|Murdock Mill under construction on|
what is today the Proctorsville Green.
Thursday, July 2, 2015
Chapter 18: Tiemann Memoirs/Cavendish Mills
To read the prelude and other chapters of Tiemann’s Memoirs go to Coming to Vermont (Cavendish): Memoirs of Philip Tiemann. Following Chapter 18 is a history of the mills in Cavendish and Proctorsville.
The seasons roll around and the years go by, and established farm life does not change very much, But we were far from being established; for us every change of season had a fresh face and presented not only interesting problems but new ideas and opportunities. People have said to us "How in the world do you stand it? It must get so boring!" There was no adequate answer, as they never would have understood, Boring it certainly was not, as there was constant challenge. I believe, the only thing we missed was some of our more intimate personal contacts, and despite distance these have never been entirely lost. We gradually made new friends, and found new interests some of which have provided greater satisfaction than anything available to us in our old community. Not having to commute or to be tied to a desk was a real life-saver for me, I loved the out-doors and, as I became more adept, I found that I enjoyed doing with my hands. Perhaps what mattered most to us both was that we felt we were doing something, which had a very real meaning to us. We were young enough not to mind what today I probably would consider hardships, and derived many small pleasures as we want along.
The winter of 1934-35 was a good Vermont winter but nothing like as rugged as our first one had been. Also we knew what to expect and were ready for it, with one notable exception- our initiation into winter driving and care of the car. That was enough by itself.
Not to again be caught napping I bought anti-freeze early, and got a sot of chains, and thought we were all seta Then one golden autumn afternoon before it was really cold Isabel suggested "Let's go for a drive and learn some of the back roads around here" which we proceeded to do. It was delightful until we came to a muddy spot on a steep hill, where we couldn’t go forward and it was too narrow to turn. When I managed to back out the radiator was boiling merrily, The anti-freeze contained alcohol and by the time we reached home there wasn't much left, Fortunately there was some extra on hand. But as soon as possible I changed to permanent type and have kept it in the car the year round ever since.
The Fords of those days were light cars and their traction not too good on slippery roads, Great care to avoid skidding was a "must" even with chains. The town seldom got around with sand and salt had not been heard of, so on our hills an icy surface was more cause for concern than snow. When we sometimes had to go out under these conditions there were some near misses with other cars and plenty of encounters with snow-banks.
If we slid off the road we generally were stuck. Then it was a case of get out the shovel and the jack - always part of winter equipment and find some flat stones to wedge under the wheels. This might or might not be successful. If someone came by you always could count on a pull or a push. But it sometimes was necessary to hunt up the nearest farmer and ask him to bring his team. Occasionally one would take payment but more often not. Then coming home, it often was more difficult to get up the little incline just before reaching the house than all the rest of the trip had been. Not infrequently I-and others- would wade thru the snow-bank to the stone wall and dig out a couple of heavy stones to weight the rear of the car. Backing down for a little run we generally could make it. (It happens sometimes even now, and that part of our wall is rather denuded,) But there have been times when we had to leave the car and walk.
Most frustrating of all was not being able to start. Even when the doors of the carriage house could be rolled shut (impossible when snow was banked against them) it was a cold place for a car to stand, perhaps for a week or more without being used. I had not learned that during a cold. period the motor should be started and run a few minutes every day,- in the afternoon if there was any sun to shine thru the doorway and give a bit of warmth. Trouble was, we generally wanted to go out in the morning. One of the "good" things about the old days was that cars had cranks -which was a big help but didn't always work. If not, the next step was to warm the carburetor by pouring a kettle-full of hot water over it. When even this failed - and it sometimes did - the last resort was to push the car out and to the top of the down slope, quickly mount, put it in high gear, let in the clutch, as it got rolling and hope. As a rule the motor would catch. If not, you let the car come to rest, as close to the roadside as possible and went home. Sooner or later, if someone didn't come by who could tow you to the next hill for another try, you knew it would get mild enough so the crank would work. How fortunate that those old cars were built 'to take it.
Altho we felt we were very much bettor off, we remained hard up for cash. Neither then nor later was the farm self-sufficient, It gave us the house and water and fuel and part of our food, yet there remained many things which could be obtained only by going to the store and paying for them. Besides certain groceries, this included oil. for the lamps (and later for the range), gas and lubricants for the car, clothing for three active and growing children an4 occasionally for ourselves, tools, stock feed,- and the larger items coming under “overhead" such as mortgage payments, taxes, insurance, and medical bills (the latter fortunately very small at the time,) Pared to the limit, we got by for a while on about $600 actual cash money a year. If this seems impossible, remember it still was "the depression.' Even this meager amount didn't come automatically. Two or three times we had to borrow which, until the loans were repaid, made the situation worse.
This subject started me thinking. How much is being poor an attitude of mind? For some years we were sufficiently hard up to have to squeeze every penny, yet I don't recall that we ever thought we were poor. In fact I'm sure we would have resented the implication, The poor were those not fortunate enough to own their own homes, and who had to take handouts in order to live, We wore near enough the ragged edge so that I did not appreciate at the time what those people must have suffered even if they did not actually go hungry (and some did.) I confess that having to haggle over everything we bought, always taking the cheapest and sometimes going without, did something to me which I never have quite gotten over, Partly bad, perhaps partly good. How Very fortunate we were!
I had discovered that more than a few of the men round-a-bout worked for the town whenever they could. So, with some trepidation in view of my short shift as a "carpenter" the previous year, I applied to the road commissioner for a job and was taken on. I sometimes am reminded of that period as I drive along the highway on which I labored for a number of weeks, until the weather became too bad for such activity, Next I obtained from down-country a few orders for Christmas tress at $1. each, express collect. Those had to be cut, inspected, bundled, and taken to the depot. It didn't pay for my labor, but it brought in some cash. I even tried my hand at writing and that winter sold a couple of stories to boys' magazines.- Very, rarely someone needed help for a day badly enough to be willing to pay, rather than the more usual custom of exchanging work. If such an opportunity arose I grabbed it.
So it happened that when a neighbor stopped by and said "I'm getting in some wood tomorrow, want to come over and help? It's a cash deal" I was happy to accept. This particular man was very good in the woods. I noticed immediately that ho had a double-bitted axe, which when I picked it up seemed lighter and better balanced than the single-bitted one I was using. "We'll put that on the stone, first," he directed, and so while l turned the handle of the old circular grindstone, he expertly brought both edges of .the axe to almost razor—sharpness: this condition was kept, while working by an occasional "touch" with a small hand stone. Before the day was over x decided his was the kind of axe I must have.
Later as we were doing some splitting it was necessary to use wedges. I was having trouble, "How do you keep them from bouncing out of the log when it's so cold?" I asked. My mentor grinned, He had started a little fire and thrown' his wedges down. by it, "Try one of these warm ones," he suggested. I did, and the wedge stayed in the log instead of jumping out each time I wacked it. A simple solution . when you knew it, Then he gave me a compliment, and some advice "That's a right good idea, having red paint on your things. I'm always losing in in the snow. But you'd bettor use this hammer" (handing me a sledge) "instead of your axe, else you'll be liable to crack the head."
In such practical ways my education continued.
History of Cavendish Mills: While Tiemann was able to make additional money from his writing and odd jobs around town; it doesn’t appear that he applied for a job at “the Mill.”
Starting in 1832, the first Cavendish mill was constructed on the Black River. Below is a timeline of the mill industry in Cavendish and Proctorsville.
1832: The Black River Canal and Manufacturing Company. It was the first stone building in town and burned in 1873
1836: The Proctorsville Woolen Mill started. Failed in the panic of 1873-74 and was not used for three years. It was reopened with new owners in 1877 and became known as the Crescent Woolen Mill. This Mill was to undergo a number of different names and ownership as follows:
• 1890: Murdock’s Mill-A large brick addition of four stories was built and the machinery was increased to 12 sets of cards and sixty broad looms. Employed 175 people
• 1927-Proctor Mill
• 1932- 1937-Black Bear Woolen Mill
Proctorsville bought the building in 1938. In the 1940’s this building was used by Proctor Reels to make furniture as well as reels. This building was used by Acousti-Phase and burned in 1982. Part of the Mill area is now the Proctorsville Green.
1867: Spring Mill (known as Fitton Mill) started in 1867 and burned in 1875. The fire was thought to have been set by the Mill owner Robert Fitton.
1887: Gay Brothers Mill opens on the site of the Black River Canal and Manufacturing Company. The Gay brothers operate the Mill until 1951 when it is sold to F.C. Hyuck and Sons, and it was renamed Kenwood Mills. Operations were discontinued in 1957 and the building was sold to a Rutland firm. In 1962 Mac Molding purchased the building and continues to use it for injection plastic moldings.