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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.  

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