Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Pike–Streeter Tavern, Upper Waterford, Vermont

Child's Gazetteer of Caledonia and Essex Counties, Vt., 1764-1887 (1887), offers some early history of Waterford:
The first saw-mill was built by Solomon Pomeroy, just below Mrs. Hibbard's brick house, at Upper village. John Stiles built a saw-mill at the outlet of Stiles pond, in 1807, and also built an oil-mill here in 1818. The first hotel was built by Warner Call, nearly opposite the store at Upper village. Nathan and Dennis Pike built the Streeter tavern in 1823, and kept it for many years. The first school kept in the eastern part of the town was by Candace Billings, in Daniel Pike's barn. The first church was built in 1818, near the center of the town. It was a large two-story structure, with a gallery on three sides.
... Daniel and Nathan Pike, Jonathan Hutchinson and Luther Knight came to Waterford, form Royalston, Mass., and located in the eastern part of the town, in 1792.
There's a lot in there to examine and compare with today! The "Upper village," or Upper Waterford, is gone -- sacrificed in the 1930s to plans to build the Moore Dam on the Connecticut River, which would create a lake at the village location. The Upper village, where Daniel and Nathan Pike settled, was the eastern part of town and was called "Upper" because it was up-river from the rest of the town.

More about the tavern, the Pikes, and their significance in the town is found in Frederic J. Wood's 1919 tome, The Turnpikes of New England. These were the toll roads, set up for commerce (and to let the landowners and road owners earn some fees). Here are the actual pages -- with page 260 being the one with the photos, above.

Dolores E. Ham brought out the book Caledonia County (Images of America) in 2000 (now available also as an ebook), and used two images of the Streeter Tavern in it, borrowed from the Wateford Town Clerk. Here they are:

And finally, of course, Gordon Hopper's Upper Waterford—A Village Lost to Progress offers the most detail on the history of the tavern. He writes that Nathan and Dennis Pike had a small farmhouse located at the crossroad in the village, and they converted it into a tavern in 1823. "The building was used for public gatherings, dances, religious and political meetings." After some years, the Pikes' tavern was taken over by Jeff Hosmer. In 1864 Timothy Streeter bought it; he closed it in 1874. Hopper says that "its patronage included stage coach drivers and passengers, freight wagon drivers and teamsters, drovers, drummers, private travelers, summer boarders, local barflies and those who needed a public hall. Balls and parties, meetings, funerals and court sessions were helpd in the old tavern and for a short time, part of it served as the town's library" -- with librarian Caroline Streeter.

The building then became a private home, and in 1926 it was purchased by the Connecticut RIver Development Company. Hopper says that it was used as a rooming house for men constructing the dam, until destroyed by fire "of an unknown origin" on January 1, 1930.

He also mentions Eugenia Powers' description of the interior of the tavern, which appeared in the 1978 Waterford Town Report (to follow).

Monday, March 23, 2015

Waterford Had a Fulling Mill -- But What Was Fulling?

Here's a long and thorough description of "fulling" from the website of an English woolen blanket manufacturer, Witney Blankets, and written by Clare Sumner:
After the cloth was woven it was fulled or milled. This process removed grease and shrank the material down to a smaller size, while matting up the fibres into a thicker and softer felt-like fabric. First it was steeped in a soap bath to clean and soften the wool. It was then placed into the trough of the fulling stocks - a machine with large wooden hammers that pounded, dragged and rolled the fabric, making it shrink and driving out the dirt from it.

An alternative to the fulling stocks was the milling machine, which did the same job using rollers. The stockful of blankets was fed into the machine, then the ends of the piece were sewn together to form a continuous belt which was run around between the rollers until it had become shrunk down enough. The first milling machine was patented in 1833 and was quicker than the fulling stocks, but stocks continued to be used either instead of, or alongside them in many mills in Britain for about a century afterwards.

After fulling the blankets were washed in water to remove the soap suds left from the fulling process and then they were spun dry in a machine. Mangles were sometimes used to extract excess water. At this stage they were still in one long piece.
This picture of a rotary fulling machine is from an 1891 issue of Popular Science
Fulling was not an unusual process in the early 1800s in Vermont -- many towns in our region had fulling mills. A few examples include one in East Village (East St. Johnsbury), one in Concord (as of 1847, according to McCullock's Universal Gazetteer), one in West Barnet, one next to what is now Ben Thresher's Mill in Barnet, one in South Peacham (in the basement of the Brown/Evans mill), and the fulling and woolen mill conducted by Benjamin Greenbanks in Harvey's Hollow (now part of Danville).

The Waterford Historical Society hopes that some readers will have more details and will share them with us. Let us know what you find out!

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Looking for the Old Mills of Waterford, Vermont

A grist mill equipped for custom grinding; four customers could have their grain ground at once here.
Waterford's once-famous song said:
-- "A very fine place
Adorned with majesty and grace
Situated under Rabbit Hill
With a tavern, store and a clover mill."
Thanks to the 1875 Beers Map of Waterford, we know many of the locations of the mills that operated on water power at that time. But we're looking for photos if available, as well as business records.

Waterford's share of mills in the 19th century might surprise today's visitor. In Zadock Thompson's 1820 Gazetter, there are four mills mentioned: two oil mills and two clover mills.

"Oil mills" pressed linseed oil from flax seeds -- and linseed oil was an essential of house and barn paints. According to Hayes's 1907 history of Rockingham, Vermont, that described the oil mill at Bellows Falls, here is how it worked: "The flax seed was poured upon a large stone floor, on which two immense stones, like grist-mill stones, set on edge, were made to revolve around an upright shaft, like wagon wheels turning in a circle, thus crushing the seed. It was then shovelled into a large iron barrel about six feet long made to revolve in a fire-place over a wood fire until the crushed seed was thoroughly cooked. It then went into smaller strong iron barrels which had one movable head, and these in turn were put into a large log hollowed out with solid ends. A press set in motion, with cog wheels and screw, forced the movable heads of each barrel inward and the oil flowed out into the log trough, and from that into receptacles to be shipped to the market. The cakes of oil meal remaining were ground up and used for feed. In the old mill an arch for boiling the oil was used."

Clover mills hulled the seeds of red clover, a planting method brought by English settlers to made fields more fertile. New England's chilly, stony soil wasn't kind to the seeds, so the hulls had to be removed to make sure they would germinate.

Just 4 years later, in 1824, there were 13 mills noted in Waterford: six sawmills, one gristmill, two fulling mills (part of the wool fabric process), two clover mills, and two "other" that were probably the oil mills.  A later historical note says that one clover mill was changed to a [potato] starch mill.

And in 1840, the town included eight sawmills, according to Defebaugh's 1907 History of The Lumber Industry of America.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Comerford Dam Construction Display at Town Meeting

Lynn Troy created a terrific display of postcard-size photos of the construction of the Comerford Dam (circa 1930) to share at Town Meeting today. This construction project changed the town in many ways, including where the river would cover the land. What a great way to show how intriguing our town's history is! Thanks, Lynn, for having the images copied, enlarged, and then preparing them this way. People asked about the possibility of a permanent display of these. Let's watch for a good opportunity.

If you're outside Vermont and reading this, you may not be familiar with Town Meeting -- the custom of setting aside the first Tuesday of March each year for all towns to hold meetings to go elect people to needed positions, discuss the management of library, recycling, school, and sometimes roads (this year, we learned Bridge 7 on Route 18 is going to have a 4-week closure for culvert repair), and most especially, to vote on the budget so the town tax rate can be set.

It's "democracy in action" -- and it's also a joyful gathering of community, with salutes and appreciation to volunteers, credit to firefighters, and a bit of fundraising (for, say, the library and the Scouts).

The Waterford Historical Society and the Davies Memorial Library collaborate in keeping a collection of Town Reports from all the many Town Meetings over the years. They are accessible in the library, on one of the "local interest" shelves. This year's Town Report saluted George Bullock for his 60 years of dedicated service to the town.