Monday, November 9, 2015

Lower Waterford's Gas Pumps in the 20th Century

Curran store and gas pumps at rear; house at front.
Fall foliage has settled onto the ground, and in Waterford, Vermont, snow is expected next weekend. Maybe it won't stay around long, but the ground is getting colder, and winter's around the corner.

Among the many discoveries and events this autumn was a well-attended and appreciated history walk around the White Village -- "Lower Waterford, Then and Now" -- led by Dave Morrison. He kindly agreed to sit down on another occasion to explain the Curran store and gas pumps that once stood on Route 18. Here is his explanation.

Waterford History, 20th Century: Mitchell and Gertrude Curran and Their Gas Pumps and Store; Other Gas Pumps; and the Rabbit Hill Inn

Information from Dave Morrison, in-person interview, Sept. 30, 2015

Mitchell Curran [1883-1954] and Gertrude Mabel (Baker) Curran [1881-1957] lived in the house that is labeled G. (George) Morrison on the 1875 Beers Map of Waterford. (George [1838-1906] and Kate/Katherine [1847-1928] Morrison were great-great-aunt and great-great-uncle to David Morrison.) The house stood on the west side of what was then the main road from Waterford to St. Johnsbury. Around 1930, the state of Vermont relocated Route 18 and negotiated for land from the Currans. Their land probably extended to Mad Brook Road, and the state had to buy some of it. Mr. Curran’s negotiation with the state included future state snowplowing on his newly elongated driveway, which had to extend much farther to meet the relocated roadway. Two other current houses have since been built on what would have been the Curran land.

“The Currans weren’t that into farming, and got the idea of having a store and gas station at the top of the hill” – that is, where today’s Route 18, leading out of Lower Waterford village, stops rising for a bit. They placed their gas pumps in front of a modest building on the related through-road, within walking distance of their house – and “behind” their home. There is a structure at that location today, a white house with attached garages; the double garage is where the store once stood with the gas pumps in front of it. In the 1930s thoses pumps sold Mobil gas. [As described later, the store was built by Kenneth Curran, Gertrude and Mitchell’s son.] Patricia Powers, in the 2004 Waterford Town Report, dated the start of the store and gas pumps to “the late ‘30s.” Dave Morrison recalls, as a small child in the early 1950s, having his mother pull him up the hill in a wagon, from the White Village, to go to the Currans’ store. There were cookies in a glass case; Hoodsie cups (Hood Dairy’s prepacked  ice-cream cups); and soda “in a pool of water where you put in a coin and slide the bottle to the gate.” The property included “a huge pull-off of several car lengths.”

Around this same time the Currans took over operation of the Lower Waterford Post Office. It had been run by Dave Morrison’s grandmother, who died in 1944 of a stroke; Dave’s mother and father then moved back into the family house (after just six weeks in their own place!) to take care of Dave’s grandfather. The Morrison family had a store that accompanied the post office, on Maple Street. Dave’s birth in 1946 made it too hard for his mother Dorothy to run both the store and post office, and Dorothy gave up the postal service (closing the store) to Gertrude and Mitchell Curran, who hosted the post office at their own location from 1946 to 1954. Their son Ken, who was particularly gifted with cement work, eventually built the Currans a new home adjoining their store, so they wouldn’t have to walk across the field from their original home.  That is the house currently seen at the location (attached to the double garage mentioned earlier). Their original home (currently blue) was then occupied by Milton and Marion Valentine and their daughter.

Mitchell and Gertrude Curran had two sons, Ken and Robert. Ken was an engineer and partner in the Curran–Lavoie contracting business in Littleton, NH, and took part in construction of Moore dam (1954-1957). When the road across the reservoir was being constructed in 1982, a very expensive bridge was included in the plans. Ken saw the possibility of skipping the bridge and creating the earth-filled segment now called “The Causeway” on which to lay Interstate 93, saving a great deal of money. The Causeway extends across a brook valley that entered the lake in the location that was the old village of Pattenville, NH, and Ken called the depression “the Pattenville draw.”  (Another small causeway was built to support Route 18 nearby.) The other son, Robert, lived at the round barn now owned by the Levy family, best known locally as the Hastings farm; Robert owned Curran’s Furniture in St. Johnsbury, located where Mayo’s Furniture now stands. [Dave’s guess: Kenneth was born 1910 or 1911; Robert, aka Bob, had children, including Peggy Curran (Bristol) Barber, whose recently deceased husband was Glenn Barber, Jr., living where Hastings Road goes off Daniels Farm Road.]

Mitchell Curran’s sudden death of a heart attack in 1954 ended the Curran post office and also rearranged the lives of the Morrison family. Dorothy Morrison, Dave’s mother, resumed being postmaster at the building that had been Dave’s grandparents’ home, where there was also a woodstove, but no store at this time. (Dorothy ran the post office until she retired in 1980, at which time the postal service moved into the Davies Memorial Library across the road.) At the same time, 1954, Dave’s father Arthur Morrison took a leave of absence from his job and invested all his funds into finishing the house that he and his wife had started back in 1941 (and had only lived in for 6 weeks; Arthur had puttered on the house during the intervening years).

Eventually the Currans sold the property to Earl and Lydia Stetson. “Earl needed a garage so he tore down the store and built the garage there” where the store had been. Mrs. Curran (Gertrude) moved to the end of Webster Street in St. Johnsbury, where she lived for the rest of her life. Dave recalls that his mother Dorothy saw the Currans as parental figures, so he often visited there with his mother.

Back at the original Curran place, as already mentioned, the next occupants were Milton and Marion Valentine and their daughter. After these, the Leon family moved in. Major Leon (who may have rented the place) came to the area as part of the project of building a radar base on East Mountain in East Haven, part of the DEW (Distant Early Warning) Line then being built to protect the United States from potential Soviet bomber attacks. Major Leon and his wife had three sons, of whom the oldest was Douglas. Douglas Leon showed Dave Morrison the old mineral excavation shafts on Rabbit Hill. [A note written by Patricia Powers in the 2004 Waterford Town Report gives the 2004 owners as the second Curran house, the one now on Route 18, as Raymond and Nancy Auclair.]

Other gas pumps in Waterford in Dave Morrison’s lifetime included City Service pumps at the brick (Begin; later Looking Glass Inn) house where Route 18 meets Interstate 93. A barn on that property was built twice. Dave believes there may have been dances at the barn after the second rebuild. That barn also is now gone, but driving past the property, the line of the existing driveway can be seen – it once separated house from barn, and continued across to the lower fields of today’s Gingue dairy farm, reaching Route 2 about a quarter mile east of the Route 2/Route 18 junction.

There were also gas pumps – Texaco ones – at the Whittemore place on Route 18, southeast of Lower Waterford village. Gladys and Earl Whittemore started that business in the 1950s, not many years after the Curran store went out of business. [Its name was the Countryside Service Station and Restaurant.]
Ad for the Whittemore restaurant and gas pumps, from 1963 Waterford cookbook.

Dave knew Earl Whittemore before the Whittemore business opened, as Earl worked at the lunch counter of Parker Drug Store in St. Johnsbury in the 1950s, perhaps 1952-1957; Dave’s parents after 1952 attended Sunday church services at Union Baptist Church in St. Johnsbury and would often give Earl a ride to his job in St. Johnsbury on Sunday mornings.

The Whittemore place began with just gas pumps and a stand that sold ice cream. Gladys Whittemore was a gifted baker, especially of pies, and the couple then operated a restaurant with their gas station. Dave recommends Barbara Douse, the Whittemores’ daughter, to give information and memories about that business.

Another business that Dave connected with as a youth was the Rabbit Hill Inn. He worked at the inn as he entered his teens, 1957-1964. In 1957, room rates were $10 single, $12 double. Alden Hull, a St. Johnsbury businessman [and father of Deborah Thornton], managed the St. Johnsbury (St. J) House (a hotel) then, and the Rabbit Hill Inn was purchased to be a satellite operation. Even the laundry was taken from Lower Waterford to the St. J House each day. Dave worked for the manager Anita DesTroismaisons Oakes, whose husband Kenneth Oakes worked for St. Johnsbury Trucking.

Where the safe [vault] now is, in the Town Office (lower floor of Davies Memorial Library building), in those years there was a garage door instead. It was installed with the dream of a firetruck for the village, to be parked in there. The dream was especially dear to nearby village resident Hamilton Allport (married to a daughter of the Davies family), who lived three houses away from the Davies Memorial Library, but the dream did not come to fruition. Instead, the Oakes family used the space as a garage while Dave worked at the Rabbit Hill Inn.

(report completed November 9, 2015 – BK)

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