Popular Posts


Saturday, August 28, 2021

Late Summer Fun

MOUNTAIN HIKING:  In the mid-1890s, this group of local residents prepared to climb Mt. Moosilauke.  Several trails and a carriage road made this a popular hiking location. The Prospect Hose on the summit was built in 1860. Late renamed the Tip Top House, it was destroyed in fire in 1942. (Bradford Historical Society)

CROQUET SET MILL: Croquet was introduced in the United States in the mid-1860s and became very popular. In 1888, the Roy Bros woodworking mill was established in East Barnet and at its height manufactured 40,000 croquet sets annually.  The mill was damaged by several floors and fires and ceased production in 1938.

For many years, Bradford's swimming hole was located at the Baldwin Bridge and the Waits River. Swimming lessons were a popular feature of this community pool.  

A month or so is left of official summer, less so if you are looking to a new school year. Still time for a column on the history of summer and fall activities. Not all seasonal activities are included.  Baseball, softball, summer fairs and auto racing will be dealt with at another time.

Early New England residents brought their recreational activities and attitudes from Europe. Summer activities included foot racing, nine-pin lawn bowling, and games that were forerunners of modern shuffleboard and baseball. Recreation, such as husking bees combined work and play.

The Puritan ethic considered play and idleness “the devil’s workshop.” Except for the youngest, there was little time for play. Leisure was a privilege of the upper classes. Farmers who toiled from first light to dark in the summer had little time, energy, or inclination for leisure activities.

The introduction of labor-saving machines in shops and on farms reduced the number of hours in the average workweek. These changes reduced the 1860 average workweek of 70 hours to 62 by 1890, 55 by 1910 and 43 by 1940. Shortened hours meant that adults had the time for involvement in fun activities. These advances did not always apply to farmers who to this day often toil 80 hours a week during harvest.

Many of those initially involved in the listed activities were likely to be tourists or residents in the middle and upper classes, especially when expensive equipment or fees were involved.  Golfing and cycling are examples of these.  When the activity did not require elaborate equipment, others were more likely to be involved.

When Americans began to have more leisure time, they often engaged in recreation that could be described as working at play. Just sitting around doing nothing was often equated with laziness. 

Golf was introduced into New Hampshire and Vermont in the late 19th century, with the Dorset VT club opening in 1886 and the Hanover Golf Club opening in 1899.  In 1929, the United Opinion reported, “Vermont, like Scotland, is a country built for golf.  Vermont is the Golfer’s Country.”

Locally, there have been nine golf courses, some public, others private.  Some were closely connected with tourism and others involved community interests. They were both designer courses and just pastures that doubled as links. Three remain open, including Bradford and Lake Morey, both established in the early 1920s.  Blackmount Golf Club opened in 1996.

The six that have disappeared include the Pike Manufacturing Company course which opened in 1900; Lake Tarleton Club, 1909: Mt. Moosilauke Golf Club in Warren, early 1900s; Shanty Shane on Lake Fairlee, 1911: Wells-Wood Golf Club in Wells River, 1925: and Bonnie Oakes Resort on Lake Morey established in the early 1960s.

At one time or another, all of these courses have been open for local golfers.  Details on these courses can be found on my blog at larrycoffin.blogspot.com.

For the young caddies, playing mumblety-peg in the caddy shack while waiting for an assignment, golfing was work. Sometimes, caddies, such as those at Lake Tarleton, had a chance to get in a round in the evening or going for a swim on a hot day. 

Swimming has been a traditional summer activity since the earliest settlers.  Swimming for recreation rather than just a way to bathe became more popular in the 18th century, especially among men and boys. 

By the latter part of the 19th century, women and girls were increasingly allowed to swim in mixed company. Their outfits consisted of long dresses or bathing gowns. Men wore wool shorts and tops, and only in the 1930s did men start to go topless.

It was not uncommon for boys to dam up the local brook for swimming. In 1897, Frank West Rollins recalled his New Hampshire youth when, as boys, “we divested ourselves of every stitch as we ran, and with a yell of delight, disappeared in the soft waters of the swimming hole.”

Swimming was also a major activity at the many youth camps and hotels that offered urban residents a respite from the summer heat. Swimming lesson programs became more common in the 1950s for local children.   

Hall’s Pond, Baldwin Bridge, Flat Rock, Ticklenaked Pond, and Lake Morey are among the swimming locations that called young and old alike for refreshment from the summer heat.    

With hundreds of ponds, lakes, and rivers, the two states are a mecca for other water-borne sports.  Fishing and boating are two of those. Fishing for food by local residents has existed for centuries, beginning with our Native Americans predecessors.

As early as 1837, the sport of trout fishing was tempted rural and urban fishermen alike. In 1842 Vermont historian Zadock Thompson wrote, “when the country was new all our waters swarmed with fish of various kind.’” Fish such as salmon and shad were so abundant in the Connecticut River, “they could be taken in any quantities desired.”  He went on to warn that while still plentiful, the erection of dams, pollution and reckless fishing was having an impact on the fish population.

In 1867, the local newspaper reported that four persons from Bradford took about 400 pounds of fish from Fairlee Pond.  In the years that followed, Lake Morey had a reputation for being able to catch “boatloads of suckers” with horned pout being so plentiful that “anyone can catch as many as he wishes for in an hour or two on a summer evening.” By 1898, Lake Morey was depleted of game fish, a situation also true of Hall’s Pond.

Both states passed legislation establishing fish commissions, and regulations and fish hatcheries to deal with this depletion. In 1907, with millions of trout and salmon fries released, it was reported, “when it comes to fishing, New Hampshire is emphatically in the front ranks.”

About that same time, there was news of the Wells River Fish and Game League. This group owned three nearby well-stocked ponds from which, on one morning, a small group caught 40 pounds of trout. 

In the 1950s, the fish taken from the Connecticut River were impacted by the river’s pollution. The efforts to reduce pollution in the two states made waterways better fishing locations. One only has to drive near local lakes and rivers to notice the number of fishing activities.         

Recreational boating and camping have also been a prominent local summertime activity. From 1892 until his death in 1930, Capt. Edgar Lucas and his steamboats provided tours and other services to the cottages and camps on Lake Morey and Lake Fairlee.   Similar steamboats plied Lake Groton to service local camps. These lakes celebrated boating with an annual boat parade. 

Youths from area camps were a significant portion of early boating on area lakes and rivers. For many years, the late Lloyd and Lucy Bugbee maintained a free canoeist camping site near their Bradford home at the Connecticut’s Eel Pot Ledge. Most of the patrons of that site were from youth camps or vacationing tourists. The site was later moved to Bradford’s Memorial Field’s Waits River access.

The building of Wilder Dam has enhanced opportunities for both canoeing and powerboating on the Connecticut River.

Summer fun has included bicycling since the 1870s. Cycling clubs began with the Vermont Wheel Club in 1884.  Bicycle shops began to open locally in the 1890s to meet “the desire among the youth and older ones to own a wheel.”

Bike touring became popular in both states, with some residents taking extended bicycling vacations. For many, a day-tour was enough. Cycling had a liberating impact on many women, giving them “a feeling of freedom and self-reliance.” Youngsters also experienced freedom as bicycles allowed trips for adventure.

 Young boys were more likely to take to village streets. Bradford historian Harold Haskins recalled “boys, whose only desire was to ride as fast as possible, regardless of the safety of pedestrians.” Several locals shared their own “dare-devil antics” in my blog article entitled “Pedaling Along.” 

One activity that required only minimum equipment was the game of horseshoes. Derived from the ancient game of guoits, it involved pitching horseshoes approximately 40 feet toward a rod in order to score points. 

Introduced into New England by English settlers, this game of skill “requires a good eye, an intuitive sense of direction and the knack of giving the shoe a spin that holds it flat when landing.” Success is a “ringer” with a “leaner” getting partial credit in points.

Competitions using mule shoes were played in Union camps during the Civil War.  Returning soldiers brought the game home. This game was played in the backyard for fun or in serious competition on a prepared court.

Especially after 1920, horseshoes became a regular part of local celebrations. Women sometimes participated.  Leagues were established, and teams travelled to competitions. Obituaries of many local residents mention a life-long interest in this sport.

There are other summer lawn games that were played locally in times past. The very social game of croquet was introduced into Vermont during the mid-1860s. In 1865, one Vermont newspaper mentioned that the game was “making rapid progress in the affections of the community.” The following year croquet sets were offered for sale. The game was especially popular in situations that allowed the mingling of young couples.      

The game saw a resurgence in the 1930s and was played on many local lawns. Since the late 1970s, it has been played competitively at tournaments in both states. 

The Roy Brothers’ mill of East Barnet became known for the hundreds of thousands of croquet sets it manufactured. Beginning in 1888, this river-side mill manufactured sets from birch, maple, and other local hardwoods and sold them through national catalogs. In 1924, the mill employed 50 local workers and manufactured 40,000 sets.  Fires and floods brought an end to the enterprise.  

Lawn tennis was introduced into the United States in 1881.  In 1884, Frederick Billings set up a tennis court at his Woodstock property. That same year, New Hampshire’s first tennis court was built in Waterville Valley.  By 1894, an annual Vermont lawn tennis tournament was held, and local clubs were being established.  Many of the first state tournaments were held in St. Johnsbury.

Players in the early years of the game competed with white balls, wooden racquets, long shirts for the women and long pants and ties for the men.

In the 1880s, Italian immigrants introduced New England to the Italian lawn bowling game of bocce. Italian clubs in cities such as Rutland, Barre, and Manchester had bocce courts. The Burlington’s club bocce courts drew families on Sunday afternoons for pleasure and competition.  Because of its varied ability level appeal and minimum equipment required, bocce remains one of the most widely played games in the world. 

The first badminton club was established in America in 1878. It became especially popular in the 1930s.  Badminton clubs were established in both states and offered the game for both recreation and competition. Inexpensive sets allowed families to set up the game in local backyards.

More recently, volleyball, corn hole, and Frisbee could be added to this list of summer lawn games. The Valley News recently had an article on the British game of cricket being played in the Upper Valley. 

Hiking and walking for pleasure was “a relatively new concept” in the late 19th century. Local hikers have been drawn to local mountains in both states for excursions since then. In 1886, it was reported that a large local group climbed Mt. Moosilauke. “This mountain,” the report concluded, “is gaining a deserved notoriety as a popular resort.” In 1860, a small hotel was constructed on the summit and groups accessed it by several trails. 

In 1910, the newly-formed Green Mountain Club began the construction of a hiking trail along the ridges of the Green Mountains.  The 270-mile Long Trail, completed in 1930, was the “first long-distance wilderness hiking trail in America.”

In 1921 the Appalachian Trail was proposed. Composed of existing trails and new paths, it was completed in 1937.  The 2,190 mile trail includes 151 miles in Vermont and 160 miles in New Hampshire and bisects our area on its way from Maine to Georgia. 

More could be listed as seasonal recreation activities. In addition to what might appear to be work-like activities, there are always lounge chairs and good books.  Whatever your passion, play on. Winter is coming.


Thursday, July 22, 2021

On The Stage

This undated photo, probably from the late 1930s, shows a group of Bradford, Fairlee and Newbury men in performance at the Bradford Village Hall. (Bradford Historical Society)

Between the 1890s and 1950s, local groups and professional traveling companies performed blackface minstrel shows.  This poster was for the 1947 VFW minstrel show in Fairlee.  With few citizens of color to correct it, the racial stereotypes portrayed gave audiences a negative impression of African Americans. (Fairlee Historical Society) 
The Old Church Theater, the Tabor Valley Players and the Parish Players are three repertory community theater groups that have entertained local audiences over the years. This image is a publicity still from OCT's August 2012 production of "Anne of Green Gables," directed by Gloria Heidenreich.  Pictured are (from l to r) are Mia Easton, Scott Johnson and Melissa Mann, who is directing this summer's "Alice in wonderland." (courtesy photo) 

Another community repertory theater company combined the talents of theatre lovers from Topsham and Corinth between 1976 and 2000.  The photo above shows the cast of "Aaron Slick of Pumkin' Crick" which was the company's first production and then repeated in 1990. (courtesy photo)
Journal Opinion July 14, 2021

“Little has been written of the theatrical history of Vermont; yet that little state encompasses a colorful theatrical past.” Dr. George B. Bryan, UVM Dept. of Theatre, 1991.

This column examines the theatrical history of our local area.  It defines theater in the broadest sense to include both professional and amateur performances on a stage. Examples include productions with local talent as well as those from away.  It includes student productions and what might be referred to as high- or low-brow amusements.

Bryan’s article on theater history mentions that there were theatrical productions and traveling musicians in Vermont by the American Revolution. However, from the beginning attitudes were mixed, with some hostility to outside performers. Perhaps that is because performances were often held in taverns and even on the Sabbath.  For many of the “moralistic contingent,” theatre was considered “a public nuisance and offensive against the state.”

 In 1836, the Vermont Legislature passed strict anti-theater legislation and the region entered “a state of artistic repression.” The so-called Bell’s Law remained on the books until 1880, but while performances were curtailed, there was a growing tendency to ignore the restrictions.

After 1880, there were new or  improved facilities dedicated to performances, both amateur and professional. They were locations for local talent, vaudeville stock companies and classical performers. In some cases, these were public town or village halls and, in others, they were private Opera Houses. Woodsville Opera House was built in 1892. Fairlee, Groton and Bradford’s theatre venues were referred to as “opera houses.” 

Railroads sometimes offered reduced rates for those attending shows. In 1907, the Woodsville production of “Under Two Flags” was so popular that a special train ran from Groton.

The Chautauqua was a popular form of entertainment in the years after 1904.  Founded in western New York in 1874 as an educational and social movement, it expanded into programs that brought tents to local communities before 1930.  It was described as a “cross between a campground and a circus.”

In 1915, Chautauqua toured the area, with week-long events in Bradford and Woodsville. The United Opinion published a special edition and the Bradford town center was decorated in anticipation of the “rare treat” of lectures, music, stories and magic performances. It returned for several years after, with the 1921 schedule also including one on the common in Newbury. The 1922-26 editions included a Junior Chautauqua held in the afternoon for the area children. The one held in Wells River included ballet along with other performances.

Several local entertainers were regulars in the Chautauqua tours.  From 1895 to 1937, Charles Ross Taggart of Newbury portrayed “The Man From Vermont” on the Chautauqua circuit. He was a gifted musician, humorist, and ventriloquist. Perley Klark and Luvia Mann, both of Woodsville, also added their musical talents to the tours. 

The late Clara Aldrich of Bradford told one of my student interviewers that the Chautauqua shows under tents behind the Bradford Academy “furnished us with good entertainment which was needed in those days.” 

One once-popular form of theatrical entertainment flourished in northern New England. The history of blackface minstrel shows holds a legacy of racial stereotyping.

Minstrel variety shows began nationally as early as 1828. As the term “minstrel” referred to traveling performers, early newspaper notices of “minstrel shows” may not have been blackface performances. However, after 1890, professional blackface minstrel shows toured the two states. Several were African American groups for whom the shows offered a significant means of income.  

There were also local minstrel shows, using local talent and performers in blackface. In 1893, the Apollo Club Minstrels of Montpelier appeared in Woodsville to an overflow crowd.  In 1896, there were two, the “Newbury Minstrels’ Big Black Show” and the Bradford Lady Minstrels. Bradford Academy students presented a similar show on several occasions. 

By the 1920’s, minstrel shows were fairly regular local events. In 1922, the Modern Woodmen’s show had 37 men in the chorus. As with the professional groups, these local productions included dancing, singing, jokes, tableaus, slapstick routines and “a plantation skit.” Those shows performed by whites, often in blackface, portrayed African Americans men as “stupid and lazy and black women as rotund and genial.”  Local men performed all the roles including that of the end men whose role was to engage in “comic repartee with Mr. Interlocutor.”

As late as the 1940s and 50’s, local men’s groups such as the Bradford and Fairlee firemen and VFW held regular minstrel shows as a fundraising activity.

With few citizens of color to correct it, the mocking racial stereotypes portrayed in the typical blackface minstrel show left a lasting negative impression. Dr. Byron concluded, “Vermont heartily supported minstrel shows long after their popularity waned in other places.” As local shows were discontinued after 1960, the controversy over blackface shows centered on UVM’s Annual Kake Walk. The 80-year old tradition came under considerable criticism and, after considerable discussion and attempted adaptations, it was dropped in 1969. 

But minstrel shows were not the only form of amateur and professional theater to thrive in the 20th century. 

After 1915, the Nellie Gill Players of Plainfield, VT toured the area, offering their annual productions to full houses. Manager Nellie Gill was a professional actor and utilized local talent in the plays. The review of the 1921 tour that included Fairlee, Bradford and Newbury, “guaranteed you’ll go home with a smile that won’t wear off.”

Burlesque was the “frisky cousin of vaudeville.” This gaudy adults-only show was not common in the area, although there were notices of such performances in Woodville.   Risqué shows, such as “The Whirly Girly Music Show” that toured Barre and St. Johnsbury in 1912, were sometimes found in local fairs. Under the charges of “moral indecency” such shows were dropped from fair offerings by the early 1980s.     

There have been many other plays offered by local organizations, including the following: Rebekahs of Woodville drama at the Haverhill Town Hall in 1897; Rebekah Lodge  play presented in the Bradford Village Hall in  1910; Bradford Eastern Star farce “How the Story Grew” in  1912;  Orford PTA presentation “Aunt Susie Shoots the Works”  in 1948.

There have been at least three repertory theatres in the area that have presented one and three-act productions.  The Thetford Parish Players began their production-filled history in December 1966.  Organized by Ed and Gillian Tyler and David and Linda Strohmier, their first production was “The Long Christmas Dinner” by Thornton Wilder.  It was held in the First Congregational Church on Thetford Hill, thus the name “parish players.”

This volunteer-based company continued to produce plays, sharing the nearby Eclipse Grange Hall with the local Grange organization. When the Grange disbanded in 1992, the theatre group acquired the building. According to the Parish Players website, the group presented 350 local talent productions in the first 50 years of their history.

The Tabor Valley Players was established in 1976 by Jim and Gloria Heidenreich and other local talent from Corinth and Topsham.  Using a $50 donation from theatre lover Maurice Page, they produced “Aaron Slick of Punkin’ Crick” in East Corinth’s Mason Hall.  This play had been first produced during Corinth’s bicentennial in 1964. The Players produced it again in 1990. The second production directed by Jim Heidenreich in the fall of 1976 was “The Devil’s Disciple.” 

As the reputation of the Players spread, actors from the area joined them for their productions. Those offering included comedies, musicals, and serious drama. There were as many as 20 productions including one-act play performances. 

 Most of these shows were in the East Corinth Mason Hall, but other venues included the Bradford Academy and the Topsham Town Hall. Lack of performance spaces in Topsham and Corinth because of changes in the Mason Hall and the Topsham Town Hall were major cause of the Players falling apart. Their last performances were as about 2002 as part of the Corinth Coffeehouse.    

The Old Church Theater was housed in the building that had originally been the Bradford town church. Over the years the building had been used as a venue for public meetings, a movie theatre and a fraternal meeting hall. In 1970, the Connecticut Valley Jaycees sponsored a repertory theater with college students, most of whom came from the Mid-west. After the students departed, interested locals kept the Bradford Repertory Theater alive, with at least one production using the Oxbow auditorium.

In 1984, Maryalice Klammer and Dominique Buffair, transplants from New York City, found the empty theatre too much to bear and began the Old Church Theater. The first production was “Finian’s Rainbow.” The group has continued to present summer theater in the old building for nearly four decades. They have presented children’s shows each year and provides child actors training.  All participants from directors and actors to technicians are primarily drawn from the Upper Valley and has often shared their members with both the Tabor and Thetford groups. Currently the OCT building is undergoing extensive renovations causing the company to temporarily move their productions to the Lower Plain. The current summer program will feature two plays, one of which is a children’s production.

Amateur talent shows with local performers have entertained area audiences. Sometimes these shows involved competition for prizes or just bragging rights.  Examples included Orfordville Grange annual show at the Town Hall, Fairlee Fireman’s Follies in the decade after 1958; “ The Mama’s and Papa’s Show” presented by the Bradford Pre-School Mothers Club in the 1970s; Tri-Village Firemen shows in the 1980s in West Topsham; Oxbow’s FBLA club talent show that began in 1974 and continued annually for years and Cottage Hospital Auxiliary talent show that began in 1991.

Traveling and local choral groups have been a part of local performances since before the Civil War. As early as 1877, Grand Concerts were held.  These were large-scale works for soloists, chorus and orchestra. Choral union societies were formed throughout the valley after 1895 and made presentations from Groton to North Thetford.

 At the other end of the musical genre spectrum were the traveling cowboy shows that came to the area as early as 1952. The Ernie Lindell show and the Doc Williams show were two that were in the area beginning in the 1950s. These shows performed in various local sites including Orford’s Bedell Barn and the Fairlee Town Hall.

The vocal tradition is kept alive by local groups such as the Thetford Chamber Singers, Full Circle and North County Chorus.  The latter, established in 1947, is, like the others, a mixture of trained voices and others who just share the joy of singing. It continues the Grand Concert tradition. 

As a result of theater’s popularity, it is perhaps not surprising that snake oil salesmen sought to exploit the medium. Occasionally, a medicine show would visit and with entertainment came a sales pitch for an astounding cure-all. In 1901, the London Medicine Show offered a week of shows in South Ryegate to “very good and well pleased audiences.” In 1921, the Pawnee Indian Medicine Company offered West Fairlee a show along with a “liver and kidney renovator.”

Unlike those performances, others came without a sales pitch. Local schools have a tradition of introducing students to dramatic productions. In addition to frequent one-act competitions, senior plays have existed in local high schools since about 1900. In 1906, Thetford Academy’s seniors presented “Little Valley Farm.”  Two senior plays I especially recall are the Orford High production of “For Pete’s Sake” and the Bradford Academy’s class of 1967 senior play “The Mouse That Roared.” I was a lead in the former and the director in the latter. For “Mouse,”  the house was filled for several performance with a total of over 700 spectators.  These plays were often staged between major sports seasons and had the added benefit of drawing a class together for their final year.   

I am sure that I have only touched on the many and mixed examples of performances that have delighted audiences over the years.  Venues such as Alumni Hall in North Haverhill, the Corinth Coffeehouse, and local churches as well  as area commons continue to offer performances spaces. An overriding characteristic of all of the different entertainment I have mentioned is that volunteers made them happen. Volunteers were the producers, performers and production workers.  The proceeds from many of these productions were used for good works in the local community.

Recently Gillian Taylor remarked “I can’t wait for my cherished Parish Players to burst forth from under this coronavirus rock with new lines, new loves, and lots of laughter!” She expressed the attitudes of all those who love live presentations everywhere and of all types. Let the curtains go up on new productions, concerts and performances. Break a leg! 

Thursday, June 3, 2021

More Wood There Be


The Bradford Veneer & Panel Co. was founded in 1909.  Over the years it offered  lengthy  employment for many local residents. The photo above is taken in the late 1950s and shows the log piles prepared for processing. (Courtesy: Bradford Veneer & Panel Co.)   

The two photos above show logs being prepared as pulp for the paper industry.  After 1865 paper mills in the two states began to used pulpwood rather than rags for the making of paper.  

“It is claimed that our boastful civilization is built upon iron, but I want to tell you that we are very largely dependent on the products of our forest for our existence. The average Vermonter… is always dependent upon and supported by the products of the forest.” Vermont Maple Sugar Makers’ Annual Report, 1917

In April, I wrote a column on woodworking in the Two-State region. This included items ranging from bobbins and clothespins to barrels and tubs. This column will continue the topic of the historic manufacturing of products from the region’s extensive forests.

In order to farm, the early white settlers had to clear trees. The easiest way was to burn the cut wood either on the spot or in their home fires.

For these settlers, the earliest cash crops were the potash and pearl ash they made from the resulting wood ash. 

Ashes were soaked in water and drained to create lye. One recipe called for passing water “through a barrel of hardwood ash over and over until an egg can float in the residue.” It was then evaporated in large kettles into potash. The lye was also used for soap production.

Nearly every settler had a crude ashery to create these so-called salts. Some communities established larger public asheries, a practice that often led to privately-owned businesses with more expensive equipment. Those factories refined potash into pearl ash for use as leavening in cooking.

These salts ,in high demand,  were exported  on rafts down the Connecticut River, for buyers to wash raw wool or in the production of other products.

Once farmland was cleared and the production of lumber became more profitable, the local potash industries faded.

In early Corinth, Daniel Cooke of Cookeville operated both a potashery and a tannery. The latter made use of bark, another forest-clearing byproduct.  

Bark mills processed bark, roots, and branches into a fine powder known as tanbark. At the beginning of the tanning process, hides were soaked in pits with a mixture of water and tannin made from the tanbark. After six months or more the hides were processed into leather. Oak and hemlock were especially good for this use. In 1827, there were two bark mills in Haverhill and a number in other area towns.   

Timothy Shedd of Wells River and Oliver Hardy of Bradford were early 19th century tanners whose operations included this tannin process. Workers used a tanner’s spud to peel the logs. In the 1890s, new machinery was used in bark mills that ground three cords of bark an hour. Tanbark was also used for insulation, especially in ice houses.

Harvested wood’s most continuous use was the heating of buildings and the cooking of food.  In the 1740s, Benjamin Franklin created a metal wood-burning stove as an improvement to the open fireplace. Its successors were known as Franklin stoves. In the 1830s, cast iron kitchen stoves and parlor stoves were introduced.

These stoves lightened the workload by raising the cooking level to waist-high and significantly saved on firewood. By the 1880s, wood supplied two-thirds of industrial and residential fuel.  In 1906, the first widely-used hot air wood furnace came on the market.

While coal replaced wood in most urban areas, local rural residents continued to use wood as a fuel. My parents burned wood harvested from our wood-lot in the Archertown section of Orford. We remembered two adages regarding that use. “Wood warms you three times, when you chop it, when you stack it, and when you burn it.” Wise users of wood check their remaining pile on Groundhog Day to make sure at least half remains for the rest of the heating season. 

It recent years, more efficient wood-burning stoves, pellet stoves, biomass power plants, and outdoor furnaces use firewood and the byproducts of wood manufacturing.

Local sawmills processed a significant portion of the harvested trees. As soon as towns were chartered, they often offered rewards to any who would build the first sawmill “to supply the inhabitants with boards” for homes, barns, and bridges. Surplus timber and logs were shipped to market, first on the Connecticut River and then by rail. 

The introduction of new machinery such as the circular saw, increased lumber production significantly. By 1840, there were over 1,000 sawmills in Vermont. In 1848, Dennis Lang of Barre began to make major improvements in sawmill machinery “that would eventually revolutionize the world’s sawmills.” He and his partners established the Lane Manufacturing Company in Montpelier. One of their mills boasted it could cut over 4,000 feet of spruce per hour.

 By 1855 there were at least 12 sawmills in Newbury, and their operation “nearly stripped the town of its timber.” Trussell’s Mill in Orford, built in 1866, produced 1 million board feet of lumber and 100,000 shingles annually. The depletion of harvestable timber, economic uncertainty, and foreign competition have caused the closure of many sawmills. In 2021, there were about 39 sawmills in New Hampshire and about 70 stationary or portable ones in Vermont.

Those interested in more complete coverage of this topic may find the 2013 column entitled “Smell of the Sawdust” on my blog at larrycoffin.blogspot.com. Use the search feature to locate the column. 

In addition to lumber, many sawmills also produced clapboards and shingles. John Peckett of Bradford began his career in 1810 rafting shingles and lumber down the Connecticut River. In 1854, he opened a Bradford mill manufacturing shingles and lumber. About 1865, J. G. Blood purchased a saw and shingle mill in North Haverhill. In 1879, a shingle mill on Hall’s brook in South Newbury produced 50,000 shingles annually. 

In 1874, the Lang Manufacturing Company developed a new clapboard machine.  The Washington County gazetteer, published in 1889, mentions at least two clapboard mills that produced over a million feet of spruce clapboards annually.

Veneer is another product that used lumber from the two states. Historically, veneers were cut by hand. In the 1820s new machines allowed the wood to be cut uniformly thin. This made it possible to use valuable wood such as mahogany go further by gluing it to native  species such as maple or birch. Veneer was used in furniture, boxes and wall paneling.

In 1909, George Church and Burton Hooker established a veneer mill on the Waits River in Bradford. At that time, the St. Johnsbury newspaper reported: “The capacity of the mill is about 8,000 to 10,000 feet of veneer a day, which requires about 2,000 feet of lumber.” Fire partially destroyed the plant on Sept. 16, 1012, but its owners reported that it “will be repaired and ready for operation by the first of November.”

 In a 1914 advertisement for a used power chipper, the company reported business “is very quiet. The outlook for business is poor.” By 1917, reports mention “lumbermen are rushing logs” to the Bradford Veneer & Panel mill. These logs were stored in huge outdoor piles, kept soaked before peeling. This was one of a number of veneer mills in Vermont and New Hampshire. As with many other woodworking operations, locals often found life time employment in the shop and yard. Although with a smaller staff, this mill continues the long tradition of working woods.   

In addition to the veneer, this mill also produces plywood. The practice of gluing veneers together was introduced into the United States in 1865. Used as a general building material, the standard size of 4 x 8 feet was adopted in 1928. 

Veneers were also a valuable part of the local furniture industry.  From the early years of settlement, part-time furniture makers produced all types of household furniture. These makers “took full advantage of the color and grain of local woods” including yellow birch, white pine, butternut, cherry, ash, and various types of maple.  More expensive furniture combined these materials with more exotic and expensive materials such as mahogany.  Veneers were often combined to created “rich multi-dimensional patterns.”

 In 1804, Israel Willard opened a chair and bedstead factory on Roaring Brook in Bradford. The following year Stephen Adams of Haverhill began making furniture using local birch and pine. David Beal began manufacturing chairs in Orfordville in 1837, at first by hand and later with a turning lathe. John Osgood, a Haverhill clockmaker, used cases made by Dudley Carleton of Newbury that were crafted from local wood such as butternut and cherry. From 1840 to 1878, Isaac Howe’s shop made chairs in South Newbury.

After the Civil War, furniture was more likely to be mass-produced. Examples of those businesses include Hale Furniture Co. of East Arlington, VT established in 1879, or the Cheshire Chair Co of Keene, established in 1869. It was reported that the latter produced 600 to 800 chairs each month. Those wishing a more complete history of local furniture makers may read my 2015 blog posting entitled “Furniture Makers: Plain or Elegant” at the site mentioned above.

By the early 20th century, pulp and paper made from wood pulp combined to be Vermont’s single largest industry. In 1907, Vermont had 28 companies that turned out pulp and paper with over 1,400 employees.

Early paper mills, such as those located on the Wells and Waits Rivers, first used rags to manufacture paper. After the Civil War, the ground wood fibers from pulp replaced the scarce supply of rags. In 1819, the Monadnock Paper Mill was established in Bennington, NH and, after 1865, converted to pulp. In the same way, the                        paper mill in Wells River, established by Bill Blake in the early 1800s, used rags at first. Later, after a number of ownership changes, it became known as the Adams Paper Company. About 1916, it began to use pulpwood for its paper production. It closed in 1981.

The Ryegate Paper Company established its paper and pulp mill in 1903. In 1913, it was producing 20 tons of ground pulp and 25 tons of newspaper daily. The company built housing for its scores of workers in East Ryegate.  It closed about 2002.

Between 1894 and 1900, consumption of pulpwood increased by over 50 percent.  In 1919, an article in Barre’s Times Argus warned of the depletion of Vermont forests from the manufacture of newsprint. “So great has been the draught made upon the reserves of spruce that only through reforestations will it be possible to meet future demands.”

There were similar connections between pulp and paper in New Hampshire. In 1868, W. W. Brown established the Berlin Mills Company.  By 1903, its mills in Berlin and Gorham were producing 200 tons of paper per day. By 1917, using pulp from Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, and Quebec, it was the largest operation of its type in the world. In Groveton with its paper board mill, Berlin and Groveton were paper company towns, with a distinct sulfur odor. While they survived the economic downturns of the 20th century, environmental concerns and foreign completion lead to their closure in the first decade of the new century.

The Vermont Maple Sugar Makers’ report mentioned above concluded that residents were surrounded by wood products throughout their lives. At the end, early residents of both states were likely to be buried in a pine coffin made by a family member or local carpenter. Wells’ 1913 Ryegate history concludes: “Carpenters also made coffins, which were not finished ready for use as they are now but when one was needed the local carpenter was provided with measures and instructed as to the expense which might be incurred.”

About 1826, E. H. Farham of Newbury made furniture as well as coffins. Later in the century, A.P. Shaw and George Butler of Bradford also offered them.  In the 1888 Orange County Gazetteer coffin makers were listed in Newbury, E. Corinth, Topsham and West Fairlee.    

This concentrated use of native woods had a negative impact on both states.  By the 1850s, 45% of New Hampshire’s forests were depleted. When railroads opened the northern section of that state to logging, further depletion occurred. By the late 1800s, 80% of Vermont’s forests were gone.  This deforestation led to erosion and flooding as well as an impact on forest animals. Factories polluted air and waterways. Workers often faced dangerous working conditions.

Reforestation, conservation efforts, and government regulations have turned some of this around. Today, New Hampshire is 85% forested and Vermont is 80%, the direct opposite of the earlier number. Waterways run clearer.  

Woodworking has been one of the most important manufacturing industries for both Vermont and New Hampshire. Beginning with individual part-time crafters, both states developed industries that employed many workers creating items from paper and bobbins to clothespins and furniture. Wooden works first met local needs before expanding to markets away. Many of these crafts still employ workers today making furniture, tubs, and veneers among other products. As in the past, they often use native woods.      

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Wood There Be


BOBBIN CAPITAL: Between 1872 and 1967, East Corinth's bobbins mills were among the world's foremost producers of bobbins for the textile industry.  Plastic bobbins and disastrous fires such as the one that leveled the Bowen-Hunter mill, pictured above, brought an end to those enterprises. (Courtesy Journal Opinion)

COOPERAGE REVIVED. Prior to the 20th century, most products were stored and shipped in barrels and tubs.  Coopers were valued craftsmen in every community. The Green Mountain Grain & Barrel Company of Richmond, Vermont, has revived this traditional craft. Despite a recent fire in their cooperage, their coopers continue to create barrels. (Courtesy Green Mountain Grain & Barrel Co.)

“From the beginnings of European settlement in North America until the growth of modern industry in the nineteenth century, wood was the raw material most frequently used for fuel, construction, furniture, and countless other articles.” Charles van Ravenswaay, American Antiquarian Society, 1971

I have written numerous columns on wood usage from lumbering, log drives and sawmills as well as houses, barns and furniture made from that lumber have appeared in this space. Those articles can be found on my blog at larrycoffin.blogspot.com. This article deals with the production of small wooden items produced before and after the Industrial Revolution. These woodenwares were a major part of shops and factories located within the two-state area.   

A deeply forested wilderness challenged early European settlers. Species of trees included maple, pine, birch, ash, oak, beech, cedar, and poplar. Before farming could commence those trees had to be removed. That harvesting provided the raw material for the manufacture of woodenware. Early residents quickly learned which wood was best-suited for a particular item and which time of year was best to harvest the ideal trees.  

Handmade wooden utensils often “cut, whittled or scooped out” by the homeowner, could be found in all homes. Those included baskets, tankards, wooden plates called trenchers, rolling pins, butter churns and molds, cheese drainers and presses as well as mortars and pestles, dippers, small boxes for sugar, spices and medicine, brooms and scoops. While these wooden items were found everywhere, metal or glass items were more likely found in the homes of the “better classes.” In the yards and barns were wooden troughs, buckets, kegs, barrels, storage boxes, and wooden plows. 

A skilled cooper was a valued craftsman in an early community. Operating part-time as a cottage industry while also farming, they worked to meet the great demand for barrels, tubs and pails. Before the 20th century most items were stored and shipped in wooden barrels. Of different standard sizes, wet barrels of oak were used for liquids such as molasses, cider, liquor or paint. Dry barrels, often made of maple, were used to protect contents from moisture. That ranged from hardware to flour and gun powder. Before metal hoops were used, wooden one, often made of elders, held barrels together.

John Mann, an early settler in Orford, is an example of a farmer/cooper. In 1767, he made pails and tubs to exchange for corn in Newbury.

The factory system that developed in the early 1800s changed the manufacture of these items. Locally, there were small woodenware factories in most towns.

Akin to barrels were tubs and boxes for the storage of butter and cheese. In sizes from 20 to 60 pounds, they were made of wood that would not impart either odor or flavor.  Prior to 1876, Henry Brown & Company produced butter boxes in a factory near the Waits River falls. In 1879, Leavitt & Gage Company of Bradford advertised their square butter boxes as superior to the old-style round ones.

Until the introduction of galvanized tin around 1900, buckets were manufactured from wood. This included sap buckets for the  growing maple sugar industry. Around 1878, one plant in Lyndonville created up to 15,000 cedar sap buckets annually.  Wooden sugar boxes were also in demand.

There was also the manufacture of barrel kits. These were loose barrel staves bundled together and shipped for later assembly.  In 1851, Ransom Aldrich of Newbury moved to Bradford to open a mackerel kit factory to meet the needs of the New England fishing industry. Described as a “decided genius in the manufacture of articles of wood,” he shipped his kits to Boston.  He later expanded his enterprise to include other wooden items, created on machines “he made with his own hand.” In the early 1900s, Proctor Bros of Nashua, NH operated a stave factory north of Bradford village. Their wooden staves varied in length and were used in the making of pails, ice cream freezers and barrels.

 One of the largest woodwork factories was located in Merrimack, NH. In the 1870s, it annually produced 240,000 fish kits and 2,500,000 barrel staves, almost all of which were made from local pine. At that same time there was a factory in Piermont that prepared alders to be used for barrel hoops.

Wooden tub and box manufactures were also found throughout the area. Page’s Box Shop of East Corinth began in 1875 as a blacksmith shop.  In the 1890s, in response to the needs of nearby creameries, they began to manufacture boxes for butter and cheese. Local farmers could rely on them for wooden stanchions, troughs and water tubs. They also manufactured sugar boxes by the thousands and, later egg crates, soft drink containers and even hot tubs. The last operator was third-generation Maurice Page. The operation closed in 1990 after a disastrous fire.

Tubs were also manufactured by Henry Hood of Topsham.  In the 1880s, the shop manufactured 3,000 tubs annually. About the same time, Rodimon’s Butter Tub factory was operating in Piermont.

Other box shops operated, including one in Walcott, Vt. The local newspaper reported “there are few manufacturers of turned wood boxes in the world that make as many as are made here.” Piermont’s Clayburn Brothers Butter Box operation was in business from 1920 until 1945. Stone & Wood Company operated a box mill in Woodsville after 1910. The Woodsville Box Shop manufactured ammunition boxes during World War II and later, wooden beverage boxes.   

Factories manufacturing wooden bobbins also provided employment in the two-state area. In the early 19th century new machinery revolutionized the textile industry. Those machines required millions of wooden bobbins and spools for the woven woolen and cotton threads they produced.  As different machines and stages in the process required different bobbins there were many varied shapes and sizes. Ash, birch, and maple were among the hardwoods used. In 1888, the St. Johnsbury newspaper reported it took one cord of wood to produce 5,000 bobbins.  

Two large bobbin mills were located in East Corinth. The Jackman Company, initially located in Topsham, began manufacturing bobbins in 1872. When that mill was destroyed by fire in 1894, the operation was moved to East Corinth. For a time the company also operated a small mill in Bradford. The bobbins they produced “were specialized for wooden thread, and for many years they made bobbins exclusively for the American Woolen Company.” During World War I, the mill was busy providing bobbins for the manufacture of woolen blankets for soldiers.

Katharine Blaisdell’s history of this mill mentioned that “for every 100 pounds of wood they started with, only 3 ½ pounds of finished bobbins could be produced, due to the drying and shaping of the wood. “ The bobbins were made from rock maple. When plastics began to replace wooden bobbins, business declined and the mill closed in 1969.

The second and larger mill was that of the Bowen-Hunter Company. The company began in 1905 in Ernest Bowen’s small shop. When that shop was destroyed by fire in 1921, Bowen went into partnership with Winthrop Jackman for a short time and then with Harry Hunter. Their mill “became the world’s foremost producer of bobbins for cotton mills.” They had auxiliary mills in West Topsham, Warren and Westfield, VT with a total employment of up to 185.  

In every aspect of woodworking, destructive fires were frequent. Major fires often signaled the end of an operation. That was the case when, on Nov 21, 1967, the East Corinth mill was destroyed by fire.   

Other local bobbin mills owners included F. D. McCrillis and M. D. Coffrin in Groton, Sumner Clifford in Warren, H. S. Sleeper in North Haverhill, Josh Nutter in Swiftwater, Pike and Lavoie in Pike, Warren and Glencliff and R. Beal and Sons in Orfordville. In 1886, the latter produced 500,000 bobbins.

The clothespin is another of the wooden items that had connections to the two states. Before the 19th century, laundry was hung on bushes or lines with either handmade prongs or no pins at all. In 1853, David Smith of Springfield, VT designed the first spring- clamped clothespin.  A year later, John Smith of Sunapee, NH patented a machine for the slitting of clothespins, the first of a series of clothespin machines.  He was also very successful at producing the pins themselves. A different pin-making machine was patented by two men from Hartland, VT in 1855. 

At first, clothes pins were manufactured in small family-operated factories. In the 1880s, the U.S. Clothespin Company and the National Clothespin Company made Vermont’s Washington County the clothespin center of the nation. In 1899, the St. Johnsbury Caledonian reported “the success of the company could be documented in an order of one carload, or 6,000 gross of pin” shipped to Europe soon. It was reported that during the height of production, the yearly production of pins in central Vermont amounted to 72 million.

After World War I, the industry was challenged as cheap imports from Europe flooded the market. In 1920, one gross of Vermont-made pins sold for 58 cents, while a gross of imported Swedish pins sold for ten cents less. Despite this competition, the two Vermont companies continued to operate. When the National Clothespin Company closed in 2003, it was the last American wooden clothespin operation

 Wooden pegs and dowels were used in construction of everything from structures to furniture and boxes, especially before nails became readily available.  After 1818, inventors, such as Thomas Rowell of Hartford, developed machines for the manufacture of wooden pegs. There were factories in Meredith, NH as well as Bellows Falls, St. Johnsbury, Barnet, and Bethel in Vermont.  In 1874, the latter “turned out 100 bushels of pegs a day.”  In 1897, maple and white birch pegs sold for prices up to one dollar per bushel. Before 1865, wooden pegs were also used in the manufacture of shoes but later replaced by small nails or glue. Despite that, an ad in 1907 called them the “best cure for squeaky shoes.” 

There were dozens of other local woodworking shops. In the 1860s, Charles Smith of Woodsville manufactured shovel handles. Edward Cilley of Piermont turned out hoe handles and ladders. Frank Bradford of Orford crafted brooms. A number of craftsmen including George Eastman of North Haverhill built coffins and caskets. In the 1890s, E.L. Chandler Co of Orleans, VT manufactured wooden piano sounding boards. In Springfield, VT there were several factories that manufactured wooden toys including wooden-headed dolls.

In 1879, H. D. Davis began to manufacture beehive parts in Bradford. Photos of the period show numerous beehives on the hillside north of the village.  Apparently those bees were annoying to the neighbors and, in 1892, the village trustees threatened to prosecute him for keeping bees. Their threat made national news in numerous apiculture magazines. “Beehive” Davis continued to keep bees and manufacture boxes.

Between 1870 and the 1890s, several individuals, including W. H. Leavitt, manufactured window parts as well as door, boxes and tubs in a factory near the fall in Bradford.  There were several shops, including that of Stephen Plant of Haverhill, that turned out baskets. In 1947, the Haldane Company of Groton manufactured boxes for the silverware industry.   

All of these manufactured produces proved “the strength, thickness, security and durability of wood.” Despite the constant threats from fire, foreign competition and economic downturns, these shops provided significant employment for both local men and women. They took trees from the hillsides of Northern New England and turned them into products for homes and businesses.

This is not the last of my columns on wood products.  In the near future I will cover potash, papermaking, bark mills and other local wood-based industries.

Saturday, March 20, 2021

Shields Against Crime

 Local Lawmen—Both of the local men pictured above had long-term law enforcement careers, Caledonia Country sheriff Lorenzo Sulloway of St. Johnsbury served from 1878 to 1905 and was described as “a terror of evil doers.” Newbury’s Horace Bailey  served as U.S. Marshall for Vermont from 1903-1914. Any person who broke federal laws would find himself up against “the real thing.”

Before the State Police—In response to increase highway traffic issues, Vermont created a highway patrol in 1925.  This officer, pictured in St. Albans in 1936 was one of the motorcycle unit. The patrol’s limitation to motor vehicle law enforcements and n the inability of county sheriffs to deal with major crimes led to the creation of the Vermont State Police in 1947.  (Library of Congress)     


“Certainly Vermont should have some officers empowered to enforce the laws and prevent crime, and not try to get along longer with a system that simply seems to lock the barn after the horse is stolen.” Letter to the Editor, Brattleboro Daily Reformer, Dec 28, 1920.

     This column examines the history of law enforcement in Vermont and New Hampshire from the Colonial era to the establishment of their state police forces. I have relied heavily on Michael J. Carpenter’s book on the Vermont State Police and the New Hampshire State Police’s Golden Anniversary publication.  Additionally, the material is taken from local publications and online sources.

     The two local law enforcement officers colonial New England imported from England were the constable and the sheriff. Each town had one or more constables as keepers of the peace and marshals of the militia. A town could not be recognized as legitimate unless it had constables to administer punishments and deliver warrants.

     In provincial New Hampshire, constables were authorized to seize lawbreakers, including privateers and pirates. Additionally, they certified weights and measures and oversaw wolf carcasses disposal. In both states, they were authorized to “pursue, or hue-and-cry after Murderers, Peace breakers, Thieves, Robbers, Burglars and other capital offenders.” Responding as a posse-comitatus to a constable’s hue-and-cry was required of every able-bodied man.

      In both Vermont and New Hampshire, constables were also collectors of state taxes. In 1788, the Vermont General Assembly authorized the first constable of Mooretown (Bradford) to collect a 10 shillings tax on each one hundred acres.

     During the 19th century, newspapers mentioned additional duties of Vermont constables. They included warning the poor out of town, transporting prisoners, killing unlicensed dogs, enforcing liquor laws and supporting local police courts. In 1895, the constables of Fairlee and Orford cooperated to prevent “the traveling public from driving over the covered bridge faster than a walk.”

     If there was a town jail, the constable was in charge. Prisoners often escaped. Newbury’s jail was an example of the inadequacy of the local lockups. In 1894, Newbury Constable Weed told the local newspaper, “There is no denying the fact that lawlessness in Newbury village is on the increase.”

     Newspaper reports began to refer to local law enforcers in larger communities as police. Soon after the Civil War, those larger communities began to maintain a police force including a night-watch contingent. These were often full-time uniformed officers. This increase in force was more a response to civil disorder than an increase in crime. 

    In 1898, Woodsville began to have an officer on duty during the night, appointed by the Selectmen, but paid for by the  businesses. The term “chief of police” was first used in reference to the Village of Bradford in 1909. By that time, the title had been used in larger communities in both states for some time.

     The chief law enforcement of the county was the sheriff. The title has its origin in the early English position of shire reeve. Before 1878, sheriffs in New Hampshire were appointed for 5 year terms by the Governor and Council. In Vermont, sheriffs were elected by the Legislature until the Vermont Constitution was amended in 1850 to provide for their election by each county’s voters. In 1870, terms were increased from one year to four.

     The duties of early sheriffs included the collection of debts, criminal prosecution, and punishment of offenders. These punishments, often severe, included whipping, branding, public display in stocks and imprisonment. Early New Hampshire sheriffs also transported election ballots to state officials. 

     Additional duties included sale of seized property, supervision of the county jail and playing a major role in the county court’s operation. Their duties sometimes carried them beyond the boundaries of their county.  

     In 1806, Orange County High Sheriff Mica Barron of Bradford traveled to Lower Canada to apprehend Stephen Burroughs, a notorious counterfeiter. Bankers had engaged Barron for this extra-legal investigation.

     One local sheriff of note was Caledonia County sheriff Lorenzo Sulloway of St. Johnsbury. He held his position from 1878 to 1905, one of the state’s longest continuous sheriff service records.  Sulloway apprehended many notorious criminals in several states, Canada and Cuba. He was described as “a terror of evil doers.” 

     Sheriffs were sometimes called to keep the peace in the face of social unrest. They were called to deal with labor unrest in Bolton (1846), Newbury (1847), Vershire (1883), South Ryegate (1885), and Bellows Falls (1921). In several of these incidents, the Vermont militia was sent to help the sheriff restore order. 

     Some sheriffs were not equipped to fully investigate major crimes such as murder. In 1866, in the murder of George Maxwell of Franconia and in the 1922 double murder in Orford, the sheriff relied on hired detectives from out the state. In the latter case, a fingerprint expert was hired to assist in the investigation.

     Before  state police units were established  in the two states, there were several other law enforcement officers whose jurisdiction was above the local county level. The oldest of this position was that of United States Marshal. The federal government created it in 1789 in support of federal courts and federal jurisdictions. 

     Federal marshals represented the national government throughout the state and were in charge of collecting and distributing information. Until 1870, they were responsible for reporting the census in each state. Until the Secret Service was created in 1865, they were frequently called upon to investigate counterfeiters and smugglers.

     As marshals were appointed by the President, the occupants of the office changed with the results of elections. George Washington appointed John Parker of New Hampshire in 1789 as the first U.S. Marshal for that state. In Vermont, the first marshal was Lewis Morris, also appointed by Washington in 1791.

     In March 1841, William Barron of Bradford was appointed U.S. Marshall for Vermont by President William Henry Harrison. As Harrison only served as President for 31 days, a document bearing his signature is the rarest of Presidential autograph. In 1985, Barron’s letter of appointment with Harrison’s signature was found in the Bradford Public Library’s attic. It was sold to finance improvements to the children’s room. 

    Two other local men were also appointed to the office of U.S. Marshal for Vermont. They were Jacob Kent (1845-1849) and Horace W. Bailey (1903-1914) of Newbury. Bailey received wide acclamation for his service. In 1905, one newspaper editorialized: “Horace is onto his job every time and the fellow who tries to get ahead of Uncle Sam by any crookedness whatever will find himself up against the real thing as long as the U. S. Marshal for Vermont is Horace W. Bailey.”

     The Federal Bureau of Investigation has had officers in Vermont since 1908. Their duties included investigations for the U. S. Department of Justice. Their jurisdiction involved federal crimes, and they were active in interstate crimes and civil unrest.

     From 1920 to 1933, the FBI was joined by federal prohibition agents and U.S. Customs agents in an attempt to enforce national prohibition. Through this area, roads were supply routes for smugglers of illegal alcohol from Canada bound for communities to the south.

     Both states also had officers to enforce fish and game laws. In New Hampshire, towns were authorized to hire wardens as early as 1880. In 1890, the first state enforcement officer was hired, a position that became known as game wardens in 1915 and became uniformed officers in 1926.

     Vermont game wardens were first mentioned in 1899.The state-wide game warden system was established in 1904, and by 1930, the officers were uniformed. In 1921, licenses were required for hunting and fishing. An article in the United Opinion noted that wardens were “considerably worried” about how it would look if they had to arrest female violators.

     With the proliferation of automobiles after 1910, both states had to deal with offenders of traffic laws. Even with the income that might come from local tickets, patrolling the highways was often beyond the constables and sheriffs’ capacity. Coordination between local police was difficult as offenders fled in high-speed automobiles. Added to this was the increase in tourists, events involving many automobiles as well as speeding and drunken driving.

     The idea of a state police in New Hampshire predated these developments.  In 1869, in response to a petition, Governor Onslow Stearns suggested legislation to create a state police force to act where local authorities failed to do so. Suppression of illegal liquor sales, gambling places, and “houses of ill fame” were among the motives. A state-wide vote failed to obtain the necessary two-thirds all-male vote.

     In 1915, the New Hampshire Legislature created a uniformed Motor Vehicle Highway Patrolmen unit to enforce traffic laws. The Attorney General was authorized to employ investigators with the power to enforce laws and make arrests statewide. 

     The idea of a state police was revived in 1931 when a legislative report called for the state to upgrade its “archaic system of policing.” As a result, a State Police Commission was created with 22 uniformed Motor Vehicle motorcycle officers.  A State Detective Bureau, as well as a bureau for criminal and gun purchase records was also established. 

     On July 1, 1937, a law upgrading the highway patrol to a state police force with broad powers went into effect. The New Hampshire State Police was the 15th such organization in the nation.  

    Progress toward a state police force was much slower in Vermont. In 1918, the Vermont Secretary of State’s office was authorized to hire trained motor vehicle inspectors to enforce motor vehicle laws. That first year, Ara Griggs was hired as the one officer assigned to cover the entire state.

     In 1925, despite opposition from sheriffs, a motor vehicle bureau was established with a highway patrol. This 10-man unit, often using motorcycles, however could not deal with criminal violations and was hampered by winter conditions.

     In 1931, a Vermont study committee recommended creating a full-time trained state police force to coordinate enforcement and reduce duplication. Vermonters’ attitudes toward centralized state control, threats to personal liberty, and a strong tradition of frugality coupled with significant opposition from the Sheriffs’ Association delayed action on the proposal. Additional report recommendations in 1935 and 1937 resulted in similar rejection by the Legislature.

     Opponents to these proposals stated they were too expensive and that there was “no crime wave and no crying need” for a state police force. This was despite favorable newspaper backing and support from the Vermont Grange and Vermont Farm Bureau.

     World War II delayed further legislation until 1946. There continued to be considerable criticism of the sheriff system for its ability to deal with the number of serious crimes and questions about their reporting of fines collected. One farmer was quoted as saying: “Getting a sheriff is like trying to raise the dead!!!”

     As is often the case, a serious and widely publicized crime involving one individual caused enough alarm to lead to legislative action. In this case it was the disappearance of Bennington College sophomore Paula Welden in December 1946. This was one of six unsolved missing persons or murder cases in the Bennington area. Despite help from outside sources, the local sheriff did not have the manpower for a successful search.

     Now there was widespread support for a new police force. In Feb 1947, a new bill overwhelmingly passed the Vermont Legislature and Governor Ernest W. Gibson signed it into law. On July 1, 1947, ten years after similar action in New Hampshire, the Vermont State Police became a reality. Vermont was almost the last state to create a comparable force.

     The new force was composed of 48 uniformed officers, many of them with considerable experience as motor vehicle inspectors.  

   The 1920 letter cited at the beginning of this column hoped that a state police force would be “a protector of the farmer’s stock, crops and home, an effective enforcer of our road laws and would make Vermont highways a safe place to travel on again, would adequately, and without a lot of scandal, perform all the duties of private detectives, saving money for Vermont, and beside, perform them in such a way as to not bring the law of enforcement of Vermont into dispute…”

Finally, by 1947, the trained state police forces were on call in both New Hampshire and Vermont. 





Thursday, February 4, 2021

It's Still In The Mail


Rural Free Delivery helped to eliminate isolation felt by many rural families. It replaced "star routes." It open rural areas to being able to buy from catalog and to sell local products. (Courtesy-Arthur Pease) 

”The postal service is for a variety of good reasons made a public function; but that it results in more economical or efficient management, there is not only no evidence to show but all evidence available contradicts.”  Windham County Reformer, Dec. 27, 1901.

     The first part of this postal history analysis was published in December and was posted on my blog at larrycoffin.blogspot.com.  It dealt with topics including early postal delivery, rates, and offices. The appointment of postmasters, both men and women, was included as was the issue of Sunday mail delivery.

      This column continues to explore the history of the postal service and what it offered, especially in the period before 1950. The interactions between offered postal services and private enterprise, especially as it impacted the development of the government agency, are important areas surveyed here. 

     Before the last decade of the 19th century, a large percentage of the nation’s rural population received their mail by going into town or paying a private carrier to deliver it. In the 1870s, farm organizations such as the Grange began to lobby for free delivery to rural areas.

     As with other postal services improvements, considerable opposition arose from private enterprise, in this case, local storekeepers, express companies, and private carriers. 

     Nevertheless, Congress established Rural Free Delivery (RFD) in 1896, 33 years after that service was available in cities. The first rural route was established in Vermont in 1896 and in New Hampshire in 1898.  Local newspapers in 1901 reported that the program “is popular wherever introduced…meeting with unqualified success.”    

     By 1906 there were 292 routes in Vermont. In New Hampshire there were 202 routes, “and new routes are being laid out as fast as the post office department can arrange for them.”  Locally, rural routes were establish including in Thetford in 1896, Woodsville 1901, Bradford 1903, and Corinth 1905.

     The new service brought an end to many private carrier’s star routes and many smaller post offices. Those private carriers had been awarded routes as lowest bidders. They agreed to provide “due celerity, certainty and security of transportation.” As stars identified each of these three conditions, the privately operated routes had been designated “star routes.”

The introduction of RFD helped to eliminate the isolation felt by many rural families as they could depend on free daily mail delivery. One elder recalled that her family received mail in rural Lyme several times a day,

      Mail order catalogs from companies such as Montgomery Ward and Sears & Roebuck created opportunities to purchase consumer products. Farm magazines offered advice and reported changing techniques. 

     Often, a strong bond developed between the RFD delivery person and the families on the route. In 1965, the United Opinion reported on the retirement party for Corinth’s rural carrier Ernest Flanders.

     In the article, Flanders commented on his 34 years serving the rural patrons on the 28-mile route. He recalled the early winters when the roads were rolled, and horse and sleigh were used.  On Turkey Hill, the snow often drifted, covering the boxes. He remembered carrying a screwdriver to pry open frozen boxes or remove frozen pennies left for stamps.  

     For years, private express companies and rural merchants had also opposed package delivery.  As a concession, limits were placed on the weight of packages delivered by the postal carriers. Wells Fargo, established in 1852 by Thetford native Henry Wells, was one of the most power opponents.

     In 1913, the Parcel Post package delivery system was established. The United Opinion reported, “the parcel post will be the general public’s express.”

      For rural dwellers, this meant receiving free delivery of products and opportunities to mail local products at a lower rate to a nation-wide market.  Eggs, butter, and maple products were among the first items shipped from the area. 

     In 1901, the post system reached a national milestone with 76,945 post offices. The new delivery services, however, caused many smaller post offices to close. New Hampshire had reached its highest point in 1894 with 593 post offices. Closures soon following, although none locally. What at first appeared to me to be a closure was actually a 1912 name change when Warren Summit became Glencliff. 

     In Vermont, several small post offices closed over the years, including Copperfield in Vershire (1892-1906), West Bradford (1831-1837), Bradford Center (1847-1903) Heath in Corinth (1896-1905), Middlebrook in West Fairlee (1852-1855).

      By 1850, the Connecticut and Passumpsic River Railroad was delivering mail to area towns. In 1873, the Montpelier and Wells River Railroad delivered mail along its line as did the railroad company from Boston to Woodsville. By 1887, several daily mail trains were going north and south through the Connecticut River valley. Mail was picked up and sorted enroute. Station masters placed sacks of outgoing mail on a crane so that it could be picked up without stopping. By 1910, railway mail service handled 98% of America’s intercity mail.

     After World War II, Highway Post Offices replaced railroad mail cars with employees sorting mail as these large vehicles moved along.  Nationally, the last railroad postmark was in 1966.

          For many years, mail to Corinth and Topsham arrived on the Bradford stage. Prior to 1908, mail that arrived on the afternoon train was taken by stage to East Corinth where the mail was sorted. It was then taken by star routes to West Topsham and Waits River. That meant that locals could get both long distance and local mail by late afternoon.

     In 1908, there was a dramatic change with mail coming from East Barre. Timely mail such as Bradford’s United Opinion published on Friday would not arrive until Monday. Every time there was a change in delivery routines there were stern editorials and letters to the editor appeared in local papers. 

     In 1925, Congress passed the Airmail Act, a legislative act that allowed contracts with and support for the new commercial airline industry.  Progressive Congressman Clyde Kelly of Pennsylvania was the primary sponsor, an effort that gained him the title “father of the air mail.” Air mail became standard in 1975. 

     The postal system offered postal money orders in 1864. Union soldiers were able to send money home using these pre-paid checks or “money-letters.”  The fees varied with check’s amount, with early rates at 10 cents for amounts up to $10. Not all post offices offered this service at first. In 1867 an announcement appeared indicating that the Bradford office had been added.

     I have noticed patrons continue to use this service out of the local office in Bradford, as the checks are guaranteed. They include local migrant workers sending money home or individuals sending payments.      

     In 1873, the postal service began to issue postal cards imprinted with a one-cent postage stamp. The idea had first been introduced several years earlier, following the example of several European nations. Privacy concerns delayed their authorization. In 1872, the Burlington Weekly Free Press included the following explanation for the delay, “visions of libelous and insulting messages, as well as over curious letter carriers, and post office clerks…seem to haunt the legislative brain.”   

     As the price was half that of a first-class letter, these postal cards were met with an enthusiastic response. In the first six months, the Post Office sold 64 million, with businesses using them as an inexpensive way to advertise.

     Their use peaked in 1950 with 3.4 billion cards mailed. The number has fallen dramatically since. They were referred to as “penny postcards” until the postage was increased to two cents in 1952.  In 1999, the title was changed to “stamped cards.”

     These cards are not to be confused with commercially produced postcards. First produced around 1861, they were allowed to be sent as mail with a two-cent stamp. In the late 1800s, their popularity grew as a quick way to send a message and share a photograph. This popularity was enhanced by the government’s lowering of the postage to one-cent, and because collecting picture postcards became more popular.

     In 1907, the post office allowed a “divided back” card with space on the reverse for both a short message and address.  In 1908, 667 million postcards were mailed. The highpoint was about 1990 with 2.8 billion cards mailed.    

     Another service began in 1911 with the establishment of the Postal Savings System. This was aimed who distrusted the soundness of their local bank or otherwise were unable to avail themselves of the banking system. The postal savings was deposited in designated banks. The program later sold bonds and operated a saving card program. This system was especially successful until the creation of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation in 1933.

     It was terminated in 1967 as the number of customers declined. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has recently reintroduced this system as a service to Americans who are underbanked.

    There have been other innovations over the history of the post office system. In 1810 the law required local post offices to be open at least one hour on Sundays.  Sabbatarian opposition to this practice as well as low mail volume have led to changes in this policy. Stamps were accepted in 1852 and in 1863 mail was categorized by class. In 1963 a system of zip codes were adopted.

     As with earlier advancements, the national post office has always had to deal with competition from those who value private enterprise over public services. Another example was the call in the 1870s for the Post Office to offer postal telegraph in opposition to the monopoly held by Western Union.

      Calling a government telegraph system “vastly cheaper,” a Postal Telegraph Bill was introduced. In 1888, a supporting petition bearing the names of 2,332 Vermonters was sent to Congress. As a result of significant lobbying by private enterprise, the bill never passed. For one year during World War I, the telegraph/telephone industry was placed under the control of the Postmaster General.  

     The struggle between private enterprise and public control of the postal system continued. In 1907, one Vermont newspaper raised concerns over transferring some postal services to private companies by writing, “Do we want the postal services placed in the hands of such private greed?”  In 1913, another Vermont newspaper referred to the postal system as “an immensely expensive luxury.”

     But support for the public service was expressed by Congressman Clyde Kelly who called the postal system “the people’s thoroughfare…its record in the past is the inspired promise of its betterment in the future.”

     That struggle between private and public continued unabated. The 1970 Postal Reorganization Act created the U.S. Postal Service, a government-owned corporation with what was purported to be a more business-like model. At the same time its statement of purpose recognized the role of the service in binding the nation together with service to all areas and communities.

      “Small rural communities frequently center around their post office.” This comment appeared in this newspaper at the time of Piermont’s postmaster Gloria Randall’s retirement in 2004. The internet, private delivery systems and changes in our rural personal interactions, have dated this statement. Delivery to rural patrons cost more than to urban homes. As questions about the future of the U.S. Postal Service are raised, is universal six-day rural postal service a thing endangered? The answers to that question will have a profound impact on the postal service in our area. .