Sunday, September 15, 2019

Barns Crammed With History: Digging Into a Waterford Farmyard

Industrial hemp farming at the Gingue Farm.
Waterford's barns stand for large parts of the town's history, but more and more often, their usefulness dwindles with changes in land use and even in the kind of farming being done. For example, the Gingue Farm, in the district where the Hill family resided in Waterford Hollow in the 1800s, has now left behind dairy farming, for the pleasure and adventure of diversified farming -- going well beyond the farm's traditional rows of sweet corn, to industrial hemp and grains for craft brewing.

"The dig" at a historic barn's foundation.
 But some barns carry so much history with them that the owners invest in keeping them standing, even without a farm use at this point. At the September 25 Waterford Historical Society meeting, a very special set of barns will be identified, as two WHS members demonstrate how some gentle digging around the barn foundations can reveal amazing details of daily life from more than a centure in our past.

Join us at the Davies Memorial Library, on Wed. Sept. 25, at 6:30 pm, for this fascinating presentation from Donna Rae Heath and Craig Brown. Free to the public, partially accessible (rest room downstairs), and of course, local refreshments on hand!

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Waterford's Racing History Rides Again: Saturday July 13, 2019

The history and living stories of the Northeastern Speedway get a refresher again this summer, with a reunion event that includes a tour. You don't have to drive at high speed to attend! Bring your curiosity (and a few kids to run around if you like). Details:

And for more about the track and its history as the "birthplace of auto racing in Vermont," click here.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

The Two Wives of Jonathan Ross, Vermont Supreme Court Justice

Waterford's June 15 celebration (this Saturday!) includes an appearance by Justice Jonathan Ross (1826-1905), as re-enacted by the town's much-admired thespian Bill Vinton. So I paused today to take a look at Judge / Justice Ross's family history.

It's easy to determine that he was married twice: first to Eliza Ann Carpenter, born in Waterford herself (brother of Amos Bugbee Carpenter, the West Waterford postmaster for so many years). Together they had eight children. Eliza died at the age of 60 (1826-1886; those eight children could have played a factor), and Jonathan then married Helen Augusta Daggett. Records online indicate Helen's birth in Coventry, Vermont -- yet the cemetery stone placed to celebrate Jonathan and his spouses indicates she was born in Waterford! It seems unlikely that the judge would make a mistake like this ... I wonder what actually happened, and who determined what the stone would say?

Because this aroused my curiosity further, I made a quick check of the Civil War draft records, and found Jonathan Ross listed in the major state draft of 1863. He was by then 37 years old and an attorney; it appears he never saw service, although at that age, he could have ... but seems to have been too busy at home. (Eight children and a law office.)

What more may be revealed about this impressive Waterford gentleman? I'm eager to find out on June 15. [As of this writing, there are still tickets available!]

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Buy Tickets by Thursday Evening for Saturday's Fun!

Festivity and Drama for 160th Anniversary of Lower Waterford Church
[Photo: Jonathan Ross engraving in the public domain]

WATERFORD – A celebration to honor the 160-year-old Congregational Church in Lower Waterford is slated for Saturday, June 15.
“For God, Country and Rhubarb!” is the theme of the special, two-part benefit hosted by the church and the Waterford Historical Society.
The Community Room door on Maple Street opens at 5:30 p.m. for a rhubarb-flavored dinner with pizzas donated by Kingdom Crust in Saint Johnsbury and cheese from Crooked Mile Farm, here.
“We’re so grateful to Aaren James for his generosity,” said Norrine Williams, a member of the church’s leadership team. Ticking off traditional, and separate, toppings of meat, vegetables and cheese, she continued, “Kingdom Crust’s pizzas are delicious.”
Noting that James bakes with King Arthur Flour that contains no GMO additives, Williams added, “We’re thankful he’s also willing to make a gluten-free pizza for our guests.”
Two specialty pizzas combining goat cheese from the micro-dairy goat farm, with rhubarb and spinach are on the menu as well. Acting on a suggestion at Town Meeting by cheesemaker Roberta Gillott, WHS president/secretary Helen Pike made a sample that received a favorable response at the May historical society program.
Gillott had participated in the first joint benefit in 2014, “Barn to Table,” because of her location on the historic Johnson-Powers Farm on Old County Road South. Added Williams, “We’re thrilled Roberta is donating one of her flavorful cheeses again.”
The dinner includes many different rhubarb desserts organized by WHS treasurer Roberta Smith who also will make a birthday-themed cake for the 160th celebration. The menu includes homemade pasta salad, a fresh garden salad with a variety of dressings, including a rhubarb vinaigrette. For beverages, there will be rhubarb switchel, lemonade, water and hot tea and coffee.
At 6:45 p.m. sanctuary doors open for “Supreme Court Justice Jonathan Ross tells all – or most!” as historical interpreter and St. Johnsbury Academy theater director Bill Vinton brings Waterford farm boy-turned-lawyer back to his hometown with stories about the church, his career in St. Johnsbury, legal opinions in Montpelier, and even his brief stint in the U.S. Congress. Last month, the WHS donated to the Davies Memorial Library "The Law of the Hills," a concisely organized book that looks at the state's judicial history by Paul S. Gillies. It includes an entry on Ross.
Proceeds raised from the June 15th benefit are earmarked for the historical society’s oral history project and the church’s much-needed interior restoration.
A disastrous fire on June 30, 1859 levelled the previous Lower Waterford meetinghouse. But parishioners repurposed timbers, pews and deacons’ benches from the 1818 meetinghouse built on a Mad Brook hillside with new materials. They dedicated their Greek Revival-styled church on January 11, 1860.
“Waterford has always had the faith of a mustard seed,” said Rev. Ann Hockridge about the spirit of cooperation between both organizations to build a modern sense of community in a village where most buildings date from the late 18th century.
            From 1860 until 1957, when the unified elementary school opened on Duck Pond Road, the current building served as the location for Town Meeting which took place downstairs in the vestry. The sanctuary hosted 8th grade graduation ceremonies from the town’s 14 district schoolhouses. A special Church Town Committee is exploring ways that might allow for a renewing of the building for municipal purposes.
Hallmark photographer Winston Pote of East Lancaster, NH, brought the Congregational Church and Lower Waterford international fame when he put the village on chrome postcards that were sold and sent by the thousands, beginning in the second half of the 1950s.
There is separate ticket pricing for the dinner and performance and for the performance only. Dinner reservations are limited to 90 and are expected to go quickly. Tables can be arranged for parties of two, four, five and 10. Reservations will be accepted until 8 p.m. Thursday, June 13. For more info, or to RSVP, please contact Helen Pike: 802-748-0180.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Eddie's Donuts, Story of a Waterford Business

The spring issue of the St. Johnsbury Academy Hilltopper presents the family business started by Eddie Toney and enjoying its fourth generation -- a "sweet" Waterford business.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Wedding Bells in Waterford, Vermont

The Waterford Historical Society presents "Waterford Weddings and Fashions" with historian Nola Forbes on Wednesday May 22 at 6:30 pm at the Lower Waterford Congregational Church. In planning this presentation, Nola Forbes reflected, "[Wedding gowns] brought to the meeting can be draped over sheets placed over pews, and perhaps held up when discussed.  At the moment we have samples from different time periods; of these, most were not worn in this church. Connie Quimby hopes to bring the 1873 dress worn by Geneva Powers Wright's grandmother Sarah Gilbert Powers to display. Photo of Geneva modeling it in 2012.  Beth [Kanell] has her mother's dress that she also wore (1950; 1971; 1980).  I have my grandmother's 1915 dress that I also wore in 1972.  I have my daughter's 1997 dress she & I made. Roberta hopes to make a wedding cake as part of refreshments. I have a story of Carpenter-Kinne 1909 "daisy" wedding, but unclear if it actually took place in the church or perhaps at Nathan Kinne's home in Waterford."

Of course, Waterford is a noted wedding destination today because of the Rabbit Hill Inn (see romantic photos at the inn's website: But there are many notes of marriages in the past in this Connecticut River town -- and some, like the "daisy" wedding just mentioned, must have embraced traditions different from today's. In 1877, Cosbi Bowman (Parker) Carpenter wrote to her son that "All is quiet here now, there was to be a China wedding up to Mr Wells the first of May." I wonder what a China wedding was?

Surprises also emerge in sifting through Waterford history -- as when yours truly (Beth) discovered a cousin of hers, Jennett Cutler Batcheller of Bethlehem, New Hampshire, who in 1856 married one of Waterford's Bugbees:

 It's especially exciting that Nola Forbes is making the May 22 presentation, since her team of Daughters of the American Revolution recently reviewed all the local church records -- who knows what other wedding stories maybe rediscovered!

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Listen to Aunt Ida’s Diaries (1918-1951) on Wed. April 24

"Aunt Ida," Ida Richardson Caswell Pike, circa 1890 while she was Mrs. Caswell. She is sitting on the porch in Upper Waterford, a village of the town that vanished in the wake of the power dams.

WATERFORD, VT – For this riverfront community whose fate changed forever with the construction of Comerford and Moore Dams, finding evidence of how lives were lived is a challenge.
             On Wednesday, April 24, at 6:30 p.m., the Waterford Historical Society (WHS) will share entries from the diaries of Ida Richardson Caswell Pike, a descendant of one of Waterford’s founders from Royalston, MA, who lived most of her life in Upper Waterford until Moore Dam was built.
            The small, slim volumes, written in pencil, are among the ephemera inherited by WHS president/secretary Helen-Chantal Pike when her father, who was Ida Pike’s nephew, passed away. Robert E. Pike, who died in 1997, is best known for two books about the greater Connecticut River Valley’s logging history that are still in print, “Tall Trees, Tough Men” and “Spiked Boots: Sketches of the North Country.”
            From 1918 to 1951, the diaries span the final years of Ida’s first marriage to businessman Charles Caswell through her subsequent marriage to his partner, Harley E. Pike, an Upper Waterford farmer whose ancestors also helped settle Waterford after the American Revolution.
            Pike also served on the Waterford Select Board for 24 years, and some of his wife’s diary entries cover natural disasters, what residents did to raise money for the town’s one-room schoolhouses, and the 1934 construction of the Route 18 bridge linking Lower Waterford to West Littleton, NH, signaling the end of Upper Waterford as the town’s commercial crossroads between Portland, ME, and Burlington, VT.
            Free and open to the public, this program will take place in the sanctuary of the Congregational Church in Lower Waterford. In the foyer, visitors have the opportunity to view models and other objects relating to the town’s history and ask questions of the WHS, which is actively engaged in historical detective work, including family genealogies, to bring Waterford’s past to life. Sweet and savory refreshments also will be served.
"Aunt Ida" with her second husband, Harley Pike, 1956 in their new house in Littleton NH.