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Sunday, November 13, 2011

Lest We Forget: Veterans Day 11-11-11

Armistice Day originally observed the end of fighting in World War I.

The armistice took effect on November 11, 1918 at ll a.m.

Copeland Furniture employee Carol Brown of Warren had the job of laser engraving
376 names of Bradford veterans on individual pieces of wood. The names were mounted
on three veterans plaques designed by Armin Driver.

PLAQUES BEING CRAFTED. Copeland Furniture Company owner Tim Copeland

looks on as employee Herman Durkee III of West Fairlee puts some of the finishing

touches on the plaque bases.

Some of the 150 residents who gathered in the Bradford Academy
Auditorium to share in the dedication of the Veterans plaques.

Robert Fish, shown in the end seat of the first row, was the veteran
who called on Larry Coffin and asked that plaques be created honoring
Bradford's veterans. Fish and his two brothers grew up in Bradford and
participated in WW II.

Color guards from American Legion Post #20 are shown with the Vietnam plaque. The Boy Scouts and the National Guard also provided color guards for the other two plaques.

November 9, 2011 as printed in the Journal-Opinion

“In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.”

This is the first verse of the famous World War I poem by Canadian Lt. Col. John McCrae. The Great War or the World War, as it was known until World War II, left millions of combatants dead. It began in August 1914 with the Allies, composed of the British Commonwealth, including Canada along with France and Russia against the Central Powers of Germany, Austria-Hungary and Turkey. Modern methods of warfare such as the machine gun, giant cannons, tanks, airplanes, poison gas and trench warfare led to mounting casualties and a stalemate on the Western Front. A generation of young men died in the horror of the trenches with little gain for either side.

The United States entered the conflict in April, 1917 after Germany declared unrestricted submarine warfare on American vessels. Over 4.7 million Americans, including men and women from our area, joined the military service. The American Expeditionary Force, led by General John J. Pershing, tipped the balance in favor of the Allies. An armistice was declared and the fighting came to an end at 11 a.m. November 11, 1918.

The war cost the United States 53,402 battle deaths with an additional 204,000 wounded. Over 63,000 other servicemembers died, many from the influenza pandemic. Many veterans came home suffering from shell shock, now known as post-traumatic stress syndrome. The nation rejoiced on that November day with school closings, church services, factory whistles blowing and spontaneous parades.

Bradford celebrated as people gathered in the streets in front of what is now the Bliss Village Store and “sang songs of joy and praise and thanksgiving, under a great star-spangled banner flying overhead across the street.” In Haverhill, as in other towns, the bells rang all day.

That day and hour became sacred in the memory of the victors. November 11th became known as Armistice Day in the United States and France and Remembrance Day in Canada and Britain. In 1919, President Wilson proclaimed the first Armistice Day anniversary observance.

In 1920, the newly established American Legion Post in Woodsville observed the anniversary with a dinner, concert and dance. Legion There were also Legion Posts in Bradford, Rumney, Lyme and Newbury. Veterans of Foreign Wars Posts were established in Wells River, North Haverhill, Groton, Fairlee and Bradford, some before and some after World War II.

Among their civic activities, these veterans groups sold poppies to raise funds for the needy children of France and for disabled veterans. Selling poppies, reminiscent of the poppies in McCrae’s poem, has become an annual tradition for veterans groups. Communities also used the observance to promote annual Red Cross drives.

In 1921, Armistice Day was declared a national holiday. The most solemn observance that year was the establishment of the Tomb of the Unknown at Arlington Cemetery. The custom of observing moments of silence at 11 a.m. in remembrance of the war dead became widespread. It was during the 1920’s that several local communities, including Fairlee and Bradford, erected monuments to those who had served.

In the 1920s and 30s, most states established Armistice Day as a legal holiday. Because the establishing of legal holidays was a state prerogative, it was not until 1938 that the Federal government made it a legal national holiday.

Only occasionally did local reporters for The United Opinion mentioned Armistice Day observances by schools and veterans organizations. Elders with whom I spoke recall that Memorial Day was more often observed with programs in school than Armistice Day.

In November, 1929, an editorial entitled “Armistice Day Thoughts,” praised the work of the American Legion in support of war veterans and their dependents. As it cited the Legion’s civic programs, it decried the lack of support for ex-service men by of the general public.

In 1935, the Bradford Legion post used the newly-dedicated Academy gym as a location for an Armistice Day dance featuring the Bar X Cowboys and caller George Bedell. By that time it had become an established tradition for stores to close for the holiday. This practice continued for some time, although by the 1950’s only some stores closed for the entire day.

World War II and the Korean War created millions of additional veterans and in the early 1950s, interest in observing a day in their honor grew. In 1953, a special Armistice Day assembly was held at Bradford Academy at which the school was presented with the flag that covered the casket of the late General Herbert T. Johnson of Bradford, former Adjutant General of Vermont. Orators spoke of the meaning of Armistice Day. On that same day, Loyalty Day was observed in the Fairlee elementary school.

In 1954, President Eisenhower signed legislation changing Armistice Day to Veterans Day. In keeping with the theme of honoring all service men and women who have served, special ceremonies were held locally. (Because it is a day honoring all veterans, Veterans Day is spelled without an apostrophe.)

In 1968, the Federal government, as part of the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, moved Veterans Day to the 4th Monday in October. However, when the legislation took affect in 1971, some states began to move the observance back to November 11th. In 1978, with popular support, the Federal holiday observance reverted as well.

Gary Scruton, Past Commander of the Legion Post in Woodsville, told me for some years the post and its auxiliary, joined by the Sons of the American Legion, the Newbury Legion Post and the Haverhill Veterans of Foreign Wars have held a short parade to the veterans monument on Woodsville’s Central Street. The ceremony draws up to 100 participants and spectators depending on the weather and the day of the week on which Veterans Day falls. The veterans groups also sell poppies.

Veteran Leonard Dobbins told me that Veterans Day ceremonies have been held in Bradford for decades. Scott Johnson, Bradford’s American Legion Commander, says since the mid 1990’s, a short Veterans Day observance has been held at the Bradford Gazebo. The American Legion provides a script for the half-hour program. He indicates that up to 40 residents including Scouts usually attend.

In 2010, at a special Veterans Day assembly, Oxbow High School and River Bend Career Center dedicated an honor roll to the students, faculty and staff members who have served in America’s armed forces. The plaque is located next to the flagpole on the front lawn.

This year, as in other years, newspapers will include mentions of Veterans Day in columns and advertisements. Television programs will make note of the day. Some businesses will close and others will offer special deals to service personnel and veterans. Veterans’ groups will hold ceremonies. Concerts, parades and wreath-laying ceremonies will be held across the nation. Flags and poppies will appear. Some will raise a glass to departed comrades.

For the first time since 1918, there will be no World War I veterans in America. Frank Woodruff Buckles pass away in February at age 110. In November, 2008, on the 90th anniversary of the signing of the armistice, he had been recognized by the secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs as “our last living link” to that Great War.

The observance in Bradford this year was special. On Friday, November 11, at 11 a.m., Bradford dedicated Veterans Honor Rolls for its veterans from World War II, Korea and Vietnam. The ceremony, which took place in the auditorium of the Bradford Academy, was attended by about 150 local residents, including some 6th graders from the Bradford Elementary School. Bradford historian Larry Coffin outlined the history of the project. He said that this project has been underway since l965. At that time, Bradford historian Harold Haskins began compiling a list of World War II veterans. The project then languished until about five years ago. It was again set in motion on a summer evening when elderly Robert Fish arrived at my door.

He said that he was a World War II veteran and had joined the service along with his two brothers. They had all grown up in Bradford. He decried that there was no honor roll listing the names of Bradford veterans. He mentioned the monument that had been placed on Bradford’s Memorial Field in 1965, but noted that it did not include an honor roll. Mr. Fish attended the ceremony./

Scott Johnson, Wayne Kenyon and Larry Coffin took up the challenge. With the help of Copeland Furniture and its staff, and with the approval of the Bradford Selectboard, plaques bearing the names of Bradford veterans will installed on the east wall of the BA Auditorium. The 376 men and women named are those who were residents of Bradford at the time of their induction. It is anticipated that, at some later date, an additional plaque will honor those from Bradford involved in the recent wars in the Middle East.

It took Bradford 56 years to erect an honor roll for those who served in the Civil War, three years for the Great War. As the legions of servicemen and women from World War II, Korea and Vietnam grow old and pass away, it was long past time for Bradford to establish an honor roll to them. Placing this list of names in a most public place will help to honor them, lest we forget their sacrifice.

In November, 1926, The United Opinion featured a retrospective editorial entitled “Back to Plowshares” heralding the return to normalcy in the general population. But it went on to say, normalcy came to “…all except the shattered shell-shocked bodies and the bereft minds and morale of the unfortunate heroes. To them, then, is due all deference and reverence on Armistice Day, the first to respond, yet the most futile to restore and recompense, for an imperishable service.”

For Veterans Day, 2011, with a whole new group of veterans returning from conflict, this is a timely message.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Halloween's Mysterious Tales

KNOW YOUR INTENDED. It was widely believed that Halloween was a time when one could discover a future mate. In 1871, a Bradford newspaper article described the charm depicted in this vintage Halloween postcard.

THERE BE WITCHES. Early New England residents believed that witches
carried out the Devil's work. The witchcraft hysteria that swept Salem, MA in 1692 led to the execution of more than 20 residents. This 1855 painting by Thompkin H. Matteson depicts the Salem trial of George Jacobs Sr., an ancestor of the author.

NOT ALL TRICK-OR-TREATER. The ghosts and spirits that appear on Halloween may not be just the ones looking for candy. Some residents believe that the answer to the question, Is Bradford Haunted?" is "Yes." (Photo composition by Michelle Sherburne)

As published in the Journal-Opinion
October 26, 2011 (with some additions)

Next Monday is Halloween. After dark, little costumed hobgoblins will come to our door, and we will distribute chocolate to ward off any hex they might put on our house. It is a night deep with tradition, with activities ranging from parties and harmless pranks to vandalism. There are also thoughts of witches, vampires and ghosts. This column examines the history of Halloween as well as the stories of the supernatural from our area.

This autumn observance has roots in the religions of pre-Christian Europe. The autumn solstice was observed as the festival of Samhain, the space between the seasons and the New Year. On this day, the Lord of Death gathered the souls of the dead, many of whom wandered the earth. Bonfires ruled the night and fortunes were told for the coming year. When these areas were converted to Christianity, the Church co-opted the pagan festivals it couldn’t stamp out. November 1st became All Hallows or All Saints Day. The night before became All Hallows Eve.

In each country, the observance took on its own features. In England, November 5th was Guy Fawkes Day, recalling the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 in which a group of Catholics plotted to blow up Parliament. Children in England celebrated the day with the burning of “guy” effigies and begging for candy or pennies. Elsewhere, treats were left out to ward off the wandering souls. Cabbage Night has an origin in Ireland where ungathered garden produce was considered inedible because the spirits had spit on them.

The earliest settlers of New England observed the fall festival. To them, it combined all of the elements mentioned above as well as the completion of the harvest. But there was also a darker side. To them, the Devil and his evil band were a real part of their lives, something to be greatly feared. Witches were among them, casting spells on those who offended them. In Europe, thousands of suspected witches had been hanged or burned during the previous centuries.

The Salem witch trials of 1692 are the most well known manifestation of this fear. My 8th great grandfather, George Jacobs, and my wife’s 8th great grandmother, Susannah North Martin, were both tried and executed as witches during that hysteria.

In the early 19th century, the belief in witchcraft had not died away. There are stories of witches in the local area. William Little’s History of Warren states, “Every town has had its witch or wizard, but if tradition is correct, Warren had more than its share.” Among the tales he relates is one of Nan Tucker, “who once sold some walnuts in old Haverhill, much to the displeasure of a certain elderly lady. That night Tucker and his wife could not sleep; all night long there was rattling of walnuts on the kitchen hearth.” In the morning, walnuts were piled in the form of a pyramid on the hearth-stone, having been returned by the witch.

“But stranger yet, the silk handkerchief that Mrs. T. had used as a night-cap, when she went to take it from her head, fell to the floor cut in a thousand pieces.

Wells’ History of Newbury relates the story of an old West Newbury farmer, “who affirmed that he had seen witches dancing along the crane in the fireplace at midnight and believed that some malady which affected his cattle was caused by a woman in the neighborhood.” Molding an effigy of the woman from tallow and beeswax, he stuck it with thorns and melted it before the fireplace. It was said that at that moment, the elderly woman fell down stairs and broke her arm.

Topsham Sketches includes the story of the witch house of Dame Tucker near Waits River. Having a dislike of a certain man, she put a spell on him as he was driving his team of oxen past her house. “She ran out to the road and snapped her fingers at the oxen and their yoke fell off,” not once, but twice. It was also reported that she would go into a trance, take the form of an animal and “annoy her neighbors.”

Probably the most famous story of a vampire in our area is the tale of Old Doc Benton. He was reported to be the son of early Benton settlers. The story, which I first heard at Dartmouth’s Ravine Lodge, relates how Benton, while studying in Germany, traded his soul for the secrets of eternal youth.

Returning to practice medicine in Benton, his strange behaviors soon drove him into seclusion. The story tells of numerous strange happenings involving his attempts to secure the blood of children, adults and animals for his bizarre experiments. While he has not been seen since the 19th century, rumors of him around Mt. Moosilauke persist. It is a story best retold in a darkened room lit only by the flickering light of a fireplace, especially at Halloween time.

If you live in a house built before 1940, it is likely that former residents died there. That gives rise to the idea that older buildings may be inhabited by the spirits of the deceased. In September, the Bradford Historical Society offered an opportunity for local residents to answer the question, “Is Bradford haunted?” Over 50 came to tell and hear story after story of spirits and unexplained phenomenon.

Residents of a 1785 house on South Main Street report hearing a child crying when they tried to sleep in a certain upstairs bedroom. Mysterious nighttime sounds of footsteps in a Main Street home may be those of the long dead housekeeper Mary Tuttle, trying to find her way to her upstairs bedroom. Visitors to a home across the street report ghostly apparitions and mysterious noises.

Joi Winchell of Corinth recently told me that she has experienced unusual occurrences at her 18th century home. She related that late one night she heard laughter and the sounds of someone jumping on the bed and floor of an unoccupied upstairs bedroom. Twice, she heard the sounds of work horses passing on the road when there was none to be seen.

Jenn and Andy Boyce of Post Mills live in a house built on the site of the Commodore Hotel. The hotel was destroyed in 1910 and the Boyce home was built in 1914. They and their neighbors have heard unexplained old-fashioned music. Apparitions in 1890’s apparel have been seen. In a recent interview, Jenn Boyce said that they thought of their home’s ghostly guests as friendly and benevolent.

Not all the occupied structures are old. The family of Crystal Eastman of Bradford lives in a home built in 1995. It also has a family of three ghosts who live in that home. Eastman said the interactions between these two families led her to invite the Vermont Paranormal Investigators to examine her home. She said these ghost chasers found evidence of orbs, anomalies suggesting the presence of spirits.

Other places might also be haunted. A late night worker at Bradford Academy reported seeing a ghostly presence. In Topsham, there is a haunted cellar hole and in Haverhill, there was an afflicted tavern.

Mysterious New England has many tales of phantom ships. It is said that Fairlee’s Lake Morey is the haunt of the ghosts of Samual Morey and his boat. Florence Kendall wrote a poem about it that appeared in a 1928 edition of The Vermonter magazine. It read in part: “…And each year when midnight cometh, of the day he sank his boat. On the waters of Lake Morey ghostly craft is seen to float. On her deck the eerie Captain guides her swift and silent flight.”

Whether or not one believes these stories of ghostly happenings, Halloween brings a yearly opportunity to let the imagination run wild. Called Hallow-Een is an 1871 edition of Bradford’s newspaper, The National Opinion, it was described in terms of the spells and charms that might be used on that night to predict a future mate. Searching the available copies of The United Opinion from the 1880’s to 1910, I found no references to Halloween observances. That is not to say there were none, as other Vermont and New Hampshire publications report Halloween activities in many communities.

From 1910 forward, local columnists for The United Opinion mention holiday social activities for people of all ages. Schools, community halls and church vestries were the venues for activities ranging from masquerade balls to children’s parties. One such notice describes plans for a celebration to be held in Newbury where, “witches, fortune tellers, your future husbands and wives will be in attendance.” A harvest supper and promenade were included.

One prank that occurred at the time, and reported 50 years later, was played against a 220-pound bully. Several youths removed his union suit from the family’s laundry line and strung them up on a power pole in front of the Academy. To the delight of all, “the November breeze ballooned it like an airport wind sock” The bully, “scowlingly prowled abut his usual haunts, grim as a who-dunit detective, but he found no clue.”

On November 4, 1921, the Newbury columnist wrote: “Quite a commotion on our streets last Monday with ghostly figures in sheets and pillowslips which gave us creepy Ku Klux Klan feelings, which were not dispelled until their young mouths were filled with marshmallows and cookies.” The West Fairlee Center’s school, along with other area schoolhouses was filled, it was reported, with, “jack-o’-lanterns and white-robed spooks.”

There was a fine line between mischievous Halloween pranks and outright vandalism. In the November 6, 1931 edition, the following appeared: “Halloween night gave some of the mischievous of town a chance to perform some pranks, some of which were interesting and others were damage to public property. Would those who participated please right up what they tipped over?”

That this was perhaps a long standing tradition in Bradford is evident in the 1934 post-Halloween report: “Numerous disappearances of such things as chairs, screen doors, various dump carts and other articles not fastened down, as well as mysterious markings on windows. It was a great night for the youngsters and some of the older residents who the next day had to go about retrieving pieces of property that turned up in the most peculiar places. As those older citizens were on their salvage expeditions they no doubt were thinking of the number of years before when they too had made a lot of work for somebody on that night.”

Growing up in Orford in the 40’s and 50’s, I recall that October 30th was trick or treat night. Weeks of planning went into carving pumpkins and arranging costumes. Notes reading, “Be ready for trick or treat, or else!!” were left on neighborhood doorsteps. While some of the older boys were involved with vandalism, most pranks rarely rose above stringing toilet paper, smashing a pumpkin or applying a bit of soap to a window or two. As in most area towns, a Halloween party was held on the 31st. Ours was held in the Town Hall in Orfordville, complete with bobbling for apples, trying to eat donuts hanging from a string and a costume parade.

By 1946, some felt that Halloween was getting out of hand. An anonymous letter signed “A Mother” was published in local paper stating: “Hallowe’en has become a menace to many of the citizens of Bradford. Damage makes our village anything but Bradford the Beautiful.” An accompanying article read: “BAH!!! very inadequately expressed the way we feel about the way Hallowe’en is handled in this community.” It referred to the trick or treaters as practicing “rank bribery.”

A Bradford resident, a teenager at the time, recalls that others dumped a truckload of gravel on the front steps of the Bradford Academy, dropped water on the head of the owner of the Bradford bowling alley and created a potentially dangerous situation by removing the wooden front steps from some folks’ homes.

Despite these concerns, Halloween didn’t go away. Trick or treating for UNICEF was added. Families and businesses spent more on decorations and treats. Parties sponsored by community groups attempted to deter vandalism and in some communities, they did. The Bradford party in 1954, drew more than, “400 children, adults and ghosts” for a parade, skits,
treats and prizes. More elaborate costumes, often purchased or sewn by talented seamstresses, compared with costumes fabricated by youngsters themselves made judging the “best costume” contest difficult.

Personally, I love Halloween and all the harmless fun that goes with it. As the last vestiges of summer disappear and the days shorten, we decorate our home with our Halloween collection. I grow tiny white pumpkins and paint the faces of “guys” on them to give to friends and family. We always buy more candy than we need for the 75 to 100 trick or treaters who ply South Pleasant Street, many of whom come in from the surrounding rural area for better pickings.

A horror movie on television during Halloween week reminds me that when my heart beats faster and my palms get sweaty it is a sign that I am still among the living. No walking dead at our house, at least not this year. As to the “inexplicable activities” of ghosts, goblins and other horribles that stalk Halloween night, Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote: “Nobody has any conscience about adding to the improbabilities of a marvelous tale.”

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Plain Talkin'

What the Old Timers Said. Vermonters, such as the ones shown above, frequently used a visit to the local general store to swap stories and discuss the weather. But not too much.

Plain Talkin' in West Newbury. "Oxen were better for breakin' out then horses." This is how Arthur Carleton responded to an interview in 1938. This 1899 photograph shows oxen being used on the Carleton Farm in West Newbury. (West Newbury Women's Fellowship)

Journal Opinion , September 28, 2011

The old Vermonter said, “Oxen was better for breakin’ out then horses for when they’d come to a snag on a stump or a root, they’d ease off. Horses are better for snowrollin.’ Made quite a sight, six-seven pair horses, heavy fellers, too, big rollers squinchin’ over the snow and the rocks tumblin’ and thumpin,’ steam comin’ out o’ the horses’ noses, an’ men a shoutin.”

No, this is not a script for a television parody on rural Vermont life. These comments are taken from a 1938 interview with West Newbury farmer Arthur Carleton for the Federal Writers’ Project. Carleton spoke with the traditional Vermont accent and dialect. This column describes that dialect and how those words are spoken. It also lists some of the words and expressions that were common to this region in years past. As there is a whole raft of them, with tongue in cheek, I only scratch the surface of that task.

The Europeans who settled southern New England were British: English, Scottish and Scot-Irish. Many of the English came from southwestern England and spoke with the accent of that region. Settlers from southern New England settled our region and brought with them the traditional way of speaking. It has been said that the traditional Vermont way of speaking is quite similar to the traditional dialect of East Anglia, on the southeast coast of England. In Vermont, that dialect continued through much of the 19th and early 20th century, especially among those who were most isolated by their rural settings.

Contact with Native Americans and through the unique experiences of Vermont life brought some changes to the traditional vocabulary. Names on the land included traditional native titles, e.g. Ompompanoosuc or Cohase. A farmer in Vermont knew that “apron-off” was the test to determine whether maple sap was cooked enough to be finished syrup and a late snow was poor man’s manure.

Linguists such as Alan A. Metcalf say that Vermont has a “divided linguistic personality.” The Connecticut River valley shares the speech patterns of eastern New England, whereas western Vermont is more like that of western Connecticut and northern New York.

Some examples of the eastern rustic dialect include letter dropping. That means not sounding the “g” from words ending in “ing” (hayin’), swallowing the “r” in words such as farmer (farm-uh) and the “t” sound in words such as bottle (baht-ul).

It also includes adding extra sounds, dragging out or substituting sounds. Calf sounds like “caaf”and idea like “ideer.” Regardless become irregardless. Words that are plural sometimes have an extra “s” sound added. Recall the Ames’s store in North Haverhill. Yes and no are “yup” and “nope. Pumpkin is spoken as “punkin.” Across is pronounced as if it ended with an “ed” or “t” .

This traditional accent has been described by writers from away as droll, twangy, gravelly, flat, slow, clipped, nasal, chewy and even as thick as, “overcooked maple syrup.”

Of course, not all Vermonters spoke this way. Those Vermonters with more education usually lost most, if not all, of any dialect lilt they might have gained in childhood. Immigrants had their own way of speaking, even when speaking in English. The French, Irish and Italian immigrants added their variations to the collective language.

Our region had a strong Scottish presence. Mrs. Robert (Elizabeth) Oliver of West Newbury was interviewed in 1938 by the Federal Writers’ Project. Of Scottish descent, she said: “Aye, I’ve the twa boys and four gels. Ooh, the times we’ve had. I come awa’ t’ this country twenty-eight years past. We furrst wint t’ Michigan where Rabert he’d some o’ his family t’come too. I dinnd like it there. It wasna’ like home t’ me.”

The linguistic division caused by the Green Mountains was also seen in the words used to describe things. Teeter-totters in eastern Vermont were sometimes called see-saws in the western region, fire-flies were lightening bugs, dropped eggs were poached and dish wipers became dishcloths.

The rise of standard English as spoken on radio, television and schools along with the significant influx of tourists and permanent residents from other states have hastened the decline of the more rustic accent. Under the influence of this nationalized language, words that were commonly used have disappeared while new ones were added. For years, I made frappes at the Fairlee Diner, until McDonald’s began to call those ice cream delights shakes. At that time, we had no idea what Tex-Mex foods like enchiladas or burritos were.

UVM Professor Julie Roberts has published several studies on Vermont’s traditional speech patterns. She finds it still exists, at least to some extent, among both older and younger generations of Vermonters.

She writes: “All speakers use language as a way to affiliate with (or dis-affiliate from) others. In Vermont, men tend to be more likely than women to affiliate with the traditional, agrarian lifestyle of Vermont, and are, therefore, more likely to retain a stronger dialect.”

Two generations of my students included in their conversations one of the most common grammatical mistakes in the Vermont vocabulary. It is the substitution of “didn’t” for “did, as in: “I went to the movies last night. Well, so didn’t I.” I hear the speech patterns in stores, meetings and when a group of traditional Vermonters gather in their dooryard to chew the fat.

Nothing in this column should be construed to say that I think rural speakers are dumb. I grew up around men with very strong local accents. Woe be it to the person who took that as a sign of ignorance. I recently spoke to Joe Sampson of Bradford about the dialect he picked up from childhood contacts. Sampson is proud of that accent. He says it has served him well in dealing with others, who, because of that accent, underestimated his ability to uphold his side of a discussion.

Just as speech patterns have changed in our region, words and expressions have also undergone change. Bradford historian Harold Haskins, author Charles Edward Crane and Burlington Free Press writer Molly Walsh offer many examples of words and expressions used in times past. Many of them have been part of the vocabulary of my growing up.

Things around the house were called tumbler (water glass), spider (frying pan), nappy (small serving dish), all of which might be stored in the buttery or pantry. If ma had enough gumption (pep) after a day of hard work galore, she might stodge up a suppa. The youngin’ might wait out on the stoop (steps). The folks never thought to splurge by going to a hifalutin’ vittlery, that would be “livin’ high on the hog.” “Thingamajig” was what you called an item when the proper name eluded you. .

Events of life were described in terms that have disappeared. A guy might have a girl on the string and might call her the cat’s meow, that is, quite a rig. But if she was no longer interested, she would give him the mitten. From his point of view, that might be just hunky dorey, water over the dam. A person who died had bought the farm and was dead as a doornail.

Vermonters were careful with their hard-earned money; it was scarcer than hen’s teeth for many. But they might criticize a skinflint (miserly cheat) who was tighter than the bark on a tree. There was little patience for laziness or failure to act with intelligence. One might be described as a bump on a log, too dumb to suck alum and drool or pound sand in a rat hole. There was also contempt for the educated fool.

Individuals might be busier than a one-armed paper-hanger with the itch, independent as a hog on ice, or have a face that would stop a clock. They might be mad as a wet hen, fit as a fiddle, as quick as greased lightning or slower than molasses. There were those who felt bluer’n a whetstone or stood out like a blackberry in a pan of milk. Things might be just a fine kettle of fish or perhaps even fair to middlin’.

There are words frequently used today that would never be used in days past, at least in polite company. What passed for profanity in those days might be expressed by any of the following: land o’Goshen, for the love of Mike, land sakes alive, my stars and garters, shucks, my soul and body, fiddlesticks, jeezum crow or the more profane hell’s bells.

They knew proverbs of vernacular advice. Living close to the edge, many Vermont farmers recalled the adage: Half your wood and hay you should have on Candlemas Day” (Groundhog Day). Others included: least said, sooner mended, mind your p’s and q’s and let every man skin his own skunks.

With “Silent Cal” Coolidge as an example, Vermonters became known for being laconic in their speech. The expressions are, in a way, examples of that. They create a familiar picture in the mind with a simple simile or metaphor. While some may not be much of a hand to talk, I have spent too many sleepy evenings waiting for my Vermont-born father to finish discussing a deal to say that all Vermonters are short on speech. I have, over the years, enjoyed stories told by my elders, often in the greatest detail, even if the incident occurred decades before.

I always encouraged my students to talk with the elders they knew. I will never forget the terse response that one elder East Corinth resident gave to the student question: “Did you ever go to a city?” The reply was: “Went once. Didn’t like it. Never went back!”

Even for those who are short on speech, the weather is always a topic for discussion. There is of course, the old saying about weather in New England: “If you don’t like it wait a minute.” Rain before seven, done by eleven or fog goes up the mountin’ a-hopping, rain comes down a droppin’ might be a guide to a farmer planning his day. Seasons bring days that are hotter than the hubs of hell or colda than your grandma’s preserves.

Writing this column as summer draws to a close, I am thinking there might be frost on the pumpin’ tonight. I should look to see what the bands on a wooley caterpillar coat are as a predictor of the harshness of the coming winter and know that when there’s snow on Moosilauke, it will be in my dooryard in six weeks.

Tradition has shown that many Vermonters display a terse sense of humor, “that loves understatement.” It lives in the dry comment or retort. Forty years ago, Dartmouth professor Allen Foley collected some examples of that humor in a book entitled, What the Old-Timer Said (to the Feller from Down-Country and even to His Neighbor—when He Had It Coming!)

Foley was a frequent speaker at gathering throughout the valley. You may actually have had the opportunity to use one of his favorite retorts when asked: “Lived here all your life?” to which you respond, “Not yet!”

Foley writes: “Yankees from the hill-country are noted for responding to questions by asking one of their own, as epitomized in the exchange: “How’s your wife?” a neighbor inquired. “Compared to what?” was the canny counter query.”

Personally, my ear is tuned to hear the words spoken with a traditional way either in myself or others. I have been addressed as Mr. Mawdratah and have addressed others as Mister Man or Lady Jane. While I may not know what it means to be a ringed-tailed snorter or to bust a gusset, I do know what it means to feel like I have been dragged through a knothole, have too many irons in the fire or be pulled in forty-‘leven different directions.

Readers will undoubtedly have examples of the local dialect, accent and humor from both sides of the river. Those parts of our language help to define our traditional culture in a voice that is different and to many, more familiar. Hearing that voice brings back memories of local folks we have known in our past, in both rural and village settings. And while this article has not listed the whole kit and kaboodle, for now, its nuff said!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

More Mining Mania

The buildings of Copperfield village in Vershire surround the Ely Copper Mines in the 1888 photograph (UVM Special Collections)

The Crushing and Flotation Mill at the Elizabeth Copper Mine
in South Strafford around 1907. (UVM Special Collections)

Granite workers are shown in one of the stonesheds of the Ryegate Granite

Works (1880's). About this time the workers began to organize a local

labor union. (UVM Special Collections)

The Concentration Mill at the Pike Hill Copper Mine in Corinth.

(UVM Special Collections)

Workers at the Pike Hill Mine were housed, along with their families, in these

shanties near the mine. (UVM Spcial Collections)

Some of the businessmen and workers gather at the site of the Fairlee

Granite Works on the north slope of Sawyer Mountain. The company was founded in 1893 and went out of business after 1895. (Fairlee Historical Society)

As published in the Journal Opinion, August 31, 2011

In May, this column was devoted to the mining and quarrying activities of the western portion of Grafton County. It described activities ranging from the quarrying of soapstone in Orford and whetstone in Haverhill to the gold fields of Lyman. It included the history of successes and failures, valued commercial enterprises, cruel financial hoax and crushed dreams. You can find that article by going to "Mining Mania in Grafton West."

This column describes similar activities in adjoining sections of Vermont. It includes the lead, slate and gold mining ventures of the region, as well as the granite and copper enterprises in Orange and Caledonia counties. Those interested in more complete details are directed to Katharine Blaisdell’s Over the River and Through the Years, Book Four and Collamer Abbot’s Green Mountain Copper.

In 1848, the Boston Mercantile Journal ran an article entitled “Discovery of a Lead Mine in Vermont.” It reported that, “a truck load of bar lead” had arrived in Boston from Thetford, attracting “considerable attention.” The article described the mining operation, saying that the lead “appeared to be inexhaustible” and that two men could produce a ton of lead in a 12-hour day. It concluded by stating the belief that this shipment from Thetford was, “the first lot of New England lead ever brought to market.”

According to Thetford historian Charles Hughes, this mining enterprise was started as early as 1812 with the establishment of the Orange Mineral Company. The mine was located northeast of Thetford Hill.

An 1824 description stated: “The ore is rich, yielding 75 per cent of pure lead, but the vein is small, and has been pursued to the depth of 23 feet.” Small quantities of silver were also being taken.

The State approved the establishment of the Vermont Lead Company in 1849, but by 1861, the Vermont State Geologist indicated that the one hundred foot shaft and adjoining buildings were abandoned. In 1872, his report spoke of the, “ill success of the Thetford hill mine … taken tribute from men expecting riches from mining should prevent any further rash expenditures in this section.”

There was also an early soapstone quarry in East Thetford, “worked before 1855.” In 1845, the State Geologist described, “an irregular bed of soapstone about eight feet thick which has been quarried.” Hughes writes: “Since this quarry was soon abandoned, it does not appear to have been a profitable enterprise.”

Just north of North Thetford was the quarry of the Howard Slate Company. Incorporated in 1855, this company produced “remarkably tough roofing” for a number of local buildings. Hughes writes that in 1857, the company, “employed four men full time at a weekly wage of $35.75.” An 1862 report on the geology of Vermont states: “No quarry in the State is more favorably situated than this [for] an unbroken face of slate stands boldly up, as if inviting capitalists to unlock this storehouse of hidden wealth.” Apparently the company began to have difficulties by 1866 and there is no mention of the quarry in the 1888 county gazetteer.

Mineral operations in nearby Fairlee were of limited success. In 1857, the Fairlee Slate Company was incorporated. Its quarry was located northeast of Lake Morey, on the land of Amos Waterman. The quality of the slate was reported to be, “unobjectionable, and the quantity inexhaustible.” But as the quarrying required the removal of overlying rock from a relatively inaccessible location, the company soon failed.

Nearby, at the north end of the lake, there was a gold and silver mine on the property of Mrs. S.A. Davis. The United Opinion of May 28, 1897 reported that Professor N. A. Bibikov had “been engaged by St. Johnsbury parties to examine properties in that vicinity.” The 1902, the State Geologist reported, “gold in the value of $9 per ton and silver $30” were found there. It was reported in 1914 that a small quantity of gold had been taken from the mine, but apparently it cost more to get it than it was worth.

The north slope of Fairlee’s Sawyer Mountain was the site of another unsuccessful quarrying attempt. In 1893, a group of local businessmen incorporated the Fairlee Granite Works. Blaisdell quotes a local newspaper from that year: “The Fairlee Granite Works now have a good carriage road to their quarry and are rapidly getting into shape to do a large business. Dealers throughout the country are speaking highly of the quality of the stone.”

The United Opinion editor Harry Parker wrote, “As Bradford’s future growth and prosperity depends upon the success of this enterprise, all public spirited citizens should be willing to lend it aid and assistance. We believe it will prove a profitable investment for the stockholders.”

An article in the August 16, 1895 edition quoted a quarryman: “I never put my foot in a quarry where stone can be quarried for as small an amount of money as it can be there.” It might be noted that Parker was the president of the company.

This optimism was not to last. The quarry produced unusual dark blue granite, but as it was of inferior quality and quantity, the company closed after 1895. The granite water box that, for many years, faced the center of Bradford village, bears “Fairlee” in raised letters on it, an advertisement for the ill-fated company.

Granite was also quarried in Topsham for a short time. There were two small quarries, one south of the Ryegate line and one at the western foot of Pine Mountain, in the northeastern corner of the town. This latter quarry was owned by Isaac Ricker of Groton. The quarried stone was hauled to the railroad depot in Groton. The State Geologist reported that the Pine Mountain Granite Company quarry, “is being vigorously worked,” and had been for several years. He reported that the stone was of good quality and of varied color and grain. But, by 1909, the quarry “had been idle for a number of years.”

The Ricker quarry was at the south end of a deposit of granite that extended into Groton and Ryegate. Quarrying of that granite had a profound impact on the economic and social history of those two towns.

Mister Glover’s Groton describes the history of that town’s granite industry. The first quarry was opened on the Hatch farm in the southern part of town during the early 1890’s, the beginning of, “what was to become Groton’s dominant but short-lived industry.” Its potential attracted considerable attention, but an 1899 article in Granite, the industry magazine, indicated that its future depended on the influx of a considerable amount of new capital.

“Three principal quarries supplied the stone, much of it comparable in quality to Barre granite, and used extensively in monumental work for cemeteries. The decline of the industry was hastened, however, by the discovery that much of the stock quarried was unfit and had to be discarded.” By World War II, the quarries had closed, although several stonesheds continued to operate.

As early as the 1790’s, granite was quarried at Ryegate’s Blue Mountain for both local construction and export. Around 1800, a proposal to build the state prison in Ryegate included having inmates work in the quarries. Local opposition caused the prison to be built in Windsor.

In the period after the Civil War, the demand for monuments and gravestones and the building of the Montpelier and Wells River Railroad in 1873 increased the market for local granite and eased its delivery.

The May 14, 1897 edition of The United Opinon mentioned the Ryegate Granite Works shipped a large monument to Philadelphia and the company had, “quite a gang of men at work on the mountain and considerable granite is being taken out every day and brought to the sheds.” This “gang of men” may have numbered over 300 in the quarries and stonesheds. Many of them were Italian immigrants who added their talents as skilled stonecutters to the original Scottish workers.

Those workers organized a branch of the Granite Cutters’ National Union in 1885. The company resisted by threatening to blacklist members. It resulted in a series of court battles and community upheavals, but eventually the company recognized the organization.

A 1906 report indicated that Ryegate granite was, “growing in favor each year.” The 1913 History of Ryegate reported: “For the past few years about two carloads of finished granite are being shipped from South Ryegate each working day valued at about $10,000 per month.” Subsequent years brought a decline in the operations. The high processing cost of stone that did not have the quality of neighboring Barre and the Great Depression caused the failure of several of the remaining quarries. According to Ryegate historian Dwight White,
the last quarry closed in the early 1990s.

Gandin Brothers is the only stoneshed remaining in Ryegate. Its president, “Butch” Gandin indicates the company remains in business, despite foreign and domestic competition, by creating a nitch in the monument industry. Using granite from Asia, Africa and North America, the company manufactures monuments that match earlier ones.

The most significant mining operation in Orange County was of copper which was discovered there as early as 1793. In 1817, President James Monroe visited Strafford. His visit highlighted the national importance of copper mining in Orange County. Copperas, a chemical used in dyes and other industrial and agricultural uses, was the first product of the mines. By the 1830s, smelting furnaces had been erected and copper was produced, continuing despite ups and downs through the 1870’s.

The Elizabeth Copper Company was formed in 1883 and, over the next few years, extensive improvements were made. Falling copper prices and a major fire caused the mine to be closed from time to time. During World War I and II, the demand for copper led to increased production and employment. In an ad in the August 6, 1943 edition of The United Opinion, the company sought 100 additional workers, offering $48.43 for a 63 hour week. Workers would be supplied with a room for $1 per week and meals for fifty cents each. It also offered a new health insurance policy as a bonus.

Several attempts were made in the postwar years to revitalize the Elizabeth mine and in 1954-55, it was producing over 8 million pounds per year with over 200 workers. Its closure in 1958 brought an end to the longest operating copper mine in the nation.

Copper was also discovered in the southeastern corner of Vershire about 1812. The coming of the Connecticut and Passumpsic River Railroad allowed ore to be more easily transported out of the region. In 1853, the Vermont Copper Mining Company was formed by New York investors. By the 1870’s the operation had become a “boom copper camp” of Irish and Cornish miners. The town of Vershire was officially renamed Ely after Smith Ely, principle owner of the mine.

The Copperfield village included a giant smelting shed, roasting beds, a large store that contained a library, offices and meeting hall, two churches, sawmill, gristmill, school and over 50 dwellings. At the peak of production, the village had close to 1000 inhabitants, with over 800 workers. In 1880, the mine produced 3.5 million pounds of copper.

From its very beginning these copper enterprises were at the mercy of market conditions. A decline in the economy meant a decline in copper prices. When new sources of copper opened in the west, Orange County was no longer the nation’s leading copper producer. Additionally, the Ely mine was plagued by legal and management issues. Even when copper prices soared during the Civil War, the company was nearly bankrupt. While the 1870’s saw good times for the company, by 1882, it was again deeply in debt and unable to pay its workers.

In July 1883, the situation led to the so-called “Ely War.” Faced with worker unrest, the company’s acting president, ex-governor Roswell Farnham of Bradford asked Governor Barstow to bring in the state militia. The first to arrive was the Bradford Guard. The arriving guards found no riotous armed mob, but rather workers desperate for wages and supplies. After sharing their rations, the guardsmen marched back to the railroad. Despite attempts to revitalize the mines, they closed and in 1905, Copperfield was dismantled.

At the other end of the copper vein were two mines at Pike Hill in Corinth. The work began there about 1847 and was continued by the Corinth Copper Company and other firms. Roswell Farnham described the operation: “Those were days of prosperity for the Corinth and Union mines and their success gave life to all the business of the town.” Ore from the mines was transported to the depot at Bradford.

Farnham concluded, “Everyone made money except the companies that owned the mines.” As with the other mines, the Pike Hill operations were at the mercy of the market and closed and reopened several times, closing for good after WW I.

Neither Bradford nor Newbury had any mining or quarrying activities. About Newbury, historian Frederick Wells wrote in 1902: “Its hills have not yielded any mines of useful ore or precious metals. There are no quarries here to furnish the stone for the walls, or rich marbles for the costly adornment of great edifices in the cities.” Businessmen from both towns did, like Editor Harry Parker and Governor Roswell Farnham, invest their money and serve as officers in a number of these enterprises. The Bradford Savings Bank and Trust Company failure in 1898 was caused, in part, by its investments in the Ely copper mines.

All that remains of these mining and quarrying operations, other than several stone crushing sites, are abandoned flooded quarries, overgrown mines and piles of slag. Pollution from the abandoned copper mines has led to them being designated as Superfund sites by the EPA. Cleanup has already cost millions of dollars. Neighborhoods that once thrived are reduced or abandoned.

I close part two with the same sentiment as in part one, for it is no less true in Vermont: “That is not to say that the hills that hosted these mines and quarries no longer have treasures to offer. Abandoned mining roads have become hiking trails. Mountain sides offer sites for recreation and forestry operations. Seasons are heralded by their changing colors. And for those of us who have grown up in their shadows, they provide the reassurance of having a horizon against which you can rest your eyes.”

Friday, July 29, 2011

That Old Home Spirit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Old Barn

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

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

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

Bradford Historical Society)

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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