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 (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…)

‘Hunt’ing Down History, Part 18

By Barbara Emery Moseley

Although Richard Morris Hunt is remembered for his oversight of the design of the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago, as well as for being the architect who designed opulent homes for prominent wealthy patrons, he also was engaged in the design of many public buildings in the Northeast.

In New York City are the Plaza Hotel; the Columbian Presbyterian Hospital; the central entrance to the Metropolitan Museum of Art; the Stuyvesant apartments on E. 18th Street (known as the “French Flats”); and the New York Tribune Building. Also, St. Mark’s Church, Islip, NY (which was commissioned by William K. Vanderbilt); the Academic Building at West Point; Scroll and Key Clubhouse at Yale; the Fogg Museum at Harvard; the Howland Library in Beacon, NY; the Vanderbilt Tomb on Staten Island; the pedestal of the statue celebrating the Revolutionary War victory at Yorktown; and the Cromwell House, located at Hyde Park, near the Roosevelt House. (Despite his being born in Brattleboro, the only works of Richard Morris Hunt situated locally are two simple stones for his father and brother William Morris Hunt, in the Hunt lot in Prospect Hill Cemetery.) (more…)

Historians news: Program about the Williams Farm which became Vermont Yankee

January 22, 2017 – Williams Farm Reminiscences

On Sunday, Jan. 22, at 1:30 p.m., the Vernon Historians will hold a brief business meeting downstairs at the Vernon Town Office Building.  Immediately following the meeting, at 2:00 p.m., Sandy Williams Morrison will present a program about the Williams Farm, the property where Vermont Yankee was built. The program will include a brief history of the Williams Farm, personal stories, and memories of growing up on the farm as a child.  The program is free and open to all, and refreshments will be served.  Please join us for a relaxing Sunday afternoon and share your own memories of farm life.

‘Hunt’ing Down History, Part 17

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!

Severe cold and snow ushered in 1892. Daniel Burnham, construction supervisor at the Columbian Exposition, was living in a construction shanty on the Chicago fair grounds, heated by an immense fireplace. Workmen constructed a moveable enclosure that could be heated, so that “staff” could continue to be applied to the framework of unfinished buildings. Burnham was criticized by both Congress and the local Fair Committee that he was paying wages that were too high. He also built barracks within the park where workers could get three large meals a day and sleep in clean beds in a heated space. They were paid even if kept from working because of injury or illness. It resulted in a loyal work force that gave full measure in its 8-hour day.

Richard Morris Hunt had returned to his New York City office, but kept in touch with architect Charles McKim, who designed the Fair’s Agriculture Building. He visited the shanty and passed on information to Hunt of progress slowly being made.

Lake freighters were unloading wooden crates bearing labels in foreign words and alphabets. Gigantic draft horses drew wagon loads of exhibit materials destined for yet unfinished buildings. (more…)

‘Hunt’ing Down History, Part 15

By Barbara Emery Moseley

NOTE: If you’ve missed any installments in this series, you can catch up here!

ILLUSTRATION: World’s Columbian Exposition Administration Building, Chicago, 1893, designed by Richard Morris Hunt

With only two years to create a “dream city” in what was Chicago’s derelict Jackson Park, Richard Morris Hunt and Frederick Law Olmsted were almost in a state of despair. It was a square mile of desolate land overgrown with a tangle of wild vines and grasses, spotted with a few pockets of various kinds of oaks, many of them dead. Then, there was the soil: a top one-foot layer of black dirt, followed by two feet of sand, then eleven feet of sand so saturated by water it became quicksand. Locally, it was called “gumbo”.

After a dismal tour in the bitter wind, everyone returned to their carriages, driving back to the city at the pace of a funeral cortege. McKim found a telegram awaiting; the message was that his mother had died. He left immediately on the next train to Boston.

That evening, the entire committee convened at the University Club, the first of many lavish dinners that would take place. Avoiding a swarm of reporters, they entered the banquet hall. Hunt and Olmsted were ushered to the head table, where they flanked Lyman Gage, President of the Exposition. All were in tuxedos, and a red rose boutonniere was at each place. (more…)

‘Hunt’ing Down History, Part 14

By Barbara Emery Moseley

NOTE: If you’ve missed any installments in this series, you can catch up here!

Although George Vanderbilt’s 600-room mansion “Belleville,” in Ashville, NC, still demanded attention from Richard Morris Hunt, in 1893, he also became involved in the plans for buildings at the “World’s Columbian Exposition” in Chicago. Its purpose was to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Columbus’s discovery of America. The city, now mostly recovered from its disastrous 1871 fire, had been chosen by Congress. There was pressure, also, to produce a structure that should surpass in every way the iconic Eiffel Tower, which had been built for the 1867 Paris Exposition.

The oversight of the massive project and the selection of architects, fell to Daniel Burnham of Chicago, an architect himself. He was told to meet with “the greatest architects America has to offer: George Post, Charles McKim, and Richard Morris Hunt.” Hunt — a scion of the Hunt family in Vernon — was the nation’s “most venerable architect,” and also “a man of legendary irascibility,” Burnham later wrote. (more…)

‘Hunt’ing down history, Part 13

by Barbara Emery Moseley

Before the Hunt family’s move to Europe, Richard Morris Hunt had attended the prestigious Boston Latin School where, coincidentally, a Hunt cousin of his was headmaster. It was well known as a school that prepared boys for Harvard.

Instead, the family moved to Europe where Richard began his college education in Switzerland. Then, following in the footsteps of his brother, William Morris Hunt, he went to the École des Beaux Arts in Paris. There, he was the pupil and colleague of Hector Martin Lefuel, architect to Napoleon III.

In a letter to his mother, Richard complained that he “had been told America was not ready for the Fine Arts, but I think they are … Why shouldn’t our public buildings rival or even surpass those of Europe?” So, at the age of twenty-seven, he returned to the United States.

It was a disappointing beginning for the 27-year-old, but he resisted the ardent entreaties of his colleagues in Europe, that he return. His persistence was rewarded, and he became known as one of the greatest American architects of the 19th century. (more…)

Miller Farm to celebrate 100 years with an open house July 17

The whole Miller farm family

The whole Miller farm family

Sunday, July 17 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The Miller family has been dairy farming for 100 years at the crossroads of Fort Bridgman Road (Route 142), Governor Hunt Road and the New England Central Railroad.

And on July 17, they’re celebrating with an open house from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. to which all residents and interested people are invited.

The celebration features hayride tours and guided walking tours of the farm, a display by Stonyfield Yogurt, and refreshments including anniversary cake, milk, cheese and cookies. There a small petting zoo with heifers and goats, and visitors can “touch a tractor,” play farm games, and of course meet the farmers.

At about 1 p.m. that day, there will be some formalities to mark the occasion, including speeches by John Meyers, president of the Holstein Association USA (the world’s largest cattle breed organization, which is based in Brattleboro) and Ryan Mclaren of Congressman Peter Welch’s staff. (more…)

‘Hunt’ing down history, Part 11

By Barbara Emery Moseley

Imagine Brattleboro’s Main Street in the Spring of 1822. There are three hotels along its unpaved length. The stagecoach stop is at the Brattleboro House, on the north corner of Main and Elliot. Teams of oxen haul goods from the river landing. Salt cod, sugar, molasses, spices, cloth, glass, black powder, and cigars have been delivered by flatboats. Products going downriver will be lumber, grain, tallow, and pork. A stop may be made in Vernon to pick up roofing slate, brought to the river from the quarries at the Guilford/Vernon border. (It will be a quarter-century before steam trains will deliver passengers and freight to the locality, making commerce and travel easier.)

At the north corner of High and Main Streets, Brattleboro’s downtown residential area begins. First is an imposing two-story white house surrounded by green lawns and shaded by tall elms. It is the new house of Jonathan Hunt II, who was born in Vernon in 1787. He had graduated from Dartmouth, studied law and was admitted to the bar, and married Jane Maria Leavitt of Suffield, Connecticut, in 1821. It will become the birthplace of a remarkable family whose members will experience great acclaim and devastating tragedy. (more…)

Vernon Historians news

The Vernon Historians will have their quarterly meeting on Tuesday, July 12, starting at 6:30 p.m. at the Town Office Building.

Paul Miller will present a short program on the history of the Miller Farm, including pictures and stories.

The Miller Farm will be hold an open house on July 17th to celebrate their 100th anniversary.

Refreshments will be served. This event is free and open to the public.

My hero — the story of Bob “Howie” Howe

By Christiane Howe

Although Bob “Howie” Howe did not die during combat, he did die still fighting the war. This is my tribute to him. I love you and miss you, honey, each and every day. My only solace is that you are no longer fighting and you are at peace and with the Lord you so faithfully served.

Bob Howe grew up in Vernon, VT. He graduated B.U.H.S. class of 1967. By 1968, he was tired of waiting for his draft number to come up and decided to gamble a little and get on with his life and got married. While in Vietnam, Bob was one of our American heroes; while fighting a war, he received a “Dear John” letter, therefore, not only did he battle the Viet Cong, at the same time, he also battled a broken heart. I remember him telling me that he wanted to wander off and never be heard of again. Imagine the pain.

Fourteen days later, as he put it, “I received greetings from the U.S. Army.” Bob was off to Fort Dix for basic training. From there, it was on to Advanced Infantry training in California where he said he “learned to disarm (not fix) everything from booby traps to mines.” He learned how to escape and evade and spent time in a mock prisoner of war camp that looked authentic and real. He said, “It was a place where soldiers had their feet tied and were hung upside down. They put guys in barrels. They showed us what to expect if we were captured. It was scary stuff and what I learned,” said Bob, “was that there just was no way I was going to get captured. The instructors did their jobs. They had my complete attention.” (more…)