With the opening of the western country, and the rise
of the great manufacturing towns, the production of butter and cheese with
the raising of cattle and sheep for market, completely superseded the
raising of wheat.
Cloth, both linen and woolen, was in constant demand,
and the settlers of Ryegate brought from Scotland some new ideas about
their manufacture, especially the coloring of woolen yarn, which caused
the cloth made here to be much sought after. Before the invention of the
power loom and the spinning frame, everything in the process of converting
a pound of wool into its equivalent in cloth was done by hand, and "fulled
cloth," as the finished product of woolen goods for men’s wear was called,
brought, in 1810, from $2.50 to $3.00 per yard, and inferior cloth, or
that requiring less skill in its manufacture, in proportion. Consequently
it paid to work up into cloth all the wool produced on the farm, and thus
employment was provided for all the family. Even a very little child could
wind quills, the older girls were skillful spinners, the matrons plied the
shuttle, and in many homes the spinning wheel and the loom were hardly
silent from Monday morning till Saturday at e’en. Satinett, a kind of
fancy cloth, made with cotton warp and woolen filling, brought from $2.75
to $3.25 per yard. A suit of clothes in those days cost much more than one
does now, but its wearing quality was of a sort wholly unknown to the
present generation. We have before spoken of the manufacture of tow and
linen cloth. Some old account books show that at Haverhill Corner, in
1800, tow cloth brought about 37 cents per yard, while of linen the price
paid varied from thirty cents to a dollar, according to its quality.
An account book of a store kept by Thomas Barstow, in
1814, in the "Franconia House" at Wells River, which appears to have been
well patronized by Ryegate people, gives the cost of many articles in use
at that time, and the prices paid for produce brought in for exchange. A
careful study of its items makes one doubt if the common idea that a
dollar would go further then than two dollars will go now, is strictly
true. Mr. Barstow dealt in dry goods, groceries, drugs, books and ardent
spirits—very much indeed of the latter.
The common price of calico was $1.00 per yard, gingham
and cotton cloth 56 cents, flannel $1.00 per yard, and cotton yarn the
same price by the pound. Tea was $1.00 a pound, "loaf" sugar 44 cents, and
brown sugar, and "sap sugar," 20 cents per pound, while molasses was $1.67
per gallon. On the other hand, coffee was cheaper than now, as were boots
and shoes, china and earthen ware. Nutmegs were a shilling, or 17 cts.
each, a price which must have greatly stimulated their manufacture in
Connecticut. Nails were 16 cts. per lb., much lower than formerly, as
machine-made nails were beginning to compete with those made by hand.
Coarse salt was $2.25 per bushel, and raisins 50 cts. a pound.
The usual price for butter was 9d a pound, or 12½ cts.,
and for eggs a cent each in summer. There is no mention of any in winter.
The prices of all articles are given in shillings and pence, and in
dollars and cents as well. Forty years ago the older people "reckoned" in
shillings and pence—six shillings to the dollar. The custom died with
them, and to the present generation "four and six, half-penny," is as
unintelligible as its corresponding designation in Choctaw.
Old account books of early days indicate that only a
limited number of articles were kept by country stores. Indeed, but for
the trade in ardent spirits, they could hardly have existed at all. In
those days farmers produced nearly every article they used. The boots and
shoes worn by the family were made from the hides of cattle slaughtered on
the farm, converted into leather at the local tannery, and made up by the
shoemaker, who traveled from farm to farm for the purpose. When people
producd their own flour, their own meat, their own sugar, their clothing
and foot wear, they were independent of the butcher, the baker, and the
There was a demand for lumber, but at prices which seem
ridiclously small, and the fact that so much lumber was cut and sold at
such low prices indicates the scarcity of money, when people were willing
to work so hard for so little in return. Old growth pine, not now to be
had at any price; sold for about $5 per M., when sawed into lumber.
Shingles were made by hand, and there were men who made a business of
shaving shingles the year round, and these were in demand, both in the
town and for export.
But for lumber, both in the log and manufactured, the
only road to market was by way of the river. The late Hon. Charles B.
Leslie of Wells River thus describes the manner of its transportation.
"The boats once used on Connecticut River would carry
about twenty-five tons of merchandise, and they went down the river loaded
wiih clapboards, shingles and the like, and brought back heavy goods like
iron, salt, rum, molasses and sugar These boats were made for the use of
square sails, set in the middle of the boat. They had a crew of seven men
to propel them up the river, six spike pole men who worked
three on each side, by placing one end of the pole on
the river bottom, the other end against the boatman’s shoulder, and
walking back about half the length of the boat, pushing on the pole. The
captain steered with a wide bladed oar at the rear. Rafts of lumber were
made up here, to be piloted down the river to Hartford, Conn., in boxes
sixty feet long and thirteen wide, just the right size to go through the
locks at the falls on the river, singly. There was a saw mill at Dodge’s
Falls, where timber was sawed and floated down through the narrows to
Ingalls eddy, where they put six boxes together, making what was called a
‘division'" [History of Newbury, p. 156]
At the present time when the river is only used for the
transportation of saw logs, it is hard to realize that before the railroad
was built, a large commerce was carried upon it.
Wells River was the head of navigation, and from there,
after canals were constructed around the falls, between here and
tide-water, boats could pass to Hartford without breaking bulk, and the
river traffic built up the village. The wharves and other landing places
were where the freight depot grounds are now, and there were several boat
builders, whose yards bordered on the river. Old people can remember
seeing fifty loaded teams at a time, two, four and six horse teams, with
produce of all kinds, from the north country, along the streets. Much of
it was sent down the river, and two classes of boats called, respectively,
"pine boats," and "oak boats," were in use. A mast, which could be lowered
to pass under bridges, was attached to each, and the white sails rising
above the farms, through which the river meanders, formed a picturesque
feature in the landscape.
The pine boats, of which we have spoken, were not very
substantially built, and were sometimes sold for lumber at the end of the
trip. They had no cabin, the crew boarding on shore. In the middle of the
boat the sides were raised to the height of a man’s head, and covered with
an awning, under which the freight was housed.
Oak boats were more substantially built, and were
provided with a cabin, and bunks for the crew. It took about twenty-five
days for a boat to go from Wells River to Hartford and return. In addition
to the wages of the men, there was a charge of about $4.00 per ton for
tolls at the various canals. In 1823, seven dollars per ton was charged by
a boating company from Concord via, the Middlesex Canal to Boston, and ten
dollars per ton from Boston to Concord.
These figures show why so many farmers went to market
with their own produce—it was the cheapest way to get it there, and in
good sleighing hundreds of teams from the north country, passed down the
Merrimae valley every day. It will be seen that it cost much more to bring
goods here than it does now. In 1816, a merchant at Danville stated in the
N. H. Patriot, that the freight on his merchandise cost him $32 per ton.
Various schemes for improving the navigation of the Connecticut, by means
of canals, and the construction of a canal from the Merrimack valley,
occupied public attention for some years. In 1831, a steamboat, called the
Adam Duncan, was built at Wells River, just above the mouth of the river
of the same name. It was sixty feet in length, on the keel, with a breadth
of twelve feet, the guards projecting over the sides to an entire width of
nineteen and one-half feet. It drew twenty-two inches of water, cost
$4,700, and great things were expected of it, but it came to grief on the
second trip. The year before a small steamboat came up to Wells River,
intending to run to Barnet. It was taken through the "Narrows," but, even
with the help of a crowd of men hauling at a long rope, it was unable to
cross the bar. The boat went down the river, and never came back. In 1832,
the steamboat company failed, and, soon after, people began to talk about
railroads, on which it was thought that trains might run at the rate of
six miles an hour, in good weather.
In those days, when people went to market with their
own teams; when merchants kept teams of their own constantly on the road;
when there were men engaged in teaming, the year round, with their own
horses; in short, the "old stage times," taverns were frequent along the
most traveled roads, and there were several in Ryegate on the "county
road." Inn keepers were, in those days, men of good standing and wide
acquaintance, who, owning good farms, provided for themselves a market for
all they could raise. Of course each tavern had a bar, and ardent spirits
were sold, the bar-room being the general resort of the neighborhood. Mr.
Miller says that the first tavern in town was built by Dea. Andrew Brock,
a little north of the brick house at the Corner, but he may have meant
that it was the first house built for a tavern, Mr. Mason says that John
Gray kept for some years the only tavern in town, the only one between
Newbury and Canada.
In 1796, the town "approbated" for tavern keepers,
Josiah Page Esq., Andrew Brock, Samuel and Hugh Johnson, and Capt. John
Gray. In 1797, Nathan Barker Page is first mentioned as an inn-keeper,
Jabez Bigelow in 1798. In 1800, Alexander McDonald was, for the first
time, "approbated" to keep a place of public entertainment, James Esden in
1803, Eri Chamberlin in 1805, Robert Brock in 1808, Nathaniel Smith in
1810. It appears that, a century ago, there were six taverns in Ryegate.
The earlier taverns were along the "county road," as
the main road from Newbury to Danville was called. Until 1792, Orange
county embraced all the state north of Windsor county, and east of the
Green Mountains. In that year Caledonia County was organized, and Danville
made the county seat, making it for many years the most important place
between Haverhill and Canada, and the stage center for a large
section of country, so that most of the business and
travel was along this road. There was no road along the river above Barnet
till some years after the revolutionary war, but a road was made from the
"Harvey tract," north of Harvey’s Mountain, and the north end of the lake
to the center of the town, thence down Joe’s Brook to its junction with
the Passumpsic, and afterwards extended up the river as settlements
advanced. Consequently the Hazen road, as we prefer to call it, was the
main highway of travel and business, numbers of loaded teams passed along
it daily, and, according to old people, at one period, there were seven
inns along that road in this town.
Mr. Miller says that the first tavern at the Corner was
built by Dea. Andrew Brock, and its site is marked by its cellar, a little
above the brick house and on the same side of the road. It was called the
"Old Red House," and had a large patronage. In the course of years several
barns and other outbuildings were added, which have long disappeared.
Mr. J. M. Goodwin, whose memory goes back to 1825, says
that Samuel Peters kept that tavern during many years, succeeding Jabez
Bigelow. After Peter’s time it was let to William Morrill and Joshua
Bailey, when it was burned.
The Morrill tavern stand was south of the Corner, under
the great elm, of which there were formerly two. Josiah Page kept tavern
there, as did his son, Nathan Barker Page. Ebenezer Morrill came there
about 1820, and it was continued by him and his sons during many years.
The Morrills were stage owners and mail contractors. Henry F. Slack also
kept tavern at the Corner in the ‘40’s and there must have been others
whose names are not remembered. Robert Whitelaw kept tavern on his farm
many years, only a depression in the ground is all that marks the site of
the old stand.
A very interesting and valuable book could be written
about stages, inns, post routes and post offices in this part of New
England, in days before the railroad came, and the materials for such a
work exist. But our narrative must confine itself to those facilities
which were available to Ryegate people. It will be understood that in the
early years, before 1800, the country was new, and the roads were bad at
the best, and
people traveled on foot and on horse back, so it was
only the strong and vigorous who could travel at all, except, perhaps, in
winter. People generally traveled with their own teams and it was not
until about a century ago that roads were good enough for wheeled
vehicles, and there began to be a class of people who were willing to pay
for being carried from place to place. About 1809, Silas May, who was then
the mail carrier between Concord and Haverhill, began to convey it in a
wagon, and any chance passenger as well. When Rev. David Sutherland came
to Bath in 1803, his diary says that thcy left New York City by stage on
Wednesday, spent Sunday in Hartford and reached Hanover on Wednesday, just
a week on the road. Hanover was then, and for some years before and after,
the head of stage navigation in the Connecticut valley.
The increase of population and wealth in this part of
the country is indicated by the improvement of traveling facilities.
Haverhill Corner became the great stage centre in this region, and
Danville Green, as it was then called, a lesser one. It is not precisely
known when the mail carrier between Newbury and Danville began to convey
his mail in a wagon, in which he also took a chance traveler, or a bundle,
or when that primitive conveyance was superseded by a stage route. In
1810, a line of stages between Boston and Quebec was
in operation long enough for the proprietors to discover, to their cost,
that they were ahead of the times. But it is certain that as early as
1817, a stage from Danville to Haverhill reached the latter place on
Monday evening of each week. It seems strange that the "North Star," then
published at Danville, gives us no information about the stage and mail
affairs of the time. These old newspapers are invariably silent upon those
topics in which we are most interested.
The traveler by the Danville stage in 1820 reached
Haverhill Corner after dark on Thursday, resuming his journey at four
o’clock in the morning, to reach Concord about six p. m., in the evening.
Another long day’s journey took him to Boston.
A graphic picture of old stage times in the north
country about 1820 is given by the late Arthur Livermore in some
"Recollections of Haverhill Corner," and which we cannot resist the
temptation to reproduce.
"The eastern stage left Haverhill on Mondays and
Fridays at four o’clock in the morning. Before that hour the driver went
through the village to knock at the doors from which the passengers were
booked, and with the butt of his great whipstock failed not to waken them,
and many of the neighbors as well. But they all knew the cause of the din,
and though not without neighborly interest in it, soon composed themselves
to sleep again. The coaches used were sundry, of abnormal forms, tentative
in the direction of utility and comeliness, rejecting experiments
apparently, and therefore adapted to an enterprise which was claimed also
an experiment exposed to like failure. But the managers were obliging
toward their customers, were persevering and faithful, and so, in the
distant end successful.
The coach, starting at four o’clock in the morning with
the mail, no larger than could be easily carried upon the driver’s arm,
and tossed into its place where he seemed to keep it by sitting upon it,
together with the passengers arrived at Morse’s inn in Rumney for a
breakfast that seemed late. After which it proceeded by Mayhew’s turnpike
and that part of Salisbury now called Franklin, to Concord, which it
reached about six in the afternoon, unless retarded by adverse conditions
of weather, spring and autumn mud, and the like. We were drawn at
successive and interchangeable teams by Smart, May, and Houston.
Smart was accounted the best whip, and proud of the
distinction, upset his coach, and was run away with by his horses more
frequently than the rest. Col. Silas May was of serious demeanor like a
deacon, but not otherwise remarkable, but, finally, to escape trouble in
some forgotten form, ran off. But Houston witched the world by means of an
immensely long tin horn, which announced the coming of the stage, as it
were a band of music.
I shall not forget the gamut of that amazing
instrument, the tramp of the four steaming horses, the rattle and creak of
the coach, and the jingle of the chains and other gear as the man drove by
us boys who had gone out on a summer’s evening to meet it. We had been
released from school, had our tea, and the cool and tranquil evening which
disposed us often to that quiet pastime, took effect apparently with the
older generation that failed not to be represented at the Grafton Hotel."
The fathers and grandfathers of many Ryegate people
were passengers in these old coaches, under the care of these drivers,
ninety years ago.
The first letter received by James Whitelaw, from
Scotland, after his arrival in Ryegate, is thus addressed—
Mr. James Whitelaw,
Land Surveyor in North America,
At Ryegate on Connecticut River,
To the care of Capt. Moses Little,
Merchant at Newbury Port,
To be forwarded to the care of Col. William Wallace,
Merchant at Newbury, Coos.
During the revolutionary war, letters from Scotland
were sent by way of Holland. Those from Ryegate to Scotland were sent from
Newburyport as opportunity offered. Letters preserved indicate that about
one-half of the former reached their destination, and about one-third of
the latter. Letters were also sent from Scotland, by persons coming to
join the colony. After the war, correspondence became more frequent, and
was less interrupted.
Before the war, all letters were conveyed to this part
of the country by private hands, as there were no post offices, or mail
carriers, except along the sea coast. In 1776, a post rider was appointed
by the Council of Safety to go from Portsmouth to Haverhill, once in two
weeks, by way of Plymouth, and return by Hanover and Keene. This service
was intended for the conveyance of military information, but the carrier,
John Balch, who performed the service faithfully for seven years, was
allowed to carry private letters for a small sum. This was the beginning
of the Postal service in this part of New England.
At that time, and for some years afterward, it took
from three to five days for a letter to come here from Boston, and a week
to come from New York. In 1807, it required eight weeks to bring a letter
from Ohio. Postage upon letters was very high, a shilling, or 17 cents
from Boston, 1s.6d, or 25 cents, from New York. Few letters were
prepaid, and men who held much correspondence by mail, often made a
written agreement as to how the postage should be divided.
Comparatively few letters passed through the mail, most
were sent by private hands, and a man going to any particular place, was
expected to let people know before hand, that they might send letters by
him. This was illegal, and stringent laws were enacted against the
practice, but juries would not convict, and the government could not
enforce its laws. About 1820, postage was reduced, so that the lowest rate
was six cents; above thirty miles, ten cents, above eighty miles,
ninepence, and so on, till letters going over 400 miles paid twenty-five
cents. In 1846, postage was reduced to five cents for distances under 300
miles, and ten cents between places more distant. In 1800, and probably
for many years afterward, letters from Scotland were prepaid to the
American port of landing, and then forwarded, the postage for the balance
of the journey being collected at its termination. Most of the letters
from Scotland, which are preserved, seem to have been brought by private
In 1785, a mail carrier was appointed by the state to
travel from Brattleboro to Newbury once a week, receiving two pence, hard
money, per mile, for the service. This route was discontinued north of
Hanover in 1791, but one was established by the state of New Hampshire,
which extended to Haverhill. In 1795, the federal government assumed
control of the mail service, and established post offices at Haverhill and
Newbury. The service was a weekly one, and the office at Haverhill was
kept by Capt. Joseph Bliss, at his inn, where Dr. Leith now lives, and
that at Newbury, by Col. Thomas Johnson, in his house at the Oxbow now the
residence of Henry K. Heath.
On Sept. 1, 1799, a mail route went into operation
between Newbury and Danville, once a week. Gen. James Whitelaw was the
first postmaster in Ryegate, Samuel Goss at Peacham, and David Dunbar at
Danville. It was not till 1810, that a post office route was established
beyond Danville. Jacob Fowler was the first mail carrier. Robert Whitelaw
succeeded his father as postmaster, and kept the office at his house.
William Gray was the next incumbent, where G. G. Nelson now lives, and his
successors were Alexander Harvey, George Cowles, Alexander Cochran and
John A. McLam, all in the store at the Corner.
After the railroad was completed to St. Johnsbury the
stage from Wells River to Danville was taken off, and the stage from Wells
River to Groton went around by Ryegate Corner, and there was no office at
Boltonville. In 1865, the latter office was re-opened, and the Ryegate
mail was brought up from Boltonville for some years.
It took people some time to get adjusted to the new way
of having a post office in their own town, as witness the following among
the Johnson papers at Newbury, from the Ryegate minister :—
Sir: I have been astonished why my newspapers did not
come forward regularly since I came here, as they came regularly in the
other parts of the Union. I begin now to conceive it is because that when
I did not know that the Post went further than Newbury, I directed them
sent to the care of Mr. Wallace, as the place whence I could expect them
most regularly. but as there is now a Post Office in this township, you
will oblige me much if you send them forward to Mr. Whitelaw’s until I
shall be writing to Philadelphia, and I shall order them to be directed to
myself. I expect, Sir, you will be so kind as to send them right forward
by Mr. Fowler to me for the future and oblige your Humb’l. Serv’t.,
Ryegate, July 18, 1800.
Newspaper postage was very high. In 1799, the postage
on the Portsmouth Chronicle to Ryegate was $1.75 per annum, on the
Connecticut Courant 85 cents, and on the Boston Centinel
$1.50. In 1798, Col. Asa Porter of Haverhill paid $2.60 postage on the
General Advertiser, printed twice each week at Philadelphia. As late
as 1817, Rev. Mr. Lambert of Newbury had to pay 78 cents postage on the
Boston Recorder. The lowest rate of postage on newspapers was one cent
on each copy, for distances less than 100 miles.
When it cost eight cents or more to send a letter, and
only one cent to send a newspaper, people contrived to communicate with
each other at small expense, by sending a paper in which letters and words
were marked, which read consecutively, made sentences.
The first newspaper printed in this part of the
Connecticut valley was the Orange Nightingale and Newbury Morning Star,
which was published for a few months in 1796, by Nathaniel Coverly,
Jr. No complete copy of a single number is known to be in existence, but
part of a single number, for Aug. 25, is preserved. The enterprise was
short-lived, and the type and fixtures were sold to Parley & Goss of
Peacham, and used in the publication of the first paper in Caledonia
County, called the "Green Mountain Post." This paper was also
short-lived, and the materials were taken to Danville, and used in
starting the "North Star," in 1804.
The postage on newspapers was so high that country
editors found it for their advantage to have their papers distributed by
private carriers, and the fragment of the Newbury paper, owned by the
library at that place, contains the following notice:
Phillip Rawlins proposes riding as Post thro the towns
of Reigate, Barnet and Peacham, in each of which towns any person who
wishes to become a subscriber for the Orange Nightingale will be
supplied at the moderate price of ten shillings per annum. In Duesburg,
(Danville) Cabot, Walden arid Hardwick at Twelve Shillings, and through
Greens-borough and Craftsborough for Fourteen Shillings per annum. Those
persons who will please to favor him with their commissions may depend on
having their business strictly attended to. Newbury, Aug. 25, 1796.
The last sentence means that the post rider also
executed commissions, carried letters and parcels, and as this was three
years before there was any post office or mail route north of Newbury,
Phillip Rawlin’s service, however brief, was the beginning of postal
service in the north part of the state. For many years after its
establishment the Danville North Star was distributed by carriers.
In the last decade of the 18th century the rapid
development of the towns in the valley above Barnet demanded better
facilities for transportation through that town and Ryegate, to the head
of water navigation at Wells River. The unwillingness of both towns to tax
themselves for the building and maintenance of expensive roads, mainly for
the benefit of other towns, and the outcome of certain suits at law, for
damages resulting from bad roads, led to the formation of the Passunipsic
Turnpike Company, and the building of the Passumpsic Turnpike, an
enterprise considered in its day almost as great as was the building of
the Passumpsic Railroad, forty-five years later.
That was the age of turnpikes, enterprises which sought
to provide a way of transportation at the expense of those who availed
themselves of it.
The company was chartered by the General Assembly. in
1805, and consisted of James Whitelaw of Ryegate, Timothy Haseltine, Enos
Stevens and Roman Fyler of Barnet, Azarias Williams of Lyndon, Luther
Jewett and Joseph Lord of St. Johnsbury, Benjamin Porter and Asa Tenney of
Newbury. They were given authority to construct and maintain the road, for
which service they were to receive tolls for each person, animal, or
vehicle, passing over it, and to maintain toll gates at which such tolls
were to be collected.
Certain specified persons were exempt from
toll—physicians, residents whose dwellings lay upon the road, persons on
their way to or from church, grist or saw mill, or to do military duty.
Later, residents of both towns were exempt from toll.
The charter was for a turnpike from the mouth of Wells
River "as far as the house of Deacon Twaddle, in Barnet," and to be not
less than 18 feet in width.
William Cahoon of Lyndon, Presbury West of St.
Johnsbury, Joseph Armington of Waterford, James Whitelaw of Ryegate, and
Thomas Johnson of Newbury, were the committee appointed to locate the
road, which was surveyed by Andrew Lockie. The distance from Newbury line
to Barnet line was seven miles, 121 rods, 15 links. The construction of
the road began in 1807, near the month of Joe’s brook in Barnet, and about
a mile was constructed in that year. In 1808 the road was completed to the
Ryegate line, when a special act of the legislature granted the privilege
of taking half toll. Later the road was extended, a few miles at a time,
to Wells River. It is understood that about $26,000 was spent on the road
at the outset, and, later, alterations costing about $7,000 were made in
Ryegate and Barnet. These alterations amounted to nearly seven miles, and
the result was to give the region a better road than it had ever known
before. Such portions of the roads already existing as could be utilized,
were surrendered to the company, and new locations were made where they
would be an improvement. Part of the road in Ryegate was built by James
Beattie, and the huge wooden plow used in its construction is preserved in
the Fairbanks Museum at St. Johnsbury.
Mr. A. J. Finlay gives the location of the turnpike in
"It was the same as now traveled from Barnet village to
the Ryegate line, north of the railroad crossing. It ran over the Mclndoe
hill by Hazen Burbank’s log house, through the Moore farm, by a house
owned by Mr. Moore, but not by the buildings where the Moores now live. It
then ran by the McCole’s, where Elmer Chamberlin now lives, then by the
Pollard’s, where Horace Chamberlin lives, then through the Gibson and
Beattie farms (the latter now owned by Wm. J. Smith), passing the
buildings some distance back from where they are now.
It then passed the Manchester buildings, through the
Nelson farm, now owned by Charles M. Wallace, and then by the Henderson
buildings on the farm now owned by Martin Gibson. It then passed by the
place where the Page’s now live, and by the brick house built and used as
a tavern by Andrew Warden, where A. A. Miller has long lived; thence to
Mr. James Gilfillan says that the first toll gate was
on the Beattie farm, later moved to the place now owned by Martin Turner,
between Mclndoes and Barnet. After a time, and for the last time, it was
located just south of Mr. Finlay’s house at Mclndoes. A small brick house
stood there which was occupied by a Scotchman by name of Monteith, who
wove stockings and took tolls.
The location of the other toll gates cannot be given.
The rates of toll were changed from time to time, and it is not necessary
to follow them.
James Whitelaw was the first clerk and treasurer, and
after him Robert Whitelaw held the same offices. Several notices of
assessments upon the stock of the company are preserved, and later notices
of dividends, which show that the enterprise did something more than pay
expenses. Taverns were opened along the turnpike by Thomas Nelson and
Andrew Warden, and perhaps others.
But turnpikes were never popular, and there was always
more or less friction between the towns and the company. Ryegate and
Barnet people considered that the road was managed for the benefit of
people in the towns above them, while the latter seriously objected to
paying tolls, and wanted a road built and maintained by the towns through
which it passed. In 1824, on petition, a committee was appointed by the
Supreme Court to layout a new road from Wells River to Barnet line, which
would be made and maintained by the town, a free road. Archibald Park was
appointed to lay a remonstrance before the court. The towns having either
to pay tolls on the turnpike, or build a new road, instructed the
selectmen to make the best bargain they could with the turnpike
corporation, desiring that Ryegate people should pass the gate free of
toll, the town assisting in its maintenance. At the same time the town
contrived to evade the building of the new road, and in 1826, Judge
Cameron was appointed to appear before the legislature with
counsel, and have the Supreme Court report set aside, and the
selectmen made a compromise with the directors of the turnpike. The
legislature authorized the purchase by the town of shares in the turnpike
stock, and thus secured a voice in its management, and the freedom of the
road to Ryegate people.
Some years later, a long and costly suit by the town of
Barnet, to recover the cost of building about a mile of highway, upon
which, after its completion, the turnpike company had been allowed to
relay its own road, was decided against the town by the Supreme Court,
reversing the decision of the lower courts. This tended to further
increase the unpopularity of the turnpike.
Under an act of the legislature of 1839, John Armington
and 321 others petitioned the Supreme Court, and a committee was appointed
to lay out a public road through Ryegate and Barnet to Wells River, along
the line of the turnpike, and the committee awarded the sum of $4,000, to
be paid the company, as the value of its franchise. Of this $76.00 was to
be paid by Newbury, $2,094 by Ryegate, and $1,830 by Barnet, Henry Stevens
of Barnet, president of the company, brought suit to determine the
constitutionality of the law, which, being established, the turnpike
company ceased to exist.
The decision of the court expressed the situation in
these words: "It cannot escape the observation of any one that the lapse
of about half a century since the granting of the franchise must have made
a considerable difference in the public worth, and the public claims to a
Another venture, which never got far beyond its
organization, was the Boston & Montreal Turnpike Co., which was chartered
in 1809, whose incorporators were William Chamberlin and Jonathan Elkins,
of Peacham, Benjamin Porter, Asa Tenney and William Wallace of Newbury,
Asa Porter of Haverhill, Micah Barron of Bradford, and Samuel C. Crafts of
Craftsbury. The men behind this scheme were prominent business men, all
the way from Boston to Montreal, who were interested in opening a stage
line between these two cities, and the development of the intervening
country. Several interesting letters respecting the road, the resources of
the northern part of the state and the part of Canada between Montreal and
Richford, are among the Johnson and Whitelaw papers. The survey line of
the proposed road, by General Whitelaw, beginning at David Johnson’s store
at Newbury, and ending at Canada Line in Berkshire, now preserved at
Montpelier, is valuable as giving the precise residence of many persons at
that time in the northern part of the state, as well as showing the
location of the Hazen Road, from which it only varies in short sections.
The entire distance was 73 miles, and some of the intervening data are
worth preserving. The distances are computed "from the cornerat Mr.
Clough’s house" (where Mrs. Erastus Baldwin now lives) in Wells River
village, and nine miles and a fraction brings it to Barnet line, "just
beyond Hauhilan’s Brook," 10 3/4 miles "to the corner near Peter
Buchanan’s," 14 miles to Peacham Corner "where the road from Chelsea to
Danville crosses," 20 miles to Cabot line, 281/2 to Lamoille river in
Hardwick, 37 to Craftsbury Common, 54 "to Hazen’s Notch at the top in
Westfield," from which 15 miles brought the road to Missisquoi river.
But troubles which preceded the breaking out of the war
of 1812, the deaths of several who were prominent in the enterprise,
together with several successive "bad years," caused its abandonment. In
September, 1810, the town was indicted by the grand jury for failure to
keep the Hazen Road in repair, and the town had to raise a special tax to
meet the cost of the repairs ordered by the committee. In 1821, an act of
the legislature declared the road from Wells River through the center of
Ryegate, (the Hazen Road), to be part of a "Market Road" from Canada, and
in 1824, on petition of some inhabitants of towns north of it, a committee
was appointed by the court to alter the road in certain places, and assess
one-half the cost upon the town.
Before the Passumpsic Turnpike Company passed out of
existence. people had for several years discussed the project of building
a railroad up the Connecticut and Passumpsic valleys to Canada, and a
charter was granted Nov. 10, 1835, for a railroad from Massachusetts line
in the town of Vernon to Canada line in the town of Derby. No work was
ever done under that charter, which became void. A second charter was
granted in 1843, under the name of "The Connecticut and Passumpsic Rivers
Railroad," and the corporation was organized at Wells River, Jan. 15,
1846, with Erastus Fairbanks of St. Johnsbury as president. The road was
completed for business to Wells River, Nov. 6, 1848, and with its opening
a new era began for Ryegate and all the north country. The old and slow
methods of travel, transportation, and the transmission of intelligence
had passed. New York and Boston, only reached before by long and tedious
journeys, were now only a day’s ride away. The telegraph which soon
followed brought tidings from far distant cities.
The change which had come was not perceived at once. It
took people nuch time to adjust themselves to modern ways; meanwhile the
change went on. The first locomotive whistle heard in the town was the
signal for a new era, and changes, not always for the better, set in.
Work began on the railroad above Wells River, Dec. 17,
1849, trains began to run to Mclndoes, Oct. 7, 1850, and the road was
completed to St. Johnsbury on the 23rd of November in that year.
The present Montpelier and Wells River Railroad was
chartered in 1867, work was begun upon it in the summer of 1871, and it
was cornpleted to Montpelier in 1873. The subsequent history of the
railroad is not a part of the annals of the town.