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Monday, February 27, 2023

Young and Restless: Youth Organizations


1910 postcard of Boston & Main Railroad YMCA, Woodsville, NH.

AMERICA'S FIRST SCOUTS:  In Oct 1909, a group of Barre boys under the leadership of William Foster Milne met at the First Baptist Church as the first Boy Scouts troop in the nation.  That organization is just one of many groups that provide youth with life-enhancing skills. 

Journal Opinion, Feb. 22, 2023

The history of American youth organizations spans more than 200 years. This column describes that history in New Hampshire and Vermont. These organizations were led by adults, but aimed at young people. Often the main targets were youngsters who might be at risk when outside the control of families and schools. Most organizations were started locally by concerned parents, educators, and pastors.  

Not all youth groups are covered here. Athletic youth groups and school clubs will not be covered in this column as they have been the subject of both previous and future articles. Small informal youth clubs are important, but will not be included as they usually come and go as interests waxed and wanes and kids outgrow them. That being said, secret club houses and handshakes create fond memories for many.   

Religious themes and church affiliations were significant for most of these early youth-oriented organizations. During most of the last two centuries, Sunday schools have been attended by a large number of local youths. For that reason, few other youth activities were held on Sunday morning.

 The Sunday or Sabbath school movement was established in Vermont in the early 19th century, with meetings in West Newbury as early as 1801. While Sunday school provided religious instruction to individuals of all ages, a significant goal was to reach children. 

After 1850, the Juvenile Mission Society movement established several chapters in Vermont and involved youth in mission work.  Centered in Baptist and Methodist churches it was recognized as America’s first national youth group. 

Local newspapers regularly reported on these church-based youth groups. In the 1880s, Woodsville churches were said to have “flourishing” Sabbath schools, a feature replicated throughout the valley.

In the 1920s, vacation Bible school programs were held locally during the summer. In Orford in the late 1940s, this program was held in the Orfordville Grange Hall.

 In the late 1940s, I attended Sunday School at the Orford Congregational Church.  I recall Grammy Sanborn leading us in the rousing Christian anthem “Life Is Like A Mountain Railroad.” We learned Bible passages and completed arts and crafts projects.  

In the early 20th century, there was a movement to reach older youth who didn’t fit into existing church youth programs.  Known as the Christian Endeavor Movement, there was a group in Bradford in 1887 and soon after in Piermont and Wells River.  It appeared to be non-denominational and included both religious and social activities.

By the 1940s, these groups had been replaced locally by Congregational Pilgrim Youth Fellowship and the Methodist Youth Fellowship.  A similar youth group was formed in nearby Presbyterian churches.  Until their decline in the later 1960s, these groups filled an essential religious and social function for older youth.    

There was also the Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) which was active at Catholic Churches in Bradford, Wells River, and Woodsville from the late 1950s until the mid-1960s.

Newspaper articles in the United Opinion and the Twin State News regularly reported on local CYO events.  Youth participated in church events and socials, took trips to religious shrines, and met with other church youth groups.

One 1960 newspaper article mentioned young CYO member Ronnie Bonneau of Bradford. After graduating from Bradford Academy, he attended seminary. . Father Bonneau passed away in 2021, having served as a long-time missionary in Paraguay and as pastor in several domestic parishes.   

Originally founded in England, the first Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) unit was formed in Boston in 1851 as a “home away from home” for seamen and merchants.

The first YMCA locals were established in Manchester in 1854 and in Burlington in 1866. Over the following decades facilities were established in various larger communities in both states.  The organizations sponsored various social and recreational programs for youngsters. 

Also founded in England, the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) affiliates formed in Vermont in 1919 and in New Hampshire the following year. The focus was described as “a voice for change.”  Over the years, its members have worked to empower women, fight discrimination and “promote peace, justice, and freedom.”

Both organizations encouraged physical activities.  This was especially significant at a time when young women were thought too fragile to exercise. They sponsored boys and girls summer camps at Vermont and New Hampshire lakes.  Locally, Camp Billings on Lake Fairlee was established in 1907.

There were no other local YMCA facilities, but both local newspapers had many items about local youngsters attending YMCA regional and state functions. This included camps, athletic tournaments, and conferences. Local students participated in the organization’s NH Youth and Government Model Legislature.  

Beyond religious affiliated youth groups, the now-popular 4-H youth development program originated in the Midwest in 1902.  By 1912, the group had expanded and adopted the4-H title and familiar 4-leaf pin.  Initially established in schools for after school activities, it soon became a wide-spread community organization. 

In 1914, as part of the new Vermont Extension Service, new 4-H clubs began to form. By 1916, there were 80 clubs in 65 towns throughout the state with a membership of more than 5,000 girls and boys.

It began in Grafton County in 1916 as the “Boys’ and Girls’ Agricultural Club Work.” Blaisdell’s history of Haverhill mentions dozens of 4-H clubs in that community.  Prior to 1926, East Haverhill had one of the first in the county. By 1927, there were 4-H clubs in Pike, North Haverhill and Woodsville.

The units were generally divided by sex, with boys learning crops and animal production, while girls were encouraged to learn domestic skills. Often a unit concentrated on a single skill such as canning, sewing, animal care or outdoor experiences.

As 4-H became the largest youth development organization, similar clubs were found in all towns from Piermont to East Thetford.

As with other communities, Newbury “had its full share of 4-H groups.” If displays at the North Haverhill Fair are any indication, many vibrant groups still exist today. For over 40 years, the Rocking Horse 4-H Club met in Piermont under the leadership of Joan Osgood. Two Bradford women recall their 4-H experiences. Nancy Jones recalls raising and marketing chickens as a 4-H project in 1957. “It was a great experience,” Jones said.  Bobette Scribner added “Stories for the lifetime came out of 4-H.”

A similar rural youth program was established by the Grange. The Grange was founded in 1867 as a national farmers’ advocacy group. The Adelphi Grange was established in Newbury Center in 1874. The Oliverian Grange was organized in 1876 in East Haverhill.  Grange units have played an active role in communities from Haverhill, Piermont, and Orfordville to Bradford, Thetford, West Newbury, and West Topsham.

For a century, the Grange has sponsored a program for children aged 5 to 14.  Its focus was to provide leadership training and life skills. Members of the Junior Grange held social functions and participated in skills contests and seminars. Local members attended special camping activities at Camp Ingalls, the 4-H camp in North Hero, Vermont.  At 14, youth could attain full adult membership in the Grange. 

Another fraternal society with youth-focused groups within its “family” was the Masonic organization.  In 1919, the DeMolay organization was established for boys 12 to 20. It was dedicated to teaching citizenship, leadership, and public service.  Locally, there were chapters in Wells River, North Haverhill, and Wentworth. Efforts to establish units in Bradford and Haverhill around 1967 never materialized.

Rainbow Girls was established in 1922 and created opportunities for community service and leadership for girls 10-20.  Newspaper notices mention this organization in Fairlee (1927), Bradford (1946), North Haverhill (1952), and Wells River (1960).

Two of today’s most recognized youth organizations are the Boy Scouts of America and the Girl Scouts of the USA.  The Scouting movement has been a significant offering for local youth for over a century.

Troop #1 of the Boy Scouts was formed in Barre VT in October 1909. William Foster Milne Of Barre had been active in the early scouting movement in Scotland.  He reorganized a group of boys at the First Baptist Church in Barre into a scouting troop. In 1910, Camp Abnaki in North Hero, VT opened as the first official BSA/YMCA camp.

A boys’ group, much like the Boy Scouts, formed in Woodsville in 1910 and received an official BSA charter in 1916. In 1912, a meeting for interested boys was held in Piermont and in Lyme the following year. Pike had a very active troop chartered in 1915. Haverhill followed in 1928 and North Haverhill in 1945.

In Vermont, a BSA troop met in East Corinth about 1921.  In 1925, this troop shared their enthusiasm with 28 boys in Bradford and that group was granted a charter. From the earliest days of the troops, the boys were taking hikes, working on merit badges, and performing community service. 

The Orford-Fairlee troop was established before 1947. That year, they sponsored a winter carnival with contests on the Fairlee common and skiing on the Ridge in Orford. A Carnival Ball topped it off.

A troop was chartered in West Topsham in 1969. After it was discontinued, the remaining boys joined the East Corinth troop and later the one in Bradford. 

Vermont Governor Deane Davis was a junior member of Barre Troop #1.  He later described the movement as “dedicated to teaching boys of immature years the basic principles of good conduct, good citizenship, crafts, the skills of outdoor life and self-discipline.” 

In 1962, Bradford’s Gary Moore achieved the rank of Eagle Scout, the first in his troop.  Recently, I asked Moore to respond to Governor Davis’ comment.  Agreeing with the Governor, Moore said his “Scouting years have had a major impact on my life…, I learned about teamwork and leadership…and community service.” 

Founded on the belief that girls deserved the outdoor living experience that boys had, the Campfire Girls was established in 1910 as a sister organization to the Boy Scouts.  It was established in Thetford and Sebago Lake, Maine by Luther and Charlotte Gulick and Charlotte Farnsworth of Thetford.  They believed that girls deserved the outdoor living experiences that boys had. As the Rutland Daily Herald wrote in 1911, the organization would “lead young femininity afield in a healthy, womanly way, and give the girls a chance to become acquainted with nature.”

Within two years, there were 60,000 members, with many attending associated summer camps.  The first of those was Thetford’s Camp Hanoum.  There was a campfire unit in Groton (1920), West Topsham (1924), and Piermont (1940).

The other sister organization was the Girl Scouts.  The first troop in America was in Savanna Georgia in 1912. It began a movement “where every girl could unlock her full potential, find lifelong friends, and make the world a better place.”

Perhaps the first local Girl Scouts l troop was established in Pike in 1918 and immediately began an aggressive program of “camping, badge-blasts and crafts.” Troops were established in other communities in the area including Newbury and Woodsville (1922), Bradford (1925), and North Haverhill (1943).

As with the Boys’ troops, local Girl Scouts groups sometimes waned only to be reestablished. The Fairlee troop renewed about 1950 and the Newbury troop about 1955. In 1959, Thetford’s Camp Hanoum was acquired by the Girl Scouts and renamed Camp Farnsworth. 

Reading the many newspaper notices of the Girl Scouts and Brownies, there is certainly more to the organization than cookies. 

Throughout history, American youth organizations have provided opportunities for co-ed activities. It was not uncommon for local scouting groups to hold such events. As locals often participated in district events, members met youth from neighboring towns or even from throughout the state.    

There were other youth groups. Some were locals ranging from a Young Farmers group in Piermont to teen center groups in Bradford.   

Since they first appeared in America, youth organizations have not been without their controversies. Exclusions from membership based on sex, age, race, or religious affiliation and controversies over subjects covered or activities undertaken. Funding shortages and adult misbehavior have weakened organizations effectiveness.  In some cases, the controversies led to the demise of the organizations while others were strengthened by their resolve to survive.   

 In 2014, the Vermont Legislature recognized Newbury’s Marilyn Fuller’s 64-year 4-H leadership in both Vermont and New Hampshire, “helping both youth and adults to learn, grow and work together.”  Fuller’s dedication is just one example of the many adults who made youth organizations work.  Some were paid while many were not.

Adults who grew up in these organizations recall their experiences and the life lessons learned, and the adults who made those memories possible. Despite the scandals that sully some, most of those who worked with youth were heroes. They were, and continue to be, the adult personifications of their organizations’ goal.  America’s youth are better off for them.   

To access the other 147 articles on this blog, use the search bloc on pg 1. Enter a term you wish to search and articles will show up at the top of pag2.   

Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Lost To Technology


TWO-MAN SMITHY. This 1919 photo shows Warren Davis (left) and George Jewell working in Davis' blacksmith shop near the falls in Bradford.  Davis began his 50-plus year career in 1886. Jewell later set up his own blacksmith shop in East Corinth specializing in horseshoeing.  Davis later sold an adjoining lot to an automobile dealership at a time when automobiles were greatly reducing the need for blacksmiths. (Bradford Historical Society)  

At noon on Wednesday, January 31, 1951, eight Bradford women lost their jobs.

At locations throughout the valley, local telephone operators were replaced by the automated  dial system in the 1950s. They were “uncrowned heroes of patience, gentleness, and courtesy.”

 Gone was the “human aspect of a mutual friend,” who often knew which store you wanted when you asked for “the grocery store.”  Gone was the original 911, whose quick thinking assisted in the face of a fire or other emergency. Gone was the valuable source of local information and perhaps a bit of local gossip. 

Their positions were lost forever to technology.

This column describes other local occupations lost to technological change.  Many of them were vital to the community’s daily life before passing into scarcity, obscurity or complete oblivion. Some disappeared in the 19th or 20th century, while others are still disappearing today.      

 Local wagon and carriage makers were essential in the 19th century.  Carriage-making reached the height of its development at the end of that century and then declined rapidly.  By 1915, automobiles outnumbered horse and buggies nationwide, although horse-drawn vehicles could still be seen on local roads.

Most area towns had at least one wagon maker. Beginning in the late 1880s, Julius March of Newbury achieved fame throughout Vermont and New Hampshire.  It was said that he “worked painstakingly making and repairing carriages etc.”  When the demand for carriages declined, he turned to cabinet-making.

Carlos Bagley of Bradford “was considered second to none in the state.” He moved to Bradford from Piermont in 1881 and began almost 50 years of producing carriages, sleighs, and farm and express wagons at a mill on South Main Street.

The prevalence of horse-power created related businesses such as blacksmithing, wheelwrights, harness makers, and operators of livery stables.

The blacksmith was an essential craftsman in local communities. Before the Industrial Revolution, they were the sole manufacturers  of metal tools. Locally, they continued to make or repair tools, wheels, hinges, and other iron items. Farriers specialized in producing iron shoes for horses or oxen.

 In 1886, there were nine blacksmiths in Haverhill, four in Orford and three in Piermont. The 1888 Orange County Gazetteer lists twelve in Corinth, eight in Newbury and six in Bradford.

Fran Hutton was one of the many Corinth blacksmiths. He lived in Corinth for 50 years, during which he operated a shop. In 1900, he was listed as a wheelwright as well. In 1909, there was enough of a demand for his services that he made an addition to his shop.

The decline in the number of horses and the mass-production of tools significantly reduced the needs for local blacksmiths. 

 Before the 20th century, most items were stored in wooden containers. A skilled cooper was a valued craftsman in each community. Jeremiah Ingalls, who came to Newbury in 1787, was “a cooper by trade and singing master by profession.” In 1871, it was reported that 94-year old Abner Palmer of North Haverhill had worked at the cooper trade until over 90 years old and was still able. 

In the 19th century, small woodenware shops and factories replaced single part-time workers. Page’s Box Shop in East Corinth, Proctor Brothers’ stave factory in Bradford village, Henry Hood’s wooden tub shop in Topsham, and Stone & Wood Company’s box mill in Woodsville are all examples of woodware production. Many items once produced by these manufacturers are still in use but made from other materials.

During the 19th century, many small tanneries existed in the area.  The months-long process by which workers transferred hides into leather was labor-intensive, exhausting and dangerous. The mills were filled with noxious odors and the wastewater was toxic. 

As early as 1789, Oliver Hardy of Bradford and later his son George had a tannery in Bradford village. In 1869, J. & T.P Currier had a tannery in Haverhill.

Tanneries used the tannin produced by bark mills to process leather.  In 1850, there were 126 bark mills in Vermont. Until the 1880s, bark mills processed bark, roots, and branches into a fine powder known as tanbark.   

Millwork was extremely dangerous. In the early 1840s, Frank B. Palmer’s leg was caught in the machinery of a Bradford bark mill.  He was taken to Haverhill where Dr. Anson Brackett amputated the limb.

Palmer’s loss had profound consequences to 19th century prosthetics. In 1846, Palmer patented a new prostatic leg that “surpassed in elegance and utility previous models.”  Known as the Palmer Leg, it was widely used for disabled veterans of the Civil War.

 After 1880, tannin was replaced by chromium salts, which significantly reduced the processing time and eliminated bark mills.

 It was not uncommon for  a tanning mill owner to operate both a bark mill and work as a shoe or harness maker. As early as 1815, Robert Whitelaw of Ryegate operated a tannery on his farm at which he produced shoes and boots.  At one time, there were10 shoemakers in Ryegate, some of whom had shops with apprentices. 

Others were both farmers and shoemakers. These part-time shoemakers carried their kits from house to house, making and repairing boots and shoes. After the middle of the 19th century, mechanized processes began to replace individual craftsmen and shoemakers were relegated to repairing footwear. 

Leatherworkers also made harnesses, saddles, and horse collars. They learned their trade working as apprentices for established harness makers. John Buxton was a Newbury harness maker who took Ebenezer Stocker on as an apprentice and later as a partner. Around 1886, Stocker accepted Henry Lowd as a three-year apprentice.  Completing his apprenticeship, Lowd opened a harness business in Bradford and Newbury, serving customers from Warren to Fairlee.

The Connecticut River was once the workplace of log-driving river men.  After 1810, local lumbermen built rafts from boxes of logs, loaded them with area products, and floated them down the river, returning on foot. 

The first long-log drive from the great northern woods to the mills in southern New England was held in 1868. Over the next 46 years, this annual event represented the nation’s longest log drive. The drives began when the ice went out.

 Crews of hundreds of men and horses guided millions of board feet of lumber through dangerous river sections. The stretch from Fifteen Mile Falls north of McIndoe Falls to south of Lyme and Thetford was one of the most hazardous in the 345 miles of the river.  

The most dangerous part of the drive for river men was when jams occurred.  With hundreds of logs piled against each other like giant jackstraws, men had to pry them loose with pikes and peaveys.

The men constantly risked their lives.  They could easily be crushed in an avalanche of loosened logs or sucked under by rapids. Those who lost their lives were often buried in empty pork barrels.     

By 1915, the northern forest had been harvested of long logs. Drives of four-foot pulpwood continued until the 1940s. shortly before the construction of hydroelectric dams..  The rivermen on the Connecticut were no more. 

In the 1850s, area farmers shifted from raising sheet to having dairy cows. At first, the milk was used in the production of cheese and butter. The number of farms in Vermont peaked in 1880 at 35,522.  According to the 1888 Orange County Gazetteer, the county has 3,400 farms with 13,072 dairy cows.

By 1900, half of the farms in Vermont and one-third of those in New Hampshire had dairy as their largest “crop.” By the l920s a “river of milk” flowed from dairy farms to eastern urban markets.

However, economic challenges, competition, and the increased cost of production caused a steady decline in the number of small dairy farms. As older farmers retired, younger men  and women were unwilling to take on the uncertainty and labor-intensive tasks of farming.

By 2009, Orange county had only 102 dairy farms and Grafton county had about 40.  It is estimated that there are currently less than 600 dairy farms in Vermont and less than 100 in New Hampshire. There are still workers in the dairy industry, but their numbers are a mere shadow of those of a century ago. 

Ice harvesting was another industry impacted by new technology.  Before electric refrigeration, ice was harvested from area rivers and lakes during winter and stored in private or professional icehouses for later use.  It was winter’s cash crop.

Accounts published in local newspapers documented this annual activity. In January 1883, 20 men hauled ice for the Bradford Ice Company to be sold throughout the area.  In 1896, Orford’s icehouses were filled with ice of “large quantities and of most excellent quality” harvested from Lake Morey.

It was dangerous work. The equipment included sharp saws, picks, and tongs.  Heavy chunks of ice were wrestled to the shore and into ice houses. There was always the danger of men, horses and wagons breaking through the ice into the frigid water. 

The expansion of electric home and business refrigerators and electric milk coolers on area farms after 1930, reduced the market for ice. It eliminated the need for both ice harvesters and the men who made home deliveries.

 From the 1840s to the 1960s, railroad station masters were the face of the railroad in each community. They managed the depot, handled mailbags, sold tickets, operated the telegraph, and were the freight and express agents.

When the railroad functions were replaced by motor vehicles, railroads began to discontinue passenger and freight services. The Woodsville passenger depot closed in 1960 and the stations at Bradford and Fairlee had their last passenger train in 1965.

Two station masters stand out for their lengthy service. In 1914, Burnside Hooker moved to Bradford and became station master.  He continued until his retirement in 1955. 

During his years of service, he saw improvement in nearby railroad bridges, signal systems, and the changes from steam- to diesel-powered locomotives.  Initially, the station wagon that transported passengers to and from the station was horse-drawn.  Hooker was highly respected and played a significant role in Bradford town affairs.

Joseph Alger, Fairlee’s station master, played a similar role. He took over the station in 1922 and continued until his retirement in 1957. Each summer, the station was especially busy with passengers and their luggage bound for the area’s youth camps.

Alger’s interest in presenting a positive atmosphere at his depot was recognized in the July 1949 Reader’s Digest. An article described the well-kept Fairlee station as a “shining example of what an energetic station agent can do.” Another national magazine article drew attention to the attractive gardens he maintained immediately across the tracks from the station.

 Until the 1880s, typesetters in the publishing industry set up copy one letter at a time, selecting them from either upper or lower cases above their desks. An advertisement for three female typesetters indicated that this was one occupation open to women.

In the 1880s, this laborious technique was replaced by a hot metal typesetting machine known as a linotype. This allowed one worker to perform the labors of as many as six.  News items in Bradford’s United Opinion referred to both men and women workers.

 In 1921 Caledonian-Record linotype operator Ruth Impey set a Vermont record by producing six lines of copy per minute, representing 7,000 letters in an hour. In 1929, Lolabel Allen (Hood) began working as a linotype operator at the United Opinion. Working beside male operators, she held the position until the late 1930s.

In the 1970s, the linotype was replaced by compugraphic typesetters and then by computers.  Journal Opinion publisher Michelle Sherburne recalls working on both of devices to lay out copy.      

Going back to the 19th century Orange and Grafton county gazetteers, I found occupations listed that could have been included in this article. Makers of brooms, gloves, ladders, bobbins, baskets, coffins, bricks, paper, linen thread, and fishing rods are no lover as prevalent as they once were.

 Proprietors of  livery stables, express offices, billiards halls, creameries, grist mills and steamboats are also not as poplar. So too are miners, penmanship teachers, and tailors as well as home deliverers of coal, meat, and milk.

It is difficult to predict the occupations that will join this list over the rest of this century. Undoubtedly, a significant number will either disappear or be significantly altered by technological changes.  If recent news reports are any indication, future columns such as this one may be written by an AI  program such as ChatGPT.

 I can assure you this one was not. 

For a complete list of the 145 articles published in this column since 2007, go to the search block on the right side of page 1 and put in "list."  It will appear at the top of page 2.  To select any post, use the search feature again.