Friday, November 10, 2017

Waterford Post Office Salutes Veterans Day -- Today!

A  note from local historian Helen Pike:

Hello History Folks!
Bell atop the Davies Memorial Library and Waterford Post Office.

Our postmistress, Lillian, asked for help spreading the word about the light refreshments she's serving this afternoon in honor of Veterans Day (USPS will be closed Saturday).

I agree to put the word out to our history list because it's a opportunity to honor the veterans we know as well as those we remember. 

It's also a nice community meet-up. 

Here are a few other reasons to drop in:

If you haven't had a chance, come experience the captioned history displays in the lobby of this building originally constructed as a general store in the late 1700s.

Take a look around the entire space and you might pick out the elements of when the Davies family converted this building to both the public library upstairs and a community center downstairs off Maple Street.  Don't believe me? lol. When you next see WHS member and walking tour guide of the village, David Morrison, ask him to tell you about the roller skating parties he attended there!

You also can see what's left of the community kitchen if you step up to the post office window. 

Ah, Waterford, where our history is hidden in plain sight!

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Northeastern Speedway: Waterford's Living History

Donna Heath, WHS president, welcomes guests and lead presenter (standing, right) Paul Bellefeuille.
Waterford residents Paul and Lisa Bellefeuille brought two "old-timers" with them this evening, October 25, for Paul's presentation on the Northeastern Speedway at the Waterford Historical Society meeting. One was Reg Garand, one of the six "founding fathers" of the Waterford, Vermont, racetrack that operated from 1959 to 1966. The other was Pete Racine, 94-year-old race car driver and stunt man who recently set a Guiness World Record for rolling a race car at his age --  and whose racing career began in the 1950s. With Paul Bellefeuille leading the evening and providing visuals of the old races, the two special guests shared a lot of their history.

Reg Garand explained that the original six men formed an association to bring better racing for spectators: "There was racing going on in the area but what these guys felt was, the spectators weren't getting the show they paid for, and the racers weren't getting the prizes they deserved." They created what was at the time a top of the line facility, with stands and medical backup, as well as the track.

Reg Garand, left, and Paul Bellefeuille.
In 1955 or '56 the United Racing Club had already started in St. Johnsbury, with 75 to 80 racers. The car racers would go to Monroe, Barnet, and Webster Flats (beyond Lyndonville), but they wanted a place "here" -- at first they hoped to buy a land parcel in St. Johnsbury but the neighbors said no, and then Charles Ely (now also 94 and living in California) found Yvette Lewis's place and arranged to use her field for a track.

The men put together the needed $3,000 for the startup with the help of a local banker, who made a personal loand of $500 to each of them for 90 days. They also instigated a racing commission in Montpelier to make their effort work.  They created a dirt track and built wooden stands to seat 300 to 400 people -- but the first race drew 1,000 spectators! So about 20 men collaborated to build more stands in a hurry, to seat 1,000 for the next race -- and instead, 2,000 arrived! Reg said, "We couldn't keep ahead!" The crowd finally stabilized at about 6,000.

It felt great to advance to a track with real stands, since the area predecessor had been "Marko's field" in Concord, where people sat on dirt banks to watch the races and came home covered in mud. A similar track existed in East Lyndon, too.

Paul Bellefeuille and Bill Willis reminisce about the Speedway.
Pete said the track's ending happened in the process of regional tracks going to pavement. Although the Northeastern Speedway finally also did this, the costs per car for that kind of racing -- where the rear end had to be refitted, and a $200 tire could end its life in just 20 minutes -- became too high for the local racers.

Reg began racing in 1948-49 himself; he recalled that admission in the early years at the track was $1, with kids under 12 free.

Pete Racine, a racer rather than a founder, began racing in 1949 at Webster Flats. He had grown up and worked in St Johnsbury, and was only away from the area for his four years in the Marine Corps in the Pacific.

"I helped build the track along with everybody else," Pete said. He remembered one scary moment when the cement walls they were pouring began to give way, and the men all pushed their cars against it to hold it in place!

Pete estimated that the cost to re-fit a car from dirt track to pavement was $150 to $200, and included a reinforced body and no tin that could cut you. Dirt track racing was much less dangerous! Also, paving the NOotheast Speedway track ended up costing about $10,000.

Pete's car numbers were chosen in part to make them easy to apply with masking tape, and change as needed; he ran with 69, 77, 78, and 6. He always had a pit man -- at first his brother, and later other friends. Reflecting on the racers' club now, he estimated 125 members and said, "I hope every one of them is a good friend of mine."

Before viewers watched Pete's stunt driving with ramps and occasional rolls, he reminded them that the point of his show was to demonstrate how high he could go on the ramp WITHOUT rolling the car.

The footage Paul Bellefeuille showed resulted from Reg Garand shooting the races with an 8-millimeter camera.

Paul's introduction to racing happened long after the track had closed (which happened around the time he moved to St Johnsbury at age 5). A former racer, Johnny Gammell, used to come chat with Paul at the snowmobile dealership where Paul worked.

The first time he was offered some of the track land, the deal wasn't right for him. But when he saw "history" being bulldozed, he sprang into action and bought as much as possible of the original track site -- which by then was overgrown with trees. Aiming for the track's 50-year anniversary, which would be in 2009, gave hi a year an a half to clear and restore the land. He did this by hand with Allen Pike; they cut trees, raked, seeded, and on July 18, 2009, exactly 50 years after the track's original opening date, they held a celebration of its restoration.
Reg Garand's 8-mm footage of a Northeastern Speedway race.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Northeastern Speedway's Stories at Waterford Historical Society Meeting, October 25

The historical society's last public meeting of 2017 takes place Wednesday, Oct. 25, at 6:30 pm in the Davies Memorial Library in Lower Waterford.  The speaker will be Paul Bellefeuille, Northeastern Speedway owner, sharing stories and hands-on ephemera from his fascinating archive. View a neat aerial of the site of the Green Mountain State's first raceway here: http://www. 
Craig Brown and Donna Heath of Waterford Historical Society greet raceway fans at the speedway reunion in July 2017.
Also look here: Come find out what Paul's contributing from his collection to a 2018 Vermont Historical Society exhibit, "The Need for Speed."

Saturday, October 14, 2017

How People Get Engaged With History -- Vermont Version (Note!! Oct 16 Rgistration Deadline)

Weaving a Historical Web: Bringing Community & Collections Together

64th Annual Meeting of the League of Local Historical Societies & Museums
Saturday, October 28, 2017
Lyndon State College, Lyndonville, VT

Register Now with a Credit Card!  (under Events section in store)

The Vermont Historical Society invites you to join us and your colleagues in charming Lyndonville, Vermont. This annual meeting is always an excellent opportunity to network with peers; attend educational, informative and creative workshops; and visit a thriving Vermont town in the company of history-loving peers. Be sure to spread the word and encourage all members of your organization to join us!
2017 LLHSM Schedule
9:00-9:40amRegistration, Academic & Student Activity Center, Lyndon State College
9:40-10:30amWelcome & Keynote Panel with Jill Mudgett & Ben Ward
10:45-11:45amWorkshop Session 1
12:00 to 1:30pm   Lunch & LLHSM Awards Presentation
1:45-2:45pmWorkshop Session 2
2:45-3:00pmAfternoon Break
3:00-4:00pmWorkshop Session 3
Keynote Panel: How do you engage people with history? What are some new trends, and ongoing issues for historical societies & museums? This year’s keynote will explore these questions, and more from the viewpoints of a new historian and an established professional.
Jill Mudgett is a cultural historian who has written about rural people and places. She has a strong interest in community history and serves on the boards of the Morristown Historical Society and the Vermont Historical Society.
Ben Ward is a senior at Montpelier High School who has done research on Vermont political history and contemporary art history. He has participated in Vermont History Day and National History Day twice and is currently interning at the Robert Hull Fleming Museum of Art in Burlington.
Visit our Exhibitors!Selected organizations with programs & products for local societies in attendance. Current exhibitors include:
Arcadia Publishing & The History Press
Vermont State Archives/Vermont Historical Records Program
Registration: Registration Fees: $35 VHS Members/$50 Non-Members. Light breakfast, lunch and complete program of events are included in the registration fee. Please register by October 16, 2017
REGISTER HERE  (under Events) with a credit card or download a registration form.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Rediscovering Settled Life Along the Connecticut River Before European Settlers

Dr. Jess Robinson, Vermont's state archaeologist, presented to a "full house" on September 26 in Lower Waterford at the Davies Memorial Library. He spoke on "The Early Native History of the Upper Connecticut River," including projected images of sites and artifacts, as well as historic details. The first half of the talk involved the Connecticut River locations he and other archaeologists have explored, looking for information to accompany the oral histories of tribal life in Vermont. Then he showed details from Lake Champlain sites (especially Swanton and Alburg, as well as South Burlington), where Abenaki settlements clearly thrived in complex and long-term forms.

Archaeology and ethnohistory details multiplied with audience questions, information from local residents, and additions from visiting archaeologists Peter Thomas (now residing south of the state line but continuing to learn and write about Native American presence, especially about the Sokokis) and Frank Cowan (of Canaan, VT).

Dr. Robinson is both a scholar and a "public archaeologist" -- someone who shares information with the community and also relies on community input. His talk began with sites north of Lower Waterford along the Connecticut River, then worked more or less south. Here are some of the details he mentioned:

* A project ongoing at the Lancaster (NH)-Guildhall (VT) bridge, where hearth (cooking area) and other materials were found that date back six thousand years.

* The Canaan (VT) bridge site, where evidence of early inhabitants had been "capped" (covered over) by material deposited during flooding -- which protected the evidence during later development. Among the evidence recently found is a nut processing site of Native American residents.

* The Carson Farm site in Newbury, where people lived 2550 years ago, connected to the long-term settlement known as Koas / Coös. At this site were found pieces of pottery of the type known as Vinette I vessels, which were made and used in "early to mid" Woodland culture. (See a recent summary here of Vinette I.) Here is a Canadian example of such pottery:
Vinette I pottery fragments; image courtesy of the Canadian Encyclopedia.

* Petroglyphs (drawings made in stone), both the well-known ones at Bellows Falls and some recently rediscovered ones where the West River meets the Connecticut River, under the water, witnessed by a diver.

* Windsor: A Skitchewaug site that dates from the late Archaic (about three thousand years ago) until "first contact" (of European settlers with Native Americans).

In addition, Dr. Robinson discussed corn kernels found in different locations, dating the use of corn as a staple food instead of just an occasional item, and the introduction of beans in the region. Until about a thousand years ago, Native Americans in our region were hunter-gatherers; corn took on cultural importance as larger, more settled villages formed (usually not year-round). This led to mention of a recently discovered set of three sites on the Otter Creek (Middlebury area), where corn was found -- and then to images and explanations of other sites along Lake Champlain and the St. Lawrence River.

Discussion afterward included hopes of locating any records remaining of a site exploration in the early 1970s in McIndoe Falls (a village of Barnet), and mention of early contact in town histories and journals.

The Waterford Historical Society hosted the presentation as part of Vermont Archaeology Month, and with respect for those who lived in this region for thousands of years before the era of written European-style records that form much of our known history. For more recent information specific to our region, consult Trudy Ann Parker's book Aunt Sarah: Woman of the Dawnland.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Clarence Priest Donates Fire Department Albums to Historical Archives

On September 26, Clarence Priest, Jr., left, of the Waterford Fire Department, donated the albums he has maintained of the volunteer fire company's history from 1985 to 2015, to the Waterford Historical Society.

The Waterford Historical Society Board of Directors (from left, Clarence Priest, Jr., and then the WHS Board: Helen Pike, Tanya Powers, president Donna Heath, Craig Brown, and front, Lynn Troy; not present, Roberta Smith) is storing the albums in the town vault. This winter during its "work meetings" the historical society will merge what it already had with what Priest personally maintained for 30 years before his retirement.

The group is very excited and appreciative about this major addition to the archives that record the history of the Waterford community. Thank you, Clarence Priest!

Monday, September 18, 2017

State Archaeologist to Speak in Waterford, September 26

State archaeologist Jess Robinson will speak on Tuesday September 26 at 6:30 p.m. at the Davies Memorial Library, 111 Lower Waterford Road (across from the Rabbit Hill Inn).
            Robinson’s talk is part of Vermont Archaeology Month and presents an overview of early Native History of the Upper Connecticut River and adjacent areas, focusing on early and overlooked documentary and archaeological evidence.
            There will be time for questions. The Waterford Historical Society, host of the event, will also have related displays to examine.
            The Waterford Historical Society aims “to discover and preserve whatever relates to the history of the Town of Waterford and surrounding communities, for the use, education, and enjoyment of present and future generations.”
            The event is free and open to the public, with limited handicap access. Contact the library director at 802-748-4609 or e-mail WHS president Donna Heath at