Special Edition Vermont Research News: Spotlight on Vermont historical societies

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Special Edition Vermont Research News: Spotlight on Vermont historical societies

Thu, 05/02/2019 - 10:22am -- tim
Vermont Research News Vermont is home to 191 historical societies who tell stories of Vermont’s rich past with photos, books, events and exhibits. For a full list see the Vermont Historical Society. In this special edition of the Vermont Research News we highlight 25 stories from around the state – there are many more! As summer comes plan a visit to your neighborhood museum, society or historical place.

Glover: Protest, Puppetry and Sourdough
Combining avant-garde theater, sculpture, dance, political protest and rugged sourdough bread (handed out at every performance), Glover’s Bread and Puppet Theatre company has been redefining puppetry since its founding in in 1963 by Peter Schumann.  Schumann, who grew up in postwar Germany, saw the destruction of war firsthand and the role of theatrical spectacle in making voices heard. He founded B & P on New York’s Lower East Side, then moved it to an old dairy farm in this Northeast Kingdom town in 1974. Today, Bread and Puppet is one of the oldest nonprofit self-supporting theatrical companies in the country, and its famed giant puppets have been fixtures in events and activism worldwide. To learn about other Glover notables, visit the Glover Historical Society.

Newfane:  “36 Miles of Trouble”

In 1880, Newfane’s residents welcomed a new railroad depot they believed would bring prosperity to their tiny town, a vital stop on the up-and-coming Brattleboro & Whitehall Railroad. But only 36 miles of the railroad was ever constructed, and the line was beset by accidents and weather delays - giving it the nickname “36 Miles of Trouble.”  Competition from cars and buses, compounded with severe damage from the Great Flood of 1927, caused the railroad’s eventual decline. To learn more about its rise and fall, visit the West River Railroad Museum in Newfane - and the Historical Society of Windham County website.


Bennington: The Three Musketeer Trailblazers

In 1927, three women, Catherine Robbins Clifford, Hilda Kurth and Kathleen Norris, set out to hike the Long Trail from Canada to Massachusetts. It was simply intended to be their summer vacation - but unknowingly they became the first women to ever hike the Long Trail. Dubbed “The Three Musketeers,” they quickly became a national sensation. Many women since have followed in their footsteps and have become leaders, hikers and trail workers of the Green Mountain Club. To learn more visit the Vermont Historical Societywebpage or see this video with Long Trail historian Reidun Nuquist


Pownal: Boys to Men Camp

A promise to the parents: Misbehaved boys will be groomed to become “mannerly Christian boys.” From 1921-1944, Kamp Kaaterskill was a summer retreat "teaching" its young male campers to "learn how to become men" and advance their crafts or interests. With activities from swimming to basketball, rifle practice to horseback riding and even lessons on the art of shaving available, there was no shortage of entertainment. The boys were excitedly welcomed back each year with the local residents shouting, “The boys are back!” Now closed, the camp remains a strong memory to local residents. To learn more about this summer camp, visit Pownal Historical Society.

Brattleboro: Home to the Pipe Organ

Some 3,000 pipe organs, and over half a million reed organs found in churches throughout the world, started their trek across the globe in Brattleboro. In its century-long run, the Estey Organ Company became a world-renowned producer of the majestic music staple. Although its doors closed in 1961, the Estey legacy lives on through the Estey Organ Museum. To learn more about Brattleboro’s unique history visit theBrattleboro Historical Society.

Swanton:  “Grandma’s” Land Lives On

Swanton is the homeland of the Missisquoi band of Abenaki, and the home of Martha (“Grandma”) Lampman, a well-known Abenaki community leader and healer. Lampman and her husband John built a small home and barn on the marsh in the late 1880s, which became a site for dancing, singing and storytelling. In 1991, when a developer made plans to turn the land into a housing complex, Abenaki community members—including Lampman’s great-grandchildren—opposed the plans, and today the land is preserved for the Abenaki community as part of theMaquam Wildlife Refuge. Read more about“Grandma” and her role in Vermont History here.


Mount Holly: Once Home to Prehistoric Beasts

Mount Holly was once home to freely-roaming prehistoric beasts. In the mid 1800’s, railroad workers were working on laying track through Mount Holly, when their work was disrupted by the discovery of the tooth and tusk of a woolly mammoth.  These fossils have been preserved, and even named Vermont’s Official State Fossil.  To learn more about the exotic fossils, and find out where to see them, visit the Mount Holly Historical Society.    


Montpelier: Celebrity Comes to a Small-Town Airport

The famed aviator Amelia Earhart emerged from her gleaming plane at the Montpelier Airport not once, but at least three times in Vermont.  The 1930’s were a time when air travel was really taking off and the public was fascinated by the distances daring pilots would fly. In addition to her personal connections to Vermont, Amelia Earhart visited in order to advocate for and promote the Boston Maine Airways, which also had stops in White River Junction.  People flocked to see her and hear her recount her aviation adventures.  For more information, visit the Hartford Historical Society.    


Springfield: One Hundred Years of Flight

Celebrating its centennial birthday in 2020, Hartness Airport is the oldest airport in Vermont. The airport provided access to air transportation when Springfield was the center of manufacturing – providing a significant boost to the local economy. For flight enthusiasts, common planes taking off from this airport included the Taylorcraft A and the Piper J3 Cub – but with the onset of the second World War, passenger flights halted and the airport was converted to support military business. For more information about the airport’s history,watch the town meeting here – and be sure to visit the North Springfield Art & Historical Society.  


Middletown Springs: The Case of the Disappearing (and Reappearing) Springs

In July 1811, the thriving community of Middletown was hit by a huge flood that swept away all but one of its many mills – and with it, the economic fortunes of the town and much of its population. The town’s mineral springs, which Native Americans reportedly showed to its first settlers, were also buried in the flood.  Over 50 years later, the springs reappeared, discovered by local factory owner A. W. Gray on his land. Gray (who invented a horsepower treadmill) started bottling and selling the therapeutic waters – giving the town a new industry and its new name: Middletown Springs. Visit theMiddletown Springs Historical Society page for more about the ebbs and flows of the town’s fortunes.


Rochester:  One Room, Many Communities

If you were a school-age child in 19th-century Rochester, you probably would have found yourself sharing a classroom with students half (and twice) your age. One-room schoolhouses many still scattered throughout the community – were the region’s solution to far-flung students and a lack of transportation. By 1850, in total there were 16 districts within Rochester that had their own one-room schoolhouses, many still standing. For more information, visit the Rochester Historical Society’s website.


Woodstock: The Bells Still Ring

As you are hiking Mt. Tom, walking into a shop, or crossing the Middle Covered Bridge you can still hear the sound of  six church bells crafted by the American Revolution hero (and silversmith)  Paul Revere. Revere is best known for his “midnight ride” that helped announce the invasion of British troops, but he was also a skilled silversmith. After his foundry cast a bell to replace a cracked one in Boston’s Old North Church (where lanterns famously gave Revere the signal of the  troops’ arrival by sea), he went on to cast 398 more bells. Visitors to Woodstock can take a self-guided walking tour to see and hear the historic bells. For more information visit the Woodstock webpage, and the Woodstock History Center.

Plymouth:  Where “Silent Cal” Made History

At 2:43 a.m. on August 3, 1923 – only hours after President Warren G. Harding had died – Calvin Coolidge took the oath of office in the sitting room of his modest clapboard house, and became the 30th president of the United States. Today, part of the Calvin Coolidge State Historic Site, the home, and the historic “Oath of Office Room,” look just as they did that inauguration night. Coolidge’s taciturn nature was legendary – when told that he was dead, Dorothy Parker famously remarked, “how can you tell?” The Calvin Coolidge Historical District – which includes his home, a general store, post office and barns –  provide a detailed glimpse into history. For more information about Plymouth’s past (and present), visit thePlymouth Historical Society Facebook page.


Richmond: Haunting Legends of the Old Round Church

Under the architectural guidance of William Rhodes, the Old Round Church took shape more than 200 years ago. Its polygonal shape with 16 sides claims to keep the devil from hiding in the corner. Some say each side of the church is for each of the workers who built it, while many simply believe in its original religious purpose. Regardless, the sturdy craftsmanship on the doors and two feet wide floorboards are strong enough to house the legends it still carries today.


Williston: Home of the First Storage Freezer

In the late 1800s, Williston reigned as an agricultural center from its position near the Vermont Central Railroad. In 1876, Sam Wright introduced the first storage freezer in the United States, selling the first one for $45,000 dollars. The freezer revolutionized the agricultural industry as food could stay fresh over a longer period. Although this first freezer burned in a fire before the turn of the decade, the impacts were extensive. Being close to the railway helped farmers utilize this new method and allowed for food to be shipped across the US. For more information about the invention, view the Agricultural History of Williston and for more views of Williston’s past, visit the Williston Historical Society.


Jericho: From Mill to Museum

The Old Red Mill in Jericho contains more than 200 years of memories. The mill is one of two remaining from the original eight along Brown’s river, turning out products such as corn and flour. In its glory days, the mill was everything from a buzzing grain mill to a rifle range. It was made a National Historical Site in 1972 and today it is home to the Historical Society Museum, Snowflake Bentley Exhibit and Craft Shop. Plan a visit and learn more about the mill’s history here.


Hubbardton: Vermont’s Role in the Revolutionary War

The sun had yet to rise on July 7, 1777, when General John Burgoyne's army stormed Vermont, coming face to face with Americans in the battle that ultimately altered the Revolutionary War. Throughout the early morning hours, New Englanders showed their grit and strength in this epic battle against Burgoyne, the only battle to occur completely on Vermont’s soil. Although the Redcoats prevailed, their losses marked a turning point in the war, leading to the eventual American victory. To learn more about the Hubbardton Battlefield visit the Hubbardton Historical Society.


Strafford:  Pink Home -- Gothic Style

Driving on the winding roads through Strafford, Vermont, past neat white farm houses and sprawling green pastures, the last thing you’d expect to come across is a bubblegum-pink, gothic revival home boasting intricate architecture and an immaculate 3-acre landscape. This unexpected treasure is home to one of Vermont’s most distinguished men, Vermont Senator Justin Morrill (1810-1898). Morrill, who served in both chambers of Congress for nearly 44 years, is best known for the Morrill-Land Grant Colleges Act. He designed this home himself, and it served as a summer sanctuary for the Morrill family.  To come see what a summer in Strafford was like, visit the Morrill Homestead website, or the Strafford Historical Society’s website.

Castleton: The Oldest Brick Building in Vermont

An unassuming small building at the corner of Main Street and Cemetery street is possibly the oldest brick structure in Vermont. The Old Cobbler Shop, now a museum, stands on land that once belonged to a tavern owner Zadock Remington.  Eventually it fell into the lap of Enos Merrill, who turned the building into a tannery and a cobbler's shop in 1794, making it what we know today. The Castleton Historical Society acquired the structure in 1947 and soon after in 1954 turned it into their first museum. To learn more, visit the town of Castleton'swebpage.   


Ferrisburgh:  A Stop on the Underground Railroad

Private homes served as stopping points where runaway slaves could seek shelter and help along the so-called Underground Railroad as they traveled from the south towards Canada.Rokeby Farm is one of the official historical homes in Vermont recognized for its role in Underground Railroad. The Robinson family, who were Quakers and abolitionists, owned and operated a sheep farm and helped many former slaves over the years.  The museum currently tells the story of Simon and Jesse, two slaves that made it to Rokeby in 1830. For more information about the Rokeby Museum and their exhibits, visit their website or the Ferrisburgh Historical Society’s website.


Essex: Tower Restoration At Fort Ethan Allen

Built in 1893 by Kansas contracting firm, Ziegler & Dalton, the Tower at Fort Ethan Allen, a former military installation, still turns heads today. The 80-foot tall water tower – with walls as much as 4 feet thick in some places – was “was the first of 100 structures to rise at the fort,” according toSeven Days. In its heyday, its 50,000-gallon water tank kept some 8500 soldiers and 1800 horses hydrated. Long in disuse since the Army post was deactivated in 1944, its stairs and roof are now weakening, and theEssex Community Historical Society wants to restore the monument, with a  ‘Restore the Tower Campaign’ that aims to raise $325,000. For more information, view thedonation form.


Colchester: Historical Log Schoolhouse Now A Museum

In August 2000, the MacDonald family stumbled upon an 1815 log schoolhousethat stands as the oldest known structure in Mallets Bay. With grants, the schoolhouse was restored using historic photographs. The schoolhouse now stands at Airport Park, 4 miles from its original location and serves as an information center and museum for the public. For more about the schoolhouse and a video on the restoration process, visit theColchester Historical Society.


Williamstown: A 19th-century Elon Musk?

The electric motor built by Thomas Davenport might not look like it belongs in a Tesla – but in 1834, when the Williamstown-born blacksmith built and exhibited it, it was a revolution.  The device, which used two powerful magnets to make a wheel rotate continuously, was the first practical electric motor.  Davenport used his invention to operate a small car, perhaps the world’s first electric car. To learn more about the history of Davenport’s hometown, visit theWilliamstown Historical Society website – and learn more about Davenport’s path to his invention here.


Center for Research on Vermont hosts annual meeting May 9

The Center for Research on Vermont hosts an annual meeting and awards dinner every spring. This spring Paul Gillies has been named the Center's Lifetime Achievement Award winner for his extensive writing and research related to Vermont's judicial history. For more about Paul and the Center and to join fellow Vermont researchers, see this web page and register here.   (Pictured 2018 LA winner Gio Peebles and CRVT chair Margaret Tamulonis). 

This edition of the Vermont Research News was prepared by students in a writing class led by Joyce Hendley. A special thanks to students Alex Teglash, Hannah Albert, Elena Tall, Marjorie Dehm, Kayla Christopher and Charlie Erdmann.

Source: UVM. Center for Research on Vermont. 5.2.2019. The Vermont Research News is a bi-monthly curated collection of Vermont research -- focused on research in the Vermont "laboratory" -- research that provides original knowledge to the world and research that adds to understanding of the state's social, economic, cultural and physical environment.