Friday, August 15, 2014

A Little History of the White Village

Classic postcard view of the White Village.
from the June 1919 issue of The Ice Cream Trade Journal
Some Notes on THE WHITE VILLAGE, from Beth Kanell

Dr. Harris's history of Waterford uses a Burlington Free Press article from 1937 to explain the history of Lower Waterford's "White Village." At that time -- shortly after the Great Depression, and only a few years before the Second World War -- the town's focus was almost entirely on farming and the trades that go with it, and Upper Waterford still stood up the river from Lower Waterford. Owners of property in the upper village knew that the second major dam on the Connecticut River would flood out their homes and farms, and they were gradually selling land to the New England Power Company in preparation.

The Free Press article described the lower village at that time as almost entirely a summer place "of the better kind where the summer people stay all season and contribute largely to the life of the community." Sometime after 1919, Mr. John W. Davies, a St. Johnsbury creamery owner and originally from Reading, Mass., purchased almost "the entire village" and established its color theme, the one it's still known for: white-painted structures with green shutters. The attractive appearance quickly became a tourist draw.

When Mr. Davies died, many of his buildings were sold, and his wife continued to reside in what's now the famous Rabbit Hill Inn -- but from 1912 to 1957 was a residence. (There's a detailed history of the inn here.) The Rabbit Hill Inn grew from a 1957 purchase that turned the structure first into a "motel," then in 1980, with fresh owners, into a gracious country inn that continued to rise in esteem and elegance as owners built on its possibilities.

On the same side of the road as the inn are a former village store that in the early 1900s housed the library, and also one of the town's early schoolhouses, the Lower Waterford School, now a private home. Across from the inn stands the Congregational Church, as well as the current library -- named for Mr. and Mrs. Davies (the Davies Memorial Library). Around the corner, using a separate entrance to the lower floor of the library building, is the town office and a limited-hours post office that still serves the village.

The color scheme that Mr. Davies initiated remains in place: The White Village is one of the most photographed locations along the Vermont side of the Connecticut River, and is worth visiting in all seasons, to savor both its changes and its enduring gracious character.

A little extra information on Mr. Davies: He was born John Wesley Davies in Union, Maine, on July 10, 1866; he married Marion Florence Lombard in Massachusetts on December 26, 1887. They had three children. Mr. Davies died in 1937 in Lower Waterford, where his wife continued to reside until her own death in 1949. In 1930 Mr. Davies was president of the Manton-Gaulin Mfg Co., in St. Johnsbury, a company with considerable expertise and patents in homogenizing milk and making ice cream; Dr. Harris's book suggests that Mr. Davies owned at least two creameries himself, one in St. Johnsbury, VT, and the other in Littleton, NH. -- BK

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