Monday, December 23, 2019

Waterford Cemetery Poems: A Fun Way to Learn Our Stories

Photo from Sandy Lyon: "Lower Waterford Cemetery, Samuel and Esther Benton, who originally built the Simpson/Fleming Farm."
If you missed the October 2019 Waterford Historical Society meeting, you can still catch up on the poems presented to go with family histories around town -- as represented by cemetery markers! The poems are on the group's Facebook page (click here). Here's a sample:

POEM (by BK) for the Bentons:

He built his log house at age twenty-four
though Esther longed for something more.
Still tried her best to keep it warm
Even during winter storms.
No inner walls but a blanket hung --
behind it she bore their little son.
Labored to spin enough for pay
to rent a cow, milked every day
to feed the children as they came:
a dozen with the Benton name.
Later the Simpson, then Fleming dairy --
this little homestead, sweet and merry.
As for the Bentons, they aged well,
paid by young Fairbanks (more land to sell)!
Start looking for more interesting markers -- and for the poems. 

Coming soon: an explanation of our January and February "archive Saturdays."

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.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Which Name Do You Use for White Birch Farm, by the Interstate?

Photo from the Historic Sites & Structures Survey.
Looking Glass Inn. The Begin place. White Birch Farm. The Richardson B. Graves Residence.

And now, the Conte family home.

These are all names for one of Waterford's iconic homes, just off exit 1 of I-93, and up the hill from Pettyco Junction (another place with an older name, Aime's). The large stately house with its mansard roof has been sheltered in recent years by a cedar hedge; look more closely to see the attached carriage stalls, the wing with the ballroom upstairs, the traces of what was once a showplace farm for the region.

The Conte family is welcoming the June 26 (Wed.) meeting of the Waterford Historical Society at 6:30 pm in the ballroom -- most easily reached by parking behind the present home, where an entrance meets that level of the house. With photographs and stories to share and review, it's going to be a lively get-together!
Photo courtesy of the Conte family.

Allen Hodgdon's historic survey of the structure in 1980 placed its date of construction a century earlier, 1881, in the "Second Empire" style. But the site clearly hosted much earlier a structure belonging to the Hill family, who settled that part of Waterford.

Hodgdon wrote:
Originally known as the Simeon Hill farm the [Antoine] Begin farm, also referred to as White Birch Farm, was settled around 1808 by Simeon Hill*, a native of Walpole, N.H. Hill kept a tavern here until 1810. The timber-framed wing of the building predates the brick block. It exhibits a ballroom on the second floor, over the open-end carriage stalls. The northwesterly end of the wing may be part of the original house. The outstanding Second Empire style main block was built by Richardson B. Graves* around 1881. Graves' son, Herbert K. Graves, continued his father's farm, and by 1904 it was considered "one of the most desirable farms in northern Vermont [according to William H. Jeffrey in "Successful Vermonters, A Modern Gazetteer of Caledonia, Essex, and Orleans Counties," 1904].
There are other aspects of the place that Hodgdon didn't mention: the old road from Waterford to Route 2, for instance; and the important role of the farm as an E.T. & H.K. Ide company farm.
From the Jamie Ide family album, 1926: taken from White Birch Farm. (Lee farm in distance.)

Residents today may also recall its use as an inn for some years, the Looking Glass Inn, owned by Perry Viles and family.

What a treat it will be to see the interior and hear what the Conte family has discovered!


Simeon Hill: Born about 1783 in Massachusetts; wife was Rebecca; died April 3, 1845, in Waterford, and buried at the Charles Hill Cemetery (attached to today's Gingue farm). Probably hosted his tavern from about 1808 through at least the 1820s. It appears that his parents Thomas and Eunice lived in Waterford by the 1820s also.

Richardson B. Graves ["Successful Vermonters"]:

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.