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History of Ryegate, Vermont
Chapter XIX



BEFORE leaving the subject of manufactures in this town it may be noted that the changing industrial conditions of the past sixty years have occasioned the discontinuance of many trades and small industries which once flourished in country towns. in almost every town in this vicinity are sites of former industries, some of which had considerable reputation in their day, and were the centers of small hamlets in which the workmen lived. Some of these passed away so long ago that only the older people know where the buildings stood. The discontinuance of these small industries has assisted in producing the decrease of population in many towns, a fact not sufficiently considered by those who write of the loss in the population of rural communities.

Before the days of railroads many industries which are now concen trated in large towns where great numbers of workmen and large aggregations of capital are employed, were scattered all over the country in small concerns, where local capital found employment, and where the operatives were gathered from the immediate neighborhood. They also provided, to a limited extent, a market for the farmers in their vicinity. Sixty years ago there were woolen mills in Barnet, Danville, Sutton, Bath, Haverhill and other towns in this vicinity; foundries and machine shops at Bradford, extensive iron works at Franconia, tanneries and starch factories in almost every town. These have all disappeared, and, in most cases nothing has taken their place. There were, also, fulling mills, flax mills, carding mills and the like.

In a few cases, like these last mentioned, the industry itself has fallen into disuse, but in others, after the railroad came, it brought the products of great manufacturing centers at a price with which the small country manufacturer could not compete, and had to go out of business.

Every town in this vicinity had one or more tanneries, at which the farmer could have the hides of cattle slaughtered upon his farm converted into excellent leather, and they made a market, to a limited extent, for hemlock bark. The process was slow, the hides lying in the vats for several months. There have been at least two tanneries in Ryegate. Robert Whitelaw carried on the business for many years, employing several men in the work, and in making boots and shoes. Harry Moore learned the trade of him, and went into the tanning business with John Gibson at the Corner, on the small brook near the creamery but west of the road, and a little above it.

Mr. Miller mentions that at one time within his recollection there were ten shoemakers in this town, some of whom had shops where they employed workmen as apprentices, others traveled from farm to farm with their kits of tools. There were others who farmed in summer and did shoemaking in winter. These were manufacturers on a small scale, as were the blacksmiths and the carpenters.

Mr. Mason says that in 1830 there were nine blacksmith shops in Ryegate. Many articles were then made by hand by the local blacksmith, such as locks, hinges, scythes, horse and ox shoes, and the like, which are now machine made and sold at stores. In the earlier years iron was very dear and hard to be had. Every scrap was utilized, and blacksmiths made horse shoes out of old scythes. It was not till the opening of the Franconia Iron Works, about 1795, that iron became more plenty. There were blacksmiths who confined themselves entirely to the nicer branches of the trade, made axes, carpenter’s tools and ornamental work.

The carpenter who built a house made also the doors, sash and blinds, all now made by machinery, and supplied ready for use. He usually had a shop, where in winter he got out house finish, made furniture, sleds and wagons. Such men were often very skillful workmen who took pride in their work. In the older villages in this vicinity, where there was considerable wealth a century ago, the fine old mansions of that day contain samples of hand craft which are the despair of modern carpenters. Among them may be especially mentioned the old Payson mansion at Bath village, and the fine old mansion once the residence of Hon. Joseph Bell, at the south end of the common at Haverhill Corner. And there are others. Carpenters also made coffins, which were not furnished ready for use as they are now, but when one was needed the local carpenter was provided with the measure, and instructed as to the expense which might be incurred. There were carpenters who made a specialty of coffins, as caskets were then called, and considerable expense was sometimes lavished upon them when made of oak, carved and panelled. Sometimes, but perhaps never in Ryegate, people had their coffins made several years before they died, and kept them in readiness for use. The custom of enclosing the coffin in an outer box for burial did not come into general use till about fifty years ago.

There was never any starch factory in Ryegate, but there were several in this vicinity which made a market for potatoes, and transactions of considerable magnitude are remembered. In 1860 Wm. T. George of Topsham contracted with a starch factory at Haverhill, N. H., to raise 5000 bushels of potatoes on new land, to be delivered in the field at 33 cents per bushel in the fall of 1861. The actual quantity delivered was 5800 bushels. It would be hard to find a starch factory in this region now.

Fifty years ago there were several tailors and tailoresses in this town, some of whom did their work in a shop, and others went from house tohouse and made coats and jackets for the "gudeman" and the lads. Frequently a man was a farmer in summer, and a tailor, carpenter or shoemaker in winter. It will be seen that the disuse of all these small trades has had its effect in the decrease of the town’s population.

When our colonists first came here from Scotland they found many things which were new to them, and Mr. Whitelaw’s observations as recorded in his letters to his father, give us some interesting particulars respecting the state of agriculture in this part of the country 140 years ago. ‘He remarks that the use of potatoes was much more general here than in Scotland, and that they were found on the table wherever they had been. Potatoes had not come into general use in New England in 1750, only a few being raised here and there, and were very rarely seen in the west of Scotland at that date. Yet twenty years later their use and culture had become general. Writing from Newbury in the fall of 1773 he says:

"They have great fields of maize or Indian corn as they call it, and when grown a field of corn is a fine sight. They have a great many ways of cooking it, one of which is to boil or roast the green ears, eating the kernels directly from the cob. Another dish which we have learned to like very much is made of green corn cut from the cob, and boiled with beans and vegetables, and this mode of preparation, we are told, they have learned from the Indians. Another dish is made from pumpkins which they prepare by cutting out a piece from one end, and, removing the seeds and soft parts they fill them with milk and bake them for several hours. This makes very delicious food. But they do not know the use of oatmeal, and I have not tasted any except among our countrymen in the middle colonies. Fish they have in plenty, salmon as good as any at home, and many varieties of vegetables. They have a novel way of stacking wheat, by erecting four tall poles, and making a roof of boards over the stack instead of thatching it."

The first who came from Scotland were unused to hard work such as clearing land required, and were ill-fitted for the severe toil which must precede the preparation of the land for crops. A few became discouraged and went away. Some hired young men to clear land by the acre, as there were a number of young men from the older colonies who had come to the Coos country, and possessed the sinews and endurance necessary for the task. We may not easily comprehend the hardships of the first settlers. The want of tools; the want of money with which to buy tools; the lack of almost everything we call the necessities of life; the solitary huts in the dense woods, where the family must live on what they could raise among the stumps and rocks of their clearings; the long cold winters; the absence of all the comforts which in the densely populated part of Scotland from which they had come were regarded as indispensable, all these and many other hardships, manfully faced and endured, call for our admiration of their courage. It was upon the women that the privations fell most severely, and our records show how many young wives died within a few years after coming here. We may wonder how people lived through those first years. But they seem to have taken their privations as matters of course, difficulties to be encountered and overcome, and those who persevered were rewarded with abundance. As before mentioned, their privations were much less severe than those of the settlers in the towns near Canada, as they were only a few miles from the plentiful fields of Newbury and Haverhill.

The dangers from wild animals had not entirely passed by the year 1800. Mr. Mason says that John Johnston who came here in 1796, boasted that he would never be afraid of a bear. If he should meet one he would teach that bear who was master. One day in the woods he came face to face with an enormous bear sitting upon his haunches, and not in the least indisposed to try conclusions with him. John underwent a sudden change of heart and feeling that Ryegate could ill afford to spare a man just then, decided that if the bear would let him alone he would do as much by the bear. Two Barnet men were returning from mill at Wells River, each with a grist on his shoulder when they met a bear which they killed, and one man took both grists, and the other shouldered the bear. Although the danger from wild beasts was ever present it is not recorded that any lives were lost by them in this town or Barnet. But as late as 1796 a woman was killed by a bear in St. Johns-bury. In 1790 the towns offered rewards for each wolf or bear killed in town. Killing bears was quite profitable, as the skin brought a cash price, then there was the bounty, and the meat was no bad substitute for pork.

Mr. Miller has carefully copied the early lists of taxable property, and we may form from these some estimate of the town’s agricultural progress. The first list, that of 1789, contains 47 names. There were 73 cows kept in town and 48 oxen. William Neilson had 12 cows, the Widow Taylor and James Henderson 5 each. There were 21 horses, only two persons owning more than one. Eleven years later there were 80 tax-payers, 234 cows, 60 horses and 25 colts. John Gray and William Neilson each had 12 cows, John Cameron and Andrew Brock 4 each. A steady increase is noted in the list of personal estate of 1810, when 534 cows are reported, 120 horses, and 27 colts. John and James Neilson each had 18 cows. Alexander Miller had 17, James and Abraham White-hill 15 each. There were 174 oxen owned, 15 clocks and

We have no better means of estimating the continued prosperity of the town than is furnished by the grand lists, which, in 1794 began to be reckoned in dollars and cents, instead of pounds, shillings and pence. It is well also to say that at that time, and for many years after, the grand list was computed at 10 per cent of the valuation, instead of 1 per cent as at present. In 1820 the area of improved land had increased to 2078 acres, William Gray having sixty acres, the largest area. There were 174 oxen, 556 cows and 123 horses. Ten years later the list indicated a still more rapid development, the area of improved land had more than doubled, and live stock proportionately increased, there being 224 horses, and 725 cows. There were 2246 sheep listed, and for the first time money at interest and bank stock are counted. Among the items are one gold and 12 silver watches, and 37 brass clocks. James Esden, William Gibson, John and Alexander Symes, John Hunter, Wm. Henderson 2d, John and James Nelson and Alexander Miller are put down as owners of mills, and Samuel Peters as owner of a tannery.

In 1840, a decade’s financial prosperity is shown by an increase of nearly 3000 acres of improved land over the list of 1820. William Gray still led, having 132 acres under cultivation and in pasturage, with the largest list of taxable property, William Johnston and Robert Gibson being second and third. There were 253 individual lists, 76 being members of the militia and exempt from poll tax. The horses and colts over one year old listed were 285, and 1253 cattle. Six carriages were taxed, 23 clocks, and 13 watches valued at more than ten dollars.

The decade which succeeded was that in which the population was largest, and the increase more than offset the removals from town. There were, as there had been for thirty years, families removing to the western country, and the manufacturing towns, then beginning their rapid growth, attracted many young men and women. But in that time the number of individual lists had risen to 310, and the valuation had nearly doubled. In 1850 the various Gibson families owned 2418 acres of land, and paid taxes on a valuation of about $45,000, holding, collectively, more wealth than any other family in town. The Nelson families came next with about 1900 acres, paying taxes on about $26,000 of valuation. Dairying had become the chief industry, the source of wealth, and no town in the state was better provided with the excellent pasturage necessary to secure an abundant supply of milk. From the very first this has been a dairy town. When the land was first cleared, wheat was sown as the quickest means of securing a return. When the logs and stumps were in part cleared away, that part of the land not available for field was turned into pasture. The growth of the industry, and its changes are admirably described in a paper prepared by Mr. Gilfillan:

Dairying has been the leading pursuit of the farmers in Ryegate from the first settlement of the town. The Scotch are natural dairymen, and much of the labor is performed by the women. Many Scotchmen never learned to milk, but most who came to this country were young men who soon did their part out of doors, and the women did their part in doors. The small pans and dash churn, with human hands to work the butter called for strength and patience, which were given in the same large amount as was all the other work in those primitive times. Every one was glad to do all one could for the home. There was plenty of the bcst help, and labor was almost all the capital employed.

Little butter was made in winter, and all the feed used was raised on the farm. Butter was packed in tubs and sold to the local dealer till about June, when it was held in cool, clean cellars till late in the fall. Most farmers made a trip to Boston in the early winter, taking their butter and other produce, and purchasing a supply of the few necessaries not raised on the farms. Tea, coffee, tobacco, sugar and spices were the groceries purchased. One hundred pounds of sugar was often the limit for a year’s supply, aside from maple sugar which some made in small quantities, and others not at all.

We have spoken elsewhere of the manner of its conveyance, and it remains only to be said that with the farmer and his family this visit to market was the event of the year, and its incidents, with the narrative of the sights which were seen, formed a topic for conversation for months afterward. The "pung" always held something for every member of the family. When the railroad came these visits to market gradually ceased.

The civil war was an era of change in everything, and soon after it the large pan, the butter worker and the horse power came into use. Deep setting also came into use, and about 1890 hand separators were introduced, but were used but little in this town. A call for freshly made butter came from the cities, and about 1870 a few began to make print butter. Western feed was purchased, improved methods and richer feed soon increased the stock and many farms more than doubled their herds. Meantime the labor on the farm fast increased and there was less and less help to do it. Creameries began to appear in many sections, but Ryegate was conservative and slow to break away from the old time independent method of "every one for himself." There was a strife to make the most butter to the cow, and get the highest price, which, unless very high was a matter of great secrecy. Ryegate became one of leading dairy towns in the state, and stood at the head for the largest production per cow.

After 1890 labor indoors was almost impossible to obtain. The young women demanded a "new sphere," and it soon appeared that house work must be given up. and the increased burden was too much for those who kept the house About this time the term "abandoned farms" began to be heard, and solely for the reason just stated, except a few which should never have been cleared from the forest.

In 1893 four creameries were organized in this town. Ryegate, known as Jersey Hill Creamery, was well named, and succeeeded wonderfully. The capital stock was $3,000, held by 20 stockholders. The first officers were Geo. G. Nelson, President, George Cochran, Treasurer. This creamery has taken many prizes, including sweep-stakes twice at the Vermont Dairymen’s Association.

The South Ryegate creamery began work the last of November, 1873 with, a capital stock of $3,000. A. Buchanan was the first president, W. N. Gilfillan, secretary, S. Mills, Jr., treasurer. This creamery has had some poor luck by reason of mistakes in its original plant. Its location is first class, and it might easily have a large output, but many in the section make their own butter or sell milk.

East Ryegate creamery is located on the B. and M. R. R., and the capital stock was $2500. The territory is somewhat limited, but it was a successful enterprise for many years taking first class premiums, and a sweepstake.

The creamery at North Ryegate started with a capital stock of $1200, for machinery, and rented buildings for the plant, having only eight patrons at first, but steadily gained in numbers and was successful for some years, also capturing prizes. At present (Nov. 1910) it is running light owing to the sale of milk.

It would seem that these home enterprizes should be supported in preference to outside concerns which oftener hurt than help their patrons. These creameries were all co-operative in name. Had they been so in fact, there would have been greater successes to record. When doing their best these creameries work up. wards of 400,000 lbs. per year at an average value of about $100,000.

A few of the best dairymen have always made their own butter, and with special markets have received high prices. Add to the value of the butter made in town the stock raised and meat produced, and the total shows splendid returns for the capital invested.

About 1870, Jersey stock was first introduced, and the improved breed soon crowded out the native stock, which with intelligent care and treatment had done well for a century. Of late the Guernsey have come into favor. With proper care and feed the Jersey and Guernsey cows will produce 300 lbs and upwards per cow. Owing to the great drouth of 1908 and 1909 many farmers were obliged to reduce their stock—in some cases one-third. One firm of dealers shipped nearly 1000 head of stock to the middle west, this stock giving satisfaction, with demands for more.

The important question for farmers in this part of Vermont is—Shall we sell milk, ship away the fertility of the soil which has cost us so much, and buy uncertain stock, or continue to follow methods which have placed us at the head as the best dairy town in the state?

In connection with dairying, and consequent upon it came exhibitions of stock, and the best method of securing good results in farming. One of the first fairs in this part of the state was held in this town, but all we know of it is derived from a single poster which has, somehow, escaped destruction. It was printed on gray paper, size nine by eleven inches, and is as follows:


THE ANNUAL CATTLE FAIR will be held at Ryegate Corner on the 2d Tuesday of Oct. next. The object of this FAIR is for buying, selling and exchanging Horses, Cattle, and all other kinds of property. The FARMERS, MECHANICS, DROVERS, etc., are requested to attend as it is expected there will be many cattle from adjacent towns which will give Gentlemen Drovers a great chance for Bargains. It is. expected that there will he a very extensive Vendue of Goods on said day.


Ryegate, Vt, Sept. 10, 1842.

A meeting of the State Board of Agriculture was held at South Ryegate on Dec. 17th and 18th, 1888. Dr. Cutting was secretary, and B. R. Towle, M. W. Davis and A. B. Perkins, members of the board were present and took part. The Board strongly advised the formation of a Farmer’s Club, and Mr. Pringle Gibson, who was chairman of an evening session, appointed a committee of five to arrange the details for such an organization. At a meeting of the farmers held on the 22d, the "Montpelier and Wells River Valley Dairyman’s Association" was organized with W. J. Nelson, president, W. N. Gilfillan, secretary. For many years numerous meetings were held, where all the phases of farming were discussed, with the object of securing the best results from the best methods. Upward of 500 columns of reports were sent to newspapers, thus many received advantage from these meetings. The Association also did good work in helping secure the Oleo-margarine Law, and made a strong protest against a silver standard.

In due time an exhibition of farm products was considered and a Farmer’s. Club Fair was held on Sept. 12 and 13, 1888, located on land owned by Robert Arthur, between the railroad track and the river, only a small piece of dry ground which was cleared, was suited for the purpose. The plan was for a general exhibition of farm products, stock, tools, etc. Diplomas were offered on a scale of 100. There was music and a picnic dinner, and the affair was a success. A special feature was an exhibition by the boys and girls of produce and handwork of their own. This was one of the first exhibitions of the kind in this section, No names were allowed on articles for prizes. Then the article was judged on its own merits.

Naturally there was a fine display of dairy stock—sometimes 100 head were exhibited, sometimes 100 head by a single owner. The exhibit of butter was often fine, and an expert judge was employed. There were several balloon ascensions, good bands, and well known speakers. These fairs were well patronized, attracting people from several counties, and were kept up for sixteen years.. Why were they discontinued? Mainly because the burden of the work involved came upon a few farmers already having all they could do, and unequal to the added toil and. responsibility.

This trouble is nation wide, and many enterprises suffer because the farmer has more to do and less help. Is it possible that we have been educating our young people to leave the farm? Is it not possible to correct this error, and save them for the home life in work which Washington declared to be the most healthful, the most useful and most noble employment of man?

The last fair was held on Sept. 6th and 7th, 1905, and when the gate was closed for the last time a feeling of sadness came over those who had tried so long to make it a success. We believe in home fairs, and the friendly competition of neighbors in prizes given for merit, when the average farmer feels at home and knows he has a fair chance to get a square deal.

Soon after the first fair a ‘corporation was formed known as the "Caledonia Park Association." The grounds were graded, the brook turned, suitable buildings were erected, generous premiums offered, and a full fledged fair held for many years. Much valuable time, and many thousands of dollars were put into the enterprise.

Prominent from the start in the Farmer’s Club were the families of W. J. Nelson, Geo. Cochran, J. B. Nelson, John McCall, W. W. Wright, A. M. Whitelaw, Henry Whitcher, Geo. N. Park, D. Buchanan, J. Dickey, Albert Hall, N. H. Ricker, W. T. McLam, R. H. Gates, Mrs. Carl Nelson and A. A. Miller.

Later, in the Park Asociation, and fair business were—james Johnston, Thos. A. Meader, Teaton D. Nelson, Dr. G. W. Darling, Geo. G. Nelson, N. ‘A. Park, F. J. Tewksbury, 0. H. Renfrew, and Robert Farquharson, who moved things, carried the burdens, while many others did what they could, all giving their time, usually without price. After the fairs were discontinued, the grounds were sold to James Craigie, and used in the granite business, and for wood and lumber yards.

Farmers’ socials were held in the homes, where the ladies conducted discussions regarding home life and its problems These gatherings were fine for their social value, and bright ideas were brought directly to the minds of the men who thus found out things needed, or changes that should be made to make home happier.

The- Grange in some degree keeps up the work of the farmers’ clubs. There is great need for farmers to get together in some way, for their problems are many and difficult to solve.

Blue Mountain Grange No. 263 of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry was organized in the Town Hall at Ryegate April 25th, 1898 by special Deputy R. B. Galusha.

Following is a list of the charter members:

Mr. and Mrs. David Buchanan,
Mr. and Mrs. George Cochran,
Nelson G. Cochran,
Mr. and Mrs. Clarence Bedell,
Mr. J. R. W. and Miss Mary Beattie,
I. H. Gilfillan.
Mr. and Mrs. R. F. Jaynes,
Mr. and Mrs. G. G. Nelson,
Mr. and Mrs. Y. D. Nelson,
Mrs. C. J. and Claude B. Nelson,
Mr. and Mrs. H. S. Sylvester.

Following is a list of the Masters, Treasurers, and Secretaries from time of organization to present date.

In August, 1899 the grange voted to buy the old schoolhouse at Rye-gate Corner. Y. D. Nelson, T. A. Meader, and George Cochran were appointed committee and the building was purchased for ($90) ninety dollars and George Cochran was appointed trustee to receive the deed. Repairs were made on the hall and was first occupied in Dec. 1899. In. May 1900 the hall was paid for and an organ purchased.

In March, 1902, land was purchased of M. J. McLam and plans were discussed for rebuilding the hall, but not until two years later was the financial condition of the society such as to enable them to execute their plans, but in the spring of 1904 a building committee of three, namely—D. Buchanan, G. Cochran and J. L. Shackford, were appointed to superintend the reconstruction of the building. The repairing was completed and the hall dedicated Feb. 24, 1905.

There are sixty-seven members enrolled at the present date, Dec. 6, 1910. Applications for memberships have been constantly received throughout the past year and the society is now in a more prosperous condition than it has been for several previous years.

Respectfully submitted,


The town had been settled about fifty years before labor saving machinery and appliances began to come into use. Swings for shoeing oxen came about 1810, and the iron plow about 1820. The plow of early date was of wood, with an iron point, and plates of iron were attached to the wing and show where the wear came. The first win-nowing mill was brought into Haverhill about 1815; probably not earlier, here. The bent scythe snath began to be used about the same time. Harrows were made from crotched trees, with teeth hammered by the local blacksmith, and nothing ever used cost so much labor with SO little result as these old fashioned harrows. The cultivator began to be used not far from 1850. We have not been able to learn when or by whom the first horse rake or mowing machine were used in Ryegate. The first horse rake in Newbury was used in 1835, and the first mowing machine, a crude affair, in 1853. The first machines had but one wheel, the cutter-bar extended at right angles and could not be raised or lowered. The scythe could not be stopped while the team was in motion except by taking it out.

Mowing was a fine art in those days, and there were men who did nothing but mow during haying. There are people who can remember seeing eight or ten men mowing at once in the same field their scythes keeping time.

The wages of farm labor have steadily increased with the diminishing supply. Down to about 1840, eight dollars per month, "and found" was called good pay for the season. In haying and harvest a dollar a day was sometimes paid for extra help. These wages seem pitifully small, but the hired man was as well paid proportionally as any one, and usually saved enough in a few years to buy a good farm. Help is now scarce and dear. But the personal equation is the final test. Some men are cheap at forty dollars a month and some are dear at board wages.

Carpenters were a little better paid. In 1798 a carpenter’s pay was about five shillings or 84 cts. per day. In 1810, one dollar a day was sometimes paid to a good workman who found his own tools. In 1820 shaved spruce shingles were sold for $2 per M., hemlock boards for $6 and clear pine, "old" pine, for $10 per M. Jonas Tucker of Newbury, who did the mason work on the brick house at the Corner, in 1830, was paid $1.25 per day. He was a skillful mason, and would now command three times that price. The mason does his work in the same manner as his predecessor did seventy years ago, while the work of a carpenter, owing to the aid of machinery is much changed.

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