“J. O.” Frost, Vernon’s entrepreneur

Lincoln log cabin at Central Park, Vernon VT

By Barbara Emery Moseley

Julius O. “J. O.” Frost was a wealthy grain merchant, breeder of prize cattle and swine, breeder of fancy fowl and an extensive landowner in Vernon.

In 1895, J. O. opened “Central Park” — an amusement center — at the center of town, located on land now used by Vernon Hall, Vernon Green and Vernon Birches. It had its own railroad flag stop about opposite the Vernon Union Church.

Next to Central Park he owned the Whithed House, a large building that included the family home, the post office, and a store. At the store one could find sewing and knitting supplies, chewing tobacco, patent medicines and kerosene for lamps. (more…)

Tales from the Whithed Cemetery — Part II

Julius O. Frost

By Barbara Emery Moseley

Unlike the Polly Lee Cemetery, which has been “lost” (as described in our previous series, Stones and Bones), the Whithed Cemetery remains intact. It is located on Fort Bridgman Road (Route 142) near the intersection with Newton Road, about opposite 3413 Fort Bridgman Rd.

A pair of granite posts engraved with the name Whithed Cemetery mark its entrance. Most of the stones bear the Whithed name, including a large monument honoring Mr. Gad Whithed, who died June 24, 1850, aged 83 years. In the far corner, toward Route 142, are several stones bearing the Frost name.

Most imposing is a large polished granite monument near the entrance. Its inscription reads “Julius O. Frost, son of Jesse and Sophia Frost, died October 12, 1913, aged 73 years.” Beneath his name is inscribed “Ellen Morris Hunt Hubbard” (who was the daughter of Civil War Col. John and Leonora Hunt). The line beneath promises “gone but not forgotten.”

Therein lies a love story. “J.O.,” as he was referred to locally, was probably the richest man in Vernon; Ellen Morris Hunt Hubbard was probably the most beautiful. It was said that J.O. had a full-length portrait painted, showing her in a purple velvet gown. (more…)

Tales from the Whithed Cemetery — Part I

By Barbara Emery Moseley

With this chapter we conclude the previous series (“Stones & Bones, Where can they be?“) which related to the now-vanished Polly Lee Cemetery and various generations of the Lee family in Vernon, and begin an exploration of another family that has a cemetery named after them — the Whitheds. (The Whithed cemetery is on Route 142 just north of the intersection with Newton Road.)

Marshall Whithed

Marshall Whithed was a prosperous landowner in town. In the 1840s, the imminent arrival of trains prompted the building of hotels at each stop. The enterprising Marshall Whithed built a large two-story hotel, the Whithed House, in the center of town, immediately north of the present day Vernon Union Church.

Its upstairs contained a large hall, with a stage and dressing rooms. Dancing was a popular pastime.

The ground floor housed the post office and general store. Its merchandise was delivered to a river landing. Old account books note the purchase of cloth, needles, kerosene, stationery, patent medicines, etc. Anxious relatives would visit the post office, hoping to receive a letter from a loved one, far away on a Civil War battlefield.

Much like the bed-and-breakfast of today, the Whithed House did the same. Water for the house and guests came from a spring through hollowed-out pump logs, each being tapered like a pencil fitting into the next. On the bank near the railroad was a patch of “blue clay.” It was used to seal each joint. (more…)

A history of Vernon published in 1891

For your reading and research pleasure, we have uploaded to this site the full text of a history of the Town of Vernon written by “A. H. Washburn and his wife Lucinda W. B. Washburn” and published in 1891 as part of the Vermont Historical Gazetteer, A Local History of ALL THE TOWNS IN THE STATE, Civil, Educational, Biographical, Religious and Military, Volume V, THE TOWNS OF WINDHAM COUNTY, published in Brandon, Vermont by Abby Maria Hemenway.

You can view and download this history in PDF format here.

Stones and bones, where can they be? — The mystery of Vernon’s vanished cemetery, Part V

By Barbara Emery Moseley

Click here for the full series on the vanished Polly Lee Cemetery and the Peeler and Lee families.

Eli and Rebecca (Stebbins) Lee lived “in affectionate and happy communion together for 46 years, until her death in March, 1862.”

Their oldest son was John Stebbins Lee, born Sept. 23, 1820. He learned to read at an early age and set a goal to get a college education. After going through eight grades at Vernon’s West Road one-room school, at age 16 he commenced the study of Latin, which qualified him to teach school. His parents thought it best for him to wait until he was 18, and at that age he first taught school in Guilford, followed by two terms in Vernon, in 1839 and 1840.

His goal of attending Amherst College was achieved in July, 1841. Reputedly, he walked there. Railroads were still in the future locally, and horses were needed at the farm. Among a class of 30, his standing was among the first ten. At once, he began teaching at Mt. Caesar Academy in Swanzey, NH, where he met his wife Elmira Bennett. (more…)

Stones and Bones, where can they be? — The mystery of Vernon’s Vanished Cemetery, Part IV

By Barbara Emery Moseley

Click here for the full series on the vanished Polly Lee Cemetery and the Peeler and Lee families.

In the annual accounting of the Polly Lee Cemetery Fund in a Town Report of the 1920s, the words read “Perpetual care for Eli Lee and Marshall Lee.”

Eli Lee built his house on the hill at the end of West Road, about where the Merritt Farm is today. He remarked that only three letters were needed to spell his full name. He married Rebecca Stebbins, and their son Marshall was one of a large, talented family.

Eli lived through the administrations of all the presidents from George Washington to Chester Arthur, and first voted at the presidential election of 1808, when Madison was elected. He voted at every following election, the last being in 1880, when he was the first to deposit his vote in the ballot box.

Although never seeking office, he was often chosen to fill the town positions of lister, selectman, and justice of the peace. From 1830 to 1848, he was sent to the Legislature, until he declined the nomination, saying others were more worthy to fill it.

It would seem that the Polly Lee cemetery would have been filled with the large families of the Peelers and Lees. It appears that the “overflow” of Lees became buried in the Tyler Cemetery on Pond Road, at some point.

You will hear more about one member of the talented family; you have met him before.

Stones and Bones, where can they be? — The mystery of Vernon’s Vanished Cemetery, Part III

By Barbara Emery Moseley

Click here for the full series on the vanished Polly Lee Cemetery and the Peeler and Lee families

John and Polly (Peeler) Lee’s son George Washington Lee was, like his father, an accomplished builder/carpenter. At least one example of his skill remains in town. It is the Pond Road Chapel, built on land he owned. Funds were raised by subscription, and it cost about one thousand dollars. Completed in 1860 for the then recently organized congregation of Advent Christians, its architectural style is a modified Greek Revival, popular at the time.

Pond Road was then called the South Road, or City Road, and was a narrow dirt road, as they all were, throughout the town. In that year, Vernon’s population was 725, it had seven schools, 43 dogs, two churches and one Agricultural Library, which was purchased by 21 members at a cost of $105.

The Chapel succeeded Vernon’s first meeting house, a large two-story structure located on a bluff overlooking the river (above the location of the current Town Tomb). Built for the use of the Congregationalists and Baptists, it was used for Town Meetings as well. (more…)

Stones and bones, where can they be? — The mystery of Vernon’s vanished cemetery, Part II

By Barbara Emery Moseley

Click here for the full series on the vanished Polly Lee Cemetery and the Peeler and Lee families.

The Polly Lee Cemetery probably started as the family burying ground of the large Lee clan that, in 1781, moved to Vernon (at the time known as Hinsdale).

John Lee, the family patriarch and a widower, accompanied them. He died within a few years (1784) and is buried in the South Cemetery, with a slate gravestone. This implies that there had not yet been time to set aside land for a family cemetery.

The three older Lee sons cleared land for their farms in the area of today’s Newton Road. The youngest son, John, received the least desirable acreage but he made the most of it. It was rocky and mountainous, and tillable soil was pebbly as well. (more…)

Stones and bones, where can they be? — The mystery of Vernon’s vanished cemetery, Part I

By Barbara Emery Moseley

Click here for the full series on the vanished Polly Lee Cemetery and the Peeler and Lee families.

For many years the income from the Polly A. Lee Cemetery Fund has appeared in the Vernon Town Report. Possibly a few people have a faint memory of the existence of the cemetery itself, in the area of today’s Breezy Acres, off Newton Road. No traces of it remain today. Its secrets unfold with the story of Polly’s father, John Jacob Peeler.

During the American Revolution, he was among the 29,000 Hessian mercenaries bought by the British Army. They had been purchased like cattle, at so much per head. The money maintained the Grand Duchy of Hesse, an area of Germany near today’s Frankfurt.

As an oppressed person himself, Peeler hated the British. Instead, he felt a great admiration for the Americans fighting so bravely against tyranny. He wanted to fight alongside them, and at the first opportunity, he deserted. Before reaching American lines, he was captured, and given 39 lashes, a punishment common in the British Army. The lashes were administered using the cat-o’nine tails, a whip with nine lashes of knotted cords.

Almost immediately, he deserted again, was recaptured and received 99 lashes, the usual penalty for a second offense. He was warned that a third offense would result in his being flogged to death, for no one was expected to survive the “thousand lashes save one” inflicted in such cases.

However, his stubborn determination to join the Americans did not waver. Learning the Army of King George III was preparing for a major battle, he deserted once more. He was discovered by John Hare, a British soldier whom he knew well. Hare had the opportunity to let Peeler escape and was offered five pounds by him. Hare scoffed, saying he could get five pounds for Peeler’s return, adding that he wasn’t confident Peeler would survive another whipping and be able to pay him back. At that point, Peeler made a promise to himself that he would survive, and one day would find Hare and kill him.

Peeler was taken back to camp, tried by a court-martial and, with two others, whipped “one thousand lashes save one.”

One of the three died before the 999 strokes were complete, but the strokes were continued just the same, even in his dying moments. All three were placed into a hut. It had only a bed of straw for comfort, and a small bowl of gruel was the daily food ration. Peeler urged his companion to exercise, but he wouldn’t, dying the third day. His death was kept secret by Peeler, who at the man’s portion of gruel.


Vernon Historians news for June 2017

Museum  Opening  Day  and  Pie   Sale  — Sunday,  June  4, from 2 until 4 pm

A wide variety of pies will be available, including Whoopee Pies! The museum will be open — old photos and interesting artifacts on display.

The Museum will be open every Sunday from 2 until 4 p.m., June through September.

One heart beats warm for me: A 19th century Vernon tragedy, with a long epilogue

By Barbara Emery Moseley

Nearly a century after they were written, the Vernon Historians received a packet of letters from a member of the family that treasured them for several generations. Although the ink is a bit faded, the elegant cursive handwriting reveals a poignant love story.

Written before the Civil War, they disclose the death from cholera of 22-year-old Gratia (pronounced Gray-sha) Fairman in 1847. They are from her fiancé, William H. Burt, who worked in Worcester, living there in a men’s boarding house.

Gratia’s brother George had notified him that she was sick in bed with a fever. Burt responded in a letter to Gratia: “It will be my constant prayer that you may soon recover . . . if you should become dangerously ill or materially worse, let me know it and I will soon be with you. I am enjoying my usual good health.”

Gratia’s condition deteriorated rapidly, however. She was in pain, but “she bore her suffering patiently, and calmly resigned herself into the hand of a kind Father who has promised never to forsake his children.”

Those words were from Professor John S. Lee, her mentor and teacher at Mt. Caesar Academy in Swanzey, N. H. (Born on West Road in Vernon, his life of distinction will be told another time.)

On his return to Worcester, after the funeral, Burt wrote to her family, “to find some relief from my anguish . . . there is no sympathy here for those who mourn.” He continues: “Not a day has since passed but I have found my relief in tears, my pillow is often moistened with them at night. Many times have I wished I might never see the sun rise again — I have lived long enough — my cup of bitterness is full. What more of affliction life has in store for me I know not . . . All is gone . . . Wherever I was, in whatever circumstances I was placed, I was sure there was one heart beat warm for me. Death, welcome Deliverer, come to me next.” (more…)

Historians Meeting April 11: Exploring the Connecticut River

On Tuesday, April 11, at the Town Office Building, downstairs, the Vernon Historians will welcome Annette Spaulding back for another interesting program about her adventures diving and exploring in the Connecticut River. Last Fall she shared her stories of searching for and finding a petroglyph on the bank of the West River across from the Marina. Now she’s coming back to tell us stories of her other discoveries that often reflect or pertain to history of the the area.

Her program will start at 7:00 p.m. following a brief business meeting of the historians at 6:30 p.m.

The public is welcome to join us! Refreshments will be served.

TRUSTEE MEETING APRIL 18TH AT 6:30 P.M. at the Town Office Building, downstairs

‘Hunt’ing Down History (18th and final episode)

By Barbara Emery Moseley

NOTE: This series chronicles the generations of Vernon’s Hunt family, all related to Jonathan Hunt of “Governor Hunt Road” fame. If you’ve missed any installments in this series, you can catch up here!

PHOTO: Bracelet with cameo portraits of four sons of Jonathan and Jane Hunt (physician Jonathan Hunt, painter William Morris Hunt, architect Richard Morris Hunt and early photographer and New York attorney Leavitt Hunt), carved by artist William Morris Hunt, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Photo by Martin Langeveld.

Two days before Halloween, four years ago, I slipped through a side door of a massive, two-story granite building in Barre. I was met by a woman who said she had “something of interest” to show me. “It is just their heads,” she continued, cautioning me “not to touch them.” I was given white gloves to wear, just in case I forgot her orders.

I was in the workroom of the Vermont Historical Society Museum in Barre’s former Spaulding High School. (There is also the Main Museum in the old Pavilion Building near the Capitol in Montpelier.) Before me were portraits of Jonathan and Lavinah Hunt. They had been purchased from the same family selling the Hunt family papers; $3,000 was paid for the portraits. The paintings were about to be properly packaged and shipped to the Art Conservation wing of the Clark Museum in Williamstown, MA, where cleaning and possible repairs would be professionally done.

The portraits were painted by Lavinah’s nephew, Caleb Lyman, as a wedding present. Jonathan Hunt is shown wearing a dark coat, with a white cravat tied in a bow. His light brown hair, sprinkled with white, is combed back from his face, revealing a receding hairline. Lavinah is wearing a dark dress with a fichu (a 3-cornered shawl of a light material) tucked into the V-neckline. Her white day cap stands upright and reveals a bit of auburn hair tucked behind her ear. Her blue eyes look directly at the viewer. (more…)