S. Houghton Stock Farm in lower Orford raised blooded trotting horses. By 1880, it was offering stud service by a horse named George Wilkes, Jr., one of four stallions. Later, Morgans were added.  In 1895, the farm advertised a gray gelding, 17 hands high, a lady’s horse that “can road eight miles an hour.”

Horses raised in the area were taken to Boston and other markets. Likewise, horses were brought in from Boston, Canada and the West for sale locally.  In 1895, Turner and Smith of Orford advertised 18 horses from Iowa for sale. F. E. Kimball’s stable in Newbury brought in horses by the car load from locations such as Wisconsin.   

 As early as 1867, there were warnings about the sales of the best animals while keeping poorer mares and stallions. “When will our farmers learn to keep their best horses at home and improve their stock” one observer noted. That came with the announcement that D. F. Tillotson of Orford had sold a stallion to a man from California for $6,000.  

There were many incidents of accidents involving horses. Despite the use of blinders, horses often became frightened by noises, objects in the road or other horses. In 1854, one observer wrote “We want horse for all purposes, that are not cowardly, will not take fright; for those of that temperament are ever dangerous to whomever may use them, and to persons in the street.” Over the years, frightened horses resulted in injury and death to passengers and damage to property as well as to the animals involved.   

Runaway horses posed a threat to pedestrians. In 1868 in Bradford, a runaway stage drawn by four horses “dashed through the street at great speed.” In 1906, several Vermont newspapers carried the sad story of William Silsby, an “active and highly respected citizen” of Newbury who was struck and killed by a runaway.

In the early 1900s, horses were often frightened when they met automobiles on the road. In 1909, the horse drawing carriage carrying Mrs. McCanna of Ryegate was frightened by an auto on the road from Woodsville. The buggy was demolished and McCanna suffered a broken leg. “No blame was attached to the occupants or driver of the auto.”

In 1904, William Thompson, Corinth’s legislature representative, declared it was not safe for a woman to drive a horse on the highway where an auto might come along as they were “devilish contraptions.”

Not all such incidents resulted in injury. In 1897, a tongue-in-cheek newspaper notice told of a young West Newbury couple whose horse became frightened and “nearly upset the occupants, and unfortunately, the young man was so much engaged that it was difficult to get the horse under control. No damage was done.”

As horses were both accessible and valued, horse thieves appeared regularly. In Nov. 1863, the following Bradford notice appeared: “Sheriff Peckett caught two horse thieves in the village.  A large amount of thievery has been carried on lately, but the authorities have been very successful in taking the rogues.” Sometimes stolen horses were taken several communities away and offered for sale.

Heavy draft horses were used by local industries. One newspaper article mentioned that about 1840  a local team of nine horses was seen pulling a “tremendously heavy load of merchant’s goods.”   

After 1865, heavy horse-drawn wagons filled with copper ore rumbled through West Fairlee on the way to Ely on the Fairlee-Thetford line, returning later with loads of coke. In 1895, similar operations brought ore down from Pike Hill in Corinth. Newspaper notices mentioned horse-drawn wagons and sleds carrying granite in Ryegate, hardwood in Ely and logs from Quintown.  Many of these draft animals were from the West.

In 1911, it was reported that Mr. and Mrs. William Putnam of West Newbury, both in late 70s, picked 10,000 lbs. of cider apples and took them to the factory in South Newbury with one horse.

How horses were treated was totally dependent on their owners. One Orford resident wrote a long letter to the local newspaper on the “mercilessness shown to horses.”  In 1846, Vermont pass a law making cruelty to animals illegal, but only if the animal belonged to another. After the American Association for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was founded in 1866, state chapters began to be formed.

 In 1872, the Portsmouth NH chapter was one of the first to be established and was the basis for the state organization. While there was interest in a similar group in Vermont as early as 1869, it was not incorporated until 1888. This movement successfully challenged the strict property concept that had protected cruelty of animals by their owner.     

Horses played an important role in support of Americans at war. They were a vital part of cavalry and artillery units and draft and pack horses transported supplies. Infantry unit officers were usually mounted.  In 1862, the citizens of Bradford purchased and transported a horse for their neighbor Lieut. Col.l Dudley Andross of the Ninth Vermont Regiment. The First Vermont Cavalry, mounted entirely on Morgans, saw considerable action in the Civil War.

The largest cavalry battle of the Civil War involved 17,000 horsemen in the Battle of Brandy Station Virginia in June 1863. It is estimated that over one million horses and mules were killed in military action during the Civil War. That is perhaps because horses were a prime target as their death left artillery and cavalry units significantly weakened.  

World War I saw a similar role and plight for horses. America was a primary source of horses for European allies, with perhaps one million horses shipped abroad. It is the last major conflict in which American cavalry units used horses rather than tanks. Bradford’s Harold Haskins recalled having to put a gas mask on his horse during a night-time attack in April 1918. Capt. Ernest George Harmon of West Newbury recounted an experience in Sept 1918 in which he remained astride his horse for three straight days during an advancement against the enemy.  

The agricultural revolution of the 19th century was powered by horses.  In the period after 1830, a number of horse-drawn farm implements such as the reaper, rake and mower were introduced, greatly reducing labor and increasing production.  Horse power was also worthwhile for other purposes.  A letter to the New England Farmer magazine in 1859 suggested other uses for horse-powered devices: “The horse can saw the wood, wash the clothes, churn, turn the grindstone, cut the hay, shell the corn, drive the small circular saw and pump the water.”    

There were a number of local businesses that catered to the horse- centered community. There were blacksmiths, stables that rented or sold horses, hardware stores that sold horse-powered machinery, harnesses, blankets and horse feed as well as veterinarians.  The market area of central villages was about the distance a farmer could drive in with his horse and be back home for milking.

Horse drawn delivery wagons carried meat, milk, and other products directly to households. Doctors in buggies made home visits and horses pulled hearses.  Station wagons met railroad passengers. School children were transported with horse power as was firefighting equipment.. Horses dominated the culture of the two states.   

Horse shows and racing at local fairs allowed owners to show off their prized animals. Virtually every agricultural fair in the area included horse shows. In 1892, the Waits River Valley Fair in East Corinth featured various classes including stallions, brood mares, gent’s single drivers, matched horses, and draught horses. Horse and ox pulls were also a standard feature. In 1906, horse trots were a major feature at the Bradford Fair, attracting as many as 10,000 spectators.

There were occasions when the town centers became crowded with horse teams. In 1904, the road to the Bradford fair gate were backed up with wagons and carriages.  It was reported that, on some days, as many as 40 teams crowded Wells River’s main streets.  For both busy streets and farmyards, the problem of horse manure or “street dirt” encouraged flies and, in some people, horse fever.  

In August 1922, the Caledonian Record carried the following: “No one need fear that the automobile, despite its popularity, will ever supplant the horse.” In 1915, it was estimated there were 20 million horses in the United States. The increasing number of automobiles clearly mirrored the decline in the number of horses. Throughout the 1920s the number declined at the rate of a half million per year.

Each of the horse-centered topic above are just a sampling of the information available. I did not include  a good examination of the symbiotic relationship between animal and owner.  Whether its name was Baldy or Beauty, Danny or Dick, the relationship between a horse and its owner’s relationship was often close.

 My father-in-law, Harry Martin, told of a special family horse he had as a young man  If Harry stayed out late and fell asleep in his wagon on the way to the farm on the Bradford-Newbury line, the horse saw both of them home safety.  No automobile, however favored, could have done that.  Yet.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Giving Mom A Break: Work Never Done

This vintage Mother's Day card was published n 1914, the same year that President Wilson proclaimed the day as a national holiday. Carnations were the traditional symbol of motherhood.

Dreading Blue Monday: The burdens of washing family clothes was somewhat reduced by the introduction of the motor-driven washing machine. This 1930 photograph by Farm Security Administration photographer Louise Rosskam illustrates the burden still borne by many Vermont housewives. Library of Congress

Electrified Ironing: During the 1920s the drive to promote the consumption of electrical appliances led to a sharp increase in their use in American homes. For example, by the end of that decade sixty percent of homes had replaced the stove-heated iron with an electric one.
 Journal Opinion May 8, 2019
“Man may work from sun to sun, but woman’s work is never done.”

This rhymed couplet dates from the late 18th century and, for many women, still holds true today.  Sunday, May 12 is Mother’s Day and along with dining out, flowers and other gifts of love and appreciation, mothers might be given a temporary reprieve from never-ending tasks of housework and raising children.

This column explores the origins of Mother’s Day and then reviews of some innovations that changed women’s household work prior to 1965. Many of the memories were gathered during recent interviews at four local senior centers. The women I talked with recalled their own experiences as well as those of their mothers and grandmothers.

Celebrations of mothers can be traced back to earlier civilizations. The Christian festival known as “Mothering Sunday” is a precedent for our modern observance. In England, “going a-mothering” and gifting mothers with a simnel fruitcake cake was a tradition. 

There had been earlier efforts by activists, such as Julia Ward Howe, to recognize mothers as a way to teach improved child care, to reconcile the nation after the Civil War and promote world peace. In 1909, the United Opinion included a column that mentioned “Mother’s Day, which is coming to be a national event, is being observed in many places for the first time.” The Modern Woodmen organization was among those that encouraged it by attending church services as a body.        

 Anna Jarvis of Grafton, West Virginia is credited with the movement that led to Mother’s Day becoming a recognized American holiday in 1914.  That year, after President Woodrow Wilson issued the first Mother’s Day proclamation, one Vermont newspaper concluded “This day has taken hold wonderfully all over the country.”

In the years that followed, mention of local Mother’s Day observances usually involved church services.  Attending mothers were often presented with a carnation, a symbol of motherhood. Only later did advertisements for gifts or special dining experiences become common. 

In early New England, women were usually described by reference to the men in their lives. The most recognition that women could hope for outside of the home was “the dignity of anonymity.”  Within the family setting, their work was never done. They raised the children they birthed, made meals from the food they grew or slaughtered and washed the clothes they handmade. They supported their men and did double duty when they were away. Their title of honor was “goodwife.”

The following descriptions of so-called “women’s work” depended on rural or village settings, marital status, number of members of the household and the impact of change. For most women, changes in their lives were incremental. For example, electricity came to most village homes by the early 20th century, whereas in rural areas it may not have arrived until the late 1940s. With electricity came relief from some of the burdens of homemaking previously done largely by hand power.

In an interview for Scott and Elsie Hastings’ book on Vermont farm families in the 1930s, 92-year old Grace Hutchinson of East Corinth told of her pre-electricity home and said: “People who were born into a world full of electricity and appliances, they don’t have the experience of knowing what it would be like without them.” She went on to say that the housewife of that earlier time had “an awful lot more skills.”

The industrial revolution of the 19th century was instrumental in bringing about new household products and services. Those changes increased in rapidity in the 20th century.  

Food preparation had always been central to women’s work in the home. Meals had to be made “from scratch” from recipes often kept in a woman’s head. Interviewees said that they often made dishes their mothers made, and considered themselves lucky if they had mother’s box of handwritten recipes.  

 From their gardens and barns in rural areas and from merchants in urban areas, women obtain the family’s food. Even when food was obtained from outside the home, it came unprepared. Prepared food in boxes or cans did not arrive until early in the 20th century and frozen foods not until the 1940s.  

Canning was central to preserving summer’s bounty. Interviewees told of the pride their mothers felt with cupboards filled with up to 500 jars of canned vegetables, meat and fruit. Crocks were used for pickled or salted food. Those who grew up on farms mentioned their mothers making cheese, butter and sometimes, homemade ice cream.

Keeping food cold included hanging meat in the shed during winter months. Baked goods could be stored in a cold attic or back pantry. Iceboxes kept food cold with ice harvested from nearby lakes or delivered by a village iceman. 

In the 1920s, manufacturers began a campaign to replace the icebox with electric refrigerators. The initial cost prevented widespread sales until the late 1930s. For the housewife, this appliance meant the elimination of the drip pan mess, food that was kept fresher longer and the availability of a small freezer. One woman said “The day in 1950 when we got a refrigerator, that was a happy day!”

 In the early 1950s, home freezers came on the market, replacing community freezer lockers. This allowed for the extension of seasonal bounty. My dad sold home freezers at that time and the one we owned was filled with our own meat and vegetables. We enjoyed corn on the cob well into winter.

Cooking stoves began to appear in the mid-19th century. Housewives learned how to cook on a wood, coal or gas burning stove to produce pies, breads, soups and other dishes. The Glenwood range was very popular and local ads touted it as “the range that makes cooking easy.” In 1911, a St. Johnsbury newspaper advertisement suggested “A gas range makes summer cooking bearable.” Electric ranges began to compete with these cooking modes by the 1920s. While microwave ovens were first sold in 1946, low cost models were not available until the late 1960s.

Taking care of the family’s clothes was time-consuming. The women I interviewed said their mothers made their children’s clothing, manufactured on a foot treadle sewing machine. During the Great Depression, everything from sheets to dresses and children’s clothes were made from cotton grain bags.

One woman said that her first store dress came in 1944 when she needed a dress for her senior events.  When asked how she felt about wearing homemade clothes, she replied “happy and proud.” Additionally, housewives spent time repairing clothes. My mother, relaxing from the day’s work, darned stockings or patched worn pants for my father and three brothers. 

Many housewives dreaded Monday wash days. Monday seemed practical as weekly baths were often taken on Saturday night with clothes changed in anticipation of church on Sunday. Only after 1900 were newly constructed homes expected to have modern indoor plumbing. Prior to that time it was not uncommon for all bathing and household cleaning water to be lugged by hand, “ a staggering burden” for the housewife.   

 Wringer washing machines replaced hand-scrubbing of clothes. In 1908, Hurley’s Thor electric-powered washing machines came on the market. Within the next decade, local advertisements promised the washer would “leave you cool and refreshed, relieved from the nerve-wearing strain of old-fashioned, hot wash days.” These ads were accompanied by those for new types of granulated washing soaps.

Prior to the introduction of the first domestic automatic washing machine in 1937, the washing machine was rolled to the sink, clothes sorted and washed and put through the attached wringer before being hung on the line to dry. In winter, wet clothes were hung indoors or, if hung outdoors, were often brought in frozen, stiff as boards.  Cloth diapers and personal care items posed special washing issues as they had to be boiled to be sanitized.

Clothes also had to be ironed. Either with a hand iron or with the help of a mangle, clothes were pressed before being put away. The mangle allowed clothes to be pressed by being passed through two rollers. Some mothers were known to even iron their husband’s underwear, although those I spoke with laughed at the suggestion.

While new electrical appliances such as these were advertised as labor saving, other changes in society often filled in with additional duties. For example, doing laundry became easier, but families acquired more clothes and washed them more frequently.

Keeping the rest of the house clean was a major task for housekeepers. Wood-burning stoves, kerosene lamps and tracked in dirt were constant challenges. Chamber pots had to be emptied daily. The electric vacuum cleaner began to replace the hand sweeper in the early 20th century for those who had electricity. Brands such as Hoover and Electrolux  were sold nationally by the 1930s, often by door-to-door salesmen.

Spring meant a top-to-bottom cleaning for many households. Rugs and even mattresses were taken out and beaten. Windows and curtains were washed along with floors and walls. Until the 1930s, hot water for cleaning household items and family members was heated on the stove.

As important as any of the work mentioned above, the role of mother as caretaker defined her place in the family. Many early American women bore up to eight or more children, binding them to constant tasks of child care. Additionally, mothers have always been the primary caregiver for those in the family who were ill or elderly.

Unless there was alternative child care available for infants, women were less able to be employed outside of the home. One woman told me she belonged to the Bradford Pre-School Mothers Club in the 1960s because membership was required for use of the club’s pre-school day nursery, allowing her to hold a job.

I asked the women I interviewed who, in their experience, helped with the household duties. Sometimes there were newspaper ads for “a young woman to help with household tasks.” Older daughters also helped. Husbands and sons rarely assisted even when they had the spare time.  That is not to say that husbands did not work hard, but rather that wives seem to work longer. For women who accepted a career outside of the home, the job and housekeeping meant double-duty.

That was not true in all cases. One Orford woman said that when she went to work outside the home around 1966, her husband helped with cooking, “taking up the slack.” Daughters, mothers and sisters also helped with childcare and other tasks.  Most said that their brothers and sons were generally not taught nor expected to do household tasks.   

When asked how her mother did all she did around the home, one woman said “I don’t know how she did it.” Getting up early was one way, with sleep deprivation normal. Perhaps that was the only way a woman could get ahead of the day’s chores before other family members demanding her attention. One woman said that her father expected a full breakfast meal when the morning barn chores were finished. That might include fresh pastry, vegetables and meat.  

Another coping technique was multitasking. Perhaps it was the task of caring for youngsters that made most mothers masters at dealing with more than several things at a time. Cooking a meal while cuddling a child and starting a wash is something most mothers have accomplished. 

Recent studies have shown that there is still a gender gap when it comes to household chores. Women, these studies indicate, do a larger percentage of chores around the house than their partners, “regardless of either’s career or income.”

I close this incomplete study of the work of mothers  and Mother’s Day with two quotes from the past.

In 1914, the Burlington Free Press article on “The Significance of Mother’s Day” warned that the true sentiment of the day was endangered by “the wild rush of commercialism.” It still may be.

In 1876, Silas McKeen described the work of Lydia Peters Baldwin. While other women may not have accomplished quite the work of Baldwin, his concluding comment about her applies to many mothers: “A woman who accomplished a work so great and good, deserves to be held in honorable and lasting remembrance.” Hats off to super moms, past and present!

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

All That's Common

Newbury Village's Central Space.  Described by one 19th century newspaper as "Newbury's sacred possession," the common has been at the center of the village's educational, religious, civil, economic and recreational activities. Its ownership has been shared with a number of entities since the early 19th century. Modern photo courtesy of Newbury Village Store.

Traditional Common- The common at Thetford Hill, shown here in a 1877 map, reflected many of the characteristics of similar spaces in local communities. This Beers' Orange County Atlas illustration shows it ringed by private homes, an academy, businesses and the town's church. (Bradford Historical Society)

East and West Common--This open land, along with the Orford mall, are centerpieces to what one mid-1800s visitor called "the most charming country village."  They were established in the late 18th century for the purposes of a training field, academy, meeting house and burial grounds.  
In 2004, I made a presentation to the Bradford Historical Society on the legacy of Bradford’s common lands. This article expands on that topic by adding materials from some other area towns. Newspaper archives, town plans, online sources, interviews and local histories provide background information. Not all examples of common lands are included.  

In early New England communities, the initial proprietors set aside the land that was not privately owned as “common lands.” In some cases, parcels were designated as cow or ox commons and could be used by all for grazing or for gathering of fuel. As newcomers arrived, parcels were sometimes granted to them. This distribution of common land was not without considerable controversy.

As village centers developed in these early communities, a central piece of land was set aside as a permanent common or green. That property was surrounded by the town church, stores, taverns, district schools, and the homes of the town’s most prominent families.

This was not the “common land” of England, where the term often referred to large tracts of land owned by the village or local feudal lord to which locals were allowed access, but with restrictions.

A main motivation for migration to New England was the possibility of land ownership, something rare among the lower classes of Europe. For the colonists, land ownership become synonymous with personal and economic freedom. That individual freedom was combined with a spirit of co-operation needed for survival and community enhancement.

When the royal governor of New Hampshire chartered many area towns, he gave the land to friends and associates, many of whom never visited or settled here. In addition to land set aside for the governor himself, four 300-acre plots, called glebes or lease land, were assigned for the support of the local school and church as well as the Church of England and the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts. Over the years, land transactions turned most of these  parcels over to actual residents and other entities. 

So why is it that some area towns replicated the central common of southern New England and others did not? Bradford does not have one and I think a reason for that is the location of the village along the falls of the Waits River.

That village grew up along the central road on a snug piece of land between the flood plain and Mt. Tug rather than on the broad river plateau of the Upper or Lower Plain. Imagine, if you will, a Bradford village on the Lower Plain with a broad common green as found in other communities. 

Another reason may be that Bradford was not chartered by the royal governor of New Hampshire and therefore lack the glebe land found in neighboring towns. The original settlers were squatters  living in an unrecognized piece of territory until it was chartered by the governor of New York in 1770. These  pitch-holders, their claims now legitimized, were willing to set aside land for a school and meeting house, but not for a town common. 

Why then do many local communities have beautiful “ornamental commons”  framed by historic houses and public buildings? The need for a central common was  satisfied by the generosity  of large landowners from among the early settlers.

The commons in Haverhill Corner provide an excellent example of this generosity. The North Common, adjacent to the brick church, originally belong to those whose houses ringed the property. It was given to the town in 1788 by a group led by Col. Charles Johnston.

In 1807, it was expanded when a store on the southwest corner was relocated. The South Common was given to the town around 1800 by tavernkeeper Asa Boynton. Over the years, these properties have been improved with fencing and a bandstand.

Orford’s west village has one of the grandest commons in the area. Beginning in 1773, several major landowners began to deed land on both sides of the road for the purposes of a training field, academy, meeting house and burial ground. Known as the East and West Commons, these open spaces have been complimented by a mall that stretches along Orford’s Main Street.

This mall, with both private and public ownership, led one visitor in the mid-1800s to refer to Orford  as “the most charming country village” and noted the existence of the mall as its center. Framed by the West Cemetery and the grand houses of the Ridge on the east and private and public buildings on the west, the common continues to be a useable centerpiece for Orford Street.  

 At the core of Newbury Village is that community’s common. In 1833, the New England Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church purchased, with help from the town, a portion of the property, which until that time was private farmland. Newbury Seminary was built on the property.

In 1868, the Seminary moved to Montpelier. In 1888, the local school district purchased the property and that ownership later passed to the Newbury town school district. In 1912, a monument to Revolutionary General Jacob Bayley was erected. The next year, a major fire destroyed a number of buildings on the common’s periphery.  

Described as one of “Newbury’s sacred possessions,” and called the Village Common, it has been the site of numerous festivals, school activities, flea markets, concerts, weddings and ball games. In June 1921, the Barre Daily Times described members of the Newbury High alumni reunion strolling across “the old common which holds many a story of happiness and grief, laughter and tears.”

As is true of other town commons, the use of the property has been the subject of controversies over the years. Recently the Elementary School Board voted to subdivide that portion of the Common under their control, setting off the land immediately surrounding the school building to remain property of the district and convey to the town the remaining portion.  A substantial portion along of the north side of the Common is owned by the Newbury Woman’s Club.

Thetford Hill’s common is in the center of the historic district. The original common was much smaller and had the town’s meetinghouse at its southern end. The property was enlarged in 1795 and again in 1818.

In 1830, the meeting house was moved to an adjacent property north of the common.  As the attached 1877 map shows, the common was ringed by private homes, an academy and post office.  Since 1913, the common has been the site of a summer as well as other community gatherings.

Groton’s Veteran’s Park in Groton Village offers a gazebo along with opportunities for recreation and civic events. Puffer’s and Frost Ball Fields are also Groton town property.

Dotting town commons in the area are civic structures and monuments. In Fairlee, the 1926 Soldiers Monument and flagpole stand opposite the recently refurbished 1924 bandstand. In Lyme, a granite soldier stands at parade rest atop a memorial to that community’s Civil War veterans. In Warren, it is a Redstone Missile, brought to the town in 1971. Over the years, commons may have hosted animal pounds, water boxes,  cannons, whipping posts, flagpoles, burial tombs, jails, horse sheds, fountains, and or commemorative plantings.  

Piermont’s pocket-sized common was eliminated in 2012 by the reconfiguration of the adjacent road. That year, after much discussion, the Veterans War Memorial that was the centerpiece of the tiny common was relocated to the new Veterans Memorial Garden in the South Lawn Cemetery.

No local town common looks the same as it did 150 years ago. Building have been  destroyed, moved, renovated and replaced over the years. Structural fires have altered the buildings facing  local commons.  Changing social and economic factors have significantly eliminated the small businesses and district schools that ringed these greens. Regular summer flea markets held in Fairlee’s Samuel Morey Memorial Park are an example of the new uses for older pieces of property.   

 While Bradford does not have a common, it does have common land owned by the town and school. In 1946, the Bradford school district acquired from Jessie Blakely Low  65 acres of forest on Mt. Tug.  It was increased in 1961 by an additional 60 acres donated by Nina St. John. Known as the Low-St. John Forest, the property is used as an outdoor laboratory for school projects as well as public recreation.

In 1946, the school district voted to obtain land behind the Academy building for a recreation field. Led by members of the Bradford Community Club, the largely unusable swamp land was rehabilitated into ball fields. Recently the ownership of what became known as Memorial Field was transferred to the Town of Bradford. 

In 1994, Bradford began the acquisition of portions of Wright’s Mountain. Since then, the property has been expanded to over 500 acres with the creation of miles of hiking trails. Recently the site has been  honored by the National Park Service and included on its list of National Recreation Trails.

Additionally, common land in Bradford includes Elizabeth’s Park on Fairground Road, Boch Memorial Park near the Falls and Denny Park on North Main. What the town lacked in a central ornamental common in its early decades has been more than compensated for by these pieces of common land.  

As with Bradford’s Wright’s Mountain and Low-St. John Forest, newer town common land is more likely a municipally-owned town forest. Acquired with public funds, grants, private donations and with the help of groups such as the Upper Valley Land Trust, these heavily-forested tracts are maintained for conservation, watershed protection and recreation. One estimate places 67,000 acres  of preserved land in 172 municipal  forests in Vermont.

Thetford owns four parcels of forested land of which the 261-acre Hughes Forest and 171-acre Thetford  Town Forest are the largest. As with  properties in other communities, Thetford has a conservation commission to manage these forests.

The Bushwood Community Forest combines public property belonging to the towns of West Fairlee, Fairlee and Bradford. Additionally, Fairlee owns the Fairlee Town Forest. That 770-acre property was acquired in the 1980’s from the Lange family. In Corinth, the town forest was the gift of Sue Shea and is called the F. X. Shea Town Forest in honor of her late husband.

Most recently, Newbury voters completed the purchase of 636 acres to create the Tucker Mountain Town Forest. This was accomplished with $25,000 in town funds along with the assistance of the Vermont Land Trust, the Leach family and donations from numerous citizens. 

One of the municipal properties in Haverhill is the Kinder Forest, a 21-acre parcel initially acquired by the town in the 1920’s to settle back taxes. The Woodsville Community Field and the Veterans Park on Central Street belong to the Woodsville Precinct. Nearby Railroad Park is owned by the town. Since the 1920s the community field has been the site of numerous community events.  Hazen Park on Hasen Drive honors John Hazen, Haverhill’s founder.

 As with many municipal forests, Warren’s town forest offers hiking trails. Hazen Park on Hazen Drive honors John Hazen, Haverhill’s founder.

In addition to this common property owned by local municipalities, state and federal agencies own large tracts of land in both states. It is estimated that over 13 percent of New Hampshire land is under federal ownership and 2.86 percent is under state ownership. Vermont’s corresponding figures are 6.6 percent and 1.61 percent of land.

 Local property that falls under this category include Thetford Hill State Forest and Groton State Forest in Vermont. In New Hampshire, there are the Bedell Bridge State Park in Haverhill, the Black Mountain State Forest in Haverhill and Benton, the Tarleton State Park in Piermont, the Davis-White State Park in Warren and the White Mountain National Forest as well as properties occupied by state and federal agencies.  Additionally, Haverhill has several Grafton County properties.   

While this column deals with pieces of common land, there are many properties in each town that are common in the sense that they are owned by the local governments for the public good. Those include municipal buildings, highway garages, water and sewerage facilities, school buildings, cemeteries, firehouses, libraries, beaches and boat launches and roads.

Annually, in early March, the citizens of area towns are called together to vote on issues related to these common properties. Those topics include the pooling of their  funds for the properties’ operation and maintenance as well as  issues over their management.  In doing so, we continue the tradition begun  by the freemen of colonial New England almost four centuries ago. 


Thursday, February 7, 2019

Old Fashioned Winter Fun

FOR A BETTER RUN. In the late 19th century, the toboggan was introduced as a safer alternative to the "murderous double runner" or traverse.  Local toboggan clubs were started and toboggan chutes were center to winter carnivals.
BURLINGTON WINTER CARNIVAL. Beginning in 1884, the Burlington Coasting Club began to hold a Winter Carnival modeled after carnivals held in Montreal. Thousands attended.   

NO COASTING ALLOWED. As early as 1869, coasting on public roads was being prohibited across the two states.  The United Opinion supported this measure, writing "Sliding I the street is dangerous to both boys who slide and the people who walk or ride." .

The steerable Flexible Flyer was introduced in 1889. Ads said that their use meant that runs lasted longer, went fasters and damaged boys' shoes less.

This group of free-range youngers get ready for the down hill adventure that was sledding (Library of Congress) 
“This winter is one of the old-fashioned kind, with plenty of cold and snow. The snow has furnished an infinite amount of amusements.  Not for a long time has there been such a carnival of fun. This is the season of enjoyment, therefore we say welcome to the snow which is the only thing that can make old winter endurable”  Burlington Weekly Free Press, Jan. 24, 1879

As I write this column, snow is falling heavily in Bradford. It seems an appropriate time to delve into the history of winter fun in New Hampshire and Vermont, especially in the 19th and early 20th centuries.  Because they  are model designer states for winter activities, this article will review the history of some of the many activities that have engaged residents in winter-time fun.

As there is so much information on the history of hockey and skiing in New Hampshire and Vermont, the history of those activities will have to wait until a future column.   

 The traverse sled is one of several winter toys that began as a working device. For centuries, they were used to haul supplies, lumber and stone, drawn by human or animal power. In the 1870s, Vermont newspapers began to describe them being used for downhill adventures.

Known as “double-rippers or double runners,” the  traverse was two sleds connected by a plank. The front sled could be manipulated to steer. The number of riders depended on the length of the plank, with reports of sleds that accommodated up to 20 riders.

A horse, truck or tractor was often used to pull the sled up a steep and long hill or road. Roy Belyea of Piermont recalls growing up in Warren and riding an 8-person traverse down both Moosilauke Inn Road and Rt. 118.

Hauled by a truck up the road, the sled ride would be as much as five miles. The truck would go ahead to warn the occasional oncoming traffic and the ride would often end up in a snowbank. Goshen Road in Bradford and Piermont Heights were two of the many appealing traverse runs in the area. 

Those trips were exciting and dangerous. Reports from across the two states described broken bones, gorged torsos and even fatalities. Many of the reports mirrored a 1885 comment in a St. Johnsbury newspaper: “Thin ice and a traverse sleds are the boys’ greatest danger now.”   

The toboggan was another tool that was modified for winter excitement.  It was first mentioned in Vermont newspapers in 1870. In 1884, The Vermont Watchman encouraged towns and villages to “banish the murderous double-runner…and introduce the Indian toboggan, a vehicle swift as an arrow’s flight, but yielding a harmless sport, indescribably fascinating and exhilarating.”

In 1887, the Star and Burlington brand toboggans “were in high use in St. Johnsbury.” Toboggan clubs were formed in Burlington, Montpelier and St. Johnsbury and toboggan suits were manufactured in Saxton’s River, Vermont.  

Bobsledding was described as the “winter sport that has an element of danger.” The term bobsled was first used for the farm sled used to haul lumber or hay. In the later 19th century  it was also used in reference to the regular traverse. In the 1880s, riders in both Switzerland and upstate New York, added a steering wheel to the traverse. By 1909, bobsled races were being held over an iced course.   

Decades before these toboggans, youngsters had been sliding or coasting down local hills and roads. Bradford’s National Opinion of Feb. 13, 1874 reported on “the downhill tendency of American youth.” It went to report that a single company in Montpelier sold 11,000 sleds for children last winter.

Early sleds were advertised as high sleds or mollycoddles for girls and low sleds for boys. All that was improved when, in 1889, Samuel Leeds Allen patented the first steerable runner sled. Sold as the Flexible Flyer, a 1904 ad declared that it would “last longer, go faster and save boys’ shoes.”

Dragging sleds behind, youngsters sometimes tackled a hill of new fallen snow. A heavy woolen snowsuit or jeans and buckled overshoes, hat and mittens were their costumes. They were as free range as the family dogs that tagged along. If the boots leaked, one could always pull a bread bag over them. Steering could be done by hand, belly-down or sitting up and using feet.  It was said that girls used the latter whereas boys were more likely to start with a running “belly bumper.”

The first couple of attempts were short-lived until a path was packed down. Walking back up hill in the path was frowned upon. If a hill was icy, cardboard or an inner tube could replace the sled. I recall that the hill outside the Orfordville school was just right for these substitutes. 

The jack jumper or snow bob added an exciting toy. Patented in 1904 by  Peter Perrault of Brattleboro, the jumper was sold in stores. One could also be made at home with a barrel stave or sawed-off ski as the runner.  An upright piece held the attached seat. Using one’s flailing feet and arms for balance , the jumper sends the courageous rider sailing down a snow-covered hill.    

Diners at a recent East Orange Senior Center luncheon confirmed these coasting details. Long before the flying saucer was marketed, one person recalled a group ride using an auto hood. 

Bradford’s Forrest Thurston remembered starting at the top of South Road and sliding more than a mile past the district school he attended. During recess or lunch, students at that school used the road for sliding.

This 87-year old diner said that there was little traffic and the roads were rarely sanded after snow. But there was traffic and other dangers on roads used by throngs of children and some “frisky older people.”

Beginning in the 1860s, newspaper reports regularly reported accidents between coasters and pedestrians, horses, utility poles, barbed wire, railroad cars, and vehicles. 

While some communities set aside designated streets for sliding, others began to restrict it. In Dec. 1869, believing “the practice of coasting upon the Highways of Bradford Village is alike dangerous to live and property,” Bradford selectmen moved to forbid it.

In 1877, a new Vermont law allowed town selectmen to prohibit sliding on all town roadways. The United Opinion supported the measure, writing  “Sliding in the street is dangerous to both the boys who slide and the people who walk or ride.”   In 1883, New Hampshire passed a similar law, but also allowed communities to appropriate funds for “controlled suitable sliding, coasting and skating.”

 Beginning that same year, many northern New Englanders travelled to Montreal and Quebec City for  winter carnivals. Railroads offered special excursion tickets for the events. The spectators from New Hampshire and Vermont  were so taken by the activities that  communities and colleges began to organize their own winter carnivals. 

In 1884, Burlington’s Coasting Club held a five-day gathering in which coasting and tobogganing were the main events.  Its 250 members created a chute 30 ft in height and 1,400 ft in sliding length. Two years later, the enlarged event included skating, curling, coasting, ice-boating, trotting races on Lake Champlain, sleighing, snowshoe races and hockey matches. The hockey matches involving both local and Canadian teams is described as the first international hockey  tournament.  

Winter carnivals were also held in New Hampshire. In Jan. 1893, a winter carnival was held in Concord   and, in 1916, Newport began a winter carnival that is still being held today. In 1921, the New Hampshire Hotel Association encouraged local winter festivals to promote tourism.   

In 1910, the Dartmouth Outing Club held its first winter carnival.  Over the years, skiing events  and other outdoor sports of all types along with snow sculptures were added. From  the beginning this all-male student body realized “Winter Carnival will not succeed without girls.”  More on this carnival and Dartmouth’s contributions to skiing in a later column.

Other colleges also held similar events. In 1920, Middlebury began the tradition of “Winter Holiday.” That college indicates their festival is “the oldest student-run winter carnival in the nation.”  In 1921, the University of Vermont held winter events that included both college and high school students. The next year, the University of New Hampshire’s Forest Club held that school’s first winter carnival.  

In 1920, Washington’s Birthday became the focus of a mid-winter carnival  in Stowe. The organizers “wanted to bring the people in town out of economic and winter doldrums.” It was very successful and, in the mid-1930s, drew large crowds. Suspended during WW II, it did not resume until 1974.

Local high schools were attracted to the thrills of a winter carnival. In the 1930s, Bradford Academy held an annual  interscholastic Saturday carnival that included students from Hanover, Lebanon, Orford and Woodsville. This would evolve into indoor and outdoor contests between BA students held on the last day of school prior to winter vacation topped by a dance with student royalty.

At the same time, a number of winter competitions were held in Orford involving both high school and junior high students.  In 1932, Lake Morey was the site of sporting events for 7th  and 8th graders.  An area-wide competition was held in 1937  and included students from Haverhill, Thetford, Bradford, Newbury and Orford.  In the late 1950’s, many of events were held in the field adjacent to the high school.

Ice skating was introduced in America in the 1740s by British soldiers. Early skates were attached to the wearer’s shoes or boots. Between 1848 and 1865 improvements included one-piece skates. Skating became very popular as it was the only sporting activity that included both men and women. It was not unusual for a skating party and a bonfire to follow a day of ice harvesting.  

According to Katharine Blaisdell’s history of Haverhill, beginning in the 1890s, there was skating on the Ammonoosuc River near Woodsville,  on Sleeper’s mill pond in North Haverhill and the eddy of the Connecticut River at Haverhill Corner.

 Over the years, there have been a number of skating rinks throughout Haverhill, both on established rinks and ones created by users shoveling a clear surface. As elsewhere, these rinks were used for hockey and individual skating. 

On Christmas morning, 1895, a skating outing was held on Lake Fairlee and “much fancy skating was indulged in.” The next year, Warden’s Store in Bradford sold “skates for 30 cents and up.” 

Skaters on rivers and ponds were joined by those involved in ice fishing. Newspaper reports indicated that in the late 1890s, concerns for overfishing during the winter began to lead to restrictions. In 1894,  ice fishing in both Lake Fairlee and Lake Morey was prohibited.

 Concern for the pickerel population led the New Hampshire Fish and Game Commission to recommend that all ice fishing be stopped in all but the largest lakes. Their concern was the negative impact on fishing during other seasons.  

However, in the new century, catches seem to increase.  In January 1911, it was reported  that, in one day, two Bradford men caught 30 pickerel in Haverhill. In 1922, ice fishing on Lake Fairlee resulted “in exceptionally good luck.”

In addition to the above activities, sending a group of children out on a snowy day led to numerous informal winter activities. Building a snow fort and having a snowball fight along with molding a snowman could fill as many hours as the temperatures and appetites allowed.

 An untouched field of new fallen snow was just right for creating a game of fox and geese.  That winter game of tag  was played on a large circle, divided like a pie with connecting paths.  A snow pile created just the right setting for a King of the Hill challenge.

In 1922, The Brattleboro Daily Reformer concluded: “Vermont is beginning to realize on its permanent interest in winter.  We have been paying for winter, lo, these may years, but have never realized on the investment in the share of health and pleasure. Now we are cashing in some of our dividends.” For over a century and a half, many New Hampshire and Vermont residents have and continue to enjoy the dividends of living through old-fashioned winters with old-fashioned fun.

Friday, January 4, 2019

Caring For Yesterday's Elders

CARE ON THE PLATEAU--The new Margaret Pratt Community facility in Bradford is the latest addition to a number of public and private locations that offer elders a home away from home. It opened in December 2018. (JO staff photo)

OLD AS THE HILLS--This 92-year-old Vermonter is typical of those older residents who relied on assets, health, and most importantly, family to provide care for them in their elder years.  Entitled "Oldest Man In Town," this Depression-era photo was taken by Louise Rosskam. (Farm Security Administration)     
Journal Opinion Dec. 26, 2018

 “It is an old custom for New Englanders to live to be as old as the hills.”

Edwin Valentine Mitchell,  It’s An Old New England Custom, 1946

In his chapter on growing old, Mitchell identifies examples of New Englanders who lived to be 100 or older. If he were writing today, he could easily selected local residents to match.  

On December 14, the Margaret Pratt Community assisted living facility opened on the plateau overlooking the plain where Pratt lived out her life. Its opening led me to think about how Americans have cared for their elders in times past. The following will focus on that topic from Colonial days to the passage of the Older Americans Act in 1965. 

The population of colonial New England was young, with only a minority reaching old age. Actually, if individuals lived to be 50, they had a pretty good chance of reaching 70. That is because of the high death rate among infants and women of child-bearing age. Research shows that New Englanders survived to old age in numbers unequaled elsewhere in both the colonies and England.

That society’s attitude toward elders was both complicated and often contradicting. Many positions of power and privilege were held by elderly men. These positions were generally denied to elderly women or men of the lower classes.  

There was generally no such thing as retirement. Even in their declining years, elders were expected to be “up and doing,” performing  tasks. This was especially important when towns offered charity to impoverished older persons. 

Property and children were keys to an elder’s security. Property usually passed to an eldest son, often in exchange for the care of his parents in their final years. One elderly farmer was quoted as offering his entire estate to any relative who would “find and provide for me wholesome and sufficient food, raiment, lodging, attendance, washing and other necessities, as well in sickness and weakness of old age as in health.”

As couples often had children late in life, there were often unmarried sons and daughter who provided care. In my 7th great grandparent’s house in Newburyport, Massachusetts is an adult-sized cradle used with ill or senile elders during their “sleeping period.”

An elder’s reluctance to pass land to the younger generation often led to resentment. Many of the early residents of our area came seeking the land that was denied them in southern New England.

Local 19th century biographies contain numerous examples of elders who lived in intergenerational homes with younger members of their families caring for them in their final years. Arrangements varied depending on the strength of family ties. A number of them are listed in Newbury,  were, according to one newspaper account, on January 1, 1894, “there were 43 persons past 80 years of age living in that town.”     

One Bradford woman was described as “passing the peaceful afternoon of her useful and somewhat protracted life at her old home in  Bradford with her beloved son.” Propertied individuals with no children might find a farm family who, for the property, undertook their support.    

These arrangements, however, did not always work out for the elder. In 1911, a notice appeared in several Vermont newspapers detailing the plight of Orrin Rice of Springfield. Born in 1820 and  “at one time one of the most prosperous farmers,” Rice had deeded his farm to his daughter with the understanding that he should be cared for. His son-in-law “made a failure of the farm and the poor nonagenarian ended his days at the town farm.” Rice was my great-great grandfather.

Indigent elders, like Rice, who had no means or a family to offer them shelter, sometimes had to resort to the humiliation of going on the public dole. Beginning in the 1830s, local towns established these under the titles of town farm or poor farm. Elders had to share space with the orphans, the poor, the mentally and physically disabled and the ill.  

The Overseer of the Poor and a resident manager were responsible for these establishments and made an attempt to make the farm self-sufficient. “Inmates” were expected to work as much as possible.

Admitting that one was unable to care for self was a measure of last report. One Stowe resident was quoted as saying “I’ll starve or freeze to death…before I will go to that accused poorhouse.” Being a  resident meant that one’s name and personal expenses to the taxpayers was published in the annual report of the town, adding to one’s humiliation.

The development of the county farm system in New Hampshire relieved local towns from the need to maintain town farms. The Grafton County farm began being established in 1867.  In Vermont, poor farms declined after 1880 as other helping organizations and agencies were created. 

Organizational homes for the elderly began when Philadelphia’s Indigent Widows’ and Single Women’s Society established one in 1823. By the mid-nineteenth century, fraternal, religious and trade organizations began opening nonprofit homes for their elder members.

In New Hampshire, the Odd Fellows and Rebecca groups opened a home in Concord in 1887.  The Masonic and Eastern Star Home was established in Manchester in 1904. The Vermont Eastern Star Home in Randolph opened in 1922 and served elderly members until 1988. The Gill Odd Fellows Home in Ludlow opened in 1896.

 About the same time, there were several non-profit homes for the elders created by civic-minded groups. In 1874, the Invalids’ Home was established in Keene by members of the Unitarian Church.  It was the first residential care facility in the state and offered “housing, comfort and aid to the lonely and forlorn women of the community.” In Vermont, the Burlington Home for Aged Women opened in 1888,  the Old Ladies’ Home opened in Rutland in 1890 and the  Brattleboro Home for the Aged and Disabled and the St. Johnsbury Home for Aged Women both were established in 1892. 

There were also a number of benevolent societies offering, among other benefits, old age assistance.  Members paid monthly dues when young and healthy to receive help when needed. The St. Andrew’s Benevolent Society of Vermont, chartered in 1892 and headquartered in Groton, had chapters around the state. Modern Woodmen of America was another example of this type of fraternal benevolent group.   

The local home nursing movement began in the two states in the 1890s, often offered first by large businesses to their employees and their families. In the 1920s, local classes on home nursing were held by the Red Cross and Home Demonstration groups under the auspice of the Orange County Farm Bureau.

To meet the needs of aging Civil War veterans both states established soldiers’ homes. Vermont opened its home in Bennington in 1887 and within the first ten years admitted 286 veterans.  New Hampshire open one in 1890 in Tilton and within the first two years admitted 143 veterans.

As with the poor farms, some elders resisted leaving their families and going to be cared for at public expense. While that was too shameful, receiving a veteran’s pension from the national government was not. Beginning in 1861, the Federal government began awarding pensions to disabled veterans and widows and orphans of the deceased. Veterans sometimes waited until they were elderly to apply for these benefits. 

In 1893, 28 years after the end of the war, there were 9,705 pensioners in New Hampshire and 10,069 in Vermont. Veterans’ benefits consumed 37% of the federal budget. The political clout of veterans’ groups kept benefits assured.

At the same time, there was considerable reluctance to offer compulsory old-age benefits to all elderly Americans, a benefit many Europeans enjoyed. Private pension benefits were offered by some companies, but many Americans relied on the traditional support from savings, property and family. This was at a time when the length of life was increasing and the length of employment was decreasing.  Retirement, forced or voluntary, was more likely, especially in more urbanized settings. 

At that time, progressive groups began to lobby for universal old-age benefits. A 1909 bill to extend veterans’ benefits to all Americans was proposed.  In 1911, Socialist Congressman Victor Bergen submitted an old age pension bill creating a government pension for all Americans at age 60 ”sufficient for their support.” One hundred Barre area citizens submitted a petition in support of the bill.  These bills never made it out of Congressional committees.

The Barre Daily Times supported these propositions: “The problem of dignified old age with some measure of independence  is one that troubles the sleep of half of humanity. But in our bustling country we seem to have left it to solve itself, while in Europe, governments, employers and above all, the people combined to find at least a partial solution.”

The idea of a government pension for all was denounced as a corrupt form of socialism, amoral and “destructive to the spirit of enterprise.” Neither major political party supported the idea.

Attitudes began to change, however,  in the 1920s with the rapid growth of poverty among elders. Poverty rates among elders increased from 23 percent in 1910 to 33 percent in 1922 and with the outbreak of the Great Depression, 40% by 1930 and 50% by 1935.

Major groups such as the Fraternal Order of Eagles set out to secure old age pensions, beginning at the state level.  By 1933, many states offered pensions.  In 1931, New Hampshire adopted a plan for residents 70 years and older who had been residents of their county for at least 15 years. In 1935, Vermont adopted a plan for those 65 and older, with citizenship and residency requirement.  Administered by the local Overseer of the Poor, the monthly benefit was $30 for individuals and $45 for couples.

In 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt introduced a proposal for a government pension program modeled after well-established European programs. With bipartisan support, including that of  Republican U. S. Sen. Henry Keyes of Haverhill, the bill became law. The resulting Social Security program created a federal safety net for those 65 and older based on payroll taxes paid during earlier employment.

The first person to receive an old-age monthly Social Security benefit check was 65-year old Ida Fuller of Ludlow, Vermont. On Jan. 3I, 1940, she received her first check for $22.54. Fuller continued to receive monthly checks under her death at age 100.         

Roosevelt chose not to include health care as part of Social Security because it was so controversial.  Opponents raised fears of government intrusion into the doctor-patient relationship and warned of “nationalized doctors.” In the late 1940s, President Harry S. Truman raised the issue of a health care benefit. Branding it as “un-American and “socialized medicine,” conservatives and the American Medical Association brought an end to his proposals. 

During the 1960 campaign, candidate John F. Kennedy promoted health care legislation.  He said the program was desperately  needed in “every city and town , every hospital and clinic, every neighborhood and rest home in America—wherever our older citizens live out their lives in want and despair under the shadow of illness.”  He wanted to build on a very limited health insurance that had passed in 1960, but was impacting only one percent of the elderly poor.

When he assumed the office of President,  Lyndon Johnson vowed to fulfill Kennedy’s promises. Proposals were, as they had been before, bottled up in Senate committees chaired by conservatives. The  landslide election of Democrats in 1964 opened the door for change.

 In 1965, Congress pass and Johnson signed into law the bill that led to Medicare and Medicaid. Those program, enhanced by additional benefits, have radically changed  health care for America’s aging adults. That year the Congress also passed the Older Americans Act. This was the first comprehensive federal program to provide home and community-based services for elders, especially for those who wish to remain in their own homes. 

The 2010 census revealed there were 8,694 New Hampshire residents who were 90 or older, with 232 at 100 years or older.  Vermont had 4,589 residents above 90 years with 133 listed as centenarians. In 2016, it was reported that Vermont had 14,000 residents age 85 and older. As that number continues to rise, New Hampshire and Vermont follow Maine in having residents with the highest median age. 

Most elders, even these of advanced age, hope to live out their lives in their own homes. Services such as senior centers, senior housing, adult day services, home-delivered meals and visiting nurses help to make that possible for many. As always, the keys to elder care are family, good health and assets. When those are not available, government programs make elder care generally available to even the poorest.

For those  who cannot live at home,  there are private and government facilities available. Even when one’s resources run out, and they are supported by what my Dad called “the federal gravy train”, there is quality care available.

The Margaret Pratt Community  facility joins the Atkinson House in Newbury, the Blue Spruce Home and Oasis in Bradford and On the Green and the Grafton County Nursing Home in Haverhill in providing care for the aged.  At age 76, and with a view to the future, I join those who are grateful that all these programs are available. Happy New Year.