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Friday, December 20, 2019

The Best Christmas Gift Ever

VINTAGE SANTA CLAUS: The post card below was sent to Anna Wilson (later Denny) of Bradford about 1912.  The written message assured her that her name was on Santa's list of good children. By that tie, Santa Claus as a bearer of gifts was well established in the minds of little children. (Bradford Historical Society).


CHRISTMAS WISH BOOK. This 1950 edition of the Sears Christmas catalog may bring back memories for readers of a certain age who looked forward to its annual arrival with anticipation.  It was normal for children to leaf through its pages and create a Christmas wish list by circling those items they desired.

MIDDLE CLASS CHRISTMAS- -For many families the gift-filled image in this advertisement was beyond their means.  Unless local organizations like Operation Santa Claus assisted, parents struggled to meet even a portion of their children's wish list.t 

HISTORICAL COLLECTION--From 19th century dolls to cap guns, toy tractor and telephone to a 1960s Fisher-Price school bus, these toys from the collection of the Bradford Historical Society were likely Christmas gift. (Larry Coffin)  

“Those parents who know that a Toy at suitable times is as useful as a book, are invited to select from our assortment some time for Christmas and New Year’s Presents for their Children.” Brinsmaid & Brothers, Church Street, Burlington, January 5, 1844.  

This advertisement in the Burlington Free Press is one of the earliest that specifically mentions toys as holiday gifts. It went on to describe a selection of blocks, crying dolls, balls, toy whips, tin horses and china animals.

The column that follows describes a variety of children’s Christmas gifts from the late 19th century through the 1970s.  Portions of the article are taken from my December 2008 column. I have added comments from folks in my bowling league, my church and at senior meal sites and from just about anyone I came in contact with who looked like they were a child before 1975.

This was unscientific and readers are invited to use their own experiences as a reflection.

 Author Stephen Nissenbaum describes the history of Christmas and notes that until the early 1800s “there were no intimate family gatherings or giving of Christmas presents to expectant children…it was neither a domestic holiday nor a commercial one.” But that started to change as a result of activities of a group of New Yorkers including Washington Irving and Clement Clarke Moore.

The writings of these two men focused on child-centered family celebrations and depicted Santa Claus much as we picture him today, the kindly maker of toys for children.

The first Christmas advertisements began to appear in New England newspapers in the 1820s. Santa Claus was included to encourage sales. Almost as quickly as these promotions began to appear, so did concern that to avoid spoiling their children, parents needed to balance indulgence with restraint.

 The “invented tradition” of Santa Claus in a domestic gift-centered setting encouraged the use of the Christmas tree after 1830. Public Christmas trees were used in Vermont and New Hampshire by the 1850’s, if not before.  By the time of the Civil War, Christmas had become a legal holiday in many states.  

 Local newspapers from the latter half of the 19th century reflect the growth of the celebration of the Christmas season. While Bradford’s National Opinion had only a few seasonal advertisements in the 1860s, local columns told of Christmas Festivals from West Fairlee and Lyme to Newbury and Woodsville. A Christmas Eve service at the West Bradford Methodist Church featured “a Christmas tree, well-filled with fruits of all kinds.”

  In a custom that continued in some towns until the 1920s, families would exchange presents in this community setting. Santa Claus appeared in Orford at the Congregational Church in December1871 “along with a large lot of presents for all.”

 In the years that followed, area merchants took full advantage of Christmas sales.  In 1874, a front page article announced that “Agents for Santa Claus have been in Bradford and called upon most of the traders in town and left a large quantity of goods suitable for Christmas and New Year’s presents.”  This “lively realization of the fancies of childhood” included rosy-cheeked dolls, whirligigs, teetotums, puzzles and games.
 A later edition reported that M.P. Warren of Fairlee “Just returned from Boston and it is surprising what Christmas gifts you can buy for 10 cts.”

Newspapers went on to report a relatively new practice: “Many of the citizens of Bradford had Christmas trees at their homes. “The earliest trees often had candles that were lit under close supervision and with a pail of water close by. The United Opinion of 1909 mentions that the Piermont church had given up candles “less Santa Claus’s whiskers catch on fire.” Stockings were hung to be filled with small gifts and fruit.  Children were admonished to be good, for bad children might receive just a lump of coal or a rotten potato.

 A number of local elders have shared their Christmas memories for the 2008. Other than Eris Eastman, the ones identified below have since passed away.  Their memories reflect Christmas in generally simpler times.

Many years ago my neighbor Florence Workman of Orford recalled her childhood experience at a community celebration in the early 1880s. She arrived with her family to see an array of gifts under the tree. “That beautiful doll could not be for me.” she thought. But, as gifts were distributed, the doll was for little Florence, a gift from her parents.

 Often money was scarce and therefore gifts were simple and usually homemade. Robert and Priscilla Fadden of North Haverhill, recalled Christmas as they were growing up in Piermont in the 1920s. Robert recalls that he received homemade gifts such as knitted items or a homemade toy. Some store-bought items such as pants or gloves were purchased in Bradford. Priscilla recalls the Piermont school pageant and tree at the town hall, but also recalls that “slow but sure, gifts began to be given at home.”

Lucy Dutton Farley of Wells River recalled that in the 1930s, Christmas was a simple time. Homemade gifts and homegrown food were among her favorite memories. Her family joined others for free movies at Woodsville’s Tegu’s Theatre complete with small gifts. Roland Moore of Woodsville has similar memories: of a whole fifty cents to spend on gifts for his mother, brother and grandparents. Ten cents for each left young Roland with a dime to buy a game for himself, something he purchased after bargaining down the price at a local store.

 The amount of anticipated gifts depended on the fortunes of one’s family, with a bag of marbles or small doll being a major gift for some. Roy Tyler, born in Haverhill in 1920, recalled that when his family lost their farm in McIndoe Falls, their Christmases were “lean.” In contrast, Eris Eastman recalled that her Taplin Hill family was able to provide “lots of gifts at home.”

 After the lean years of the Depression and World War II, the prosperity of the post-war years had its impact on Christmas. But as before, each family fashioned its own traditions. Perhaps it was saving in a Christmas Club or the arrival of packages from distant relatives. Santa shopped at the overflowing stores in Bradford, Wells River or Woodsville.  There was the Sears and Roebuck Christmas catalog and the Saturday Evening Post with its Rockwell Christmas cover.

  I asked a number of folks what childhood holiday gift still holds the best memories for them. Many responded without hesitation. Dolls were the most frequently mentioned gifts for little girls. Bride Doll was purchased at a local First National Store for a seven year old. “Sucker” was the name given to a “wonderfully realistic baby doll” for one little Orford child. Baby Ann for a Bradford girl’s Christmas doll.

Some gifts were fulfillments of a child’s wish list to Santa. In Jean Shepard’s classic A Christmas Story, Ralphie Parker’s wished for an official Red Ryder air rifle. The film based on that book is a regular part of current television festival schedule. Fiction became reality in 1958 for a 12-year-old West Fairlee boy who received a double barrel shotgun for Christmas. For a Bradford boy, 9, it was a pair of new skis to replace an older set. Several other men recall receiving Lincoln Logs, sleds, Tonka trucks or Erector Sets.  

Sometimes gifts were unanticipated, but became quite special. In 1945, Molly from Ryegate, 5, was told to tug on a rope poking from under her bed on Christmas morning.. Out came the sled she had wished for. In 1955, a Brownie box camera was so for a 10-year old Orford child. She recalls “I loved that camera.  It was a super gift for me.”  In 1967 a complete cowgirl outfit fulfilled the Christmas desires for a Bradford 7-year- old.

A chemistry set arrived for a self-described tomboy in 1958. It help to satisfy her interest in science. She told me she still has the gift sixty years later. Not all gifts keep such an important place as times pass.   Although she was important about 1953 for one Fairlee child, Susie Walker Doll is long gone, barely remember by her owner.

The December, 1955 editions of The United Opinion described the seasonal rush: “Stores in the village reported Christmas trade was excellent.  The Christmas lights sparkled in store windows and in streamers across Main Street.  Christmas music poured forth at frequent intervals from loud speakers, small children stared in admiration at the vast collection of toys waiting for Santa Claus…”

 On the 23rd, the newspaper reported that 30 below readings that week must have meant that Santa had left the door open when he left the North Pole. It went on to say that Christmas sales hit a record and, “Trains ran late throughout the week, so great was the burden of Christmas mail, Christmas travelers, and crippling cold.”

 One might receive Tinker Toys, Scrabble, a Barbie doll, Flying Saucer, or G.I. Joe action figure. The latter was not to be confused with a doll, of course.  If good, Santa might bring a Radio Flyer wagon or a toy John Deere tractor. Radio and later television programs such as Father Knows Best or Leave It To Beaver told of Christmas practices beyond the scope of many local families.

In most families, these gifts were in addition to new clothes or boots.  For younger children with older siblings, this was relief from hand-me-downs. Many recalled homemade hats and mittens knitted by family members or neighbors.

 Parents knew it was important to give equal presents to their children. To do otherwise might ruin a family holiday. One Fairlee resident vividly recalls how, when she was 3, her older sister got a giant bride doll while she only got a stuffed monkey. Sixty years later, she told me she still goes back to that Christmas morning memory.

The prosperity of middle class family resulted in multiple gifts under the Christmas tree. Not all shared that plenty. While those around her got a Raggedy Ann doll or a pull-behind toy elephant, another elder   recalled Christmases during the 1930s were complete devoid of gifts and celebration.

 One 80-year old Bradford resident recollected growing up in East Corinth with 10 siblings. She said that her mother made Stocking Monkeys for the girls in the family. These were dolls made from heavy duty socks. Additionally, each child had their Christmas stocking filled with an orange or apple and a popcorn ball.  Christmas morning in the late 1940s in that family was “fun, a lot of grabbing in hopes one got the right gift.”

Asked if she felt envious of children from other families, she said classmates’ experiences were about the same as hers. When asked if she remembers a special gift she gave her two sons, she immediately recalled a mid-1960s Christmas when each of the two boys received a model tractor with trailer and miniature cars.

  In 1943, 12-year old Pete got a football for Christmas.  It was extra special because it was delivered by his older brother Bill, home from service in the Merchant Marines. Asked which was the better gift, the football or his brother, Pete said both were very special.

Since the 1800s there have been the plea for considering gifts for the poor in the community.  Gift giving and charity were encouraged by commercial interests, organizations and religious groups. In 1857, the Vermont Historical Magazine included a poem by Brandon’s Mrs. A.H. Bingham.  Entitled “Christmas Gifts,” it concluded with the admonition “So give to the poor Christmas Gifts next Christmas Day.”

The Newbury column in an Dec. 1890 United Opinion called on readers to “Remember the poor with Christmas or New Year’s gifts…they will go a long way towards cheering the hearts of those whose hearts need cheer.” In Union Village, Mission Boxes were distributed around 1913.  During the Great Depression, as in the periods after World War I and the Flood of 1927, there were calls for donations to help the less fortunate.

In 1979, Operation Santa Claus began fulfilling this charge for hundreds of needy children in the area. Initially begun by members of the Bradford Lions Club, it continues to operate with the help of a large group of volunteers. For 40 years it has distributed toys, food bags, warm clothes and other gifts.

Toys for Tots and Barbara’s Red Stocking are two of similar programs helping children in both states this holiday season. I am sure those who spend so much effort to make these programs successful have the same heart felt satisfaction as many parents. That is, knowing on Christmas morning, the best gift, the one that may create memories for a life time, is one that is given to a child.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Architects & Builders: Changing the Face of the Community

“We have come to respect the work of the men who created these old buildings of such excellent proportions and who placed their restrained ornament with such assurance and effect.”  Herbert Weaton Congdon, Old Vermont Houses, 1940
WHEELER ON THE RIDGE. The Wheeler House, built on Orford's Ridge in1814-1816, is an example of fine homes in the area that were influenced by the work of architects from away.  The nearby historic marker indicates that the home "was designed by a Boston architect, probably Asher Benjamin who was then an associate of Charles Bulfinch." (Larry Coffin) 

PACKARD'S CONTRIBUTONS:  In 1889, St. Johnsbury architect Lambert Packard was hired to design this hotel for Bradford village.  It was across the street from the Woods Library Building and the former brick bank building, both of which were designed by Packard. 

GUERNSEY IN GROTON: In 1888, Montpelier architect George Guernsey was hired to draw up plans to renovate the Groton Methodist Church.  That, along with Bradford's Woos School Building, were part of that architect's contribution to building projects in towns and cities in Vermont and New Hampshire. 

Anyone who has lived in a community for a time can testify to the changes that occur in its physical face.  New buildings and infrastructure are built, sometimes replacing older ones. Other older facilities are repurposed.  Despite these changes, the impact of builders and architects of the past are still widely represented. Their contributions are so significant that many of the buildings that currently exist today are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  

This column examines some of those builders and architects, especially those from 1765 to the earliest years of the 20th century. The information is gathered from vintage newspapers, town and state histories as well as two recent publications mentioned below.

The area’s pioneers generally built log huts for their first homes. This was followed by well-built frame houses of one or two stories. The oldest wood-frame house in New Hampshire is in Portsmouth and dates from 1664 whereas the first frame house in Vermont was built in Bennington in 1763. Built in 1770, the Col. Johnston House in Haverhill was used as a blockhouse during the Revolution. The oldest house in Bradford in its original location is the 1777 Bliss house on Route 5.   

Very few of these builders were architects and many of the builders were owners. Local histories often mention individuals as builders of homes, but do not specify the craftsmen involved.  For example, beginning in 1775, Col. Thomas Johnson built four large houses near the Oxbow in Newbury. Perhaps he had the idea and money behind the projects and then hired house wrights or joiners, bricklayers and carpenters from near and far.  

Housewrights were individuals who built houses from logs they harvested, then hand-hewed into timbers.  Each timber was customized to fit with adjacent pieces. Each piece had to be marked so that the builder would know where they went. This technique was known as the scribe rule.  When the materials were prepared, house or barn raisings called on the strength of neighbors. Carpenters were craftsmen who built the structure whereas joiners did finished woodwork such as building windows or doors. Because of the overlapping of skills, many builders were both carpenters and joiners.

Those builders copied the architecture from older sections of New England. Fairlee architect Frank Barrett told me that he noticed that houses in the area seem to copy those in the area from which the builders came. In Newbury and Haverhill the houses reflect Massachusetts roots, whereas earlier houses in Hanover were built by those from central Connecticut.

Builders may also have copied patterns from the first American architectural handbook written in 1797 by Asher Benjamin of Windsor, VT. The NH historical marker at the base of the Ridge in Orford indicates that the Wheeler House, built in 1814-1816 “was designed by a Boston architect, probably Asher Benjamin who was then an associate of Charles Bulfinch. Other Ridge houses also display Asher Benjamin influence.”

As with the fine houses there, the availability of building guides meant that some of the new homes in village centers such as Haverhill Corner included features previously found in older cities such as Portsmouth or Boston.

Many of the skilled craftsmen were also farmers or mill owners. They had no formal training other than being apprentices in the craft and may not have constructed more than one or two buildings each year.   

Alonzo Fleming, a skilled carpenter and farmer, came to Newbury in 1831.  Although he was entirely self-taught and was never know to make written plans, he erected a number of buildings in Newbury and surrounding towns.   

 About 1800, the square rule was introduced. Essentially, similar timbers were interchangeable. Saw mills were more likely to turn out uniform timbers. About the same time, machine made nails began to replace hand wrought nails.   

In 1787, the Vermont General Assembly met in a newly-constructed court house opposite the Oxbow cemetery in Newbury.  Built by master-workman Jeremiah Harris of Rumney, it was believed to have been the first building in the region erected using the square rule.

Initial smaller homes were enhanced as the size and fortunes of the occupants increased. From the houses on the Ridge in Orford to the finer homes on other towns’ main streets, the rear ell was often that initial modest home. 

Although homes were often copies of down-country structures, the area’s buildings sometimes reflected different styles.  As many as one third of the earlier homes in northeastern Vermont were plank houses. The Corliss Tavern built near the Bradford Corinth line in the early 1800s was an example.  It was built with sawed timbers standing vertically side by side.  It was destroyed by fire in 1983.

In the middle of the 19th century, it was not unusual to find an area farm house connected to the barn by a series of outbuildings. At a recent presentation in Orford,  barn historian John Porter mentioned that the theory that this practice was to save the farmer from having to go outside when walking to the barn has been replaced by the idea that the connecting structures were used for supplementary activities such as blacksmithing. With the threat of fire, many of those connectors have been dismantled.

The Connecticut Valley porch was another architectural feature unique to the valley.  This recessed upper-story enclosed porch appeared around 1840. Traveling around the area one can still see this feature on houses and public buildings.  One can also see houses built of bricks or stone. Those interested in the former can see my blog entry entitled “Building With Bricks” at larrycoffin.blogspot.com. 

One of the most prolific architect builders in Vermont during the latter half of the 19th century was George H. Guernsey (1839-1900). A study of his life, published by members of the Historical Society of Bethel, Vermont, describes business blocks, churches and private dwellings he designed.

Without more formal training other than that received as an apprentice to his father, a master carpenter, Guernsey’s contributions were most visible in Montpelier. There he designed six business blocks, a church, three railroad bridges for the Montpelier and Wells River Railroad and the private residence still known as Redstone. 

The Methodist Church of Groton was the first of two local buildings designed by Guernsey.  Originally built in the 1830s, it had extensive alterations about 1864. Those alterations included turning the building northward. By 1888, the church needed to be repaired and enlarged.  Guernsey was hired and the church was remodeled with an addition, a vestry and a steeple with a belfry. The plan also called for the building to be returned to its original position facing eastward. The refurbished church was re-dedicated on December 11, 1888. 

The Groton history mentions that the actual renovator was William Goodwin. Goodwin had been involved in the lumber business since 1858.  “Goodwin’s work covered the second half of the century. He built many houses here and in neighboring towns, some of the most ‘elegant’ houses of the eighties and nineties…” Several years prior to the Groton church project, he had built the First Presbyterian Church in South Ryegate.

The second Guernsey project was Bradford’s Woods School Building. In 1893, $15,000 had been left to Bradford by the estate of John Lund Woods. Lund, a native of Corinth, had made a fortune in the lumber business in the Midwest. The bequest was to be used to replace the old Academy building.  

 As he had done several times before, Guernsey used a previous project as a model for the new one.  In this case, he revived the blueprints used for the South Royalton School building in 1892. However, He made two major changes. The South Royalton wooden building became brick and the tower was shifted from left front to right front. By the fall of 1893, the new building was under construction.  Completed in 1894, the total cost of the project was $17, 316, with the amount over the bequest paid by the School District.  

Lambert Packard (1832-1906) was another architect who had a profound impact on the architecture of the area. In 2018 historian Allen D. Hodgdon published an in-depth study of Packard’s works.

Packard’s father was a house joiner and carpenter and his sons were his apprentices. Lambert’s older brother Alonzo became a carpenter-designer and, in 1874, built the former Wells River High School.

In 1866, Lambert Packard became an employee of the Fairbanks family in St. Johnsbury.  During his career he built a number of homes, churches and business buildings there, many of them at the direction and with the financial backing of his employers.  Fairbanks Museum and the Athenaeum are just two of Packard’s contributions.

In 1889, Packard was hired to build a hotel in Bradford to replace the Trotter House that had burned in 1887. Built by William Bray of St. Johnsbury, the resulting Hotel Low, later the Bradford Hotel, remained a major presence until it was torn down in 1960 to make room for a new Bradford National Bank building. That bank had occupied the brick building across the street, a building that Packard designed in 1891. That three-story building housed the bank, other businesses and the Bradford Guard Armory. A distinctive architectural feature that still exists is the single-piece two-story copper turret.

In 1894, Packard was again asked to design a building for Bradford.  It was a new library to be built with another bequest from John L. Woods. The Woods Library building was dedicated on July 4, 1895. As there had been some disputes over changes to his designs, Packard apparently broke with his tradition and asked for the return of his blueprints.

During the decade of the 1890s, Packard was also involved in a number of projects in Woodsville. In 1896- 1897, he designed St. Joseph’s Catholic Church on Pine Street.  It was built by James Dalton of Wells River. Packard also designed the Tilton and Quincy Scott Blocks on Central Street.  

 There were also several more local architects. Frederick Bigelow Staples moved from Corinth to Bradford in the 1860s. A master of building design and carpentry, he was asked to design a home on Main Street for future governor Roswell and Elizabeth Farnham. The Italianate-style house he build was inspired by noted architects of the period.

In 1891, he was asked to do all of the elaborate interior work on the new bank building being designed by Packard. In ill health, he refused the task, but did agree to be a supervisor of others.  

George W. Farr (1832-1908) was a Bradford native.  As an architect and builder, his work remains a major part of Bradford village.  In 1875, Farr was hired to build a new Congregational church.  Along with Edwin Aldrich he designed and built a new structure.  The local newspaper reported, “The appearance was very fine, an ornament to the village.”

In 1879, Farr was involved in the remodeling of the Methodist church across the street.  He added two steeples and remodeled the existing building.  In 1883, a major fire consumed a number of businesses on the west side of Bradford’s Main Street.  Farr was hired to replace those burned wooden building with substantial brick structures. He built the Stevens Block in 1883 and the Union Block in 1884.     

Before moving to Missouri in 1885, Farr built a number of houses in the area. One of those is the large house on North Main currently being used as a veteran’s home.Farr and a crew of 12 men were also hired to do finishing work for S. S. Houghton stock barn being built in Orford in 1877. The barn, one of the largest and most expensive stock barns in New England at the time, was designed by architect Calvin Ryder of Massachusetts. The master builder was S. S. Ordway of Lyndon, VT. The barn measured 440 ft. on the west and north side and had a 136 ft. tower. It burned in 1930.

The sources that I reviewed for this column were filled with other examples of builders of barns, houses, churches and other structures. They, like Bradford’s Edwin Aldrich, can be described as having “done much in the way of house building here.”  The pains-taking workmanship they prized is a lasting testament to their skills.

The current dilemma area residents often face is how to preserve those private and public structures so that they can still be prized for years to come. Fortunately, we still have crafters who are able to repair and replicate that earlier workmanship. Often, however, necessary funds, the will to have the work done and the desire for modernity stand dangerously in the way.      

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Horse Tales

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, May 10, 2019

Giving Mom A Break: Work Never Done

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

All That's Common

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In 1807, it was expanded when a store on the southwest corner was relocated. The South Common was given to the town around 1790 by tavernkeeper Asa Boynton. Over the years, these properties have been improved with fencing and a bandstand.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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