Thursday, February 26, 2015

Memoirs of Coming into Vermont (Cavendish) in the Depression

Philip Tiemann was born in New Jersey in 1900. He moved to Brook Road in Cavendish, VT from Chatham, New Jersey with his wife Isabel (Carr), and three children Wyeth, Ann and Joyce in 1933. Naming the property Windy Hill, Tiemann wrote of the family’s early years in Cavendish in “Memoirs of Coming into Vermont (Cavendish) in the Depression.”

The memoir was written in 1966, after his wife had died (1958) and just a few years before his own death in 1969.

The serializing of Tiemann’s Memoirs on the Cavendish Historical Society blog is a joint effort of CHS and Cavendish Connects. After each chapter, you will find relevant Cavendish history and/or further clarification of some aspect of the memoir.

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.” was key to the Tiemann’s and other Cavendish residents way of life during the Depression. In recognition of the importance of these skill sets, Cavendish Connects now has a Pinterest Board Yankee Thrift.

If you have photographs of Windy Hill and the related area, please either mail copies to CHS, PO Box 472, Cavendish, VT 05142 or e-mail to so they can be included in this project.

Special thanks to Mary Anne Butler for providing a copy of the Memoirs and to Rich Svec for his assistance in converting files to make production easier.

After the Prelude is a brief history of Cavendish in the 1930s.

Looking back, 33 years does not seem so very long. Yet it includes half my lifetime, during which our rapidly changing American world has been buffeted by the Great Depression, the Second World War, Korea, and now Vietnam, and has lived with the threat of nuclear destruction. So far, it not only has survived, but has witnessed the greatest human and technological advances in history. And in that same short time, since settling in Vermont in 1933, we have seen our small rural community progress from kerosene lamps to electricity; from a farm economy limited by horse power and small size to fewer farms, automated and more productive; and from sometimes impassable “gravel” roads to largely hard surfaced and well maintained highways. And even on the farms life “ain’t what it used to be,” bathrooms and central heat are fairly common.

These improvements have brought many changes in the way of life, not always good. With the advent of modern conveniences to even the back roads farms, living has become easier at the expense of neighborliness and self-dependence.  On the other hand, release from the old-time drudgery, and the possibility for wider intercourse must have been experienced to be appreciated. I was made the more aware of this recently, when I began to read over a manuscript describing farm life, written just after World War Two. Circumstances of agricultural economics still existing then, have changed so materially as to be hardly credible.

Not the least of the contrasts is in the people who are seeking country homes. Prior to the war, Vermont was a bit too far except for those like ourselves who came during the Depression, hoping to find a new way of life. Today, with money no problem and transportation easy, outlanders buy farms for summer homes and winter skiing-Boston and Hartford are not too far for a weekend. This can be good, both for the newcomers and the farmers who want to pull out; also for the towns which depend upon property taxes as their major income. But in some areas the influx is so great as to cause concern. Almost every farm around us has changed hands since we came; the majority of them no longer are farmed save perhaps for mowing the hay (if anyone can be obtained to do it.) But the buildings then dwellings at least have been improved and are well maintained. These new neighbors generally are pleasant people and are welcome: the more so if they take an interest in the community and its problems. A many do not.

Despite the changes, our people’s pioneering instinct is still strong enough for them to have interest in the way things used to be done,- vicarious tho it may be. Hence it may serve a purpose to put down what it was like for a city family (which had gone broke) to settle on a farm with the purpose of maintaining life by the fruit of its own vine and fig tree. It could be done, once; now, I would not recommend it to even the most ardent lovers of the soil.

At the time of our migration to Vermont in 1933, we were a still a young married couple with a son, Wyeth, eight, and two daughter, Ann and Joyce, about six and five; also a dog and a cat. We had grown up in the New Jersey suburban area where we enjoyed the advantages of a good schools and a pleasant middle-class life. We owned our own home, from which I commuted by rail to an office job in New York. My wife Isabel was a registered nurse and occasionally worked at this profession, altho being a housewife with a young family kept her busy enough. Our social life was limited to occasional evenings with a few good friends-avoiding bridge when we could. (of course the girls also had coffee-klatches during the day.) We enjoyed long walks, and I like to work around the place. I also played not very good tennis, and was lieutenant in the Officers’ Reserve Corps, which took me to summer camp about every second or third year. We thought we were set for life.

1929 came the Depression, but of course we didn’t call it that then. We were too inexperienced to recognize the signs. Due to changes in the company I worked I had the poor judgment to give up a fairly secure spot and to go into commission work with which I was unfamiliar. Paying jobs of any kind had become simply unobtainable. With income practically at zero it seemed essential to make another change,- but what and how?

Surely it was fate that, at this crucial moment, a completely unexpected legacy gave our thoughts a new direction. Always in the back of our minds had been the expectation of day retiring to a farm far away from the city. If we now could find a place that suited, and was within our limited means, might it not be worth a try?

Of course there were doubts. “Just how would we go about it? What part of the country would be the best place to go?” Isabel questioned, “with so very little capital, and our lack of knowledge of farming, might we not be worse off then we are now, among our friends?”

I had persuaded myself into an optimistic frame of mind. “Let’s start with a list of places we think we might like to live in,” I suggested. “Then we can make some inquiries by mail, and look up those that sound favorable.”

So that was what we did. And not have a car, while waiting for replies we were driven about the nearer countryside by some of our friends (who were politely skeptical of the entire proposition and expected us soon to drop it.)-There was nothing close by that we could consider.

Answers to our inquiries to places further away were little more hopeful. Only a few agents in upper New England were encouraging. Their offerings seemed pretty far, but we didn’t give up. Many of our ancestors had been Yankees, which made it more interesting.

It is easy now to understand why people thought we were crazy. No money (well, hardly any); no definite destination; no cars; and we did not even know how to drive. But as next step we purchased a third hand Model A Ford for $75., then learned to drive in a bout a week. And having obtained a nice young neighbor to stay with the children, we took off for New Hampshire as the most likely hunting ground. We did pretty well at driving, too: our only mishap (after getting into the country) as meeting a truck head-on on one of the narrow, winding roads which then were the rule. We escaped being flattened by turning out sharp and jumping a tumbledown wall. “Wassermatter, ain’t you got no brakes?” the truck-driver growled at us......Actually we came of that with only some bent things underneath which never seemed to matter much. Be we took our driving more seriously.

In that depression year, anyone with an unprofitable farm was anxious to unload before the bank caught up with him. We were shown a wide range of properties, at prices which seemed very low compared to places nearer the city. It was risky business for a city couple because almost everyone we saw had attractions, which both agent and owner extolled while trying to pass over the more obvious deficiencies. Sloping green meadows, graceful trees and a lovely view were enticing but we were at least equally interested in the buildings, which generally had suffered from years of neglect. Having been homeowners we did know something about buildings and the pitfalls to avoid in buying a house. Also, we had begun a program of studying government pamphlets, which had given us a vague idea of such things as fertility requirements and possible production. So we listened to the sales pitch with reservations.

A great help was a list we had prepared of desired features, and of defects to be wary of. Punky timbers in the cellar, defective chimneys, and interior walls stained with creosote obviously were things to check carefully. Water supplied from nearby wells were suspect as subject to seepage from privy or barnyard. We demanded a fireplace but to our surprise few houses still had them: they had been covered up or taken out entirely with the coming of stoves; the substitute, a blackened pipe-hole into the chimney. And we wanted a brook, which was just as hard to find. –So at last, when we had spent all the time away that we felt we could, we returned home disappointed.

After the wide-open spaces of lovely countryside, the aspects of a small suburban community appeared cramped, and economic problems were pressing than ever. So, determined to make one more try I started out again alone. This time I went further afield, into the White Mountains, but nothing turned up that I wanted and could have. So, thinking I was out of luck, I turned back and crossed the Connecticut River into Vermont: the only place left on my list was a Trout agent in White River Junction. But here most unexpectedly the luck changed.

“Sorry I don’t have a thing,” he told me, -my spirits just then reaching a very low ebb. “But-just a minute,” he continued. “Let me phone an agent I know in Cavendish,-he may have just the place you want.” It turned out that the agent thought he did. While this seemed merely a reprieve, good only until I should see the place, it more-or-less on my way south so I was willing to at least take a look. And how glad I am that I did!

Windy Hill is located at 1715 Brook Road in Cavendish Vermont. Historically known as the Aaron Jr and Susan Parker Farm it is located in the Cavendish Center of Cavendish. You can lean more about the history of the house in the  “Heritage and Homes, Cavendish Vermont,” booklet published by the Cavendish Historical Society. Philip Tiemann  writes that the “farm’s golden age” extended from about the mid 1800’s to early 1900s, when two families lived there.

Over the years, the farm was reduced in property size. When the Tiemann’s purchased the farm it contained 91 acres and was subdivided in the late 20th century. Much of this property has returned to forest.

Cavendish in the 1930s
The Stock Market Crash in 1929 did not have an immediate impact on Cavendish. Few people had investments to lose, and for the Gay Brothers Woolen Mill, 1929 was the best year, financially, in the history of their business. It took several years before the depression was felt. Cash was scarce, but for many farmers, that had always been the case. Frugality was part of the Depression, but it wasn’t caused by it.

With a population of 1,418 people Cavendish was a farming community but also had a number of small businesses, many of which were able to weather the Depression. There were two woolen Mills, Gay Brothers in Cavendish village and Black Bear, which replaced Proctor Mill, in Proctorsville. In 1937, the latter mill, though profitable, closed, most likely due to  union strikes the year before. The building was sold to the village of  Proctorsville and never used for textiles again. It burned in the 1980s and it once stood on what is now the Proctorsville Green.

In 1933, a Civilian Conservation Corps camp was established in the Proctor-Piper Forest in Proctorsville. It was located on Bailey Hill above the Hillcrest Cemetery. One hundred twenty five unmarried men, between the ages of 18-25, came from New York to join local men in clearing trails for horse back riding and hiking and to create a recreational area. In 1935, the CCC completed its Proctorsville project and the group moved on to New Jersey.

Besides the Duttonsville School in Cavendish Village and the Proctorsville school on Main Street, there were still four rural schools-Center Road, where the Tiemann children went, Tarbell Hill, Wheeler and Gilchrist. The latter two were on Twenty Mile Stream Road.

The Opera House in Proctorsville had a pool table and two bowling lanes. Dances were frequently held there as well as the screening of silent movies. There were also boxing matches and minstrel shows. Sophie Snarski, who played fiddle for dances, said that between the dances in various locations-including the “kitchen hops,” where farmers would take turns hosting a dance-there was a very active theater group. In fact, she was playing almost every night of the week as well as the weekends.  

The New England Hurricane of 1938 struck on Sept. 21. Strong winds blew down thousands of trees while heavy rain caused flooding again in the river valleys.

By the mid 1930s, the Proctorsville Gulf  Road south to Gassetts in Chester (Route 103) and then east on Route 10 to Springfield had been paved. This made it easier for Cavendish men to work in the machine shops of Springfield. While work was slow at the height of the Depression, before the end of the decade, with the war heating up in Europe, jobs were available and many men were commuting daily to Springfield for work.

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