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Wednesday, December 21, 2022

Christmas Pageants, Prayers, Parties, and More.


Children's Pageant:  This 2016 Pageant at the First Congregational Church of Thetford was typical of similar programs that have been held throughout the area for decades. (Courtesy Ray Chin)

Journal Opinion, Dec 14, 2022

In December 1939, an event occurred in Bradford that would probably not happen today. Despite a wintry storm, 393 area residents gathered at the Bradford Academy auditorium for the 3rd annual Christmas pageant.

Produced by the students and staff of the Academy in cooperation with the Bradford churches and assisted by the Bradford firemen and families, the pageant recalled the traditional Nativity story. High school students portrayed angels, shepherds, wise men, and the holy family. The combined choirs of the churches sang traditional Christmas hymns accompanied by an orchestra. The audience was encouraged to join in some of the songs.

One spectator remarked: “Christmas in America is still a happy occasion; let us be in sympathy with the millions in war-torn Europe to whom Christmas will be just another day of anxious waiting.”  

Across the area, similar Christmas pageants were held that season in Piermont, Thetford, and Groton. 

The Christmas season in 1939 had been expanded by one week when President Roosevelt reset Thanksgiving Day to the fourth Thursday of November rather than the last Thursday. With five Thursdays in November that year, the holiday season was long than it had been in the past.   

This column is one in a series that recognizes the importance of the Christmas season in our area.  Previous columns, available at larrycoffin.blogspot.com,  have explored the history of Christmas in America, gift-giving, and holiday foods and sweets. 

This column will explore the various holiday observances held locally in times past.  It includes parades and pageants, holiday parties, gifts for the needy, and church services. Wat follows is just a small sample of the Christmas season’s activities found in local newspapers over the past 150 years.

  Christmas concerts and cantata were a significant part of the area’s Christmas festival season.  There is so much material on this topic that I will hold it for a column next year.

Puritans objected to Christmas partly because of the unruly way the season was celebrated in Europe, where it was characterized by “rowdy displays of excessive eating and drinking, aggressive begging and mocking of established authority.”

By the mid-19th century, Christmas was becoming family-centered with Santa Claus bringing gifts to children. This was a response to the rough gang activities that characterized the season in many urban areas.  Nevertheless, a tension between religious and secular activities remained.

In the 1860s, local writers told of Christmas Festivals throughout the area. In 1860, a Christmas Festival was held at Seminary Hall in Newbury, complete with the Newbury Cornet Band, dramas and charades.

 A Christmas Eve service at the West Bradford Methodist Church featured “a Christmas tree filled with fruits of all kinds.”  In 1871, Santa Claus appeared at the Orford church “along with a lot of presents for all.”  This practice of a having a community tree for the distribution of even family gifts continued into the 1920s.

The Nativity pageant depicting the birth of Christ has its roots in medieval Europe. The first mention of a Vermont-based Nativity program with children taking part was in 1858 in Stowe. With children as the holy family, shepherds, wise men, and angels the story “was softened.”  

Local newspapers described annual Nativity performances, held in town halls, schools, and churches..  Sometimes they were sponsored by a local church or school, and sometimes by a collaborative effort.  Sometimes they were held during the weeks leading up to December 25, and on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.

In the 1940s and 1950s, the Orford Elementary School sponsored the annual pageant with practices during school time. The final production was held at the West Congregational Church. Once the play was completed, a much-anticipated Santa arrived with candy boxes and tangerines for the children.  

Having schools actively involved in a religious service began to be discontinued after the 1962 Supreme Court decision on school prayer. In 1967, the Vermont Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union warned that public school programs that were “specifically religious in nature” violated the principle of the separation of church and state. 

To give variety to the pageants, there were various scripts used to tell the traditional story.  In 1935, “The Story of Xmas in Song” was presented in Wells River and in 1940 the “The Soldier of Bethlehem” was the title of Groton’s pageant.

The First Congregational Church on Thetford Hill used the talent of its pastor Edward Tyler who in 1967 wrote “The Messengers” and, in 1968, “Joseph Waiting.” In both cases, there were original songs written by church members.

Sometimes, several churches combined to present the Christmas program.  In 1932, churches in the Bradford vicinity combined to present a program of music and pageants. In 1981, churches from Haverhill, Wentworth, Warren, and Rumney joined for the Annual Union Christmas Service.

Whether school or church based, these pageants relied on volunteer, often mothers, to prepare costumes, shepherd crooks, angel wings, and a manger. The primary roles were often highly sought by older children.

As schools began to hold winter holiday programs, traditional carols were more likely to be replaced by secular music of the season. “Let it Snow” and “Carol of the Bells” replaced “Silent Night.”

In the late 1880s, Christmas parades began to appear across the nation.  Businesses saw these post-Thanksgiving Sant-theme parades as an opportunity to introduce the holiday shopping season.

A holiday parade in Barre began in the 1930s and annually drew hundreds of spectators. These included local residents who traveled to Barre to enjoy the parade and the open stores.  In 1940, Bradford’s local veterans’ post took a float to the parade.  Burlington added a parade in 1949.

That same year, Concord, New Hampshire began an annual tradition of holding a Christmas parade complete with Santa riding on a float. In 1991, the Woodsville High Marching Band was selected to lead the Concord parade.

Portsmouth, Littleton, and New London have held similar holiday events. Norwich, VT has combined the idea of a Christmas parade and a Christmas pageant in an annual downtown event that re-enacted the Nativity story, complete with a donkey carrying Mary. More locally, the closest to a Santa parade was the arrival of Santa on a local firetruck.

 In 2012, an antique firetruck delivered Santa to Bradford’s Midnight Madness. For the past several years, the Corinth Volunteer Fire Department has been giving Santa Claus rides around the area.  The Bradford Fire Department will join this parade this year.

For Christians of most denominations, church services complete with a Christmas sermon and carols are the highlight of the observance and center “the reason for the season.”  These services took place on the Sunday prior to December 25, on Christmas eve, or Christmas day.

Ministers knew that Christmas services often drew a larger congregation and put extra effort into the sermon and musical selections. As early churches often lacked sufficient heat, lengthy sermons could be trying.  Christmas Eve candlelight services began in the 1920s and became a traditional ending for most current holiday church services.

For Roman Catholics, midnight mass is a high point of the holiday.  Although I could not find evidence, it was probably celebrated annually in Woodsville’s St. Joseph’s Catholic Church after its dedication in 1897.

The local masses held on Christmas eve, 1945, were special.  Instead of being held in private homes as had been the practice, one was held at the Bradford Inn and another at an inn in Wells River, both to overflow crowds. The symbolism of the locations was not lost on participants since there was no room at the inn for the holy family, forcing them to seek shelter in the stable for the birth of Jesus.

In 1947, the mass was celebrated in the newly-constructed Our Lady of Perpetual Help sanctuary in Bradford and, in 1948, in the new St.Eugene’s Chapel in Wells River. Those who gathered at these events included members of area Protestant churches.

  Catholics who had fasted before the mass often went home for a late meal.  For other revelers, merry rather than Mary, is the spirit of the season.

Even during Prohibition and the temperance movements bans on alcohol,  New Hampshire and Vermont residents consumed liquor during the holidays.  Christmas was an excuse for imbibing, and there was often the temptation to drink more than usual.

That was especially true in 1885 when there was an unusually large number of drunken men in St. Johnsbury, leading to a police raid on local saloons.

For laborers, it was common practice to pass around a bottle at the mill or shop on the last working afternoon before the holiday break. Inn 1928, a Prohibition-era house party at Newbury’s Abbot Lodge included eight young ladies “who liked the cup that cheered.”

Office parties were a perfect way for employers to recognize a year of hard work.

Party refreshments, however, places a certain liability on the server.  Office parties were often moved to a restaurant for those reasons. In December 1968 Governor Philip Hoff made the decision that no office parties would be held on state property. 

The downside of that holiday partying is an increase in alcohol-fueled automobile crashes. The week between Christmas and New Year’s is often the deadliest for drivers. New Hampshire and Vermont have a higher drinking rate than the country overall. The holidays can have a tragic downside locally, the least tragic of which might be ending up in traffic court.

Of course, not all Christmas parties are defined by drink.

Numerous newspaper notices of various Christmas parties included an early one being an outdoor skating party at Lake Fairlee in 1897.  Over the years, Bradford s Christmas Club, the Grange and other organizations, veterans posts, nursing homes, and hospitals held parties. Private house parties were common.  The number of schools that host Christmas parties has decline. 

Notices of Christmas bazaars appeared in local newspapers as early as 1909.  That year, a Christmas bazaar was held in Newbury’s Chadwich Hall. In 1928, the Fairlee-based Rondo had its annual bazaar. In 1940, the Social Club of Piermont and the Ladies Society of Bradford’s Congregational Church each held an annual event.  In the 1960s, the Grace Methodist Church of Bradford held an annual bazaar and supper. These events included the sale of handmade crafts and baked goods. Luncheons, teas or suppers helped to make these events successful “socially and financially.”

As the number of church women declined, craft shows and flea markets helped to fill the place of more elaborate bazaars.

In the tradition of Dickens’s “Christmas Carol,” gifts for needy families at the holiday season has a long history in the area. In 1932, the South Ryegate’s Woman’s club created boxes of clothing and toys for the community’s poorest families. In the 1940’s both the Bradford Methodist Church and Fairlee’s Rondo created baskets for the needy, sick, and shut-ins. The Bradford Legion Post Auxiliary provided gifts for patients at White River Junction’s VA Hospital. 

In 1978, the Bradford Lions Club began Operation Santa Claus to provide toys for needy children in the area.  For many of the years I chaired it, Oxbow’s Senior Class members were buyers of toys and other gifts using funds raised from throughout the community. The program was later expanded to include food baskets and winter clothing. It will be held again this year with Bradford’s Ryan Chase as chair,  

In 1997, Barbara’s Red Stocking Christmas project began to serve the needy of the Fairlee-Orford area. The following year, Toys for Tots got underway  in Woodsville.  The response to all these programs is made more significant because the focus is local and the donations are targeted with little overhead.

Those who labor to make these local programs possible often experience a “warm glow,” knowing that hundreds of children awaken on Christmas morning after a visit from Santa.  

As the examples above indicate, the holiday season has expanded. It seems to now start around Halloween. These events may overshadow Christmas day itself and the fatigue brought on by the hype makes December 26th all that much more welcomed.  Nevertheless, Merry Christmas.

Corinth's John Morris told me the following:  A youngster, playing the role of the inn keeper in the annual Christmas pageant, decided to be a bit spontaneous. When the holy family approached and asked for room, he said, "Sorry, the inn is full, but you can  come in for a beer." The story does not tell us whether or not such a kind offer was made and perhaps accepted.    


Tuesday, November 22, 2022

The Impact of I-91

Between A Rock And A Hard Place Journal Opinion November 16, 2022
Note I have made several corrections to my original article, thanks to a helpful letter from Erik Sohlberg of St. Johnsbury)

Fifty years ago, the new 4-lane highway was snaking its way along the Connecticut River. Interstate 91 eventually extended 177 miles from the Massachusetts line to the Canadian border. It was part of the greatest building project in human history. It changed the area forever. When President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the Federal Highway Act of 1956, he saw the possibilities of economic development, improved highway safety, and freedom from highway congestion. Amidst the Cold War there were defense implications as well.

The highway was constructed from the Massachusetts' line to the southern St. Johnsbury exit and there it connected to the highway being built from the Canadian line.
Moving north, I-91 opened locally in stages, reaching towns as follows: Thetford and Fairlee 1971, Bradford 1972, and Wells River 1974. A temporary exit from the north to Rt. 5 opened at East Ryegate in 1971 as the highway was being constructed south from St. Johnsbury. The 15-mile section between Bradford and Ryegate did not open until 1974. The section between East Ryegate and Barnet was completed in November 1977.  

The exact route of the highway was the subject of considerable debate in the early 1960s. There was a rerouting effort that proposed to have the highway built up the middle of the state closer to Rutland in an “effort to serve more people.” There was an additional proposal to have the new highway be built on the east side of the Connecticut River. Another proposal committee encouraged a plan that moved the route from Bellows Falls to Bethel and the “around robin hood’s barn” to St. Johnsbury. However, that route was discarded because it would delay construction by a minimum of three years and result in a net increase in cost.

As Sohlberg points out, The route chosen up the Connecticut and Passumpsic valleys "was due to a decision to have the road connect population centers and avoid New Hampshire."

 As the plans for the highway were initially announced, most residents “were either accepting or resigned toward the approaching juggernaut.” Others reacted differently. Conservative Hartland resident Herbert Ogden “saw the highway as a scourge that would destroy many of the good aspects of rural life in the Valley.” In 1962, the impact of the highway raised fears in Thetford. One resident said, “You are trying to build too much of a highway. We don’t need it that big.” The fears were somewhat reduced when the plans showed the route to be between East Thetford and Thetford Hill rather than through the farmland further east. In response to some criticism, one highway department spokesman suggested that if Thetford people did not want an interchange, it might be possible to eliminate it from the plan. That, of course, didn’t happen. 

 One of the most intense route disputes was in Fairlee. That community fought to save both its village and Lake Morey by unsuccessfully suggesting several more westerly routes than the one that exists today. A town meeting vote confirmed the community’s support for a route west of the Palisades. The location of the Fairlee exit was also debated. The original plan had the exit opposite the road to Orford. Some proposed that it be in Ely. The location of the exit at Lake Morey Road was a compromise. Based on construction costs, the so-called red route through the village eventually won as it was the only route acceptable to federal officials.

 In Bradford, one proposed route would have built the interstate in the meadows east of the village and then on to the higher ground near Fairground Road. That was discarded for the route though the Waits River intervale. The proposal to have the highway reduce to two-lanes north of the Bradford interchange was discarded as well. 

 The proposed route to Route 302 east of Wells River was built away from Route 5 along less populated and relatively undeveloped sections near West Newbury. There were also competing routes further north between the 302 interchange and Glover. 

In 1968, the Vermont Highway Department announced that building of the highway in the Bradford-Newbury area would be delayed for up to 3 years because of a federal freeze on funds and its desire complete I-89 first. 

As plans for the highway required the acquisition of private property in the right of way, the state offered each landowner an allowed amount. After unsuccessful price negotiations, the state always had the right to acquire the property by eminent domain. In Fairlee, buildings in Adam’s Square and along the proposed route were removed. In January 1969, the Highway Department offered these buildings for sale. The minimum bids ranged from $50 for a small garage to $600 for a 7-room house. The Fairlee Hardware store that sat at the corner of Route 5 and the Lake Morey Road was advertised for a minimum bid of $400. All sales were contingent on the new owners moving the building to a new location. 

Some landowners sought higher amounts by appealing to the Orange County court. In October 1968, local highway necessity cases included 80 property owners and 75 interested parties. Some cases went to jury trials. In 1969, one Thetford couple was offered $3,500 for their 13 acres of land, but a sympathetic jury awarded them $6,800. 

 The cost of the highway, paid for by 90% federal funds, was about $1 million per mile with some sections, such as the one between Fairlee and Bradford, costing more. That is significantly less than it would cost today. It was also faster than it would be today. That the project was completed in a little more than a decade was “an amazing achievement.” Several reasons for this the fact that land was cheaper in the building period. With fewer regulations on building projects, construction outfits were “up and ready to go once their bids were accepted.” Using a “cut and fill” technique, the road advanced, often filling ravines and wet areas with till. Bridge construction was much faster than could be achieved today. 

 When the highway was completed, the impact was almost immediate. The changes were positive for some and not for others. Some families lost their homes, and, to the extent the highway negatively impacted businesses, their jobs. Some farmers lost land or found their property divided. Some residents had their wells affected by the construction. As with the railroad and major highways earlier, some communities thrived and others were bypassed. As traffic was reduced on Rt. 5, some businesses languished. The transfer of the Tween Lakes Motel in Fairlee to a residential facility is a good example of impacted businesses. As traffic increased, highway commercial areas developed around some interstate exits.

 The best example in the Upper Valley is the commercial development in White River and along 12A in West Lebanon near the junction of the two interstate highways. While the exit at Thetford did not significantly change the immediate neighborhood, the one at Fairlee precipitated several new businesses immediately off the exit, including service stations, a grocery store and a hardware store. 

 In Bradford, the growth of new businesses on the Lower Plain was directly influenced by the nearby interchange. In the years before, and after its completion, the businesses were developed or enlarged on the Lower Plain and in the nearby Pierson Industrial Park. Access to the interstate with shorter travel times and lower transportation costs enhanced businesses such as Copeland Furniture and Farmway. 

 The increased traffic at the junction of Rtes. 5 and 25 in Bradford led to the installation of the first traffic signals in Orange County. There were also warnings that exiting traffic at Bradford would use the Creamery Bridge road to the village increased congestion. At Exit 17 on Route 302 east of Wells River, the P & H truck stop and the adjacent Newbury Industrial Park met the public and commercial needs generated by the interstate.

 During its construction, the highway between Fairlee and Bradford employed 110 workers. The completed highway had a profound impact on employment, not only at the new or enlarged businesses adjacent to the exits, but also for those who lived locally and worked in larger communities. UVM Professor Frank Bryan referred to the creation of bedroom communities as “the divorce of work and home.” 

Previously people were more likely to live and work in the same place. By 1976, one-third of Thetford’s labor force worked in the Hanover-Lebanon area. As many of these positions were well-paid, it enhanced Thetford’s contributions to the economy. This trend was replicated in other towns in the area. New park and ride sites along I-91, and morning traffic heading south from area town, show this connection is still strong. 

 There was concern that the highway would create an over response to “Vermont, The Beckoning Country.” The locally-produced theater production “The Blog That Ate Vermont” explored these fears. In 1964, 14 area towns formed the Central Connecticut Valley Association to help encourage regional resources, conservation and development projects. At the initial meeting 150 area residents met at Thetford Academy. Over the years the organization was involved in projects including developing employment opportunities and recreational access. 

 The Upper Valley was more accessible to large urban populations within a day’s drive. This greatly enhanced the number of new full- and part-time residents and tourists. Between 1960 and 2007, Thetford saw a 165% growth. In the period between 1970 and 1980, Fairlee grew by 27% and Bradford by 43%. Bryan commented that the influx of new faces meant that “’Where are you from?’ is a much more common question when meeting fellow residents than it was in the past.” Today, the obituaries of local residents reflect how often many “are from away.” Before 1970, one would rarely see any but white faces in Bradford or Wells River-Woodsville. 

The enactment of Act 250, along with local zoning ordinances and subdivision regulations, was a response to the influx of new residents and the development of the second home industry. While these made sense to many, others valued property owner rights too much to accept centralized planning. 

 There was also a dramatic increase in “so called bridge traffic,” non-Vermont traffic that was just passing through. In many ways, Vermont was a central park between Boston-New York and Montreal-Quebec City. Tourists bound for the White Mountains enhanced the traffic exiting at Wells River. It was not just Americans using the new highway. There was a significant increase in the amount of Canadian traffic. That included personal vehicles and large trucks carrying raw materials and finished goods. 

The highway, with its higher speeds, also had an impact on shopping patterns. Trips from the local area to businesses in the Lebanon area and beyond were significantly more common. Area residents were more likely to travel 20 or more miles north or south for dining or shopping. Conversely, residents from aw3ay made trips to Bradford for dinner at Colatina Exit or to shop at Farmway. Likewise, quick access to Dartmouth Hitchcock reduced the travel time for emergency vehicles.

 While some local businesses prospered from the enhanced access, others could not compete. The reduction of Bradford village as a shopping destination directly resulted from its inability to compete. The additional impacts from the internet and Vermont’s sales tax only hastened its decline. 

 The cultural lag that rural areas often experience decreased as the outside world’s impact was more prominent. Unfortunately, the importation of illegal drugs was far easier. 

 As the section opened between Fairlee and Bradford in 1972, it was estimated that within a year, an average daily traffic volume of 3,500 vehicles would use the section. Route 5 would be reduced to a daily volume of 1100. Some feared Route 5 would be so abandoned that “grass would grow in the cracks.”

 In 2021, the Vermont Department of Transportation reports there was a daily total of 1,797 vehicles using Exit 15 in Fairlee and 2,309 using Exit 16 in Bradford. Through traffic at Exit 16 includes 3,258 northbound and 3305 southbound. Traffic on Route 5 is reported as 4,358 vehicles from Fairlee’s Lake Morey Road to the turn to Orford’s Bridge Street and 2,333 from that point to the four corners in Bradford. In all these cases, one vehicle may be counted more than once, coming and going. 

 As you can see, the history of many of the towns in our area can be divided into the periods before and after the arrival of I-91. It changed the Upper Valley socially, economically, and politically as few things have over the area’s long history. And it continues to do so.

Friday, October 7, 2022

Still In The Game


Canning for a good cause: Piermont's Rob Elder, a newly-minted
 octogenarian, collects returnable bottles and cans at the Bradford golf course and elsewhere to benefit the Piermont 7 & 8th grade trip.  Just one of the many civic activities of this energetic elder.   
Chief Energizer:  Ed Pospisil assumed the role of chief of Corinth's volunteer fire department a decade ago.  During his tenure, he has been able to secure state-of-the-art equipment to an energized force. 

Still in the game at 103: Haverhill's Evelyn Brown's advice to younger members of the community is "Do it while you can." She is pictured with just one of the numerous quilts she makes for sale and as gifts. 

Journal Opinion, Sept. 28, 2022

It can be easily understood why Vermonters live longer than the persons in most other states, there’s so much worth-while to stick around for.” St. Albans Daily Messenger, Nov 1, 1935

If this can be said about Vermonters, it must also be true of those who live in New Hampshire and Maine, as those are the only two states with an older population. The population of all three states is aging more rapidly than in other states.

In times past, Americans have been ambivalent in their attitudes toward the elderly. Terms such as frail, decrepit, doddering, stooped, senile, long in the tooth, or infirm describe the negative sides of old age.  Elders were sometimes thought of as being in the way.

On the other hand, others celebrated longevity. Elders were sources of accumulated wisdom gathered from a lifetime of experiences. Many who lived to a ripe old age were considered as vibrant and “well preserved.”

Newspaper articles frequently commented on the elderly in their community. In 1873, a Haverhill columnist wrote, “the healthfulness of our village is often remarked, and the longevity of its inhabitants is something remarkable.”

Several years later, newspapers carried the following on Newbury’s “remarkable percentage of longevity.” In a population of 2,300, “there were no fewer than 42 persons who are more than eighty years of age, still living and of these seven have passed their ninetieth year.” The writer credited that record to the relative lack of doctors and lawyers in town.

Better health care and healthier lifestyles have increased the life expectancy of residents of the area. An individual that lives past 65 has a good chance of living to be 80 and beyond. Studies have shown that many “people tend to feel younger as they get older.” There is something to be said about 80 being the new 60. 

The remainder of this column is a celebration of eight area residents who are 80 years of age or older and are “still in the game.” As you will see, this means that they still lead a vigorous and rewarding life, rewarding both for themselves and for the community in which they live.

Rob Elder of Piermont is a newly-minted 80-year older, reaching that milestone this September. I play a round of golf almost daily with Rob and somewhere around the 4th hole, I ask him about his agenda for the day. 

That agenda is filled with community volunteer activities. Almost too much for any one person, it includes mentoring a young man, organizing six blood drives annually, delivering meals on wheels, and serving as a cornerstone of the Piermont Congregational Church.

As a member of the area’s Interchurch Council, Rob is pivotal to the operation of its food shelf. He gathers donations to resupply the shelf and helps with the distribution to needy families. This is coupled with his role as area representative for the Salvation Army,  

As we go around the Bradford golf course, play is interspersed with the collection of empty bottles and cans, something he does whenever there is an opportunity. The money he gains from the annual collection of 8,000 items is donated to the Piermont 7th and 8th-grade class trip.   

 When asked if he is going to slow down now that he is 80, Rob quotes Galatians 6.9, “let us not grow weary while doing good…”

Ed Pospisil has served as Chief of the Corinth Fire Department for a decade.  For this 81-year-old, this is a continuation of a lifelong interest in the fire service that began in New York City when he was just 6.

His fire service career included both New York and Hartford, CT. He retired from the latter with the rank of Lieutenant and as the most highly decorated firefighter in the department.

During his membership in the Corinth Fire Department, Ed has used his connections with urban departments to obtain state-of-the-art equipment for Corinth. Taking advantage of those departments’ policies of retiring equipment that is still very serviceable, he has acquired six vehicles, bunker gear, and a jaws-of-life tool.

This leadership has led to an energizing of the department into an organization that merged two smaller companies. Membership has grown to 25 volunteers. A renewed effort to replace two aging firehouses led to a drive to build a new one. In 2020, a new 4-bay firehouse was completed on donated land on Fairground Road.

Ed’s pride in the fire company he leads is evident in his voice. When asked why he was still so involved, Ed said, “It is something I love, it’s very dear to me.”

Another Corinth resident still very much in the game is author and conservationist 82-year-old Laura Waterman. She and her husband Guy moved to Corinth in the 1970s and adopted an off-the-grid lifestyle. They became experts on mountain climbing in the Northeast and wrote extensively about mountain environment and history.

Following her husband’s death in 2000, Laura continued her work as a writer, having recently completed her second memoir. She is also writing a novel about opera singer Maria Callas.

In a recent telephone interview, Laura talked about her role on the Board of Directors of the Waterman Foundation that was established to continue emphasizing their life-long role as mountain stewards.  

Laura maintains a large garden, emphasizing feeding herself as much as possible. She said gratitude for health and opportunities best expresses her attitude toward an aging life.   

 Helping to develop a sense of community in a town that has changed over the years is a focus of 82-year-old Ann Green of Orford.  Ann is on the Board of Directors of the town historical society, a volunteer at the Orford Social Library, delivers meals on wheels in Orford and Lyme, and helps to distribute produce collected by the Willing Hands organization. Ann has helped to organize the Orford-Fairlee 4th of July parade for many years. 

She explained that one project that carried out the sense of community goal was the creation of the new bandstand on the Orford common. The idea came from a simple conversation. A group of five organized the Band Stand Committee and raised private donations for its construction. Each summer the committee, with partial assistance from the town, organizes six concerts using local bands.

Ann brightens any room she occupies with a broad smile and cheerful greeting. There is no doubt that helps to garner support for her projects.  Asked about the concept of actual age v. felt age, Ann confessed that sometimes she feels vulnerable to the effects of aging and takes caution against accidents. Something, she believes, she shares with others who are just “old enough.”      

At 3 A.M. tomorrow morning, 82-year-old Douglas Miller will be in the barn doing chores at his Bradford South Road farm.  He and his son Robert have 20 beef cattle and one milk cow. They sell hay,  maple syrup and calves. 

Doug is the newest member of Bradford’s Board of Listers, a position he held from 1978 to 1989. He is also chair of the Bradford Development Review Board.  This is the new title for the Zoning Board of Adjustment, on which he has served for nearly 40 years.  He also was a Bradford Select Board member from 1988-1998.

This experience, coupled with a strong memory for details, makes Doug one of Bradford’s residents most familiar with the town’s physical characteristics. As I have always been complimentary of Doug’s ability to recall facts, I asked him if he felt he is as sharp as he ever was. “Off just a bit.” was his response. 

I asked this practical traditionalist if he was optimistic about the future. He said he was optimistic but did not believe things will change as much as many others think.

 84-year-old Bill Murphy of Lyme epitomizes the title, “still in the game.” He is teaching social studies at Hanover High for the 62nd year.  He is an honored and beloved member of that school’s community, having taught generations of students. Teaching his students civic responsibility is a significant focus of his courses.

In 2020, Bill entered his name in the New Hampshire Republican Presidential Primary, getting less than 500 votes. Whether he enters in 2024 depends on who else seeks the nomination.  Either way, his bid offered an example of the civic responsibility he fosters in his classroom.  

I spoke to Bill as he was preparing for another day at school.  He loves the routine of “teaching the kids.” “I started teaching when I was 23,” he said, “and the kids were 16.”  They are still 16, so thinking young, “I should still be 23.” 

Bill is known for his coaching of Hanover’s Quiz Bowl Team which has won championships in both states numerous times.  He is also writing a history of Hanover High School. 

Bill also is active in the Lyme Congregational Church, where he serves on the church outreach board.  With his love of history, it is not surprising that he is vice-president of the Lyme Historians.  

“Mover and shaker” is the description that comes to mind for 86-year- old Don Weaver of Fairlee.  Don is a part-time resident at Lake Morey, having come there since he was 2.  He spends the remainder of the year in North Carolina. 

In the past, Don played a pivotal role in moving of the Fairlee Town Library to its new location, in restoring the Fairlee Town Hall and in Fairlee’s 250th celebration. He is currently co-chair of the Lake Morey Commission. The latter is an extension of a 30-year effort to protect the lake’s health, leading to almost total eradication of mill foil.

Don retired in 1989. “Sitting on his hands” is not in his nature.  He “enjoys big projects” and “the more difficult a project is, the more enjoyable the challenge.”  He is especially challenged by projects that others believe cannot be done.   

When talking of his key role in the town hall project, Don hoped the restored space would activate the residents of Fairlee to take part in and enjoy cultural programs. A recent program held in the hall drew over 100 spectators. The sense of satisfaction that he felt as he watched the turnout was his reward.

When asked what advice she would give to these folks in their 80s, 103-year-old Evelyn Brown of Haverhill said, “eat healthy, keep busy and never get bored.” During her 29 years in Haverhill, Evelyn has gained a reputation for her sewing of quilts of all sizes. She says she learned to sew from her mother, who often used material from feed bags.

 Her sewing room is filled with pieces of cloth, either donated or purchased, waiting to be hand quilted. “I always have a quilt going. I can’t image anyone with a sewing machine being bored,” she says. 

 Since January she has made 11 baby quilts, 8 sofa quilts, and children’s book bags.

She handcrafts the quilts using traditional patterns, using both new and repurposed pieces. She displayed some of her older creations for my wife and me and readily recalled the origin of many of the pieces.

Evelyn sells some of her creations, but many are just given away. Parents of newborns are gifted baby quilts. Book bags are donated to the local library and church. 

Evelyn Brown is the concept of “still in the game” personified. What about staying in the game? “Do it while you can,” she advised.

In the interest of full disclosure, I selected this topic as I will be 80 in October.  While my activity agenda is still reasonably full, I am interested in how others, of reasonably good health, have dealt with being in their 80s.

 I could have interviewed a similar group that was overwhelmed by the ill effects of aging, but I chose to offer these individuals as models instead.  I am sure that readers are familiar with elders in their community to serve as models of being still in the game.  

I think that all these eight individuals can identify with a quote I found on Laura Waterman’s website. “Whatever you can do or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.  Begin it now.” 

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

There is Nothing Like Baseball


A CALL FOR SPECTATORS. In the early 20th century, baseball teams from area high schools competed against each other as well as against men’s town teams. Community enthusiasm brought out large crowds of spectators.  (Bradford Historical Society)  

NORTHERN VALLEY LEAGUE CHAMPS. In 1948, the Orford town team won over East Corinth to seal league honors.  These men came from Orford, Fairlee, Strafford and West Fairlee. Their manager was George Bedell. (Bradford Public Library) “The annual Labor Day celebration will be held at East Corinth again this year…the highlight of which will be the baseball game between the married and single men. Teams gathered from across the countryside will cross bats and the keen rivalry will arouse plenty of fun and excitement for the baseball fans.” The United Opinion, Aug 24, 1934

In June, this column’s article examined how baseball became a national pastime and its rise to prominence in the local area between the 1840s and 1900.  That column, which describes 19th century town, league and professional players, can be found at “Rise of Baseball” larrycoffin.blogspot.com.

This column surveys the sport during the first 60 years of the 20th century. It is only a partial story of this popular pastime with bits and pieces included. Stories of games does not mean that other exciting matches were not being played in neighboring towns.     

Civil War veterans organized town baseball teams soon after their return.  All local towns had at least one team during the latter part of the 19th century. If a town’s team folded, another soon replaced it with renewed vigor and support.

Matches between town teams were spirited with large crowds of spectators. That spirit was enhanced by the need for revenge from earlier contests.

That vigor continued well into the new century, and town teams continued to draw crowds. In many towns, townball generated a sense of community pride and enthusiasm.

Bradford’s town team met other towns’ teams on the fairground before large crowds. The local United Opinion correspondent for Pike reflected that village’s enthusiasm. One June, that column described how the Pike Tigers “masticated the Newbury team” in an 8-0 game.    

 In other towns, there was less enthusiasm. In 1902, one Vermont newspaper reported, “For several years past there has been little doing in the summer in the way of athletics, and, in the minds of many, that was a deplorable fact.”

High schools in the area fielded teams. Haverhill Academy’s Athletic Association team met Bradford Academy, Groton, and Woodsville.  These high school teams sometimes played local men’s teams as well. 

Local summer youth camps such as Moosilauke and Pemigewassett also took on  local teams.  In 1911, a village team from Thetford Hill played a camp team on the common to a large crowd. In 1916, local teams played the Dartmouth Seconds.

Bradford’s United Opinion and the Groton Times carried news of professional teams, college contests and the results of games in larger communities. Some of those urban teams were part of leagues such as the Sunset League.  

The young men from the area that joined the military during World War I took their love of baseball with them.  Several hundred military teams were formed as a means of boosting morale.

Returning veterans were anxious to get home to see a town baseball game.  In Wells River, a new ball field was created, and “there was considerable talk of a town baseball team of similar caliber to the teams of olden times.”

Babe Ruth’s legendary play during the 1920s renewed enthusiasm for the game at all levels.  In 1921, Woodsville’s team play included the Groton Mfg. Co. team, but in 1923 it did not field players.  After a “dead summer,” the team was revived. 

The Groton Times reflected, “baseball puts a lot of life into a town.” Corinth, Ryegate, Newbury, and Topsham reportedly had “good teams of local players.”    

In 1922, a Twilight baseball league was established, playing “baseball for the sake of recreation.” It drew crowds of up to 200 spectators.

State laws prohibited the playing of baseball on Sunday. In 1907, Bradford officials stopped local boys from pickup games on a remote field on Sundays.  In 1924 there was a serious debate on the subject in Woodsville.

 One person wrote “Baseball is being played in several places not many miles away on Sunday.  I know a number of people who would like to see games in Woodsville on Sunday afternoons.” Despite the prohibition, Sunday baseball was played in several area communities, including East Corinth.

 In 1939, Vermont finally allowed local communities to set aside these restrictions. The following year, Bradford voters approved Sunday baseball by 148 to 37,

Throughout the 1920s and 30s, townball was a regular event throughout the area. Virtually every town or village had a men’s team. Businesses that had enough workers often had a team.

 Examples included Neapolitan Co. of Fairlee, the Bobbin mill in East Corinth, a Purina team from St. Johnsbury, and a Wax Paper Co. team from Rockingham.  The Wildwood CCC Camp League was formed in 1935 by area camps. 

Newspaper accounts rarely estimated the number of spectators at regular games. Smaller crowds led to editorial comments such as “It is a whole generation since the baseball team was the small town’s greatest pride and joy” or “Towns use to take its baseball seriously, almost religiously.” One reason for the dwindling number of spectators? The rise of radio and motion pictures provided competition.

 However, in 1932, the new Woodsville Athletic Association was able to raise $1,500 so that locals could “enjoy baseball of indeed high caliber.” 

As in the past, town teams often disbanded only to reorganize. In Bradford a new team was formed in 1929. It was reorganized in 1934 to join a league from the two states.  Local businessmen provided money for uniforms and equipment. 

There were teams that had outstanding seasons during the period. In 1923, 1925, and 1926, Woodsville High won the north country championship and at least one state championship in the 1950s. With Dan Murphy as pitcher, Bradford Academy won the state championship in 1932. In 1938, Groton High won 12 out of 14 games against neighboring schools. In 1960, Haverhill Academy won the state championship.    

In 1941, the Bradford team played a team from Greenwich, CT.  The visitors stayed at a local farm, enjoyed a baked bean supper, and slept in the hayloft.

During World War II, servicemen were supplied with equipment to play baseball where they were stationed. One United Opinion column mentioned, “There is no question of the influence of baseball at the front. The yen of every American soldier is to strike Hitler out, nab Mussolini off first and get Tojo trying to steal home with bases full.”

At home, many minor league teams were disbanded due to lack of players. There were fewer newspaper references to local baseball. Even local high school teams played a reduced schedule due to war-born necessities.  

 In 1948, a resurrected Bradford team, including recruits from Piermont and other nearby towns, began to play on the newly-built Memorial Field. In earlier years, teams had rejected players from other towns.

Later that year, the Bradford team played Woodsville in a double header. The United Opinion predicted, “a rousing, fast, good-natured tooth-and-toenail game.”

That same year, under manager George Bedell, the Orford town team, won over East Corinth to became the champions of the Northern Valley League. This team had players from Orford, Strafford, West Fairlee, and Fairlee. Men on that team that I knew as a youngster included Cope Corpieri, George Smith, Bill Thurber, and Roy Guptill.   

 Throughout the entire period, pickup sandlot games were still popular among kids.  There was no need for umpires, coaches or spectators, and arguments were quickly settled. 

All a kid wanted for Christmas or his birthday was a baseball glove or Louisville Slugger bat. When a new mitt was not forthcoming, one that was broken in by an older sibling met the need.  

In 1925, the American Legion veterans’ organization formed a baseball program for teenage boys. Its focus was to have an organized program to foster the growth of young men into active citizens.

Within a year, the program had expanded into 25 states, including New Hampshire and Vermont. The program featured post-season tournaments that led to a national championship. Early local teams were organized in Lebanon and Hartford.

In 1938, Carl Stotz of Williamsport. PA, responding to the lack of organized baseball for younger boys, organized the first Little League team.  By 1950, it had spread to 28 states with over 900 teams. 

That year the first Little League teams began to form in New Hampshire and Vermont, with teams in Concord and Portsmouth and St. Albans and Burlington.

Within two years, there were teams in Bradford, East Corinth, Fairlee, North Haverhill, and other local towns. Community organizations and local businesses sponsored teams, raising money for equipment, uniforms, and other expenses.  

In March 1952, Bradford’s United Opinion encouraged attendance at Little League games. The editor wrote that Little League replaces “uncoached and unsupervised scrub games with needless injuries and the loss of a lot of real talent that went unnoticed.” 

That same year, a junior league was formed for those boys who were too old for Little League. The teams included the Bradford Indians, East Corinth Red Sox, Fairlee-Orford Tigers and Newbury Dodgers.

Dr. Robert Munson, whose father, Dr. Philip Munson,  was instrumental in promoting youth baseball in Bradford, played all these levels of organized youth baseball. This did not, he said, prevent him from calling up the neighborhood boys for an impromptu game.   

Despite the Legion’s assurance that the program’s goal was not to produce great baseball players, many professional players gained experience as Legion players.  

Those listed below were not the first professionals from the area.  Libe Washburn was born in Lyme in 1874 and was a star pitcher for Brown University before going professional. He played for the NY Giants and Philadelphia Phillies in 1902-1903.  He was described as a “Hard-hitting left-handed twirler.”

William “Doc” Hazelton was born in Strafford in 1876 and, after attending Tufts, played for the St. Louis Cardinals during the 1902 season.  He was a “fast first baseman [who] bats like a fiend.”  He went on to coach at Dartmouth and UVM.

If there were a local field for baseball dreams, it would be centered in Woodsville in the 20th century.  Two lifelong friends played for Woodsville High, and, after graduating in 1948, went on to professional careers. Both young men played Legion ball.

Bob Smith signed with Boston after graduation from Woodsville, but the Korean War interrupted his professional debut.  He first played professionally on April 29, 1955. During a career that lasted until 1959, this left-handed pitcher played for the Cardinals, Pirates and Tigers organizations.  

His friend John Bagonzi had an outstanding athletic career at UNH and, in 1953, signed a contract with the Red Sox and was assigned to their San Francisco Triple A affiliate. After a stint in the military, he played for both Boston and Chicago Cub affiliates. An arm injury ended his professional career, but not his influence in local baseball.

He returned to teach and coach at Woodsville High and local town teams. He became one of New Hampshire’s most successful coaches.  His influence was significant in the careers of other players who became professionals. 

One professional  coached by Bagonzi was Steve Blood, an 1971 Woodsville High graduate. A recent article in The Bridge Weekly described Blood’s career. An East Ryegate native, Blood played all levels of youth baseball, from Little League and Babe Ruth to Legion Ball. He was a member of the Babe Ruth All-Star team that won in VT State championship. Under Coach Bagonzi, Blood pitched for the WHS state championship teams in 1969, 1970, and 1971.

After graduation, Blood was drafted by the Minnesota Twins and pitched off and on for their minor leagues through 1975.  He had outstanding seasons for the Fort Lauderdale and Lynchburg teams.

At Bagonzi’s funeral, Steve told the assembled crowd, “In five years of professional ball, I never had a pitching coach who knew as much as Mr. B.”   

Another local athlete who was coached by Bagonai was George Huntington of Bradford. Huntington was a catcher for Bradford Academy, graduating in 1958.  He played on Legion teams and was a member of the Newbury town team that went to the semi-pro World Series in 1959 and again with the “newly christened” Woodsville team in 1960.

 From1960 to 1962, Huntington played for the Milwaukee Braves organization.  From 1963-1967 he played and managed for the Coaticook Canadiens team.  Until his death in 2009, Huntington continued to coach in both Vermont and New Hampshire.

Baseball was a boy-man’s event.  Several women’s colleges established women’s baseball teams in the 1860s.  Determined to excluded women, men suggested that baseball was too difficult for women and would “disrupt feminine sensibilities.” Despite the opposition, these college teams lasted until the late 1800s.

In July 1930, the New York Bloomer Girls team played against the Fairlee men’s team.  The Bloomer Girls of New York City had been undefeated since 1911. Fairlee won 5-2.

 During the 1930s, girls at Orford High, Bradford Academy and Newbury High had baseball teams. 

During World War II, Philip Wrigley, owner of the Chicago Cubs, sponsored a league of women’s barnstorming teams. 

Girls were prohibited from Little League play until sex discrimination lawsuits forced officials to open the teams in 1974. In at least one Vermont community the issue was “community splitting.”     

So, to quote Yogi Berra, “It ain’t over ‘till it’s over.” In the next 60 years, baseball would continue throughout the area. Town teams would come and go. Teams at local high schools would excel.

Youth baseball would continue to attract youngsters to the game. Some of the best players would be tempted into professional career. Girls played a stronger role. Many continued to  agree, “there is nothing like baseball.”

Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Cool It!


Front Porch Respit.  In 1940, this Vermont woman found relief from household work and the summer's heat. During the summer months, northern New Englanders used the shade offered by porches for relaxing or, in the case of larger ones, for outdoor sleeping. (Library of Congress)
Winter Ice, Summer Cooling. Harvested ice from the area's lakes and rivers was stored in ice houses for use during the rest of the year.  This was winter's cash crop for both personal and commercial use.   

"It is very much as one looks at it whether one is to suffer or enjoy most during the summer. Fretting and fidgeting and violent fanning adds to one’s discomfort.” Orleans County Monitor July 15, 1895.

Warmer summers are here to stay. There have been past periods of extreme heat in Northern New England. The summers of 1911, 1936, and 2021 are examples of summers that had a series of heat waves, with the latter being one of the hottest summers on record. For some, this summer will even surpass that one.

These are the days we sometimes look back to last winter for cooler temperature. This column explores how people kept cool in the years before air conditioning made sizzling summer work, dining, or sleeping more comfortable.  It includes some time-honored methods still used by area residents, and some that have passed away with time and inventions.

 A few previous columns included ways in which area residents and visitors have dealt with hot summer temperatures. The following are brief excerpts from those articles. The full articles can be found at larrycoffin.blogspot.com.

For over 200 years, area residents have hosted summer visitors at commercial and private facilities. In Aug 1871, Orford’s Hale’s Hotel hosted “a large number of city boarders who have come to stop through the hot weather.” Hostels and private cabins offered residents and tourists opportunities to enjoy local lakes. 

Mountain locations were especially appealing to summer tourists. The Breezy Point House at Mt. Moosilauke hosted wealthy summer guests who traded the stifle of the city for the fresh air of the mountains. The full article can be found at “Summer Tourist Trade.”

Summer residential youth camps have flourished in the Upper Valley from early in the 20th century. Those who established camps such as Farwell on Hall’s Pond, Aloha on Lake Morey, and Moosilauke on Upper Baker Pond were pioneers in the youth camp movement.

Annually, trains brought urban youth to enjoy the refreshing lake-side environments. Hiking, swimming, and canoeing were among the many camp activities.  These camps had the added benefit of freeing parents of their children during the long summer vacations.  The full article is entitled “Going to Summer Camp.”

Swimming and other outdoor recreations helped folks deal with the summer heat. Hall’s Pond, Baldwin Bridge, Flat Rock, Ticklenaked Pond, and Lake Morey were among the swimming locations that called young and old alike for a refreshing dip.

Just as tourists sought cool mountain locations, locals enjoyed hiking for day walks, picnics, or camping. Bicycling, canoeing as well as lawn games brought residents out of doors in the summer.  This third excerpt can be found on the blog at “Late Summer Fun.”  

In times past, spring houses were one method used by area rural residents to kept perishable farm products and household foods from spoiling. Built over running water or a spring, this small structure allowed items to be kept in the cold water or on shelves. Spring houses were especially important for the safe storage of butter, milk, and other heat-sensitive foodstuffs.

Before air conditioning and electric refrigeration, ice harvesting utilized winter’s cold to combat summer’s heat. The area’s many lakes and rivers provided a harvest of ice that was stored in private or professional insulated ice houses. It was winter’s cash crop.

 Ice cutters used huge blades to cut ice that was at least 18” thick. The work was hard and often dangerous. Horses, and later tractors, were used to haul the heavy loads of ice away.

Area newspapers described this annual activity. In January 1883, 20 men hauled ice for the Bradford Ice Company. Five hundred tons of ice were stored in one company’s ice houses in Woodsville and Wells River in 1885. According to the Adirondack Almanack, some 5,000 men cut ice on Lake Champlain in 1890.

 In 1896, Orford’s ice houses were filled with ice of “large quantities and of most excellent quality” from Lake Morey. In Feb 1911, Newbury men filled the creamery ice house with 100 tons of ice in just two days.

A late fall, an open winter, or an extremely hot summer often led to a shortage of ice. In those cases, dealers had to purchase ice from neighboring towns with surpluses or import it from colder states or Canada. 

In 1874, the Vermont Central Railroad began to use ice-cooled refrigerated cars. This increased significantly the shipment of perishable area products, such as butter, milk, and strawberries to markets.   Theatres, stores, restaurants, and factories used fans blowing over large quantities of ice to provide “air conditioning” or “comfort cooling.” 

This naturally harvested ice was popular into the early 20th century. Artificial ice had been manufactured in the southern United States for some time and began to replace harvested ice. The first commercial ice-maker was patented in 1873, but it was not until the 1930s that edible ice was manufactured. 

Early in the 19th century, household “refrigerator” iceboxes became available. Blocks of ice were home delivered and placed in these insulated appliances. Home owners told the iceman their needs by placing a sign in the window. He would chip off the desired amount and, using tongs, swing the block over his rubber-covered shoulder for delivery.

My Brattleboro grandmother still had an icebox as late as 1948. I recall the iceman treating the neighborhood children to slivers of ice.

In the 1930s, the price of electric refrigerators was reduced, and more homes installed them. In the 1940s, as frozen foods became popular, separate freezer compartments were added. Chest freezers followed in popularity. All these appliances kept food safer for longer periods of time.    

Mechanized air conditioning began to be used for cooling buildings and railroad cars in the 1930s.  In May 1938, the new Chimes Restaurant on Bradford Main Street  touted its air-conditioned atmosphere.   In 1948, Bradford’s Colonial Theatre was renovated, and air-conditioning was added. 

In 1947, advertisements for Carrier Room Air-conditioners offered the chance to “dodge the dog days and keep cucumber-cool this summer.”

Before, and even after, air conditioning, houses were often designed to reduce the impact of summer heat. Some were  built with wide eaves to avoid the sun’s direct rays. Higher ceilings allowed warmer air to rise over head.

Verandas, farm porches, or second-story enclosed balconies offered shade for a mid-day nap or an evening of rocking. They also prevented the sun’s heat from entering the house. Some verandas were large enough for a swing or to serve as a sleeping porch for those who had no mistrust of night air.  Screens gave protection from insects. Shade trees and climbing vines offered added protection

Windows were often placed to offer cross-ventilation and outfitted with shades or shutters. With no air conditioning, residents kept the house shuttered during the day and open during the evenings.  Some larger homes offered summer kitchens to prevent the heat from cooking invading the rest of the house.

Electric fans for both household and commercial use became popular around 1900.  Earlier fans had been powered by alcohol, oil, or kerosene.  Fans were available in both tabletop and ceiling models.  Westinghouse and General Electric battled for the fan market. Stores mentioned electric fans in the advertisements and drew more customers during hot weather. 

Newspapers and magazines regularly carried menu suggestions for summer meals. Lighter foods were recommended. Many recipes used available fresh garden fruits and vegetables.  

Lawn picnics and afternoon naps required just a blanket.  Modern picnic tables began to appear in the early 1900s. Vermont newspapers began to refer to the joys of backyard barbecues after 1940.  One Vermont observer made light of the tendency of newcomers and tourists to eat out of doors.   

A cool beverage helps the body deal with the impacts of high temperatures. Just plain water or “Adam’s ale” was readily available and free.

“Switchel,” a 1921 United Opinion article proclaimed, “is the homebrew of the Gods, unexcelled as a thirst quencher.” There are various recipes, including one made with oatmeal. My Mom made it from water, sugar, ginger, and vinegar for use in the ha fields.   

Commercially-made carbonated beverages began to appear on the market in the second half of the 19th century . Those included Hires Root Beer (1876), Dr. Pepper (1885), Coca-Cola (1888), Pepsi (1898), and Canada Dry Ginger Ale (1907). Others turned to the time-honored relief found in alcoholic beverages. 

Beginning in the early 19th century, tea punches were popular.  Iced tea was introduced after 1900 and was added to an assortment of fruit drinks.

Since the early 1800s, Ice cream has been a way to cool off in summer’s heat.  It was referred to as a “dessert that made life endurable…”  Using ice and rock salt, hand cranks turned cream and sugar into homemade ice cream.  Later, commercially manufactured ice cream became an industry. 

In the 1870s, soda fountains began to appear, and ice cream sodas were introduced. Some religious groups thought it sinful to eat ice cream sodas on Sundays. In the 1890s, some entrepreneurs left out the carbonated water in the soda, and sold them as ice cream sundaes. It was said that they were initially referred to as “Sundays.”   

Locally, many pharmacies maintained a soda fountain. When I was a child, one could find soda fountains at Clifford’s Corner Store in Orford, Chapman’s in Fairlee, and Gove & Bancroft Pharmacy and Chimes’s Restaurant in Bradford. Similar ones were found in Wells River and Woodsville.  In 1948, the soda fountain at Woodsville’s Kelley’s Cash Store offered a student special ice cream floats for a dime.

The ice cream cone was introduced at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. Ice cream had been licked in hand-held containers for some time, but this was the first time the container was eaten. 

As early as 1912, there was an ice cream parlor on Main Street in Fairlee. Known as the Neapolitan, it used Bradford strawberries in its strawberry ice cream. It was bought out by Hood’s Creamery in 1936.

In 1926, Charles Taylor of Buffalo invented an automatic soft serve ice cream machine. In the early 1950s, Taylor machines began to appear in the area, offering an alternative to hard ice cream. It was initially called frozen-custard in New Hampshire and cree-mees in Vermont. The popsicle, invented by accident in 1905, became popular in the 1920s.

Those who could afford it gave up heavier clothes for lighter summer ones. “Dress lightly, eat little, but often. Relax. Don’t get too much sun at one time. That is the way to keep cool.  Cliff Lang, Bradford’s United Opinion, July 31, 1942.

 Linen and cotton fabrics were recommended as were loose-fitting garments. Ladies had wide-brimmed hats and parasols to avoid the sun. These seasonal outfits were most popular and available among affluent residents and guests. 

Wearing white outfits was considered most appropriate summer attire until Labor Day. They indicated that the wearer was not involved in dirty manual labor. The same seasonal rule applied to men’s hats, with boaters or straw hats replacing heavier cloth ones.

Earlier attitudes regarding modesty dictated the amount of skin the wearer could show. Earlier swimwear was less revealing. In the latter part of the 19th century, women’s swim 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.   

Most men resisted short pants.  In the early 1950s, Bermuda shorts were introduced, with tourists the first local wearers. In June 1956, Bradford’s Erskine’s clothing store was the first to advertise them.  

  In the past, the poor suffered most from the heat of summer. Having a summer tan was the sign of a laborer. The poor could not afford a summer wardrobe, a trip to a resort in the mountains, the beach, or a residence with cooling features. 

As the earth warms, and extreme periods of summer heat become more frequent, it will again be the poorest that suffer the most, both at home and abroad. And that’s cold.         

Monday, July 4, 2022

Rise of Baseball-1840s to 1900

 Journal Opinion , June 22, 2022

Thrown Out On Second. Published in Harper's Weekly in Sept 1887, this Gilbert Gaul's  illustration captured the nation's fascination with baseball. 

“Tuesday the quiet of our [Newbury] village was broken by the shouts and mirth attending a game of baseball.  The Orford Base Ball Club dispatched a challenge to the Newbury Club. The playing on the part of both clubs was excellent, the Newburys excelling at the bat, and the Orfords in the fielding.”  Bradford Opinion, August 8, 1874

Baseball has been dubbed the nation’s past

time. There are mounds of articles and books on the subject.  So much material is available, that the history of baseball locally and throughout New Hampshire and Vermont will bel presented in two columns.  This column explores the game’s roots and its development into an obsession in the period before 1900.  A second column will cover the period from 1900 to 1970. 

Americans played team games with bats and balls before the inception of baseball. One game that had its heyday was the English game of cricket. In 1709, it was being played in Virginia and the first public match was held in New York City in 1751. Interest in matches grew, and, by 1849, an estimated 100,000 Americans played cricket.

 In the late 18th century, a game called wicket became popular in New England as a variation of cricket. At first, it was just an informal game with varying rules. Later, wicket clubs became more popular, and rules were needed to govern matches

A more lively game, however,  began to catch the nation’s attention.  It was baseball, at first spelled as two separate words. It was sometimes referred to as “bat and ball.” The story that it was invented in 1839 by Abner Doubleday of Cooperstown, NY has been widely refuted.

 In 1845, a game on the grounds of the Brooklyn Cricket Club was played with eight players on each side and may have been one of the first organized games. This newer game was considered more exciting than previous ones, “so much more full of life.”  One of the first organized teams was the Knickerbockers of New York.

At first, there were variations of the game’s rules. One set of rules was written in 1845 by Alexander Cartwright of the Knickerbockers. In 1839, Dr. Daniel Lucas Adams, a native of Mont Vernon, NH, moved to New York City and joined the Knickerbockers.  In 1857, he wrote a booklet entitled “The Laws of Base Ball.”

 These rules, which became widely used, described the game with nine players on each side, nine innings, and a 90-foot distance between bases. This, so-called New York game won over the competing Massachusetts set of rules.  

By that time, baseball was receiving editorial support and was played on the fairgrounds and playing fields across the country.  One editor wrote, “The good effect produced by the health and strength and morals of the young men engaged….has taken them from the unhealthy haunts of disputation indoors and given them a taste for manly sports.”

During the election of 1860, a political cartoon depicted Abraham Lincoln winning a game of baseball against his rivals.

In August 1860, a contest between the Brattleboro Base Ball Club and the Green Mt Base Ball Club of Jamaica drew “quite a crowd to witness” one of the first “Prized Ball” games played in the state.  That same year “a number of actively disposed citizens of Burlington, mostly young men,” established the Burlington Base Ball Club. The Star Base Ball Club was formed in Rutland in 1862.  

During the Civil War, baseball was “the most popular sport of all competitive sports in the camps of both armies and even in prison camps.”  Soldiers in the both Vermont and New Hampshire regiments played baseball during the lulls between military actions. 

Veterans brought home their enthusiasm for the sport.  By 1867, it was reported there were 44 baseball clubs in Vermont. What had started as a “gentlemanly sport” grew more inclusive. Leagues were formed, with series and amateur tournaments were held. 

Church groups opposed the playing of baseball on Sundays, calling it “a desecration of the Lord’s Day.”  In 1880, Vermont reaffirmed its ban on Sunday activities. According to an 1887 Burlington newspaper article, the legislatures in some states were passed laws against “the evils of Sunday base ball games.” 

In 1869, the Cincinnati Red Stockings was established as the first professional club with openly paid players. As other cities established teams, the National League was formed in 1876. American Association, later renamed the American League, was created in 1882. These newly-formed professional teams held Sunday games to attract more spectators. Amateur teams followed suit.    

Over the years, some New Hampshire and Vermont baseball players made it to these big leagues. The only local one before 1900 was Lee Viau, who was born in Corinth in 1866 and grew up in Hanover.  He began playing for the Cincinnati Red Stockings in 1888 and continued with other professional teams until 1892.  In 1889, he was described as “one of the greatest pitchers in the country today.” 

He was also described as “the handsomest man ever in the professional ranks” and was a favorite on Ladies Days. However, he didn’t take the trouble to keep in condition, and late nights and drinking took their toll, ending his professional career. In 1894, he was the manager of the Littleton team when it played the nine from Bradford.      

Another professional player with a two-state connection was John “Bud” Fowler.  He was born in New York in 1858.  He is considered one of baseball’s racial pioneers, the first black professional and the first to manage an integrated team. He was described as “one of the best general players in the country.”  But racial factors led him to move from team to team.

In 1887, Fowler joined the Montpelier team of the Northeastern League as captain, a first for an integrated team. Vermont newspapers described him as “a phenomenal second-baser,”  “a spectators’ favorite,” and “a first-class ball-tosser in every respect.” His career in Vermont was short-lived as the team folded. Fowler went on to play successfully for the Laconia, NH team, but also for just a short time.

As professional leagues moved to exclude Africa-Americans from the formerly integrated team, Fowler helped organize opportunities for Black players, including helping to organize the Cuban Giants, the first great Black club.  Fowler was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2021.

The Cuban Giants, which incidentally included no Cubans, made a number of tours of Vermont between 1887 and 1900.  The first year they toured the state playing teams from Bennington to St. Albans. Special trains brought fans to the games.  In 1892, a match at Brattleboro drew 800 spectators. The team challenged both league and college teams.            

As teams multiplied, the equipment needs changed. In 1858, the first factory-made balls were manufactured. At that time, balls were furnished by the challenging club and presented to the winning team as a trophy.

 In 1878, Albert Spalding established a company to manufacture standardized baseballs. In 1887, George Rawling established a company to manufacture baseball equipment.

 There was also a move to standardize baseball bats.  Previously, there was a wide range of styles, with bats often handmade by the players. Manufacturers began to mass-produce bats. 1888, Bradford’s United Opinion reported that nation-wide each year a million feet of lumber was turned into 500,000 bats. 

Bats and balls were not the only equipment that have become synonymous with the game. 

 At first, the idea of players wearing a glove for protection was dismissed. Gradually, mitt were introduced as players recognized the importance of reducing injury and enhancing performance.  About 1883, professional player Arthur Irwin designed a padded glove and brought it to Plymouth, NH to find a manufacturer. The established firm of Draper & Maynard accepted and became one of the major suppliers of both baseball gloves and balls.    

In 1887, Warden’s store on Bradford’s Main Street was advertising baseball bats, balls, gloves, scorebooks, and guides for sale.  Guides were necessary as “radical changes” had been made in the long accepted rules of the game. Those changes included “what constituted a fair ball, bunting, batman being struck and the behavior of the pitcher.”

Uniforms changed as the sport developed.  Straw hats were replaced with caps. By 1882, inspired by the Cincinnati Red Stockings, teams wore knee-breeches with colored stockings.  Spiked shoes were replaced by cleats by 1880.

How many local teams had uniforms is unknown.  In May 1877, the United Opinion included a call for financial assistance to purchase uniforms for Bradford’s team.  Encouraging civic pride, it suggested “a good base ball club is no disgrace to any town.”

In 1885, St Johnbury team uniforms were made of white cotton flannel, corded with red, and included knee-breeches and red stockings.

As the game became more formalized for adults, a carefree spirit continued to persist among children.  Pickup, scratch or sandlot games were a favorite among the youth.  Often played with informal rules, with procedures for dividing up the talent, these games were simply played for the fun of it. No adult coaches or umpires were available or required. 

One editor mentioned a mystery, “Why a boy’s hands will blister so much sooner on a hoe handle than they will on a base-ball bat.”

There was great interest in fielding village or  town teams. In the period between 1865 and 1900, there were teams in virtually every town in the area and sometimes more than one.

 Haverhill had teams in North Haverhill, Haverhill Corner, and Woodsville, although not necessarily at the same time. Team titles included the Boomer Club of East Corinth, the Eagle Club of Bradford, the Star Club of Thetford, and the Athletic Club of West Fairlee. 

In 1896, the East Corinth team adopted the self-deprecating title of the Muffers while the Corinth team played under the title of the Hayseeds.

Sometimes a team would fold only to be subsequently reestablished.  In 1894, the Bradford team was reorganized. In 1896, the Orford and Fairlee teams were reorganized as one.

 Local newspapers gave good coverage, with analysis of contests. The United Opinion analysis of the newly reorganized Bradford team included,   “the boys are bound to make things hustle this season.”  

Hundreds of spectators were common. In1874, a match between Orford and Newbury “drew nearly all the village people to view the play.” Spectators were sometimes asked to contribute to the costs.  At the Bradford-Wells River match in 1897, admission was “gents 10 cents, ladies and children free.”

Major contests were often scheduled for holidays such as Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Labor Day. Ballfields existed in most communities, with fairgrounds used. Double headers were sometimes held.   

Competition between town teams sometimes involved conflicts and trash talk.  Some matches were apparently rowdy and “notoriously brutal.” In 1897, the Bradford team crossed bats “in deadly strife” with North Haverhill.  “Look out for bruises and black eyes,” the local correspondent wrote.  Given youthful vigor, rivalry, and, perhaps alcohol, fights would not be unexpected.  

There were references to opposing teams as “hayseed nine.” One Fairlee team suggested to the Bradford team that “the boys had better let the married team at Bradford give them a few lessons.”

There were also charges that teams brought in ringers to boost their game.  One 1894 match between Newbury and Bradford was cancelled because of “imported batteries.”  Later, games between Orford, Bradford and Newbury were advertised as being played exclusively with resident players. 

A review of newspaper coverage indicates that generally, “everything passed off with the best of feelings on all sides.” However, when an 1894 game between Woodsville and Bradford resulted in a 24-5 drubbing of Woodsville, the United Opinion felt the need to mention the game’s coverage by the competing Woodsville News. “The Woodsville News gracefully acknowledge the corn, and the baseball boys took their medicine like little men.”

Teams travelled by train or wagon to the games. When  Bradford playing Woodsville, the Vermonters took the  train to Wells River, walking over to Woodsville and returning by the same method.

Colleges such as Dartmouth, Middlebury, UVM and UNH had baseball teams. High schools also had teams.  In the 1890’s, interscholastic games were held between Haverhill Academy, Newbury Seminary, Bradford Academy, and St. Johnsbury Academy. 

This widespread enthusiasm for the game of baseball that had evolved since the 1840’s was carried over into the 20th century.  Local residents continued to create town teams, and school teams continued to seek championships.  Some local men sought professional careers.

Some of these details will be covered in a later column this summer.  If any readers have memories of the town games before 1970, please feel free to share them with me soon at larrylcoffin@gmail.com. I am willing to follow up with a personal conversation.