Monday, June 29, 2009

6/29/09 Newspaper Articles about James Fitton

The following newspaper articles relate to James Fitton, the owner of the Fitton Mill.

From the Vermont Tribune, Aug 9, 1880:

"Robert Fitton was taken to Woodstock jail about a week ago. He has
several more law suits on his hands, one for forgery, bail fixed at $2,000,
one for malicious prosecution, brought by Clarence Whelden, one for theft
brought by G.S. Hill charging him with taken over $15,000 of Hill's money"

From the Vermont Journal, Sept. 4, 1880:

"A short time ago Robert Fitton of Cavendish brought suit in the name of
Whittemore, Poit and Company against his father, James Fitton, who returned
from New York, claiming $4000 an old matter of several years standing.
Testimony was taken before Judge Pingry at Walker's Hotel in Cavendish last

According to the article in the paper, "In giving his evidence in the
case, James Fitton testified that Robert Fitton told him, after the burning
of his (Robert's) factory in 1875 that he (Robert) set the building on fire
himself, spreading oil over the floors and elsewhere so it would burn well,
and that the machinery for putting out fires go out of order just in time so
no one could prevent the mill from burning, or words of that import.
James Fitton also swears in the same deposition that the books showing
how Robert's affair stood previous to his going bankruptcy the first time
were burned by Robert himself. This was before the pretended loss of $14,000
in Montreal, which our readers remember. The Fitton's, father and son settled.
The insurance company that sustained the losses felt he Vermont Tribune,
May 15, 1891:

"For several weeks past the erratic and versatile Robert Fitton has been
in the retirement and quiet of the Woodstock jail, been preparing his libel
case vs the Tribune. Having brought matters to that satisfactory pitch in
which his bodily presence was demanded to bring matter to a focus, he longed
for 'Green Fields and Pastures New', The ordinary means of egress being
denied him, so on Friday sawed off the bars of the windows and took out a
section of the inner grating making an opening 9 by 17 inches, and he also
cut the outer grating, so that in 15 minutes more, it would have given him
ample time and opportunity to personally attend to our case. Sheriff Taylor
who for sometime been cognizant of his movements, but who did not want to
prematurely discourage him stepped in at the juncture and the perspiration
rolled from Valiant Robert in copious showers. Sheriff Taylor found a saw for
cutting iron in his cell in prime condition, but Robert, had an acute attack
of knowing nothing and denied all knowledge of the hole and the saw, but an
obdurate court refused to believe his story, and he was held in $1,500 bonds
for attempting to break jail and now languishes in a cell where such miracles
will be less likely to occur. The various chapter in this 'Jail Bird's' life
which appear from time to time in the Tribune makes mighty interesting
reading and add new testimony for the famous suit against the paper."

From the Vermont Tribune, June 18, 1891:

"State vs Robert Fitton, this case has excited a wide spread of
interest, and was attended by a large audience. The charge was perjury, at
the December term of Court of 1886. On trial the case of Fitton and wife vs
Clarence Whelden to recover damage for the careless burning of a Tin Shop in
Proctorsville. On that trial Mr. Fitton presented in evidence an affidavit
signed by Whelden referring to this burning in which he knew of no cause for
the fire "Except it was caused by my own carelessness". It was claimed that
the clause was written after the affidavit had been signed and sworn to by
Mr. Whelden, and this was shown by the ink being paler, the writing cramped
and not corresponding with the remainder of writing. The respondent did not
testify, there was a large evidence given as to his conduct since that trial
as indicating his guilt such as fleeing the country, changing his name,
disguising the affidavit from the custody of the Clerk in whose hands it had
been placed by order of the court and trying to suppress evidence. The jury
promptly returned a verdict of Guilty."

Robert Fitton was sentenced on June 17, 1891 to 10 years hard labor in
the State prison for perjury and two years in the same institution for an
attempt to break jail. The Governor granted him a release in 1897.

When he died in 1902, the Bennington Reformer said of him: "Robert
Fitton, at one time one of the leading and most influential citizens of
Windsor County and afterward descending to be perhaps Vermont's most famous
crook and swindler, died recently in New York."

Saturday, June 27, 2009

1930's Program at the Museum on July 12

1930's Revisited
The Cavendish HIstorical Society will be hosting a car show, exhibit and program on sustainable living tips from the 1930's on July 12. To get yourself in the mood, as if the current economic situation wasn't a reminder, check out which catalogues the news from that era. Very interesting reading.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

6/21/09 Fitton's Mill Tour/Mill Tragedy

Fitton Mill Tour
On June 20, CHS was a co-sponsor of a tour of the Fitton Mill. Charity Baker, consulting archaeologist, provided a map which helped to identify where the Mill once stood, as well the cellar holes of tenement houses, office and the boarding house. Where the hydro turbine once operated now sits a very old car, washed down from the flood of 1927.

Kristen Underwood, consulting geologist, had pictures and maps showing how the Black River jumped its banks to bypass the Cavendish Gorge during the great flood of November 1927, resulting in catastrophic damages in Cavendish village. Historic photographs depicted a 600-foot wide, quarter-mile long channel carved 150 feet deep to bedrock. Photographs of the Mill, as well as of the Cavendish flood, can be seen on-line at

Spring Mill, also called Fitton’s Mill, started operation in 1867. Located on the Black River near the Cavendish Gorge, it was the largest mill in the area, employing farmers and their families, along with immigrants from from England, Ireland and Norway. The Mill complex included tenement houses as well as a boarding house.

A short lived operation, the mill burned in 1875 and when two other Fitton buildings burned later, it was suspected that the mill owner, Robert Fitton, had committed arson to collect the insurance. According to the New York Times, Oct. 23, 1875, “The failure of Robert Fitton, woolen manufacturer, proprietor of the Spring Mills at Cavendish, Vt., is occasioning no little excitement in the wool trade of this city. His Boston indebtedness is quite large, the result mainly of purchases of wool in this market. The total liabilities are about $140,000.”

Besides the suspicion of arson, Robert Fitton faced other lawsuits and eventually convicted on more than one charge was imprisioned in Woodstock in 1880.

To see pictures of the Mill and scenes from the 1927 flood go to

Appalling Tragedy at Cavendish, VT.
June 11, 1868, From The Daily Index, Dr. J. M. Pleasants, City Editor.

The Bellows Falls Times, of Friday, contains tube following details of the Fearful death of two young women by drowning, at Cavendisb, Vt. on Monday evening last, the general particulars regarding which sad event we have already published.

Mrs. Albina Knight, wife of Horatio Knight, and Miss Ellen M. Gary, both Operatives in James' Fitton's woolen mill, proposed the exploit of crossing the mill pond in a boat, the water being high, and the current strong, from so large a flow over the dam. Being ready to start, they urged other friends to ride with them, who not only refused, but earnestly urged them not to make the attempt. They did not, however, share in the fears of their friends, and pushed off their boat, waving their handkerchiefs in salutation, and bidding "good bye" to those on shore.

Then followed one of the most painful and thrilling scenes which ever occurred in Vermont. They had got but a short distance when it was perceived that the current was carrying them down, but they did not appear to notice it. Nearer and nearer they approached the dam, till Miss Gary rose and jumped out of the boat. The strong current immediately carried her over. Mrs. Knight remained in the boat, and just before it made the fatal plunge seemed to faint and fall back as it went over, carrying her to a watery grave with her friend, or possibly she may have thrown herself into the bottom of the oath with possible hope that in that condition she might escape. Both were seen once several rods below the dam, the current carrying them very rapidly down into the rocky Gorge known as Cavendish Falls. The feeling of those who witnessed the scene, who were utterly powerless to render assistance, cannot be described.