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Saturday, December 23, 2023

Sing a Song of Christmas

 Journal Opinion Dec 20, 2023

The North County Chorus rehearses for a performance in a 2012 photograph. The chorus, founded by the late Harry Rowe of Wells River, has been a Christmas season mainstay for decades in the Twin States.

At the 2013 Annual Christmas Tree Lighting Events, sponsored by the Piermont Town Common Committee, Piermont Village School students led by music teacher Laurel Dodge, sung carols around the Christmas tree and decorated the tree with ornaments. 

“Beneath the familiar melodies and words, Christmas songs reveal a portrait of the American psyche past and present, wishing simultaneously to embrace nostalgia, commerce, charity, carnival, romance, and travesty.” Ronald B. Lanford Jr. A Cultural History of American Christmas Songs.

In past Decembers, I have written columns on the general history of Christmas as well as specific themes such as, Santa Claus, Christmas foods, gifts and Christmas pageants and parades. They are posted on my blog at larrycoffin.blogspot.com. have only included enough bi

This column about Christmas music. It exlores the roots of sacred carols and the development of modern Christmas songs.  How residents listened to and performed these musical pieces is included.

I have only included bits and pieces to remind readers how hard it is to imagine the Christmas season without favorite sacred and secular holiday music

Many of the most popular Christmas carols were brought to this country by European migrants. Favorites such as “O Come All Ye Faithful,”” Good King Wenceslas,” “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” and “Good Christian Men, Rejoice” have been part of their Christmas festivals for centuries. 

In the 19th century, there was renewed interest in Christmas songs and carols. “It Came Upon A Midnight Clear” (1849) and “Away in A Manger” (1885) reflected a religious theme, while “Jungle Bells” (1857) was a rare secular piece.

“Silent Night, Holy Night” was written in 1818 by Austrians Franz Xaver Gruber and Josef Mahr. It was first performed in America in 1839.Many touching stories are connected with this carol, including it being sung simultaneously by French, German and English soldiers during a temporary 1914 Christmas truce in World War I.

In 1943, Bradford’s United Opinion reprinted the story of a group of American sailors on Guadalcanal. Their ship had been sunk, and they found themselves on the island during the battle with only the supplies provided by adjacent Marine companies.

But on the Sunday before Christmas, “the men stood in the mud and listened as the band played carols. It had rained the night before and the jungle was moist and hot and steaming, and the moisture had its effect on the instruments. But the band played and the men sang, Silent Night, holy night…it was a long way from Bethlehem to the South Pacific.”

Before the early 20th century, Americans purchased their favorite Christmas music on sheet music or Christmas music books to play in their own homes. It was not uncommon for groups to gather around the family piano or sing in choral groups. Advent and Christmas church services included traditional carols sung by the congregation and choirs.

 In the 1920s, community members gathered around the Community Christmas tree at Memorial Park in Bradford or on the Common in Lyme. Going caroling around local villages was often mentioned in the Opinion.

In 1927, Bradford carolers serenaded shut-ins, as did Newbury’s Sabbath School’s children in 1928 and Fairlee girls in 1931. In 1955, the Methodist Youth Fellowship of Bradford continued a tradition that is still performed area groups today. 

Well into the late 20th century, community notes in the Opinion mentioned the singing of Christmas music by members of local clubs during December meetings. These included Women’s Clubs and Church organizations. 

Public school students of all ages were involved in Christmas pageants and festivals. Significant in these was the group singing of Christmas music. 

Beginning in the 1880s, Christmas cantatas were offered in many local towns.  A cantata is a narrative piece of music for voice and instruments. It usually includes solos as well as choral numbers. Pieces include both sacred and secular music.

Church choirs, youth and school choruses as well as community groups offered these holiday programs. Soloists included talented locals and visiting guest performers. 

Newspaper notices of rehearsals, performances and reviews of Christmas cantatas were commonplace after 1888.  The notice of the upcoming 1897 East Corinth production of “Santa’s Surprise” mentioned: “The whole piece is very nice and promises to be one of the nicest Christmas entertainments given in this place for a long time.”

In 1951, the Bradford Congregational Church chorus took their “Christmas Bells” cantata on the road. When they performed in West Fairlee Center on Dec 16, the audience was appreciative but small, as the temperature was 28 degrees below.  

Performances were in town halls, school buildings and churches. Sometimes, chorus groups from several towns would combine their talents. In 1963, Bradford Academy and Woodsville, Wells River and Haverhill High Schools choruses combined to present two Christmas concerts.

Of all the local choral groups, the North Country Chorus stands out. This year’s Christmas program was their 75th. Their first Christmas concert was held on Dec 1, 1947 at the Littleton Methodist Church. 

Within a month, the group formally organized, and the first Christmas North County Chorus concert was held in the Woodsville Methodist Church in 1948. That year’s performance of Handel’s “Messiah” was the first of many times the group included that oratorio in their annual holiday program.

In 1951, Wells River’s Mary Whitney Rowe became conductor, continuing until 1994 when her son Alan Rowe took over. In 1957, Bradford’s Katrina Munn and Warren Geissinger became accompanists. The group performs in a variety of venues around the area.

Another group that performs locally during the Christmas season is the all-women Pine Hill Singers.   Formed in 1996, the rehearsals are held in Littleton. This year’s program included “music, both classical and traditional, from across continents and centuries, of winter light and snowy landscapes.” The director is Judy Abbott and Anita Bonnevie is the accompanist.

The Upper Valley Voices, previously known as the Thetford Chamber Singers, also offers a holiday concert in Thetford and Hanover. Approximately 25 area singers perform a program of holiday-inspired music from the Renaissance to the present day.  Kevin Quigley is their director and Henry Danaher is the accompanist.

The early focus on formal and informal group singing, changed with the introduction of the radio, phonographs, motion pictures, and later, television and the internet. Americans were more likely to listen to Christmas music than to sing it. 

Recordings of Christmas music were first heard on wax cylinders. In the 1890s, disc records were introduced. Companies, such as Victor Records, offered Christmas music to be played on record players. In 1909, a Burlington Free Press advertisement listed Victor’s recorded version of “Silent Night.”

The first radio broadcast of a Christmas carol was in Dec 1906. Engineer Reginald Fessenden played “O Holy Night” on his violin in a transmission heard only by ship radio operators along Massachusetts’s Atlantic coast. 

Commercial radio began broadcasting in 1920.  As the number of stations increased, they included Christmas music in their programming.

Between 1935 and 1953, the radio program  “Your Hit Parade” was broadcast every Saturday night. It was also a television program from 1950 to 1959. The radio program coincided with the introduction of some of the most well-known Christmas songs.

 These included “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” (1943), “Let It Snow” (1945),” The Christmas Song” (1946), “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” (1949), “Frosty the Snowman” (1950), and “Silver Bells” (1950). All of these are still included among the most frequently played holiday songs.   

There was a Bradford Five and Ten advertisement in December 1948 for holiday records. They featured artists such as Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Gene Autry, and Fred Waring. 

One of the top Christmas songs since its introduction is Judy Garland’s song “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas.” Written by Ralph Bane and Hugh Martin, it first appeared in 1944 in the MGM film “Meet Me In St. Louis.” The film was shown locally in 1945, including at Tegu’s Orpheum in Woodsville. 

No contemporary Christmas song was proven more popular  than the one  written by Irving Berlin and introduced by Bing Crosby on his NBC radio program on Christmas Day, 1941.  Entitled “White Christmas,” it was written for the film “Holiday Inn.” By October, the song was number one on Your Hit Parade where it stayed for 10 weeks.

It was the number-one single in 1942, 1943 and 1944.  In 1943, it received the Academy Award for Best Song. It holds the distinction of being the world’s best-selling record, with over 50 million sold.

 “White Christmas changed Christmas music forever, both by revealing the high potential market for Christmas songs and by establishing the theme of home and nostalgia that would ring through Christmas music evermore,” wrote Dave Marshall and Steve Propes in the book about the song.

The original film was remade in 1954 as “White Christmas,” and unlike the original film, was placed, but not filmed, in Vermont.  The popular movie, starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Vera-Ellen, and Rosemary Clooney, was shown at the Bradford and Fairlee movie houses and at the Woodsville and Fairlee drive-in theaters in 1955.

I spoke with three radio stations about their Christmas music schedule.  Waterbury’s WDEV went on the air in 1931. After December first, they begin to “sprinkle” Christmas music into their schedule.

WYKR’s Teresa Puffer said they begin selections the day after Thanksgiving and build up to an all-Christmas music program from noon on Christmas Eve until midnight on the 25th. They did try starting on Thanksgiving Day, but got a negative audience reaction. 

 Helen Lyons, musical director for Vermont Public Classical, mentioned that the station follows about the same schedule. However, in addition to classical selections and orchestra holiday pops, the station includes Hanukkah music.   

I asked readers in an informal survey how they felt about Christmas music.  Favorites ranged from popular selections such as Jingle Bells and Away In a Manger” to less well known selections from “Amahl and the Night Visitors” and singles “Mele Kalikimaka” and “Fairy Tale of New York.”

When asked what selection made them cringe, respondents listed “I saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus,” “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer,” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” The latter was described as both a song of inclusiveness and one of “blatant bullying.”

Asked about when radio stations and stores should begin broadcasting Christmas music, most respondents were opposed to starting too early, generally meaning before December 1.  Some felt the effectiveness of making the season bright, wore off after weeks and weeks of repetition.  Those who supported music being played at all, favored the all-Christmas day programming.

Some respondents glowed in their feelings about Christmas music. For them, it made the season and t reminded them of earlier times.  One told me he remembered listening to them with his grandparents, and when he hears Christmas music, it made him think of them.  Several spoke of memorizing a wide selection and singing them either in organized groups or alone.  

Others were very critical of how Christmas music is foisted on unappreciative listeners. One wrote that music on the radio or in stores yearly remind her that “not all folks celebrate the holiday, and the music only serves to divide us more.”

There are others for whom Elvis Presley’s “Blue Christmas” (1957) has a deeper meaning as Christmas music reminds them of those they have lost or of unhappy holidays of their past. 

As a reminder that Christmas music has different meanings at different ages, I attended Christmas Eve services in the mid-1970s when Rev Robert Robb of Piermont would ask for their favorite carols. Snuggled between Little Town of Bethlehem and the candlelit finale  “Silent Night,” a small voice might ask for “The Santa Claus Song.”

Katherine Babbott of Thetford Center shared the following story. Her family was attending their church Christmas singalong. Carly, the children’s favorite babysitter, was in charge and invited those gathered “to raise their hand and request a Christmas song.

Our little boy twin, age 4, raised his hand and politely proclaimed, ‘Please sing the ABC song!’ at which point Carly said ‘Ok, let’s sing the ABC song!’ It was a special moment in our church and our lives when the choir and congregation responded in a rousing chorus of the ABC song. There were many smiles and tears at the beauty and innocence of the moment.”

Even while wondering if the annual onslaught of Christmas music may be too soon and too much, many cannot imagine the Christmas season without it.  Whether its background music in the stores, television specials, radio broadcasts, or songs by local performers or selections from their home collection, many find themselves humming or singing along to their favorite song performed by their favorite singers.

And having a Merry Christmas.

Monday, November 20, 2023

Early Village Firefighting: Hard Lessons Learned


Organized around 1896, the volunteer Wells River Hose Company was equipped with hoses and a hose cart that members pulled to the scene of village fires.  Before hydrants were available, bucket brigades supplied water to be pumped.  It was typical of early organized firefighting in communities in both NH and VT. They were gradually replaced by fire engines. (Horace S. Symes)

A "great conflagration" destroyed the center of Newbury Village on June 14, 1913. It razed over 25 building on the Newbury Common and along adjacent streets. As a result of this fire, a village water system was installed within several years. (Newbury Historical Society)

Fire Sweeps Bradford. fire hoses snaked through Bradford's Main Street during a major downtown fire over 75 years ago. The east side of Bradford's business district was partially destroyed by a fire on Dec. 17, 1947. A number of area fire departments fought the fire using lines of hose pumping water from the Waits River.  Only the Bradford Fire Department could use village water as the hydrants, at the time, did not have standard-size connectors. (Bradford Historical Society) 

In the past, village centers in our area have been impacted by major fires. This column describes local fires between 1848 and 1953 that destroyed multiple structures and dramatically altered the appearance of the communities when they occurred. The emphasis is on the role of volunteer firefighters and the obstacles they faced.

Before the early 19th century, the only effort in respond to fires was spontaneous. Each household was expected to have a fire bucket handy. When a fire broke out, a bucket brigade was formed and water was passed from a nearby well or cistern in an attempt to quell the flames.

Slowly, a little more organization and preparation took hold in firefighting. Private fire companies were organized in larger communities. In Vermont the first efforts were in cities such as Burlington (1808) and Montpelier (1814). In New Hampshire, companies appeared in Concord (1807) and Keene (1808). In some communities there were more than one company.

 These were volunteer organizations with little, if any, support from local governments. Belonging to these quasi-fraternal companies was considered “a mark of social standing.” Competitive drills were held between companies, and parades gave volunteers a chance to show new uniforms and equipment.

Some large local businesses and insurance companies sponsored fire companies. The Estey Organ Company in Brattleboro and the Vermont Mutual Fire Insurance Co. of Montpelier are examples.

Larger towns began to provide tax support for equipment and hose houses. In some cases, volunteers were exempt from poll taxes. In 1852, Manchester, NH began to pay volunteers $5 a year.

 Hose companies deployed hand or horse-drawn hose carts from hose houses to the scene of fires. The hoses would be attached to hydrants if there was a municipal water system. If not, bucket brigades kept water supplied to the handpumps.

About this time, two innovations were introduced. They were steam-powered engines with greater water pressures and  chemical engines. The latter relied on a soda-acid chemical reaction in the engine that created increased water pressure.

In the early 20th century, there was a move to a paid department and motorized hose and ladder trucks in the largest communities.

The following are examples of major local fires and the impact of firefighting techniques.

 On April 19, 1848, a fire broke out in Haverhill Corner that destroyed a major portion of the business district on the west side of Main Street.

“The only defense was a long line of men and boys, old and young, standing in line from the reservoir on the South Common, passing buckets of water down to the fire.”

Notwithstanding this effort, the fire spread rapidly, fanned by a strong northerly wind, and was only stopped by tearing away small adjoining structures, creating a fire barrier.

Eight buildings were destroyed in what was called “one of the most destructive fires every witnessed in this section of the country.”

One newspaper article suggested that villages needed cisterns supplied with fresh water and a plan to “procure a good engine with apparatus, fire hooks, etc.”

In the morning of February 19, 1883, a fire broke out on Bradford’s Main Street. Described as “the great fire and a terrible conflagration,” the fire destroyed ten buildings on the west side of the business district.

There was no municipal water system and the supply of water was limited. Firemen used a hand pump to get water from cisterns until the supply was depleted.  It was reported that some even used snow to help suppress the flames.

As was the custom among firefighting in those days, saving the flaming buildings became secondary to containing the spread of the fire to other structures. The buildings north of the fire were saved only by being “enveloped in wet carpets.” 

Within two hours, the flames were under control. Only the fact that the winds calmed save the entire business area from being swept away. 

The United Opinion praised the heroic work of Waitsville Fire Engine Company firemen. They operated out of the firehouse on South Main Street. They “worked like heroes and to them in large measure is due the staying of the flames.”  Also mentioned was the work of Bradford women who helped remove items from threatened buildings.

Within a year, the brick Union Block and Stevens Block replaced the destroyed wooden buildings.  However, it was not until 1892 that the newly-formed Village of Bradford created a municipal water system with hydrants.

On September 26, 1892, a severe lightning storm caused the worse fire in the history of the village of Wells River.

“A large part of Main Street went up in flames,” reports recounted. Nine building were consumed, Including the Wells River House, livery stables and several other commercial buildings. The Wells River Hose Company, equipped with only a hose cart and supported by a volunteer “pail brigade,” fought the fire.

 The Woodsville Hose & Ladder Company and the Barnet Fire Company rendered assistance. The firefighters were hampered by the lack of a water system but helped by the continuing heavy rain.

The devastation provided a terrible lesson. Within two years a private water system was created for the village and hydrants were installed. Efforts were made to enhance the Hose Company with additional equipment.   

On December 5, 1912, a fire on the west side of Main Street destroyed Fairlee’s Opera House, library, and church. The entire town responded to the urgent ringing of the church bell. With no water system, only hand fire extinguishers were available against the rapidly developing fire. There was fear that the fire might spread to the nearby Morey Mountain.

Word was sent to surrounding towns and a total of 150 firefighters finally brought the fire under control. Within days, plans to rebuild the destroyed buildings began.

The Barre Daily Times editorialized, “One would think that the loss there of its chief building would cause a village like Fairlee to give itself sufficient fire protection, and perhaps it will. Likewise, many another village which has been resting in fancied security about the same as Fairlee did, apparently”

About 1919, the Fairlee Fire Company was formed and was gifted a 1914 fire engine. Orford’s fire company had been in existence for decades and, by 1922, was known as the Orford Chemical Engine Company. The two neighboring companies supported each other as well as other area towns. 

An example of this cooperation occurred in November 1922 when the United Opinion building on Bradford’s Main Street caught fire. Initially, it looked as though this fire would do to the east side of the street what the 1883 fire had done to the west side.

The alarm brought a quick response from the local hose company, who together with volunteers, fought the flames. Outside assistance was called for and the Orford and Fairlee Chemical Companies responded.

At one time, the local company had four streams of water on different parts of the building. The Chemical Companies’ efforts confined the flames to the single building.  At the time, successes were few and far between.

“The ‘great conflagration” that destroyed the center of Newbury village on June 14, 1913 was one of the most devastating fires in the area’s history.  Beginning in a blacksmith shop, the fire, fanned by brisk winds, spread to adjacent buildings.

The village was without a water system and “totally unprepared to cope with so large a fire.” The United Opinion’s coverage of the fire described how, “the men fought valiantly but had practically no weapons that were adequate. While men were fighting the fire away from their own homes, they would turn and see these same homes burning fiercely, so rapidly did the fire spread.  For a time, it appeared as if the entire village might be destroyed.”

 The fire destroyed over 25 structures on the Newbur yCommon and along the adjacent streets. The historic Methodist church was saved when horses were used to pull away the adjoining wooden sheds. There was help from neighboring towns, “but the reinforcements arrived only to stand by as helpless.”

The newspaper went on, “When the buildings are again restored, it is safe to say that Newbury will have a town water system before many years.” In August, rebuilding had begun to replace the destroyed buildings. 

Although the need for a reliable water source was recognized, it was several years before a system was created with a storage reservoir and a series of hydrants appropriately spaced throughout the village. 

The volunteers began to develop a fire department with equipment and a hose house. By 1919, five hose houses were placed around the village.

No community has been more permanently affected by fire than the village of West Fairlee. At the turn of the 20th century, it was a “bustling place, with several general stores, a hotel, a drug store, a jeweler and a several large commercial blocks. This activity was in major part due to the nearby copper mines. 

 Three fires between 1908 and 1917 caused most of those buildings to disappear with few replacements. “West Fairlee Burned” was the headline in The Opinion report on the fire of September 29, 1908 night. “It was a hard fire for that little village as it completely wiped out the business portion of the place.”

West Fairlee had no organized fire department, little or no water, and no fire apparatus, so all that could be done was to let the fire burn itself out. Four companies from neighboring towns responded to the call for help, but arrived too late.

On September 25 of the following year, a second fire started in the Whitney Block and spread along Main Street. There was still no organized fire protection. In 1917, a third fire destroyed the Eastman block and two residences.  While some buildings were built on the vacant lots, the face of West Fairlee village was changed forever. The lessons of having inadequate fire protection were learned, and in 1921, a volunteer fire company was organized.    

No community was safe from disastrous fires. On September 6, 1934, a fire destroyed Piermont’s library and Gould’s store and damaged several residencies.

Five departments from surrounding towns responded to assist the Piermont volunteers. By the time the Fairlee and Bradford Chemical Companies arrived the fire in the library building was out of control. South Ryegate and Warren companies also came, but too late. A pumper from Hanover, using water from the nearby stream, “was largely responsible for checking the flames.”

The first newspaper mention of a Piermont fire department was in 1936.  In the years after that, the department responded to calls for help in the several of the communities that had helped them in 1934. 

“Fire Sweeps Bradford In the Worst Disaster on Record” was the headline that described the blaze that gutted the east side of Bradford’s business district on December 17, 1947. Six businesses, including three grocery stores, were destroyed in the section north of the Post Office, now the Colatina Exit. High winds fanned the blaze. 

The Bradford Fire Company responded to the alarm and was aided by departments from Wells River, Piermont, North Haverhill, Woodsville, and Fairlee. When the Hanover Department arrived, their highly-trained personnel were given charge of the combined efforts. Even high school students on their way to school, were pressed into service, pulling hoses.

The out-of-town firefighters were delayed in using their hose because the Bradford hydrants did not have standard-size connectors. Four lines of hose to the Waits River pumped water on the flames.  The newspaper reported, “It was with superhuman strength that the firemen were able to stop the flames” short of the Post Office and the rest of the business district.  “Down But Not Out” was the familiar refrain as plans were quickly made to rebuild the destroyed buildings.

On Friday, July 31, 1953, a fire broke out that threatened to wipe out the village of Waits River. The fire started in the Flint Brother’s Bobbin mill along the north side of the Waits River. A “gusty wind” sent the fire up the hill to envelope the general store and threat the nearby church.

As the village had no fire company, equipment from neighboring towns augmented by a privately-owned engine from East Orange and passing motorists fought the blaze. Workers at mills in Bradford and East Corinth were released to join the fight.  Embers spread forest and grass fires several miles away. 

The Waits River fire was an expensive lesson, but without it, public interest might never have been aroused sufficiently to enable the Tri-Village Fire Association to become a reality. 

 Hundreds of local individual structures have been destroyed by fire in the past 250 years. Some have been important business or public buildings; others have been homes or barns.

What is essential to the fires mentioned above is that there was no loss of life. What is to be recalled is that, in most cases, towns people rallied to support those who suffered loss. They also supported the development of modern fire companies.  What is to be celebrated is that many looked beyond the immediate disaster to rebuild their village centers. They learned from lessons, hard learned.         

Thursday, October 5, 2023

From One-Room to Consolidation


School Wagon: Contrary to stories that students had to walk to school uphill both ways, Bradford student had four horse-drawn school wagons in 1901. The one pictured delivered upper elementary and BA students to the Woods School Building on Main Street. (Bradford Historical Society)

Little District Schoolhouse circa 1897. Built about 1883 at a cost "not to exceed $350," this one-room schoolhouse served Topsham's Cunningham or Watson Hill District. It was still in operation as late as 1911. The tall student in the white dress in the center of the front row is Nettie Wright (Pierson) the author's wife's grandmother. (Town of Topsham)   

“Selectmen of towns to have a vigilant eye over their neighbors, to see that none of them shall suffer so much barbarism in any of their families as not to endeavor to teach their children and apprentices so much learning as may enable them to read perfectly the English tongue.” NH Provincial Legislature, June 14, 1642

Education was crucial in early New England as it enabled people to read the Bible. By 1777 New Hampshire and Vermont required primary schools in most towns.

 In 1782, Rev. Gershom Lyman spoke before the Vermont Legislature expressing, “the belief of the majority of Vermonters when he referred to ignorance as ‘a natural source of error, self-conceit and contracted, groveling sentiment.’”

Randolph Roth’s study of the early Connecticut River Valley of Vermont found education in high regard.  “Education promised to create an electorate that would chose its representatives wisely.” Roth concluded that by the turn of the 19th century, “the valley had one of the highest literacy rates in the world, approximately 95 percent for men and 85 percent for women.”

That high rate of literacy was fostered at least until the beginning of the 20th century in small, usually one-room, district schools. The following includes just some local examples of this historic practice.

 In local towns, such as Bradford, Orford, and Corinth, the earliest schools were held in homes or barns.  In 1770, Orford voted to hire its first schoolmaster. In 1773, Haverhill established its first primary school. East Topsham built it first schoolhouse around 1810.  

 In 1782, Vermont provided that towns could create neighborhood self-funding and self-governing school districts. New Hampshire followed suit. Each district was “a little independent commonwealth with certain defined boundaries.”

In local towns, the number of districts increased with population growth, especially in previously unpopulated areas. Haverhill began with 4 districts in 1786, added 5 more by 1815, eventually reaching 20. By the early 1800s, Bradford was divided into 17 districts and several fractional districts. The latter were districts that shared a school with adjoining towns.  

The district was responsible for the construction of a schoolhouse, usually within walking distance from most homes. Sometimes, property for a new school was donated by a local landowner as property near the school increased in value. Terms of up to 12 weeks were held 3 times a year, with timing determined by farming practices.   

Early schoolhouses lacked many of the amenities of later schools. Initially, students sat on benches and, later, in straight-back desks. At first, there were no blackboards, globes, or teaching supplies.

Student were expected to bring their own textbooks, which often meant little uniformity in books. Students brought wood for the stove to heat what were often cold, drafty buildings. Schools were without running water for drinking or toilets.

Initially, only Vermont taxpayers who had school-age children were expected to pay on a per-student basis. The early practice of allowing taxes to be paid in labor or produce was abandoned and, by 1864, all property owners were expected to pay school taxes.

A district school committee made decisions about school operation., including securing a teacher, usually at the lowest possible price. “The system was the occasion of more local quarrels than anything else in town.”

In many local towns, the population peaked in the 1850s, and Vermont schools had an average of 38 students. In 1860, there were 2,591 school districts in Vermont with a reduced average of 29 scholars in grades 1-8. In 1867, Vermont required attendance for students up to 14 years of age. While district students could stay beyond 16 years of age, few did.  In 1854, New Hampshire had 2,294 district schools.

As the population continued to decline in the latter half of the 19th century, the average number of students also declined.  In 1884, there were 103 Vermont district schools with six or fewer students and 420 districts with between 6 and 11. School were sometimes closed briefly until students were available or closed permanently.  Reduction in the number of students in a district school did not result in a similar reduction in fixed expenses.

These factors led to a decline in the number of district schools. In 1900, there were just over 1,500 district schools in Vermont, by 1920, there were 1,000, and by the 1950s, about 500.  Abandoned school houses were often dismantled or sold. By the beginning of the 21st century, the number of one-room schools in the two states had dwindled to single digits.

This was especially pronounced in rural districts that became underpopulated. The one-room school in Orford’s Quintown district is an example. In 1894, there were only seven students, the following year, five, and by 1900, it was abandoned.   

Until the late 19th century, there were no state certification requirements for teachers.  Generally, anyone who had completed the equivalent of high school could be hired as a district school teacher.   While there were men hired as schoolmasters, most teachers were women.

In early Newbury, teachers received 50 cents a week. Teachers were expected to board with families either on a weekly or full-term basis. In some districts, the housing of the teacher was bid off to the lowest bidder, which did not always provide the best of accommodations for the educators..  

 This was the description of one early Newbury teacher: “She was not incompetent, however, having learned through her own efforts to read and write. She also knew a little something of the science of numbers and taught successfully.”

The academic demands on teachers were significant. In 1867, the teacher in the District 12 school in Bradford village taught 45 pupils 25 different subjects in an ungraded one-room school. 

A good teacher was one who could keep order “even if preserved with a rod.” Historian Steve Taylor described the discipline as varying from “chaotic to dictatorial.”

During the winter term, big farm boys often created discipline problems for younger teachers.  Some years ago, an elder told me of a local school that had a problem with a number of boys who “broke up the school,” including driving teachers away.  A new teacher arrived and, placed a large whip over the blackboard, stating her intention to use it as necessary.  She taught successfully for decades. 

The district school was a center of local activity, and school affairs were newsworthy. In February 1876, The United Opinion carried an article on the “excellent and successful” winter term of West Fairlee’s District 4 school. It had 27 students under the instruction of Miss Lydia Smith,” an able and experienced teacher.”  

Samuel Reed Hall opened the first teacher training or normal school was opened in Concord, VT in 1823. He also operated a similar program in Plymouth NH after 1837. Over the years that followed the Civil War, both states operated normal schools that provided teacher training and increased certification requirements.

Beginning in 1885, both states passed a series of acts setting standards for school buildings, allowed women to vote in school affairs and adopted a policy of town-wide graded school districts with consolidated schools located in the centers of local population.  In 1919, the NH state started a program to improve underperforming schools. 

In the late 19th century, both states began to reconsider the self-financed neighborhood district.  In 1884, Vermont enacted a law encouraging towns to adopt the township system of schools. Newbury voters voted twice not to adopt. In 1894, the state mandated the town system. The takeover closed some district schools, whereas other were kept and improved. 

This town-wide control encouraged the consolidation of schools. In 1895, Bradford built a new brick primary school on South Main and placed grades 4 through 8 in the newly-constructed Woods School Building. These locations served until a new elementary school was built in 1952 at which time the last district school, located in Goshen, was closed.

In 1890-92, the Vermont Legislature passed legislation to equalize school funding, improve teacher training, and consolidate school administration.  These efforts were enhanced by further legislation in the 20th century.

A state-wide property tax, designed to use moved funds from wealthier communities to assist poorer ones, passed with the support of rural legislators. Their numbers were more influential because each town had one representative, regardless of population. Orange County schools were among those which benefited the most from this new tax. 

That tax remained in effect until 1931. From then until it was re-established in 1997, the cost of local education again depended on local property taxes.   

In 1892, hundreds of local Vermont school districts were wiped out when the State replaced them with a single town-wide district.  Known by its detractors as the Vicious Law, this placed the responsibility for public education in the hands of a town school committee.   

As the district schools served a neighborhood, children who lived within two miles walked to school.  As these local schools were discontinued, some town districts provided school wagons. In 1902, Bradford students were transported in four school wagons. Pulled by two horses, these canvas-covered wagons had two benches running lengthwise.

On nice days, the canvas was rolled up. Often, boys had to get out and walk up the steepest hills. In the Spring, all but the smallest might be required to walk as the muddy roads became almost impassable.     

Little Elizabeth Miller didn’t have to walk from her North Road home to the West Newbury school because her family had the horse named Pete. When Elizabeth started school around 1915, her family hitched Pete to a wagon to transport her to school. After dropping his passenger off, Pete found his own way home.  Bradford’s Douglas Miller recalled his mother’s story, adding that the afternoon trip didn’t work quite so well. His mother had to walk home.

Newbury’s Aroline Putnam and Bradford’s Margaret Drew began school in West Newbury in 1941 and recently spoke of those school days. They said there were usually less than 30 students in the one-room school.  Grace Whitman was the teacher and conducted group lessons, sometimes with the help of older students. The school did not have running water so, it was carried from a nearby farm. There were two privies, one for boys and one for girls.

 Drew agreed that it was a “wonderful little school.” She recalled there were few discipline problems. She remembered that sometimes boys would hop the tail of the milk truck to get a ride to school.  

In 1947, Putman, Drew, and the two other girls that made up their class, transferred to the Newbury Central School. Whitman told them she had taught them all she could.  When asked if she thought most children got a good education in a one-room setting, Putman thought they did, but it “depended on the kids and their parents.”  Having served the district for 75 years, the school closed in 1970.

In some districts, one-room was replaced by two-room buildings. East Haverhill resident Marilyn Seminerio recently related stories of her experience in a two-room school in Chesterfield, NH in the years after 1935.

She said there were fewer than 25 students, but they were divided into grades one through four and five through eight.  Instruction was often ungraded, with courses such as history and geography offered in alternate years. Her teacher heated soup on the top of the wood stove for those students who could not walk home for lunch. 

How communities handled the consolidation of their elementary schools varied.  Where there were several village centers, separate schools existed longer.  Wells River maintained a separate school system long after the rest of Newbury consolidated. 

When Thetford’s new elementary school opened in 1962, it replaced district schools in Union Village, North Thetford, East Thetford, Post Mills, Rice’s Mills, and the Stevens District. 

 Several village schools were maintained in Corinth and Topsham until Union 36 opened in 1972.

In 1898, a new two-story Orfordville School was built to accommodate students as many of the town’s district school were phased out.  In 1901, Fairlee voted to build a new two-story building at the south end of the village.  This was used as the elementary school until a new building was built in 1956.

These are just examples of the continued consolidation of school districts. Since the 1960s, town school districts have merged in a number of configurations. 

Those interested in the further history of the one-room district schools that once operated in their neighborhood are encouraged to go to their town’s history book. Most have extensive descriptions. My article on the early history of area high schools can be found on my blog at larrycoffin.blogspot.com. It is entitled School Bells: Academies & Seminaries 1790s-1890s. 


Tuesday, August 15, 2023

"School's Out, Job's In"


Journal Opinion

August 9, 2023


Boys At Summer Work. In the late 1940s, the most common summer jobs for boys was mowing lawns, pumping gas and restaurant work.  Girls were more likely to perform housework or child care. This seasonal employment gave young workers additional disposal income. Many use it for school clothing or to help their families. 

 “Girl, high school age, wants summer job, house, mill or office work.  Write Box 218, Bradford, Vt. “

A local girl placed this advertisement in The United Opinion in May 1933. She, like many other young people, sought summer employment.  Summer jobs is the focus of this column.

I placed notices in local community online sources and email listservs asking for personal stories. I received over 35 responses. The following draws from those responses as well as other sources and personal interviews.

Extended school summer vacation from school did not exist prior to 1900. It was previously thought that practice was driven by farm family’s needs. However, extra child labor is actually needed on farms during the spring planting and fall harvesting periods.

Both primary and secondary schools in our area had an 8-week summer term. In the 1880s, local village schools ended that term in mid-to-late July and often didn’t resume until late September, coinciding with harvesting.

At that time, city schools often followed an 11-month schedule. By 1900, the 9-month calendar became common for urban children who needed a summer break from hot classrooms. Increasingly, children from upper- and middle-class families used the break to escape from the cities. 

Other than for college students who sought seasonal employment at mountain or seaside resorts, there was almost no newspaper notices of summer employment for young people before 1920.

 By the 1940s, employment opportunities increased. The most common jobs for boys were pumping gas, mowing lawns, and restaurant work. Girls did housework and childcare. This gave young workers more disposable income.

What follows are some of the responses that I got to my inquiry about summer jobs. I have tried to deal with both the most common and those that were unusual.

Several respondents told me of youth employment that was questionable and in violation of child-labor laws, such as prohibitions on long hours at meager pay.

 In 1941, at age 10, former Fairlee resident Phyllis Graham said, she worked alongside her grandmother at a Bellows Falls chicken processing plant. Her grandmother was paid, but Phyllis was not. There were also 16-year-old employees who worked as an electrician’s assistant or in a hazmat suit removing asbestos

Beginning in the early 20th century, summer youth camps were established throughout the area. Camp counselor position and other camp jobs coincided with school and college breaks.

The camp economy also offered positions for camp office help, laundries and infirmaries as well as at the local businesses and train stations. As campers and counselors traveled outside the camps, they had an impact on local restaurants and stores. In 1910, a group of girls from a local camp descended on a Fairlee soda fountain and left the young local lad “quite beside himself.” 

 Orford’s Ruth Hook was among those who mentioned camp employment. Beginning in 1966, she worked at Camp Merriwood in East Orford. Her duties included washing dishes, preparing and serving food, mopping floors, and cleaning bathrooms. She worked six days a week, beginning at $25 per week and saved money for college.  

Tracy Paye Durkee shared her work experience at Newbury’s Camp Farwell’s laundry in the early 1980s

Local resorts and golf courses also offered employment for young workers during the summer. Ninety-three-year-old Dawn Houston of South Royalton’s first job was at a Lodge where she worked in the kitchen and as a chambermaid. “Work made me a dependable person later in life,” she wrote.

 Piermont’s Lake Tarleton Club opened its golf course in 1909 and hired caddies from Boston and local communities for the summer. As the resort expanded, there were opportunities for summer employment in the dining room, kitchen, maintenance, and caring for guests’ rooms.  

I received information from locals who worked at Fairlee’s Lake Morey Inn, Bonnie Oakes, and Rutledge Inn as well as hostels in Woodstock, Canaan, Mendon, and Hanover. Marilyn Welch-Fava of Thetford Center recalled earning an hourly wage of $1.25 plus tips as a chambermaid in the 1960s

Several responses mentioned seasonal employment at local restaurants. As early as age 14, young workers could start out as dishwashers and then graduated to food preparation or as waitstaff. 

 I worked as an assistant cook at Fairlee’s Kettledrum Restaurant in 1956. It was only open during the summer and employed college students as waitstaff and high school students as kitchen help. I was 14 and worked at least 60 hours a week for $25.

Nancy Jewel-Durkee wrote that while growing up in Bradford in the 1970s, she worked at the Chimes Restaurant on Main Street. She later worked at Lebanon’s Carter Mill. “If I wanted something, I had to work for it.”  

The first jobs held by many teens included picking strawberries and babysitting. Beginning in June, pickers worked to make money to buy school clothes or supplement the family income.

Many older residents spoke of picking strawberries as youngsters. In the 1930s and 40s, they were paid 2 or 3 cents per quart. In the 1950s, it increased to 8 or 10 cents. The field boss kept a sharp eye out for poorly selected berries or less-than-filled baskets. 

Many respondents wrote that their earliest jobs were in childcare. Bradford’s Amy Emerson said she both babysat and picked strawberries. “I spent my earnings on milkshakes and gravy french fries from Cootie’s restaurant.” 

In 1965, Bradford’s Wendy Wright placed an ad offering herself as an experienced babysitter for 30 cents per hour. Laura Allen Marsh, who grew up in Bradford, mentioned that by 2004 she might get as much as $30 for a day of childcare. At age 14 she also began working at the Grafton County Nursing Home for a minimum wage of $5.25.

In several cases, this summer position included spending time with the children at nearby pools and lakes. One spoke of spending the summer at the local pool as “a cake job.” Another wrote, “It was a way to work while still having fun as a kid.”

Fairlee’s Isaiah Washburn said that he first official summer job was as a gatekeeper for Thetford’s Treasure Island.  Like several others, he spent part of his time mowing neighbor’s lawns. His pay that summer of 2007 was deposited into his savings account or used to purchase new fishing lures.  

Children who grew up on local farms had chores from an early age. In the 1930s, Vida Perry Munson of Bradford grew her family’s farm in Corinth. Summer meant haying, and she was able to do all the related tasks, except mowing. “Girls didn’t do mowing,” She said.

“When you had a chance for a job, you grabbed it.” That’s how Fairlee’s Larry Martin spoke of working on a neighbor’s farm in the early 1960s. He began at age ten and worked about 50 hours a week for $10. He did barn chores and ran the tractor and bailer for three summers. “It was fun,” he recalled. He used his money for school clothes and a new bicycle. 

Another boy who grew up on an Upper Valley farm spoke positively of the experience. “Where else could a 14-year-old drive tractors, trucks, and bulldozers?” Still another said he got room and board and a 10-cent a week allowance for doing chores on his family’ farm.

Rev Jane Wilson of Wells River said that her first job was also in agriculture, but of a different sort. She worked in the tobacco fields near her home in Granby, CT. Shirley Beresford of Bradford has mentioned a similar job experience.

Local governments and retail stores offered seasonal and full-time positions for young workers. Vicki-Bacon Thomas, who grew up in Lyme in the 1970s, worked for the Town of Hanover and as a cashier at a P&C grocery store.

 At age 14, Alicia Plante of East Corinth stocked shelves at Huggetts’s store during the summer of 2003.To help her family, she also babysat, worked on neighboring farms, and mowed lawns. 

There were a few factory jobs open to older teens. Nancy Jones of Bradford recalls the hot and sticky job she had in the summers of 1962-63 at the Maple Grove Factory in St. Johnsbury. “It was a job,” she said. She used her minimum wage pay to purchase school clothes.

Bradford’s Dr. Robert Munson remembered working in the Bradford Vaneer and Panel Company during the summer of 1966. At $1.25 per hour, he saved $3,600 to purchase his first car. The next several summers, he served as a lifeguard at Lake Morey Inn and as a carpenter.

Several spoke of working with a family business. John Adams grew up in Lebanon. In 1961, at age ten, he began to work as a laborer’s helper with family members who were brick masons. In the following summers, he progressed in skills and duties. He also earned money selling night crawlers for a penny each and working at Lander’s Restaurant. 

Sometimes, summer jobs required workers to arrive earlier than teens might want. West Topsham’s Westy Copeland recalled working in a Vermont bakery “at some ungodly hour like 5 in the morning.” Jay Dunlap of Thetford said that his job on a tent crew in 1970 required getting up at 3 a.m. or before. “It was years before I could hear the sound of an alarm clock without a panic attack.”

The Pew Research Center reports that teen summer employment “follows a fairly regular pattern.” Jobs are more plentiful during good economic times, falling during and after recessions. In 2008, during the Great Recession, summer employment for 16 to 19-year-old Americans fell to under 30%. Now, as the nation recovers from COVID, youth employment has increased to 36.6%.

These employment figures paled when compared to earlier economic recoveries. In 1948, 56.6% of youth were employed in summer jobs., In 1956, “the Vermont seasonal summer jobs were at close to record levels.”  In the late 1960s, the Federal Summer Youth Program found jobs for high school students.     

The July 2022 figures from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics report that 55.3% of young people age 16-24 were employed. This is slightly less than pre-pandemic levels. It also includes those who have received permanent employment.    

The decline in low-skill entry-level jobs, shorter summer vacations, unpaid internships, and the lure of unpaid community service jobs to enhance college applications have impacted seasonal employment for high school students. Some positions that might be otherwise open to youth job seekers are being held by seniors who need the work to supplement their sixed retirement incomes.       

 There were other responses to the value of these summer jobs.  One said the job provided “life learning that was actually an adventure.” One woman who grew up in Wells River and worked at the local information booth, got her to meet “all types of personalities,” giving her a better understanding of people.  

Alexis Romano wrote of working at the Ice Cream Fore-U in Lebanon beginning in the summer of 2008. She loved the job and was promoted to shift supervisor. That gave her a “first taste of responsibility.”  She spoke highly of her employers, Jennifer and Meredith Johnson. “My work ethic and professional foundations were molded by both of them which has helped me became a successful leader in my career.  

Jay Dunlap said the summer of erecting tents “was a bad summer, but it was an education into how tough many lives are and continue to be.” Westy Copeland commented that she “learned how to work hard. Nothing comes easily.”

Isaiah Washburn mentioned that he learned valuable skills involving interactions with people and handling money. Others spoke of the value of manual labor and “a job well done.”

 While for most, the jobs they held during those summers of their youth were dead end, they believed that the positive work ethic learned served them well in later employment.  

Other jobs mentioned to me included hospital patient-sitter, drive-in car hop, library aide, concrete worker, bank teller, greens keeper, paperboy, and working in a family steam laundry.

 Summer jobs for local young workers offered a variety of skills. Some jobs were easy, whereas other were hard. Many gave young people an introduction to the world of adult work. Paychecks were spent on both fun and essentials.

 Looking back, they gave us a variety of memories that still linger as we consider those summer days of our youth. 

Monday, July 31, 2023

Beyond Milk

 Journal Opinion June 28, 2023

Established in 1889 as a farmers' cooperative, the Bradford Creamery on Creamery Road pooled the milk of numerous local farmers. The creamery initially produced butter, but later changed to cheese production. (courtesy of the Bradford Historical Society.)

YOGURT MAKER: This recent photograph shows Diane Wyatt of West Newbury pouring Jersey milk into the pasteurizer to make Sweet Cow Yogurt. The Wyatt family as been producing yogurt for sale since 2004. The yogurt is available at local outlets. )Courtesy photo)

The first European settlers in our area were farmers. Most of these farm families kept several “non-descript scrub” milch cows that provided milk, cheese, and butter for personal use. The now antiquated term milch referred to those animals kept explicitly for milk production.

 The History of Corinth indicates that an annual yield of 125 pounds of milk per animal was considered good in the town’s early days.  By 1800, some Vermont farmers began to raise livestock such as pigs, mules, beef cattle, and horses for export to regional markets. Of these experiments with livestock, sheep-raising was the widest spread.

 Eventually, these efforts were lost to the competition from newly developed land in the west. But by the 1860s, even this was on the wane.

The dairy industry gradually filled this vacuum. The following examines some of the dairy products produced from the milk produced by New Hampshire and Vermont dairy farmers. As most producers mixed the making of butter and cheese, the history of those dairy products overlaps.

At first, butter and cheese production were minor industries, conducted mainly by housewives.  These products allowed farmers to make use of highly perishable excess milk. Butter and cheese preserve the fats from milk for use in the winter.  Many farms had “cheese house” outbuildings.

“Butter season” generally extended from when cows were let out in spring pasture until fall.  Butter was churned at home, “put down” until cooler weather, and then taken to market.

The railroad’s arrival in the 1850s provided better access to urban markets for area dairy products. Spurred on by the attraction of better and surer returns, farmers “literally made a rush into dairy.”  By 1860, there were 175,000 milch cows in Vermont.

 Introducing breeds such as Holsteins and Jersey led to the production of larger quantities of high-quality milk.  There was increased attention to the care of animals and winter dairying was common.

Raw milk was highly perishable and so most of it was made into cheese and butter in commercial creameries. The introduction of the refrigerated railroad car led to the development of the Boston butter market.

Between 1850 and 1865, Vermont’s cheese production increased to almost 2 million pounds per year and butter to over 3 million pounds per year.

The St. Albans Creamery produced more butter than any other plant in the world. As the number of creameries doubled in the decade after 1890, state production peaked at 22.4 million pounds of butter in 1899.

Creameries were opened in Lyme and Bradford in 1888, serving farmers from surrounding towns. Soon   Bradford Creamery was making nearly 2,000 lbs. of butter per week, much of it shipped to Boston. .

By 1900, Haverhill had three creameries. The following year a another opened in Woodsville. All of these creameries produced butter and/or cheese at first.

Miler and Wells’ History of Ryegate states: “From the very first, this has been a dairy town.” Dairy was the source of wealth for Ryegate, and neighboring towns on both sides of the river. A new co-operative creamery was created in Newbury in 1892, and four creameries were established in Ryegate the following years.

The number of farms in Vermont peaked in 1880 at 35,522, with an average acreage of 138 acres.  According to the 1888 Orange County Gazetteer, Orange County had 3,460 farms with 13,072 milch cows producing 31,612 gallons of milk, 105,360 pounds of cheese, and over 1.4 million pounds of cheese annually.

Grafton County’s 1888 gazetteer reported 4,794 farms with 14,190 milch cows producing 153,104 gallons of milk, 1.4 million pounds of butter, and 201,455 pounds of cheese.

After that, Vermont farmers passed from “a system of extensive farming to that of specialized and intensive dairy farming.”  The number of farms decreased as farmers bought out their less successful neighbors.

 At the same time, rail connections with the Midwest meant that the butter and cheese industry still faced competition from Wisconsin and Minnesota. In response, the Vermont Butter and Cheese Makers’ Association was formed in 1898 to promote the sale of those dairy products. 

At the turn of the 20th century, hill-country farmers turned to fluid milk as the one product that could stand in the face of competition.  As farms closer to the northeast urban center turned to truck farming, the increased demand for milk was met by area producers.

By 1900, the number of cows in Vermont had risen by half over 1870 figures, while New Hampshire experienced a 27% growth.  One-half of the farms in Vermont and one-third of those in New Hampshire had dairy as their largest “crop.” 

Famers made the daily trip to the local creamery or railroad shipping station, their milk transported in 10-gallon cans. It was then transported to market in iced railroad cars on the daily “milk train.” The flow of fluid milk to market became a “river of milk” by the 1920s.

The years that followed brought both positive and negative changes to the local dairy producers. The introduction of electricity allowed for the use of milking machines and improved refrigeration. There were significant fluctuations in both the price and sale of fluid milk, causing many farmers to reduce their herds.  Economic problems of the 1920s and 1930s dramatically impacted dairy farmers.  The flood of 1927 was “the most staggering blow that Vermont agricultural interests had ever received.”

The number of dairy farms has declined every decade since. In 2021 there were only 56 dairy farms in Orange County and 583 in Vermont.

 During the heyday of dairy farming, The United Opinion frequently mentioned the price that local creameries paid for farm produced butter. In the 1890s there were also advertisements for homemade butter. Local butter box and tub manufacturing operations met the creameries’ needs.

As most milk was delivered from nearby farms, creameries were established in several locations within local towns. The East Topsham’s Green Mountain Creamery was organized in 1892 but closed in 1896 “for lack of patronage.” The more successful West Topsham Creamery began operation in 1893, and within a year, was producing 95,000 pounds of butter annually. It closed in 1929.

There were creameries in West Newbury, South Newbury, and Newbury village. Over the years, they consolidated with other local creameries. The Wells River Creamery produced butter and delivered it to both local stores and urban markets. It was later converted to cheese production.

 In 1919, Cabot Co-op was formed. Their first product was Cabot butter, often sold under the Rosedale Brand. Today, all their butter, including that made from Vermont milk, is manufactured by Agri-Mark in West Springfield, MA. 

In the 1920s, several local creameries were still making butter. In 1925, one article mentioned, “Vershire was right to be proud of her little creamery and the butter-maker.”  

The introduction of oleomargarine after the 1870s brought a bitter conflict over its competition with dairy interests. Termed “bitter” or” bogus butter,” this product was promoted by the meat industry as a use for excess suet and by the cotton seed industry. The dairy industry conducted a campaign against oleomargarine. 

One of the significant battles in the “Oleo Wars” was over the coloring of the bogus product to resemble real butter. Efforts by both New Hampshire and Vermont to require margarine to be colored pink, blue, or green were overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court did uphold a special tax on the product itself. 

By law, oleo was sold as a white block that looked like lard. Users had to mix the accompanying dye to make the product resemble butter. This federal regulation was overturned in 1950.

In the 1960s, health advocates began to promote plant-based alternatives to butter. This further damaged the butter industry.

Past and present, there are several examples of local home butter makers. Until the mid-1960s Bradford’s Golda Benjamin was known for what would now be artisan butter. Families would visit her home in what is now Farm Way’s gift shop to purchase molded imprinted butter.

Since 1988, Kathy Barrett of Lyme has continued a family tradition of butter making. On the River old-fashion sweet butter is produced from her 4-cow herd and sold at the Norwich Farmers Market and from her home. 

Artisan or cultured butter is also currently being produced by other small operations such as Ploughgate Creamery in North Bennington. There is a growing market for butter, as recent evidence indicates that the moderate use of butter is not as harmful as previously thought.   

Another dairy product that has risen in popularity is yogurt. It was introduced in Vermont and New Hampshire in the early 1950s. One of the first local yogurt advertisements appeared in 1951. It was for the Kilfasset Farms of Lyndonville.

In the 1960s and early 1970s, the alternative food movement encouraged yogurt consumption. In 1972, a demonstration of Vermont yogurt making was featured at the Eastern States Exposition. 

 In 1969, Balkan introduced an electric home yogurt maker offering “fresh yogurt overnight.” In 1974 Salton Corporation introduced its popular household yogurt maker. It remained popular until commercial yogurt brands became more widely available. 

Locally-made commercial yogurt brands began to be produced in New Hampshire and Vermont. Cabot brand yogurt was first advertised in 1971 and was widely distributed by the 1980s. Butterworks Farm of Westfield, VT began producing yogurt with milk from their Jersey herd in 1976. Stonyfield Farm of Wilton, NH began production in 1983 and, from its Londonderry facility, has grown to be the second leading brand of organic yogurt in North America.

 In 2011, Green Mountain Creamery brand award-winning yogurt began production in Brattleboro.  In 2013, the Vermont Yogurt Company of Orwell began producing yogurt from the thick butterfat of their Jerseys. Other New Hampshire producers include Huckins Farm in New Hampton, and Benedikt Dairy in Goffstown.

One local producer is Sweet Cow Yogurt of West Newbury. From a single Jersey the Wyatt family began to sell yogurt from a booth at the Norwich Farmers Market in 2004.  In 2009, they became licensed and with an enlarged herd of three, they now sell 15 flavors of fruited yogurt in small cup containers at a number of local outlets.

Cheese-making has a long history in the area. At county fairs in the late 19th century, there were awards for the best homemade farm cheese. However, there was concern that skim milk cheese and “half-made cheese” were depressing the market.

In 1888, there were no local cheese factories, but by the 1920s several creameries produced cheese. The Bradford Creamery, established in 1889 as a cooperative, initially made butter from local milk, but changed to cheese production. Located on Creamery Road, it “enjoyed the reputation for producing the first cheese in this county.”

 In October 1921, the creamery workers produced 250 boxes of Neufchatel and other fancy cheeses daily. The daily production of Greek cheese amounted to 600 pounds per day with shipments, to both domestic and foreign markets. Its dozen workers created these cheeses from a wide farming community. It was said that even after it closed, the odors of Greek cheese lingered. 

In the 1930s, the Cabot Co-operative Creamery added the production of cheddar and cottage cheese. By the 1960s, their products were winning awards, including the World Champion for their sharp cheddar.

Country stores often featured a large wheel of country cheese, cutting wedges to meet customer requests. At home in Orford, we referred to this cheddar as “rat-trap cheese.” In typical kid fashion, we referred to softer cheeses as “stinky-feet cheese.”

 In 1895 George Cochran wrote, “We hope the time will come when New England people will be able to detect good cheese and finding it will encourage it.”

That time has come. According to the Vermont Tourist website, there are more than 45 cheesemakers in Vermont. Using milk from sheep, goats, and cows, “the variety of cheese seems almost endless… more than 150 varieties available.” From the World Cheese Awards to the World Championship, Vermont cheeses are known worldwide.

There are several local cheese makers currently. Corinth’s Three Cow Creamery produces a variety of raw milk English and French cheeses for sale at the Norwich Farmers Market. The Robie Farm in Piermont produces toma and gruyere which they sell from their farm store on Rt 10.  

 Despite the sharp decline in the number of dairy farmers, there are still Twin State producers of quality cheese, butter and yogurt that make their products available at local outlets. Buying their offerings will confirm why so many of them are award winners.

Sunday, May 28, 2023

We Remember Their Sacrifice

 Journal Opinion May 24, 2023

Nineteen-year-old Nathaniel Westgate joined the 1st NH Calvary in 1863. He was taken and imprisoned in a Confederate prison where he died. He was one of 10,000 New Hampshire and Vermont men who died either of wounds or disease during the Civil War. 
King Dexter was one of 65 Topsham men that enlisted in WW II. He saw combat in North Africa, Sicily and Normandy before he was killed in action on July 16, 1944.  

David Hildreth of Warren was a member of Company D, 27th Engineering Battalion in South Vietnam. He died during a mortar attack on April 14, 1969. The local Baker River flood control dram was renamed in his honor. His name is inscribed on the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington, DC.

Memorial or Decoration Day was first recognized in the period after the Civil War so that “the memory of the brave deeds and nobles sacrifices of our deceased soldiers be kept fresh in the minds of the people.” It was observed annually on May 30 in some states. In 1971, the observance became a national holiday and moved to the last Monday of May.

This column recalls the courage and dedication of 12 local residents who served their country from the Civil War to Iraq. They are just a sample of those  who gave their lives while serving in the nation’s armed services.  

About 10,000 New Hampshire and Vermont soldiers died in the Civil War, both from action and disease. Several hundred were from the local area.  

Amos B. Chase, age 38, was mustered into Union service on Nov 20, 1863, and joined Co. H, 2nd Berdan’s Sharpshooters. Chase, a married man with four daughters and a carpenter, had lived in Newbury and Bradford.  Snipers or sharpshooters got their title using Christian Sharps’ long-range rifles. Their duty was very hazardous, and their effectiveness had a demoralizing impact on the enemy.

Chase was with Company H at the Battle of the Wilderness and the siege of Petersburg, VA, where they were on almost constant skirmishing and picket duty. On June 18, 1864, Chase was killed in action. While his name is on a headstone in Bradford’s Upper Plain Cemetery he is probably buried at the national cemetery near Petersburg.

Nathaniel W. Westgate joined the First NH Calvary in March1864. He was a 19-year-old from Haverhill.  His regiment saw action beginning in June. In early August1864, he was part of several successful cavalry raids targeting Southern railroads. On August 14, Westgate was taken prisoner near Winchester, VA.

 He spent the next five months in Confederate prisons under absolutely miserable conditions. The diary he kept chronicled his declining health. On Jan 7, 1865 he died at Danville Prison, VA. A comrade wrote of Westgate’s death, “thus another noble son of freedom has been lain a sacrifice upon the altar of his country.”  

In 1880, Haverhill-area veterans established the Nathaniel Westgate Post of the Grand Army of the Republic. The post was active in Decoration Day observances until at least 1912.    

All area men who volunteered during the Spanish-American War were in Co. G, 1st Vermont Regiment. They mustered into service on May 16, 1898. They never saw action during the few months of the war, but instead spent a horrible summer at Camp Thomas, Chickamauga Park, GA. They suffered from heat, poor water, typhoid fever, dysentery, disgusting food and lack of medical equipment. At times, 50% of the men were ill. Not one of the 27 members of the regiment who died from those conditions were from the local area.

When the regiment returned to Vermont in Sept 1898, they “were a skeleton of its former self.” Some of those who had contracted malaria or typhoid suffered from it for the remainder of their lives.

The United States was involved in World War I from 1917 to 1918. Over 36,000 men and women from New Hampshire and Vermont were in the military service.  That included over 650 local individuals, of which 35 died in service.  

Fred A. Cook of Post Mills graduated from West Point in 1906. By 1917, he had risen to the rank of major and assigned to the American Expeditionary Force in France. In Oct, 1918, he was part of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive as commander of the 1st Battalion, 23rd Infantry. 

He was said to be “an inspiration to his men, and they would follow him in the face of murderous fire.” On Oct. 8 he was killed while “directing an attack on a strongly entrenched machine gun.” He was awarded the Silver Star and the Distinguished Service Cross for extraordinary heroism posthumously. He is buried in the American Cemetery near the battlefield where he “fell face to the foe.”  

In 1920, the Earl Brock Post 78 American Legion was formed in Newbury to honor the only soldier from that town who died in World War I. One of the first functions of the Post was to give military honors as Brock was buried in the Newbury Center Town House Cemetery.

Brock grew up in South Newbury and was one of 58 men from Newbury who joined the service. He enlisted in the Army in April 1917 at age 19. He was assigned to Co. E, 55th Telegraph Battalion of the Signal Corps, and shipped to France with the American Expeditionary Force.

As with Major Cook, Private Brock was part of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive in Oct 1918. On the 28th, while constructing telephone wires under severe shell fire, he was struck by a shell. He died the following day.

His commanding officer wrote a letter to his parents, remarking on Brock’s “quiet and modest demeanor…efficient and effective in every duty he was called upon to perform.”  

Not all those who served were men or died from battle wounds. Bradford’s Josephine G. Barrett was a member of the Army Nursing Corps. The Corps required participants to be “unmarried, well-trained, respectable women, between the age of 25 and 35 and be a graduate of a nursing school.”  Barrett, 28 met those requirements.

 She was assigned to the U.S. Army Base at Camp Wadsworth, Spartanburg, S.C. She was the first Bradford woman known to have served in the nation’s armed forces.

In Oct 1918, the Spanish influenza epidemic hit the camp hard. Inundated with sick soldiers, military nurses were overworked and susceptible to the disease. Barret became ill, and on Oct. 13, she died.  She is buried in Bradford’s Upper Plain Cemetery.

Thousands of men and women from New Hampshire and Vermont were involved in World War II (1941-1945) and 295 died.

Charles R. Pierce of Orford was a private in the U.S. Army Air Corps. He grew up in Orford and described as “one of our most popular boys.”

 In Nov 1940, he volunteered for service, and after training was shipped to the Philippines, arriving before war broke out. In May 1942, after 120 days of intensive fighting, the Americans at Corregidor surrendered to Japanese forces. Approximately 9,000 Americans were taken prisoner and forced on what was known as the Bataan Death March. Pierce was among them.

The captives were imprisoned under appalling conditions and many died from abuse or disease. On August 3, 1942, Pierce and 14 comrades, died at the Cabanatuan Prison camp in the Philippines. They were buried in a common grave.

In 1950, the bodies of men from that grave were retrieved. The Pierce family travelled to the Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis, Mo.to attend his burial in the local national cemetery. A headstone with his name is in Orford’s West Cemetery.

On Dec 30, 1942, 24-year-old Raymond S. Wood of Woodsville was killed fighting the Japanese at Guadalcanal in the Pacific. Lt. Wood had been stationed there with the 182nd Infantry Regiment as an intelligence officer.

The battle at Guadalcanal was the first major land offensive against the Japanese forces. Wood and his men were involved in the battle for Sea Horse on the island’s north coast. He was mortally wounded leading a combat patrol against the enemy. In a letter to his family, his commanding officer wrote, “after being hit, he survived for about five minutes during which the men in his patrol opened themselves to heavy enemy fire to render aid.”

In the announcement of his death, The Groton Times described him as “a boy of good disposition, honest, frank, enthusiastic to better himself, most devoted to his family and scores of friends.”

Wood’s remains were not recovered from the battle site until 2008. At that time, he was memorialized at the Manila American Cemetery.    

 Sixty-five men from Topsham enlisted in World War II. King F. Dexter was one of two killed. In Oct 1942, at age 20, he was inducted into the Army.  He saw action in North Africa, Sicily and Tunisia before being transferred to England to train for the invasion of France.  

In June, 1944 his company was part of the Normandy D-Day invasion. In July, his family received a letter from him saying that he had been taken prisoner by the Germans but escaped the next day to return to his company.  

On July 16, Dexter was killed in action. He left behind his wife Norma and a son he never saw. In March 1949, his body was shipped by rail back to Bradford and met by a local American Legion post honor guard. He is buried in the East Corinth cemetery. 

In 1950, the United States was supporting South Korea in its fight against North Korean and Chinese troops. Before this conflict ended in 1953, over 190 service members from New Hampshire and Vermont lost their lives.

Lyme resident and Thetford Academy graduate Guy O. Chesley was among the first to give his life. At 19, he was an infantryman in Company L, 9th Infantry Regiment.

 In February 1951, his company was engaged in bitter fighting against Chinese forces at Chaum-Ni. In an attempt to control supply lines, the Americans were taking heavy casualties.

 On the morning of Feb 14, 68 Company L soldiers were found murdered in their sleep. That is the recorded day of Private Chesley’s death, but I could not determine if he was one of the 68 or if he died during the fighting.

Chesley’s body was shipped back to the States in August 1951 and after a memorial service, he was buried in the Lyme’s Highland Cemetery.

In the Spring of 1953, A similar memorial service for another member of the 9th Infantry was held in Orford.  Being memorialized was Cp1 Clayton Huckins, a 20-year-old who had joined the Infantry in July, 1950. 

His sister, Helen Huckins Marsh of Fairlee, recently spoke of her brother as “the go-to guy for things out of doors.” As a youngster he fished along Orford’s Jacobs Brook, “always investigating.” He was known as the type of “buddy who watch others’ backs.”  

On March 12, 1953, Huckins was constructing tactical wire around the company’s position near  a mountain known as “Little Gibraltar” north of the Imjin River. There had been heavy fighting against Chinese troops. He was recently awarded the Bronze Star for historic achievement and was scheduled to come home for his 20th birthday.

He received what was a mortal injury, but continued his hazardous work until unable to do so no longer.  His body returned by train to Fairlee and a memorial service was held in the Orfordville church on the banks of the Jacobs. He is buried in the Orford’s West Cemetery.

With improvements in medical care, the number of soldiers who survived even major wounds increased. However, during the Vietnam war, 197 New Hampshire and Vermont service personnel lost their lives.

On April 14, 1969, David W. Hildreth, a 19-year-old soldier from Warren, NH, died at Quang Tri Province. Hildreth had enlisted in the Army in February, 1968.

He succumbed to injuries from a mortar attack on the base camp of Company D, 27th Engineering Battalion. He never got to see his daughter born eight days following his death.

In a recent letter Hildreth’s cousin Gloria Bumford of Warren, wrote, “he was a typical country boy…who made the decision in later life to serve his country.”  

A memorial service was held in Warren, and he was buried in Glencliff’s High Street Cemetery. A 15-man contingent from Fort Devens conducted the full military rites.

On July 4, 1970, by Legislative decree, the local Baker River flood control dam was renamed the David Wayne Hildreth Dam.

Specialist Alan J. Burgess joined the Woodsville unit of the NH National Guard in 2002. He had grown up in Lisbon, Bradford and Landaff and graduated from Oxbow and River Bend. It was said that he was one who could easily bring a smile to others.

 His unit was deployed to Iraq as part of the 197th Field Artillery Brigade. On Oct 12, 2004. while on patrol as a vehicle gunner in Mosul, Iraq, he was killed by a car bomb. He was one of 65 from the two states who died in the post 9/11 wars.

In an Associated Press release at the time, his mother Karen Moore of Bradford, said “He had a love for his family and for his country. His needs were always last, everybody else came first…they were all there because they had to go.” 

He was buried in the Landaff Central Cemetery on Oct 25. 2004. In 2010, by Legislative action, the Salmon Hole Bridge on Rt 302 in Lisbon was renamed the Specialist Alan J. Burgess Memorial Bridge.

Burgess joined the hundreds of local residents who gave their lives in the military service. On Memorial Day, pause as you drive by a local cemetery. Notice the flags placed on the graves of fallen service members and remember their sacrifice.