CROQUET SET MILL: Croquet was introduced in the United States in the mid-1860s and became very popular. In 1888, the Roy Bros woodworking mill was established in East Barnet and at its height manufactured 40,000 croquet sets annually. The mill was damaged by several floors and fires and ceased production in 1938.
|For many years, Bradford's swimming hole was located at the Baldwin Bridge and the Waits River. Swimming lessons were a popular feature of this community pool.|
A month or so is left of official summer, less so if you are looking to a new school year. Still time for a column on the history of summer and fall activities. Not all seasonal activities are included. Baseball, softball, summer fairs and auto racing will be dealt with at another time.
Early New England residents brought their recreational activities and attitudes from Europe. Summer activities included foot racing, nine-pin lawn bowling, and games that were forerunners of modern shuffleboard and baseball. Recreation, such as husking bees combined work and play.
The Puritan ethic considered play and idleness “the devil’s workshop.” Except for the youngest, there was little time for play. Leisure was a privilege of the upper classes. Farmers who toiled from first light to dark in the summer had little time, energy, or inclination for leisure activities.
The introduction of labor-saving machines in shops and on farms reduced the number of hours in the average workweek. These changes reduced the 1860 average workweek of 70 hours to 62 by 1890, 55 by 1910 and 43 by 1940. Shortened hours meant that adults had the time for involvement in fun activities. These advances did not always apply to farmers who to this day often toil 80 hours a week during harvest.
Many of those initially involved in the listed activities were likely to be tourists or residents in the middle and upper classes, especially when expensive equipment or fees were involved. Golfing and cycling are examples of these. When the activity did not require elaborate equipment, others were more likely to be involved.
When Americans began to have more leisure time, they often engaged in recreation that could be described as working at play. Just sitting around doing nothing was often equated with laziness.
Golf was introduced into New Hampshire and Vermont in the late 19th century, with the Dorset VT club opening in 1886 and the Hanover Golf Club opening in 1899. In 1929, the United Opinion reported, “Vermont, like Scotland, is a country built for golf. Vermont is the Golfer’s Country.”
Locally, there have been nine golf courses, some public, others private. Some were closely connected with tourism and others involved community interests. They were both designer courses and just pastures that doubled as links. Three remain open, including Bradford and Lake Morey, both established in the early 1920s. Blackmount Golf Club opened in 1996.
The six that have disappeared include the Pike Manufacturing Company course which opened in 1900; Lake Tarleton Club, 1909: Mt. Moosilauke Golf Club in Warren, early 1900s; Shanty Shane on Lake Fairlee, 1911: Wells-Wood Golf Club in Wells River, 1925: and Bonnie Oakes Resort on Lake Morey established in the early 1960s.
At one time or another, all of these courses have been open for local golfers. Details on these courses can be found on my blog at larrycoffin.blogspot.com.
For the young caddies, playing mumblety-peg in the caddy shack while waiting for an assignment, golfing was work. Sometimes, caddies, such as those at Lake Tarleton, had a chance to get in a round in the evening or going for a swim on a hot day.
Swimming has been a traditional summer activity since the earliest settlers. Swimming for recreation rather than just a way to bathe became more popular in the 18th century, especially among men and boys.
By the latter part of the 19th century, women and girls were increasingly allowed to swim in mixed company. Their outfits consisted of long dresses or bathing gowns. Men wore wool shorts and tops, and only in the 1930s did men start to go topless.
It was not uncommon for boys to dam up the local brook for swimming. In 1897, Frank West Rollins recalled his New Hampshire youth when, as boys, “we divested ourselves of every stitch as we ran, and with a yell of delight, disappeared in the soft waters of the swimming hole.”
Swimming was also a major activity at the many youth camps and hotels that offered urban residents a respite from the summer heat. Swimming lesson programs became more common in the 1950s for local children.
Hall’s Pond, Baldwin Bridge, Flat Rock, Ticklenaked Pond, and Lake Morey are among the swimming locations that called young and old alike for refreshment from the summer heat.
With hundreds of ponds, lakes, and rivers, the two states are a mecca for other water-borne sports. Fishing and boating are two of those. Fishing for food by local residents has existed for centuries, beginning with our Native Americans predecessors.
As early as 1837, the sport of trout fishing was tempted rural and urban fishermen alike. In 1842 Vermont historian Zadock Thompson wrote, “when the country was new all our waters swarmed with fish of various kind.’” Fish such as salmon and shad were so abundant in the Connecticut River, “they could be taken in any quantities desired.” He went on to warn that while still plentiful, the erection of dams, pollution and reckless fishing was having an impact on the fish population.
In 1867, the local newspaper reported that four persons from Bradford took about 400 pounds of fish from Fairlee Pond. In the years that followed, Lake Morey had a reputation for being able to catch “boatloads of suckers” with horned pout being so plentiful that “anyone can catch as many as he wishes for in an hour or two on a summer evening.” By 1898, Lake Morey was depleted of game fish, a situation also true of Hall’s Pond.
Both states passed legislation establishing fish commissions, and regulations and fish hatcheries to deal with this depletion. In 1907, with millions of trout and salmon fries released, it was reported, “when it comes to fishing, New Hampshire is emphatically in the front ranks.”
About that same time, there was news of the Wells River Fish and Game League. This group owned three nearby well-stocked ponds from which, on one morning, a small group caught 40 pounds of trout.
In the 1950s, the fish taken from the Connecticut River were impacted by the river’s pollution. The efforts to reduce pollution in the two states made waterways better fishing locations. One only has to drive near local lakes and rivers to notice the number of fishing activities.
Recreational boating and camping have also been a prominent local summertime activity. From 1892 until his death in 1930, Capt. Edgar Lucas and his steamboats provided tours and other services to the cottages and camps on Lake Morey and Lake Fairlee. Similar steamboats plied Lake Groton to service local camps. These lakes celebrated boating with an annual boat parade.
Youths from area camps were a significant portion of early boating on area lakes and rivers. For many years, the late Lloyd and Lucy Bugbee maintained a free canoeist camping site near their Bradford home at the Connecticut’s Eel Pot Ledge. Most of the patrons of that site were from youth camps or vacationing tourists. The site was later moved to Bradford’s Memorial Field’s Waits River access.
The building of Wilder Dam has enhanced opportunities for both canoeing and powerboating on the Connecticut River.
Summer fun has included bicycling since the 1870s. Cycling clubs began with the Vermont Wheel Club in 1884. Bicycle shops began to open locally in the 1890s to meet “the desire among the youth and older ones to own a wheel.”
Bike touring became popular in both states, with some residents taking extended bicycling vacations. For many, a day-tour was enough. Cycling had a liberating impact on many women, giving them “a feeling of freedom and self-reliance.” Youngsters also experienced freedom as bicycles allowed trips for adventure.
Young boys were more likely to take to village streets. Bradford historian Harold Haskins recalled “boys, whose only desire was to ride as fast as possible, regardless of the safety of pedestrians.” Several locals shared their own “dare-devil antics” in my blog article entitled “Pedaling Along.”
One activity that required only minimum equipment was the game of horseshoes. Derived from the ancient game of guoits, it involved pitching horseshoes approximately 40 feet toward a rod in order to score points.
Introduced into New England by English settlers, this game of skill “requires a good eye, an intuitive sense of direction and the knack of giving the shoe a spin that holds it flat when landing.” Success is a “ringer” with a “leaner” getting partial credit in points.
Competitions using mule shoes were played in Union camps during the Civil War. Returning soldiers brought the game home. This game was played in the backyard for fun or in serious competition on a prepared court.
Especially after 1920, horseshoes became a regular part of local celebrations. Women sometimes participated. Leagues were established, and teams travelled to competitions. Obituaries of many local residents mention a life-long interest in this sport.
There are other summer lawn games that were played locally in times past. The very social game of croquet was introduced into Vermont during the mid-1860s. In 1865, one Vermont newspaper mentioned that the game was “making rapid progress in the affections of the community.” The following year croquet sets were offered for sale. The game was especially popular in situations that allowed the mingling of young couples.
The game saw a resurgence in the 1930s and was played on many local lawns. Since the late 1970s, it has been played competitively at tournaments in both states.
The Roy Brothers’ mill of East Barnet became known for the hundreds of thousands of croquet sets it manufactured. Beginning in 1888, this river-side mill manufactured sets from birch, maple, and other local hardwoods and sold them through national catalogs. In 1924, the mill employed 50 local workers and manufactured 40,000 sets. Fires and floods brought an end to the enterprise.
Lawn tennis was introduced into the United States in 1881. In 1884, Frederick Billings set up a tennis court at his Woodstock property. That same year, New Hampshire’s first tennis court was built in Waterville Valley. By 1894, an annual Vermont lawn tennis tournament was held, and local clubs were being established. Many of the first state tournaments were held in St. Johnsbury.
Players in the early years of the game competed with white balls, wooden racquets, long shirts for the women and long pants and ties for the men.
In the 1880s, Italian immigrants introduced New England to the Italian lawn bowling game of bocce. Italian clubs in cities such as Rutland, Barre, and Manchester had bocce courts. The Burlington’s club bocce courts drew families on Sunday afternoons for pleasure and competition. Because of its varied ability level appeal and minimum equipment required, bocce remains one of the most widely played games in the world.
The first badminton club was established in America in 1878. It became especially popular in the 1930s. Badminton clubs were established in both states and offered the game for both recreation and competition. Inexpensive sets allowed families to set up the game in local backyards.
More recently, volleyball, corn hole, and Frisbee could be added to this list of summer lawn games. The Valley News recently had an article on the British game of cricket being played in the Upper Valley.
Hiking and walking for pleasure was “a relatively new concept” in the late 19th century. Local hikers have been drawn to local mountains in both states for excursions since then. In 1886, it was reported that a large local group climbed Mt. Moosilauke. “This mountain,” the report concluded, “is gaining a deserved notoriety as a popular resort.” In 1860, a small hotel was constructed on the summit and groups accessed it by several trails.
In 1910, the newly-formed Green Mountain Club began the construction of a hiking trail along the ridges of the Green Mountains. The 270-mile Long Trail, completed in 1930, was the “first long-distance wilderness hiking trail in America.”
In 1921 the Appalachian Trail was proposed. Composed of existing trails and new paths, it was completed in 1937. The 2,190 mile trail includes 151 miles in Vermont and 160 miles in New Hampshire and bisects our area on its way from Maine to Georgia.
More could be listed as seasonal recreation activities. In addition to what might appear to be work-like activities, there are always lounge chairs and good books. Whatever your passion, play on. Winter is coming.