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Vermont's Tiny Historical Societies Have a Big Mission: Preserving the Past 

Published January 10, 2018 at 10:00 a.m. | Updated July 30, 2019 at 7:28 p.m.

click to enlarge A photograph from the Waitsfield Historical Society's digitized collection of 800-plus glass slides - COURTESY OF THE WAITSFIELD HISTORICAL SOCIETY
  • Courtesy Of The Waitsfield Historical Society
  • A photograph from the Waitsfield Historical Society's digitized collection of 800-plus glass slides

A movie-ready 19th-century drugstore, a hornet's nest, Pectoral Elixir, an accordion, a wedding dress, a camera that belonged to "Snowflake" Bentley and a quilt made by that lifelong bachelor's mother. What do these items have in common? Each is an artifact tended by one of Vermont's historical societies.

Landgrove (pop. 158) has a historical society. So does Tinmouth (pop. 613). In fact, some 190 Vermont towns have one. Size is no deterrent, clearly, to a community's passion for keeping track of itself.

Typically operating on a shoestring budget and stewarded by elders, local historical societies — especially the teensy ones — represent a sort of benign fringe element throughout the state. Their members meet on third Mondays or fourth Thursdays, but not always; many close down in winter or convene when members are able. Historical societies might be headquartered in former schoolhouses or freight stations; at least one is above a police station. Others have no formal location at all.

Like the hyper-local histories they strive to document and archive, town historical societies often lead a precarious existence, dallying with obscurity in both content and form. Though their patchwork archives may read like non sequiturs, and the rewards of collecting may look slim to outsiders, what's at stake is the very identity and continuity of these communities.

The website for the Londonderry (pop. 1,709) Arts and Historical Society puts it like this: "The mission ... is to be a beacon — helping people understand the rich history and culture of our little town."

Eileen Corcoran is community outreach coordinator at the Vermont Historical Society; it's her job to act as liaison between the state and local organizations. She's known some societies to officially disband, as Brandon's did when it turned over its assets to the then newly formed non-profit Stephen A. Douglas and Brandon Museum in 2012.* Corcoran has known other historical societies to exist in name only.

"Some of them just kind of go dormant," Corcoran said. "They might still technically exist; there might be a tiny bit of money sitting in a bank for a couple of years."

Historical societies can also be resurrected: Ripton's relaunched in 2013, as did neighboring Hancock's in 2016.

Corcoran described the smaller groups as "great community-based organizations that are doing the work for VHS in a lot of ways." Of Vermont's nearly 200 groups, 60 to 70 percent have some sort of physical location, she estimated. Volunteers, often senior citizens, run most of them.

"The general demographic of historical societies tends to be an older generation," Corcoran acknowledged. "It's always sort of been that way." Managing or even participating in a historical society requires "spare time," she added, and that's something young professionals or parents of small children tend to lack. (Exceptions exist — see Paul and Rachel Putney of the Randolph Historical Society)

Corcoran speculated that the impetus for historical society work comes from "starting to see that kids growing up now don't know or recognize the stuff you grew up with, and wanting to preserve and share some of those [things]." Vermont, she noted, is an "old state," referring to its aging population.

It's rare to see a new historical society form in Vermont, Corcoran added, partly because the state is already saturated with them and partly because the traditional models are "not speaking to newer generations." Nationally, many such groups were established in the mid-1970s and '80s, she said, spurred by the 1976 U.S. Bicentennial and countering the trend of widespread urban renewal.

Corcoran suggested one path to kindling new interest in historical societies: "We do have to start talking about the 20th century as history." For many people, she noted, the Victorian and Civil War eras just don't have a lot of pull.

Some organizations are already working this line of thought: In 2017, the Norwich Historical Society mounted the exhibition "Mad for Mid-Century Modern." The same year, the Milton Historical Society opened "The History of Racing in Milton," harking back to when the town was a hub for stock-car racing.

And VHS is encouraging local historical societies to mount more shows like these. Last April, the organization introduced a new venue for sharing the work of such groups, the Local History Gallery at Montpelier's Vermont History Museum, and invited historical societies statewide to submit an exhibition for consideration. At the end of this month, the Chelsea Historical Society will be the first to mount its original show, which examines barns from a historical and artistic perspective.

Corcoran said she hopes the new gallery will help mitigate the loss of the Vermont History Expo, a statewide history event that ran from 2000 to 2016.

As we enter a new year, we naturally look — hopefully or with fingers crossed — to the future. But it helps to keep a little historical perspective, too. In this first cover story of 2018, we visit some of the people devoted to cataloging and preserving Vermont's ever-accumulating past.

— Rachel Elizabeth Jones

Waitsfield Historical Society

4061 Main Street, Waitsfield, 496-7051, open by appointment only,
click to enlarge The "Brides of the Century" exhibit featured gowns from 1845-1945 - COURTESY OF JIM DODDS
  • Courtesy Of Jim Dodds
  • The "Brides of the Century" exhibit featured gowns from 1845-1945

Like many historical society members and administrators all over Vermont, Judy Dodds is reaching the end of a long tenure. The curator consultant and board member of the Waitsfield Historical Society recently celebrated her 90th birthday at the General Wait House, home to the society's collections and operations.

Dodds has been with the organization for some 40 years, ever since she moved to the Mad River Valley town from New Orleans (via Boston) in the 1970s. Though she's finally ready to step aside, "I'll still have some sort of influence," Dodds said. "It's sort of like my baby."

"It" is a modest affair. The historical society occupies the former home of Waitsfield's founder, Revolutionary War general Benjamin Wait. Dodds recalled assisting with the fundraiser that enabled the town to purchase the wooden structure in the 1990s.

click to enlarge Judy Dodds - SADIE WILLIAMS
  • Sadie Williams
  • Judy Dodds

For a while, the town's visitor center and some administrative offices resided on the first floor, and the historical society on the second. When the town operations recently moved to a new building, the society relocated downstairs; various businesses rent out the upper floor.

Upon entry, visitors see a permanent exhibit of information and artifacts related to general Wait, such as his sword, as well as a rotating exhibit put together by Dodds. The current show features wooden furniture made in Waitsfield and donated by local families.

In the first-floor office, WHS director Lois DeHeer cataloged new acquisitions while this reporter interviewed Dodds. Nearby, a storage room teemed with neatly labeled items, including old manuscripts and a leather shoe found during the restoration of the Wait House.

DeHeer said she plans to expand the exhibitions space into the office area over the next year. She's already set up a small tabletop exhibition of household objects belonging to an area family.

Another treasure of this historical society is its digitized collection of glass slides from the town's history. More than 800 images, from sour-faced children posing on fur rugs to landscape photographs, give an intimate view of Waitsfield as it was a hundred years ago.

Historical society member Sandra Reilly assists with digitizing the photos, while Dodds' husband, Jim, is responsible for uploading them to the WHS website, which he manages. Dodds described herself as more of a hands-on type.

"I try to do two exhibitions a year," she said. "The one we had before [the furniture show] was 'Brides of the Century.' It was so popular." That exhibition included bridal gowns from 1820 through the mid-20th century.

click to enlarge A leather shoe found during restoration of the General Wait House - SADIE WILLIAMS
  • Sadie Williams
  • A leather shoe found during restoration of the General Wait House

Prior to moving north, Dodds worked as a curator of costumes and decorative arts at the Louisiana State Museum in her hometown of New Orleans. In Vermont, she's had a second career as a fiber artist, selling her appliqué wall hangings in galleries across the country.

That flair for fabric and fashion is evident even in the current exhibit at the WHS. A cardboard cutout of a woman dressed in a floral vest, white top and skirt "holds" a feather duster tied to her poster-board hand.

Asked why she has stayed with the historical society for so long, Dodds had a simple answer: "They needed me, and I could do it. I had 30 years of experience." That's changing now. "I used to do a lot more," she said. "But I don't have the energy anymore."

Even as Dodds ramps down her involvement in the society, she's noted that general membership has dropped off.

"The membership ages, and young people are so busy now," she said. "It doesn't mean enough until you get older and you start thinking about who came before you."

— Sadie Williams

Jericho Historical Society

4A Red Mill Drive, Jericho, 899-3225; January to last week of March, Wednesday and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday, 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.; last week of March through December, Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday, 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.,
click to enlarge "Snowflake" Bentley and one of his original cameras - SUZANNE M. PODHAIZER
  • Suzanne M. Podhaizer
  • "Snowflake" Bentley and one of his original cameras

Ann Squires is the president of the board of the Jericho Historical Society, but she may be better known for her pumpkins. Each Halloween, with some help from their friends, Squires and her husband, Dick, carve hundreds of their homegrown pumpkins to light up and display. The two-night event, the Cilley Hill Pumpkin Glow, draws thousands of spectators.

The historical society, located in a red former mill on the edge of Browns River, isn't quite that busy. It houses a petite assemblage of Vermontiana and, in another building, a town archive consisting of photographs and newspaper clippings.

The highlight of the society's collection won't surprise anyone familiar with the story of Wilson Alwyn Bentley (1865-1931). The self-educated Jericho farmer — his family's homestead was at the base of Bolton Mountain — was a lifelong bachelor and avid musician better known by his nickname, "Snowflake."

click to enlarge A Bentley print - SUZANNE M. PODHAIZER
  • Suzanne M. Podhaizer
  • A Bentley print

Bentley earned that moniker after he developed a method for photographing snow crystals by combining a microscope with a camera. He was the first to posit that no two snowflakes are alike.

Two of Bentley's cameras are housed at the JHS, although only one is currently on display. The latter is a bellows camera, kept behind glass as part of a tableau that features a life-size photograph of Bentley, a side table decorated with items he may have kept near him while working and a piece of knitting that appears to be a scarf — useful, no doubt, when collecting snow samples.

The same room holds a selection of Bentley's snowflake images, ranging from delicate flakes that look like lace or insect wings to a rare triangular crystal. Although these images have been widely published online and in print, it's pleasing to see Bentley's original prints and slides up close, as well as montages of images that he created to give away as gifts.

A few other curiosities show up in the collection, including Bentley's "magic lantern" slide projector. In a letter to an admirer, graciously accepting a $3 payment for 60 of his photographs, Bentley writes, "As usual, when good snowflakes are falling, I did not stop for dinner, or anything else, tho I had callers, and became ravenously hungry."

click to enlarge The Old Red Mill craft shop - SUZANNE M. PODHAIZER
  • Suzanne M. Podhaizer
  • The Old Red Mill craft shop

A quilt made by Bentley's mother echoes the patterns in Bentley's snowflake photographs, serving as a reminder that human arts and crafts frequently mimic nature.

The second highlight of the JHS is its prodigious gift shop, the proceeds of which help maintain the building and collections. Jam-packed with the works of local artisans, along with old milling equipment, the store has something for just about every taste: scarves, turned wooden bowls, photographs, pot holders and pottery.

click to enlarge The Old Red Mill on Route 15, site of the Jericho Historical Society - SUZANNE M. PODHAIZER
  • Suzanne M. Podhaizer
  • The Old Red Mill on Route 15, site of the Jericho Historical Society

The snowflake theme is strong here, too. Metal, lace and etched-glass ornaments, dog biscuits, T-shirts and other items come decorated with patterns that reflect Bentley's work. By the front door, shoppers can pick up a collection of Bentley's images or works directly inspired by them. Squires pointed out an intricate snow calendar in which Bentley's images are arranged by month, demonstrating how crystal patterns change with the weather.

Squires, who is retired from teaching at Mount Mansfield Union High School, said she never set out to be president of the JHS. But now she's responsible for "everything from the gift shop to the septic system," she said.

Squires has found millennials to be less interested in the past than their forebears have been. When it comes to the future of historical societies, "Who knows what will happen?" she wondered aloud.

— Suzanne M. Podhaizer

Stowe Historical Society

90 School Street, Stowe, 253-1518; open year-round Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, noon to 3 p.m., and by appointment,
click to enlarge Oliver Luce's sled - SALLY POLLAK
  • Sally Pollak
  • Oliver Luce's sled

A wooden sled that belonged to Oliver Luce is mounted on the wall of the Stowe Historical Society. Luce, who cleared the hills and helped settle the town, hauled his family's possessions on that sled in 1794, making the final leg of his trek from Woodstock. Beside the historic rig hangs a blue plastic sled with metal runners — an alpine toy designed for 20th-century speed and fun.

A little wall space and about 200 years separate these two conveyances that preside over a fascinating collection of objects at the historical society in this Lamoille County town. A current exhibit of Stowe Guide & Magazine covers (1984 to 2017) presents depictions of the physical beauty and outdoor culture for which Stowe is known.

click to enlarge A 20th-century sled - SALLY POLLAK
  • Sally Pollak
  • A 20th-century sled

"For much of its history, Stowe was self-aware," said Barbara Baraw, the society's president. "Right from the get-go, there were people in Stowe who told Stowe's story in various places and ways."

In recent years, Baraw and other volunteers with the society, which was founded in 1956, have collected and disseminated those stories. She receives hundreds of queries a year about Stowe history and genealogy, often from people seeking information about their family's ties to the region. "We try to respond to all of them," she said. "I love it."

Baraw, 73, has been a member of the SHS since 2000 and president since 2005. With the exception of five years away, she has lived in Stowe since 1963.

A University of Vermont graduate, Baraw said her interest in history took root in childhood. "I grew up traveling across the country, and my parents made a point of visiting historical places and putting wherever we were in historical perspective," she said. "You have to know something about the past in order to make good decisions in the present and future."

The big story of Stowe is Mount Mansfield; at 4,393 feet, it's Vermont's highest peak and the site of Stowe Mountain Resort. Yet, with a logging and agricultural past, this was a tourist town before it was a ski town, Baraw said. Evidence can be found in the historical society's image of the Mount Mansfield Hotel. With capacity for 400 guests, it stood on Main Street from 1864 until 1889.

click to enlarge Stowe Historical Society president Barbara Baraw - SALLY POLLAK
  • Sally Pollak
  • Stowe Historical Society president Barbara Baraw

Many objects at the SHS belonged to local families, such as a ceramic platter from the Luces, an 1813 hope chest that originated with a parson's family, and an 1890s Bible.

Other objects speak to village life. Musical instruments recall an era when the town had marching bands; a set of spikes comes from the railroad that ran between Waterbury and Stowe from 1897 to 1932. Model train cars made by Stowe resident and surgeon George Rahilly replicate that bygone railroad. A copy of a map drawn in the late 19th century depicts Stowe when it encompassed towns that no longer exist — Mansfield and Sterling.

The historical society's building is itself a piece of town history: Built on Luce Hill Road in 1878, it served as a one-room schoolhouse, then an Episcopal church. Later, the structure was renovated and moved to School Street; it opened as the Stowe Historical Society in 2011. Previously, the organization had occupied one room of the Akeley Memorial Building.

"We wouldn't exist if we didn't have this building," Baraw said.

— Sally Pollak

Randolph Historical Society

6 Salisbury Street, 728-9780 or 685-7725; open May through September on third Sundays, 2-4 p.m.,
click to enlarge Leonard's Drug Store - KYMELYA SARI
  • Kymelya Sari
  • Leonard's Drug Store

Months after Paul Putney Jr. and his wife, Rachel, moved into their house on Hospital Hill in 2010, an older gentleman stopped by to inquire about the home's architect. The two men started talking, and Putney learned that his new acquaintance was Larry Leonard, whose family had run Leonard's Drug Store in Randolph from 1893 to 1958.

Leonard was also a longtime president of the Randolph Historical Society. Though he now lives in New Hampshire, he continues to attend auctions to purchase items related to his ancestral town.

click to enlarge Leonard's Drug Store installation - KYMELYA SARI
  • Kymelya Sari
  • Leonard's Drug Store installation

At Leonard's encouragement, the Putneys joined the historical society. Since then, Barre native Paul said, he's learned a great deal about Randolph's past. Though the thirtysomething couple is much younger than most members, both are passionate about preserving the town's history. "I'm interested in that kind of stuff," said Paul. "I like to be involved in the community."

Located above the police station, the Randolph Historical Society Museum is probably one of the best-protected sites in the town. Surprised by the sound of footsteps when the museum is normally closed, Police Chief Daniel Brunelle scrambled upstairs during this reporter's recent museum tour with Paul Putney and society president Marilyn Polson.

click to enlarge Randolph Historical Society president Marilyn Polson and Paul Putney Jr. - KYMELYA SARI
  • Kymelya Sari
  • Randolph Historical Society president Marilyn Polson and Paul Putney Jr.

Visitors will find a relaxed and easygoing atmosphere at the museum. They're allowed to touch most of the exhibits, including the tombstone of Justin Morgan, whose horse, Figure, was the father of the Morgan horse breed.

The museum proffers eclectic displays: a painting of Abraham Lincoln's War Department members, including Randolph native Albert Chandler; a disc used in a music box made by local Porter Music Box Company; a vintage Union Market signboard painted by Jim Sardonis, regionally famous for the South Burlington sculpture "Reverence," aka the "whale tails."

click to enlarge Stoves and wheelbarrows - KYMELYA SARI
  • Kymelya Sari
  • Stoves and wheelbarrows

A relatively new acquisition, a wheelbarrow made by Sargent, Osgood & Roundy Co., hangs from the ceiling — there's no other space for it, said Putney. The police, he added, are looking to build a new station, and he hopes the museum will eventually be able to expand into the department's vacated space.

Other exhibits have closer-to-contemporary origins. A glass case holds a piece of melted metal from the B-17F Flying Fortress that crashed on Fish Hill in 1943. Less than a foot away stands a mounted collection of photographs of the 10 airmen, seven of whom parachuted to safety, and their personal possessions. A few years ago, the family of one of the airmen who died in the crash visited the museum, Putney noted.

click to enlarge Switchboard used in Randolph - KYMELYA SARI
  • Kymelya Sari
  • Switchboard used in Randolph

The museum's pride and joy is the complete, three-generation-old Leonard's Drug Store, which includes a well-preserved soda fountain and medical reference books.

"I don't know many places in the state that have a period drug store," observed Putney. The installation is so precious that the museum hires a security guard for its opening on the Fourth of July, he said.

While many history museums might have a couple of medicine bottles, Randolph has an entire pharmacist's set, Putney pointed out. The containers still hold "all the original period drugs." In winter, some of the shelves are empty because the bottles need warm storage for preservation.

"I think if we advertise this more and more, people that have no real interest in Randolph history [would come] just to see a period drug store," Putney mused.

"Movie companies," added Brunelle, "if they were aware of this setup, [they'd be] ready to film scenes in it."

— Kymelya Sari

Norwich Historical Society and Community Center

277 Main Street, Norwich, 649-0124; open year-round Wednesdays and Thursdays, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; and June through October on Saturdays, 10 a.m. to noon; or by appointment,
click to enlarge Norwich Historical Society and Community Center - DAN BOLLES
  • Dan Bolles
  • Norwich Historical Society and Community Center

Lined with white picket fences, stately old homes and brick buildings, Main Street in Norwich has a picture-postcard feel. Children playing in the snowy schoolyard and skating on the town green's ice rink give the place the idyllic, all-American warmth of a Norman Rockwell painting. Especially on a brilliant January morning following a fresh snow, Norwich is every bit the quintessential olde New England town.

One might expect that wholesome Yankee pride to extend to the Norwich Historical Society and Community Center, and it does. Housed in one of those stately homes, the NHS is the protector and preserver of the well-to-do Windsor County hamlet's 250-plus-year history.

The 211-year-old Lewis House contains vast, immaculately archived stores of Norwich knickknacks and ephemera — textiles, books, family and town documents, furniture, weapons — some dating back to the Revolutionary War. But, as director Sarah Rooker explains to visitors, there's much more to the town's past than muskets and mothballs.

"One thing we've done that maybe other historical societies haven't done before is look at the contemporary world," she said. "The early settlement part and the roots of Vermont are important, too. But what happened after World War II has really contributed to what has made this community what it is today."

click to enlarge Sarah Rooker - DAN BOLLES
  • Dan Bolles
  • Sarah Rooker

That explains why, on a recent tour, the ground floor of the 1807 building was done up as if for a Christmas party hosted by Dean Martin rather than, say, the Daughters of the American Revolution. The space-age decorations, such as a gaudy, metallic silver Christmas tree and classic toys from the 1950s and '60s, were part of the society's 2017 exhibit, "Mad for Mid-Century Modern."

"Many people, when they think of what a Vermont community is, it's a white-steeple church, brick Federal buildings," said Rooker, who could be describing the view from the NHS' front windows. "But, if you turn left here," she continued, pointing north along Main Street, "you'll find houses built by apprentices of Frank Lloyd Wright."

Rooker explained that during and after World War II, a wave of intellectuals — including refugees from Germany — moved to the Upper Valley town, which is a bedroom community of Dartmouth College in nearby Hanover, N.H.

"They came to teach at Dartmouth or live in Norwich, and they had an interest in the modern world, so they engaged modern architects and built these homes," she said.

"Mid-Century Modern" has since been taken down to make way for "Back to Our Routes." The new show examines the origins of Norwich street names, which also qualify as contemporary history: As is common in Vermont, many town roads didn't have official names until relatively recently. It's another example of how Rooker and her volunteer staff try not to get stuck in the past — at least not the distant past.

"Looking at modern history as a way to engage a new part of the community is something we want to continue," said Rooker of the turn to contemporary-ish exhibits. She stressed that the society boasts a wealth of more traditional historical curios, such as the town's (presumably decommissioned) horse-drawn hearse and the old jail. Both are housed in a barn adjacent to Lewis House and are crowd favorites — especially among the K-6 students from Marion Cross School across the street.

While Rooker respects those traditions, she emphasized that the modernization strategy has helped the NHS thrive. "It's brought in new members and new collections, blueprints and other mementos from that era that you don't necessarily think of as being historical," she said, "but [that] actually are now."

— Dan Bolles

Enosburgh Historical Society

55 Railroad Street, Enosburg Falls, 933-2102; open June through October on Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. or by appointment
click to enlarge Dr. B.J. Kendall's Blackberry Balsam Compound - KEN PICARD
  • Ken Picard
  • Dr. B.J. Kendall's Blackberry Balsam Compound

Each of the industries that once fueled the growth of Enosburg Falls — dairy farming, medicine and the railroad — is well represented at the Enosburgh Historical Society Museum.

Headquartered in a former freight station of the Missisquoi Valley Railroad, the museum features a caboose parked on 300 feet of track alongside the Missisquoi Valley Rail Trail. And there's a small but fascinating exhibit of memorabilia from Effie Bashaw, an Enosburgh nurse who worked on the battlefields of France during World War I.

But the town boasts a more notable spot in medical history: From the 1880s until the 1950s, it was home to as many as six pharmaceutical companies, whose products were sold worldwide. A recent museum tour with curator Janice Geraw revealed an intriguing display of medicinal items.

The origins of each one can be traced to B.J. Kendall, an Enosburgh physician who studied in Minnesota under William Mayo, founder of the Mayo Clinic. After returning to Enosburgh in the 1870s, Kendall opened a drugstore on Main Street.

"He came back with all these recipes and prescriptions and would fool around with them in the back of his drugstore," Geraw explained. "He'd come up with all these medicines and sell them over the counter."

Kendall's most successful medicine was for his horse, which developed a spavin, or joint disorder. He concocted a treatment that he later marketed under the name Kendall's Spavin Cure. Among local farmers, the product was an instant success.

click to enlarge Spavin Cure Building - COURTESY OF H. BROOKE PAIGE
  • Courtesy Of H. Brooke Paige
  • Spavin Cure Building

Kendall couldn't keep up with demand for the medicine, so he took on several partners and launched the Dr. B.J. Kendall Company. They built a manufacturing plant at the north end of town, the Spavin Cure Building.

"It's still there but in a fairly dilapidated state," noted historical society treasurer Ward Heneveld.

Kendall produced medicines for human consumption, too, many of which are also on display: Kendall's Quick Relief, advertised as remedying "all pain internal and external"; Blackberry Balsam Compound "for all summer troubles"; a Tonic and Blood Purifier "for all diseases of the blood and liver"; and Pectoral Elixir "for coughs, colds and all lung troubles."

Though not pure snake oil, many such "remedies" provided dubious health benefits. Geraw removed a bottle of Quick Relief from its display case, noting that her mother used to take it. Then she gave the bottle a closer read: "'Alcohol 72 percent'? Oh, my gosh!"

Indeed, many of the medicines on display list alcohol — or opium — as their main ingredient. Said historical society president Barbara Hayes, "It made you feel good, whether it cured you or not."

The replacement of horses by automobiles and stricter government standards for drug manufacturers eventually spelled the demise of Enosburg Falls' medicine-producing companies. But they left their mark on the town. The Kendall Company, which closed in 1957, built the Enosburg Opera House, an aqueduct system, the electric power network, sewers, public parks, sidewalks and the public library.

Geraw had no formal training as a historian or curator when she was asked to help found the historical society in 1980, she said. Five years later, she published a book on Enosburgh's history.

Asked why Enosburgh is spelled with an H but Enosburg Falls is not, Geraw declined to wade into what's apparently a long-standing mire of contention.

"I'm an outsider who came here 40 years ago," Heneveld chimed in, "and I'm still trying to get an answer to that."

— Ken Picard

Tinmouth Historical & Genealogical Society

9 Mountain View Road, Tinmouth, 446-2498; open Monday and Thursday, 8 a.m.-noon and 1-5 p.m.,
click to enlarge The Old Creamery - COURTESY OF TH&GS
  • Courtesy Of Th&gs
  • The Old Creamery

The 1790 building that houses the holdings and near-monthly meetings of the Tinmouth Historical & Genealogical Society has additional uses: It also houses the town offices and children's library. A hornet's nest brought in by a local hangs from the front window, surrounded by leafy plants, a set of Wedgwood china and crystals collected by town clerk Gail Fallar.

A Tinmouth resident since she was 4 months old, Fallar has been town clerk since 1985. On a recent Saturday, she met a reporter along with Grant Reynolds, a seventh-generation Vermonter, trustee of the Vermont Historical Society and editor of the local society's quarterly publication, the Tinmouth Channel.

"You're looking at almost all of the town bureaucracy," Reynolds said, adding, "Gail is treasurer of most everything in town."

Fallar was a cofounding member of the historical society in 1988 and again when it reorganized in 1999. She was its president from 2011 to 2014, and she reluctantly identified as a "collector."

"When I started [as town clerk], these shelves were all empty," Fallar said, gesturing to the wall-to-wall shelves now filled with books, photographs and donations for the local food pantry.

Reynolds joined the group in 2003 when he began living in Tinmouth part time; he moved there permanently in 2010. A former professor of environmental law, Reynolds described his primary historical interest as "Civil War, particularly Vermont, particularly Tinmouth."

Accordingly, he's compiled a spreadsheet titled "Who Fought for Tinmouth?" that documents everything known about the 82 Civil War soldiers with Tinmouth connections. "Needless to say," Reynolds observed, "that represents an awful lot of work." The research took him about five years.

One of Reynolds' favorite subjects is William Grace, a soldier whom he believes was actually named Benjamin Hall. This young man enlisted multiple times under three false names, initially in Tinmouth, and collected a veteran's pension for 23 years until a postmaster realized that Hall/Grace was also receiving a pension check addressed to John Riley. His pension was revoked — but later reinstated by Congress.

One mission of the Tinmouth historical society has been the preservation of the Old Creamery right next door. In 2008, Tinmouth traded another plot in town for the parcel containing the structure, primarily seeking control over its office-adjacent parking. The fate of the dilapidated creamery became a town issue.

"There was a large faction that said, 'Take a match to it,'" Reynolds said. "There are a large number of people who can only view a building as what goes on in it."

In 2013, the selectboard voted not to tear the building down and appointed a committee to figure out how to proceed. "The Old Creamery Committee happens to resemble the town historical society executive committee pretty closely," Fallar admitted.

At an estimated $100,000, the price of a proper historic restoration was high. After being turned down twice for preservation grants, the committee began to muster its own funds to fix the building. So far, it's raised $22,000 and made many repairs, such as adding a porch similar to the one the creamery had in a 1904 photograph.

Asked what she gets out of her work with the society, Fallar didn't hesitate: "The rewards are that we're preserving stuff for future generations to know how we got to where we are." 

— R.E.J

Correction, January 15, 2017: An earlier version of this story misstated details regarding the closing of the Brandon Historical Society, whose assets were given to the then newly formed non-profit Stephen A. Douglas Birthplace and Brandon Museum in 2012.

The original print version of this article was headlined "Time Keepers"

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    Vermonters know a thing or two about giving. July’s historic flooding produced an equally historic response, with people showing up — and contributing generously — to help neighbors, strangers and businesses rebound. These carefully curated suggestions for gifts from Vermont makers and retailers will help you surprise and delight everyone from your babysitter to your BFF. There are plenty of items under $20, plus a few that make an extra impact for worthy causes.
    • Nov 24, 2023
  • Seven Vermont Tech Startups Worth Watching
  • Seven Vermont Tech Startups Worth Watching

    • Oct 18, 2023
  • Nest — Fall 2023
  • Nest — Fall 2023

    • Oct 3, 2023
  • More »

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Seven Days Staff

Seven Days Staff


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