Thursday, December 17, 2015

How Did Cavendish’s Settlers Celebrate Christmas?

The first settlers in Cavendish, including the “pioneer” families (squatters), along with the Coffeens, Duttons and Proctors, most likely didn’t celebrate Christmas.

Since the Bible provides no reference as to when Christ was born, early Christians used the winter solstice customs as a way to convert “pagans.“ Many Christmas customs date back to Saturnalia-the Roman festival of light leading to the winter solstice and Sol Invictus, the “Birthday of the Unconquerable Sun.”

Throughout history, humans have observed solstice and created spiritual and cultural traditions to celebrate the rebirth of sunlight after the darkest period of the year.

While the Catholic Church embraced Christmas, along with the Anglicans, Lutherans and Dutch Reformed, Puritans banned it. The Puritan argued that the selection of the date was an early Christian hijacking of a Roman festival, and to celebrate a December Christmas was to “defile oneself by paying homage to a pagan custom.”

For a while in 17th century New England, Christmas was illegal. Eighteenth century New Englanders viewed Christmas as the representation of “royal officialdom, external interference in local affairs, dissolute behavior, and an impediment to their holy mission.”

Once legal, Christmas celebrations were discouraged. It is unlikely that the early settlers in Cavendish would have openly celebrated Christmas since they were not of the faiths that did-Coffeen and Dutton were Universalists-nor was it “politically correct.”

It wasn’t until about 1840-1850 that celebrating Christmas became more widespread. Though, as late as 1870, classes were scheduled in Boston public schools on Christmas Day and children were punished if they chose to “stay home beneath the Christmas tree.” That same year, December 25, was declared a federal holiday in the US.

Brief timeline

1823 Clement C. Moore wrote “A Visit from St. Nicholas” (known today as “The Night Before Christmas”) for his children. He was an American Professor of Oriental and Greek Literature at the General Theological Seminary of the Protestant Episcopal Church. The poem becomes widely circulated and sets many of the ideas about Santa Claus.

1836 Alabama was the first state to legally recognize Christmas

Victorian Christmas
1839 Prince Albert, native of Germany married Victoria ushering in the Victorian age of Christmas customs, including the Christmas tree. 

1840s Irish workers on the railroads brought their families to settle in Cavendish and held services in their homes whenever a priest was available. They would have brought their Christmas traditions with them. It wouldn’t be until 1860 before they had a church-Holy Name of Mary.

1843 John Calcott Horsley illustrated the first Christmas card, which read “A Merry Christmas and a
First printed Christmas card.
Happy New Year.” Charles Dickens published “A Christmas Carol” in London.

1847 August Imgard, a German immigrant, used candy canes to decorate a Christmas tree in Wooster, Ohio

1870 Christmas becomes a Federal holiday.

1890 All states and US Territories acknowledge Christmas as a legal holiday.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Cavendish's Lime Kiln/Phinease Gage

Kilns once doted the Vermont landscape as these were used to make a white powder derived from limestone. For at least 7,000 years humans have used this process to hardened pottery or smelted ore, and most commonly, to create mortar for construction. This would have been used between the layers for Cavendish's stone houses and church

During the height of the lime kilns, forests and mountainsides were stripped of their trees to keep them operating. 
 This particularly kiln, though not that easy to see most of the year as it's covered in vines, has a historical interest because as it was used as a marker to identify for where Phineas Gage was injured. 

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. Miraculously he survived his injury and lived 12 more years, becoming the first well documented case of traumatic brain injury in medicine. 

In 1936, Walton H. Green relayed information given to him 30 years prior by Christopher Goodrich, the ox-cart driver who drove Gage to his boarding house. Goodrich was 82 at the time. Green said, “The accident took place at the second cut south of Cavendish …near where Roswell Downer built his lime kiln later.” The accident took place 0.75 miles south of Cavendish along the track of the Old Rutland and Burlington Rail Road (Cavendish Gulf Rd). There is a 21.7 marker on tracks, which can be seen from the road. If you look across the tracks, you will see the remains of a limekiln.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Town of Cavendish Fire Districts History

Murdock Mill Fire in Proctorsville
At the Nov. 16, 2015 Fire District # 2 (Cavendish) Informational Meeting, regarding the proposal to replace two engines with one new one, there was considerable discussion about the town's need for two fire districts. To better understand the present situation, the following historical information is being provided based on information from Barbara Kingsbury’s book “Chubb Hill Farm and Cavendish, Vermont” and Margo Caulfield’s digital Cavendish Update.

1833: Proctorsville Volunteer Fire Dept. (PVFD) formed-Fire District #1

1883: Cavendish Volunteer Fire Dept. (CVFD) formed-Fire District #2

1944: There was a fire at the town garage on Feb 10. This was in Cavendish Village behind the Town Hall, but the Vermont Tribune reported, “ The Proctorsville Fire Co was soon at the scene and lines of hose were also strung from Gay Bros. Mill...” Cavendish village was Fire District #2 but it did not then have much equipment nor a well-organized volunteer force. Gay Brothers Mill used their own equipment to help fight fires near the mill. For several years, Fire District #1 had had better equipment and a more structured volunteer group under the direction of its fire chief, Nelson Holland. By the early 1930’s, Proctorsville had a Women’s Auxiliary, which helped raise money for a truck and garage.

Late 1940s: Milton “Mike" Dickerman, fire chief for District #2 during this time remembers Cavendish village still didn’t have much equipment. One of his main responsibilities was to check that fire extinguishers were in working order. For years, there ha been ladders and buckets stored at three or four strategic locations in or near Cavendish village. Dickerman did not think they were used much in this period except when the barn next to the Roger and Walter Buck house caught fire on Oct. 28, 1949. The barn and house were adjacent to the Universalist Church on Main Street. One of the storage sites for fire-fighting equipment was on the bank above the church. Men from the village formed a “bucket-brigade” but the Vermont Tribune credits the Proctorsville Fire Department and help from Gay Brothers Mill for putting out the fire.

1957: Art Briggs became the fire chief of District # 2 and served in that capacity for the next 30 years. He had received training and experience fighting fires in the Army Air Force during WWII. Under his direction, the volunteer firemen became a well organized group with regular drills, and District #2 Fire Department was legally incorporated. An active Auxiliary was formed. CVFD consisted of a portable pump, a trailer, and one thousand feet of hose. An old Army truck (with four wheel drive) was purchased for $500 and another $500 was spent to outfit it.

This was the year of the Hawks Mountain fire. On May 7, the fire started on the Cavendish side of the mountain and spread to Perkinsville. The National Guard, fire departments and volunteers were all called to help. It took until May 9 before the fire was finally under control. The Town Report lists $16,699.54 as the cost for fighting this fire. 
Cavendish Fire Feb. 2014

2005: The following is from the Cavendish Update:
April 12 The Selectmen’s Meeting on Monday, April 11, had the following agenda item, “Follow up to discussion at the Annual Town Meeting wherein the status of the two Cavendish Fire Districts was discussed by the voters in attendance and the voters urged action. A question for discussion is whether legislative body (Select Board) action is required or is appropriate and desired at this time. Discussion to include the status of the two districts at present. Copies of relevant state statue sections will be available as reference.”

Cavendish currently has two fire districts, one in Cavendish (which operates with nine volunteers) and the other in Proctorsville (which operates with 24 volunteers).  Considerable discussion took place regarding the lack of coverage in Cavendish. Currently, dispatch to Cavendish goes through the “red phone,” which is located in various volunteer’s homes and the town office. Because no one source of phone coverage is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, there have been difficulties alerting Cavendish volunteers. Further, several of the holders of the red phone are now volunteers for Proctorsville. In short, there is a real problem with dispatching in Cavendish, which could have dire consequences.

Proctorsville operates out of Ludlow’s dispatch.  In the event that Proctorsville does not immediately respond to a call, Ludlow provides backup.

Proctorsville Fire January 2014
Copies of the Secretary of State’s Book of Opinions on Fire Districts and Fire Departments was made available. After considerable discussion, it was agreed that the select board is ultimately responsible for providing fire protection. To that end, the first order was to figure out an immediate solution to the “red phone” issue in Cavendish. The select board voted the following:
• The current fire line in Cavendish, 7823, should be rolled over to 911 as soon as possible (this needs to be cleared with state 911, and worked out with TDS). This means that if someone would dial the old Cavendish Fire number, their call would automatically go to a 911 dispatcher.  As 911 is the preferred method for contacting fire and rescue, and to reduce confusion if there are multiple callers for one incident, it was agreed that 911 be used, versus a roll over to Ludlow dispatch.
• Ludlow will be asked to provide dispatch for Cavendish. There will be a cost associated with this service, but it was felt to be more than justified
• Rich will be responsible for contacting the Secretary of State for confirmation that the select board can operate in this manner. Depending on confirmation, he will then contact TDS, Ludlow PVFD, and state 911 to arrange for Cavendish dispatch through Ludlow.

With a unanimous “straw vote” at town meeting regarding the combining of Fire Districts into one district, the select board voted to do the following:
• Confirm legality of strategy with Secretary of State
• Convene a planning meeting with Cavendish and Proctorsville Fire Departments (Prudential Boards and fire fighters) and the selectmen. Rolph Van Sheik will be asked to moderate the meeting. A date was set for April 18 (Monday), 6:30 pm at the Cavendish Town Elementary School in Proctorsville.  Note: This meeting may change due to availability of various parties. For meeting confirmation, contact the Town Office 226-7292.
• Hold a town informational meeting, where the proposed plan for a single fire district is presented and discussed.
• A town vote would follow to determine if voters want to continue with two fire districts or convert to one.

May 3: In response to the ongoing situation with fire service in Cavendish, the following petition is available for signature at Singletons, Crows Corner Bakery and Bennets Store:

“The undersigned voters of the Town of Cavendish hereby petition the Cavendish Board of Selectmen to hold a special town meeting for the purpose of having the legal voters of the town consider, by Australian Ballot, merging Cavendish Fire District # 1 and Cavendish Fire District #2 into one consolidated fire district for the town. This special Town Meeting will include a general session wherein the general public as well as Town and Fire District officials and Firemen may comment and ask questions.” By May 7, 70 signatures had been obtained.

May 23: The select board held a special meeting this evening to “continue discussion on the petition received on Monday May 9 with input from Town Counsel. A course of action on this petition is anticipated to be established and initiated. The subject petition asks for a Special Town Meeting vote on a merger of the two Cavendish Fire Districts.” The results of this meeting were as follows:
• Town Counsel felt that this was not a select board issue but rather one for the Fire Districts. As such, the select board rejected the petition.
• After discussion by select board and audience participants, it was made clear that:
a)     There is fire protection for the town of Cavendish, as Fire District 1 (Proctorsville) does respond to Cavendish fires. The problems with notification of fire fighters in Cavendish has been resolved.
b)    The issue of fire districts is not about the fire fighters, but rather the Prudential Boards that over see the fire districts.
c)     Fire District 1 (Proctorsville) feels they are operating quite well, but are being dragged into things because of problems with Fire District 2 (Cavendish).  There have been a number of fire fighters from Cavendish that have transferred to Proctorsville.
d)    It was noted, by a lister, who also serves on the Fire District 1 Prudential Committee, that the town property, as far as monetary value, is now split 2/3 non residents and 1/3 residents. What impact this will have on fire service remains to be seen.

• If change is to occur it has to happen at the Fire District level, particularly Fire District 2 (Cavendish). This can be done by petition, which would require 20 signatures of town voters that reside within Fire District 2.

• It is strongly recommended that residents attend fire district meetings on a monthly basis and participate in the annual meeting in February.

September 12: A request was recently made by the wife of a Cavendish volunteer fire fighter to inform Cavendish Update subscribers that Fire District 2 has 12 volunteers.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Cavendish Witch

This story has a twofold inspiration 1) An 1871 Cavendish map, which identified the area in back of the Cavendish Village Cemetery as the “witch’s bowl;” and 2) The early “pioneers” of Cavendish who “squatted” on land that was unoccupied. The story unfolds in the early 1800s and uses the names of people who were actually “warned out” of Cavendish.

Additional information appears at that end of the story.

The Cavendish Witch

 “You have to go now!” shouted her mother.

Sukey didn’t want to go. However, she knew better than to say anything. When her mother had the “thunder” across her face, it was best to do as told.

As she wrapped her coat around her, Sukey shivered. Not because she was cold, though it was a freezing night for October, but rather from fear. All she could think of was that the witch would boil her alive, eat her or at the very least, hold her captive.

The kids told lots of stories about the “witch” who rode her horse through town, always with a hood covering her head and face. Just that day they were talking in school about how the witch had come to the Greens house and within just a few hours of her arrival old Mr. Green died. He’d been buried that morning in the Cavendish Village Cemetery, which was near the witch’s cabin. The kids said she lived close to the cemetery so she could feed off the dead. At lunch, her classmates were chanting, “If you go to the witch’s bowl she’ll skin you alive and eat you whole.”

She knew something was wrong with Papa. He had cut his leg while chopping wood and now he had the fever on him. That was a few days ago and Papa couldn’t get out of bed saying his leg pained him so.

Pushing her out the door, without a chance to put on her mittens, her mother told her to run as fast as she could. “Tell Betty to come right quick.”

Since Ma was standing at the door watching, Sukey started off by running, but as soon as she was out of sight, she slowed to a walk. She didn’t want something to happen to her Papa. She had several friends whose fathers had died, and so she understood how quickly a cut could lead to death. “But why go to the witch for help?” Sukey wondered.

She could save time and cut through the Cemetery, but it was so dark and she was fearful of old Mr. Green’s ghost. Instead, she walked the long way around. As she approached the hill to the “witch’s bowl” she found herself wrapping her scarf tighter and tighter around her neck as if it might offer protection.

Witch's Bowl area
Abutting the back wall of the Cemetery was a clearing where the witch lived. Behind her cabin was a gigantic boulder that looked like a cauldron, hence the reason the area was called the “witch’s bowl.” It always seemed that there was a fire going and smoke hung about the place regardless of the season. Even in the summer, if they came up that way to pick black berries, the sight of the “witch’s bowl,” let alone her cabin, sent a chill up Sukey’s spine. 

As she approached the clearing, her breath hung in the air, while the full moon cast a shadow from the trees. Sukey hesitated. Her legs couldn’t move and she felt frozen to the ground.

The sudden bark of a dog caused movement in the house. “That’ll do Basil,” called out the witch as she opened the cabin door. “Whose there?”

Sukey couldn’t say anything. The witch’s eyes quickly adjusted to the darkness, called out again, “Whose there?” “Is that you Sukey?”

“Oh no,” Sukey thought, “She knows my name!”  But still she couldn’t turn and run.

It seemed as if she flew, but the next thing Sukey was aware of she was sitting next to a fire and the witch was rubbing her hands. “Child, what are you doing out on a night like this? You could catch your death.”

Looking around the room, Sukey was amazed not to see skulls, bones, spiders or anything else she assumed witches would have. Instead, there were a lot jars and various plants were hung from the rafters. The most delightful smell, a combination of something cooking and fresh herbs, hung in the air. Maybe it was the bubbling pot on the fireplace hearth that was responsible for the wonderful aroma. In spite of her fears, Sukey found it a very pleasant place to be.

“I was just about to have some soup,” said the witch, as she ladled a bowl full for Sukey. “Eat this so you’ll warm up.”

Sukey was afraid not to do what she was told, so she quickly started eating. She had never tasted such delicious soup. It was filled with potatoes, vegetables and best of all meat. There wasn’t much of this at Sukey’s house since her Dad had been hurt and was unable to hunt or work.

Warm and full, Sukey started to realize that the witch wasn’t going to harm her. In fact, for the first time she actually looked at the witch and realized that while she was older than Ma, she was certainly not the hag the kids described at school.

“Now tell me, why are you out on a night like this?”
“It’s Papa. He cut his leg and now he’s got the fever. Ma said I needed to come get you.”
“Ah,” said the witch. “Let me get my things together, while you finish your soup.”

Sukey continued to eat, watching the witch move about the room putting a variety of things into her bag, including what looked like moldy bread.

“We can both ride Charlie and we’ll be at your house in no time.”

As they got on the horse, Sukey found herself being wrapped in the cape that the witch often wore. Not only was it warm, it covered her face, protecting her from the wind.  She barely realized they were trotting through the village cemetery and right up to the front door of her cabin.

“Oh Betty, I’m so glad you are here,” said Sukey’s mother. “Walton’s mighty sick with fever.”

Without saying a word, Betty quickly went to work. Sukey found herself standing nearby so she could watch.

First she washed her hands. Then she exposed Papa’s leg. It was red and nasty looking. Carefully wiping it clean, she asked Sukey to bring her bag. Next she took out the moldy bread and cut a slice from the outside of the loaf. This was then mixed into a paste with water and applied to the wound with a bandage. Washing her hands again, Betty asked Sukey to get out a packet from her satchel. She then explained to Sukey and Ma to mix the willow bark powder with some tea and give it to him several times a day. “It will help with the fever and pain,” she said.

The look on Ma’s face was now one of relief. “Betty, have a cup of tea and sit a spell.” Pulling up to the fireplace, the two women began a conversation, not only about neighbors but how the family was managing with Papa being ill.

“I heard you were “warned out” by the constable,” said Betty.
“We were because we couldn’t pay the tax bill with Walton being laid up and all. However, with your care, he should be back working in no time and then we can catch up. Heard they served you with the same notice.”
“Yes, they did,” replied Betty. “However, they weren’t aware of the arrangement the previous select board had made with me.”
“Glad you were able to straighten things out. While we can’t always pay you what you deserve, the least we can do is give you a free place to live. We wouldn’t be able to get along without you.”
Smiling Betty said, “I like it here. There are other towns that have asked me to come, but here I have access to wonderful herbs and plants, the river and I love living among the trees.”

Sukey couldn’t contain herself anymore, “But you aren’t a witch, are you?”

Betty laughed. “No child, I am no witch, but many people refer to women who are healers and mid wives as such. However, we’re also called ‘wise women.’ My mother was a midwife and her mother a healer. Many of my treatments have been used for hundreds of years.”

The next morning, Papa was feeling much better and it wasn’t long before he was able to return to work. Betty stopped by several times to check on the leg and each time Sukey would stand by her side and help. On her last visit, Betty said, “Would you like to learn more about what healers do?”

When summer came, and the kids came up to pick the blackberries that grew so plentiful by the “witch’s bowl,” they were surprised to see Sukey stirring the pots and creating the “brews” that were used for healing. Even though she was only 10, Sukey had found what she wanted to do for the rest of her life.

Squatters/Pioneer Families: Without deeds or legal claim to the land, these people made a stake in areas that were unoccupied. They would stay for a while and then move when the authorities pressed legal action against them or the area became too populated.

Warning Out: The selectman usually met once or twice a month and decided whether new squatters would be allowed to stay for a while. Did they have relatives in town? What church did they belong to?  Could they support themselves? The intent of a “warning out” was to let them know that “we the permanent residents and taxpayers of the town want you to know that we are concerned about ‘strangers’ in our town and if you cannot support yourselves and your family, we will not be liable for your support.” A newly forming town like Cavendish had little financial resources to take care of extra poor.

The town constable would issue warnings. Many of those who were “warned out” became prosperous and active in the town, while those with limited means moved on.

The names used in the story were taken from Cavendish Warning Out records for Dec. 20, 1802. Sukey was the child of Rufus and Sukey Walton. Most of those warned out were families or married couples. There were a few single men, and occasionally there were single women. Along with the Waltons, Betty Balcom, a single woman, was among eight families “warned out” that month.

Witches/Healers/Midwives: Through out history, women have been healers. With treatments, potions and lotions handed down from one woman to another, their cures and treatments were based on what they observed as having worked, so not surprisingly a number of their treatments were effective. By Medieval times, these women knew that blue mold on bread treated infections (the active ingredient is penicillin).  The main chemical of Willow bark, which would be given as a tea, is salicylic acid or aspirin.  Midwives washed their hands before attending a woman in labor. It took until 1885 for physicians to understand the importance of this practice.

During the Medieval era, the newly emerging male dominated medical community viewed women healers and midwives as “witches”, and many were burned at the stake for “curing.” However, in rural New England of the 18th and 19th centuries, these women were highly respected and were even given land in exchange for moving to a community.

Cavendish’s first physician, Asaph Fletcher, arrived in 1787 and lived near Proctorsville.  A member of the First Constitutional Convention of VT, he held many state offices including terms in the legislature and Senate. He was also a Windsor County Court judge and was one of the electors of James Monroe. Thought president of the Windsor County Medical Society, it’s unclear how much time he had for the practice of medicine. Many families, particularly those who were poor, such as the squatters, would have continued to use the healer/midwife, and all women had a midwife for births. Given that woman averaged six births, and infant/child mortality was high, the midwife, even in a small community like Cavendish, would have been kept very busy.