Thursday, August 8, 2013

Scribbler II: Summer 2013

The Future of the Cavendish Historical Society

Since its founding, the Cavendish Historical Society (CHS) strives to make its information and resources as valuable, user friendly and responsive as possible. In addition to our quarterly newsletter, we have a strong on-line presence. Many people, including those who once lived in town, are actively involved in providing information and enjoying learning about Cavendish history in this manner. Thanks to the efforts of Linda Welch, CHS genealogist, many have their questions about Cavendish ancestors answered. With the help of volunteers we offer a “Hands on History” program, which takes place year round in the community, providing workshops, gravestone cleaning, and a variety of experiences for students of all ages.  The Museum continues to change its exhibits and this past spring through the incredible work of volunteers, features a special exhibit on Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and a newly designed reading/research area, complete with videos that visitors can watch. Thanks to Dan Churchill, we have a year round, well-designed space for doing archival work.

One of our newest projects is the preservation of the Cavendish Universalist “Stone” Church, which has been a concern for many in the community. While it will be the future home of the permanent Solzhenitsyn exhibit, it is also available for small venue activities, such as poetry readings, concerts, lectures, weddings, memorials and other activities from May through early October.

If CHS is to continue we need your help.

Fundraising is a challenge for all organizations. Because of the changes in our community, some of the activities, which were once beneficial for CHS, no longer yield the same results. For example, with the rising number of farmers markets in the area-offering crafters, plants sales as well as food- events like Summer Fest are no longer all that special. Consequently, attendance has increasingly shrunk. In fact, sales were off by $800 this year.

If you think CHS provides a valuable service, please help by:
• Making a donation
• Becoming a board member to help steer the future of CHS
• Organizing a fundraiser
• Volunteering to help with one of our many programs

Use the form at the end of the newsletter or contact CHS by calling 802-226-7807 or e-mailing

The most frequent requests for information the Cavendish Historical Society receives fall into three categories-genealogy, Phineas Gage and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. As it has been since 1976, there are still “no directions to Solzhenitsyn” given, but there is a special summer exhibit.

Since requests for information are received weekly, we started wondering what our early settlers, Phineas Gage and Solzhenitsyn might have in common. Each of their stories are unique, with the common thread being that they all survived considerable hardship and yet went on to thrive. A program on August 25 will explore the characteristics of thrives by reviewing the lives of Cavendish’s first families (Coffeen, Dutton and Proctor), Phineas Gage and Solzhenitsyn.

On Sept ember 13, 1848 Phineas Gage, a foreman, was working with his crew excavating rocks in preparing the bed for the Rutland and Burlington Railroad in Cavendish. An accidental explosion of a charge he had set blew his tamping iron through his head. It entered under the left cheekbone and exited through the top of the head. Thus began the first documented case of traumatic brain injury, which laid the foundation for understanding that different parts of the brain serve different functions. To mark the 165th anniversary of the accident, CHS will hold its annual Gage Walk on September 15. There will be a discussion about Gage before the walk. 

In summary, the next two events will take place at the CHS Museum, Route 131, Main Street in Cavendish, at 2 pm. For more information call 802-226-7807 or e-mail

• Aug. 25 (Sunday): What the First Families (Coffeen, Dutton and Proctor), Phineas Gage and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn have in common-the Ability to Thrive.

• September 15 (Sunday): 165th Anniversary Gage Walk/Talk program.

On July 27, CHS, in conjunction with Green Mountain Power, hosted a tour of the Hydro plant and dam on the Black River as well as the remains of the Fitton Mill site. Just before the Cavendish Gorge and Hydro Dam, was located one of the most productive mills in Vermont. Called Spring Mill, but better known as Fitton’s Mill, it started operation in 1867. The Mill complex included tenement houses as well as a boarding house.  A short-lived operation, the mill burned in 1875. When two other Fitton buildings burned later, it was suspected that the mill owner had committed arson to collect the insurance.  Even before the burning of the various mill buildings, tragedy was linked to this property as evidenced by the article from the 1868 Bellows Falls Times:

June 11, 1868, From The Daily Index, Dr. J. M. Pleasants, City Editor.

The Bellows Falls Times, of Friday, contains the 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.

 Recently the Museum received a number of copies of “The Youth’s Companion,” dated from 1898 to 1900. Known as “The Companion-For all the Family, it was an American children’s magazine, which was published from 1827-1929 in Boston, Ma. Early issues of the Companion were centered around religion, since its first publishers created it to encourage “virtue and piety, and ... warn against the ways of transgression.” By the 1890’s its content was more for families and not just children.

The September 27, 1900 edition contained adds from companies such as Old Grist Mill Wheat Coffee, Estey Organs (made in Brattleboro), sewing machines, and White Cottolene-some form of lard, but with the assurance that it contained “no hog fat in food.” A Brownie Camera sold for $1 and there was a targeted ad to boys-“Boys, don’t you want a gun?” For $9.50 you can purchase a gun from Iver Johnson Arms and Cycle Works. Iver Johnson was a U.S. firearms, bicycle and motorcycle manufacturer from 1871 to 1993.

One advertisement paid homage to fall by saying “The social season will soon be here. You will want to then rid yourself of the tan and freckles obtained on your summer outing. Royal Pearl is the best known preparation for the purpose.” Royal Pearl was available in quantities that sold for .50¢ to $1. Interestingly, pearl powder is still sold, offering various anti aging and beauty benefits.

Many of the advertisements were for home goods. Glenwood Home Grand proudly announced an asbestos-lined oven with two oven shelves. There was a special competition for children. “Bright Boys and Girls. We want young people to learn why Pillsbury’s Best Flour is the best flour and how it makes the best bread. $300 in cash prizes will be distributed among boys and girls who write the best article on flour and bread.”

John Philip Sousa had an article “The Experience of a Bandmaster,” which can be read today on-line at

The Wanted section was very interesting. One read, “Wanted Lady, girl or boy in every town to see food products used in every home.” R.I. Sherman MFG Co., 173 Slate St. Boston. 

 If you haven’t had a chance to check out the Cavendish VT Facebook page, do so, as we have been featuring many pictures of Cavendish from the earliest photos in the CHS archives to more recent events. You do not have to be a Facebook member to read the website. Commenting does require that you be a Facebook member. If you would to add a picture to the site, you can e-mail it in jpeg format to

 Turning to the digital age for help in understanding more about Phineas Gage’s life, as well as to provide accurate information, CHS has started a Phineas Gage Facebook page. 

 Since the Universalist or Stone Church project is being turned over to the town, and ultimately to CHS, a variety of activities are underway. The report from the Preservation Trust of Vermont supported what we’ve heard all along-the building is in incredible shape and we can hold events in it as we wish. That said, there are a variety of repairs, totaling about $34,000, that are needed to maintain it. Much of the building's interior is original to the time that it was built in 1844 and so all renovations and repairs need to be done by preservation experts.

The first order of business was to remove the pigeons from the attic, along with their residue. Thanks to Pieter van Schaik and his crew from Beacon Pest Control, this task has been achieved, and the attic is sealed off to future exposure. We are fortunate that Pieter was able to do this for a quarter of the price estimated in the report. Thank you Pieter.

Members of the town wide Stone Church committee (Margo Caulfield, Dan Churchill, Eric Gilberson (Preservation Trust), Mike Pember, Rolf van Schaik, and Rich Svec) have gone through the report and have begun to develop a Facilities Management Plan. Specs have been drawn up for repair work for the Belfry and cupola, and price estimates will be sought in the up coming weeks. 

The building can be used for small gatherings, weddings, memorials etc. For use of the building, please contact CHS -802-226-7807 or

Tours have been offered several times this summer, and additional ones can be arranged by calling 802-226-7807 or e-mailing

We need your creative ideas for helping to raise funds for the building's restoration. Since the Church is so beautiful at night, and it's been decades since anyone has seen it like this, we are looking to do some type of event in August or early September. If you have any ideas please let us know.

Cavendish Historical Society Board
Dan Churchill
Jen Harper
Gloria Leven
Bruce McEnaney
Mike Pember
Gail Woods

 A special note of thanks to Pieter van Schaik for the incredible job he has done and continues to do for CHS. Not only did he once again provide the most amazing variety of plants for the annual plant sale-it’s not just hosta anymore,-but he led his employees of Beacon Pest Control in doing an incredible job in pigeon removal at the Cavendish Stone Church. Thank you Pieter for your continual support of CHS and your dedication to the town of Cavendish.
 If you have not joined the Cavendish Historical Society, need to renew your membership, and/or would like to be a volunteer, please complete the form below and sending a check, payable to CHS, to CHS, PO Box 472, Cavendish, VT 05142. All contributions are tax deductible.

Name: _______________________________________

Address: _______________________________________________

Phone Number: _____________________    E-Mail: ____________________________
Membership Level
__ Individual Member $10        ___ Senior Member 65+ $5  ___ Sustaining Member $500
__ Household Member $15      ___ Contributing Member $250                                

___ I would be interested in serving, as a volunteer .I would be interested in serving on the following committee(s):
__ Program Planning     __ Fundraising            __ Building (Museum)
__Archives                       _ Budget       ­­–– Cemetery  __ Hands on History

Donations are always welcome and can be designated as follows:
__ For general purposes            __ Educational Programs         __Publications