Many of the old local names and neighborhool
designations are preserved, others are forgotton. How many can tell where
"Scanty Lane" is, or where "Cameron’s Lane" begins and ends? How many know
that Groton was once called "Hickory Village"?
We have mentioned that when James Whitelaw went to
Newbury-port in the spring of 1774, he purchased books for the common use
of the Company, and that this was one of the earliest libraries in the
state. But there was no further attempt to form a public library in town
for nearly a century. Every farmhouse, however, had its small collection
of books, added to from the savings of toilsome life, and by exchange, the
farmers of the town secured intelligent information upon a great variety
of subjects, and books were much easier to be had in those days than we
Among the valuable institutions of early years which
have completely passed away was the country book store. Such an one was
established at Haverhill Corner as early as 1794 by Nathaniel Coverly and
a little later one was started at Newbury by his son, who also printed
several books. A list of new works offered for sale in 1813 at the
Haverhill bookstore causes us to rate very highly the intelligence of a
community which could appreciate and purchase such profound works. Many of
these found their way into Ryegate farm houses, and there were plain
farmers, who went to meeting in blue homespun frocks who could have passed
a thorough examination in Plutarch’s Lives, could illustrate Bible history
with parallel passages from Josephus, or repeat page after page of the
Paradise Lost. With the diffusion of information consequent upon a daily
mail service, newspapers and other periodical literature assumed the place
which had been held by the country book store. These latter in their time
partially filled the place now held by public libraries. The bookseller
was necessarily a man of reading, and his place of business was the resort
of ministers, lawyers and men of education and literary taste, from a wide
radius of country. There people exchanged views, or dipped into the latest
solid literature. The number of such stores in this vicinity eighty or
more years ago, indicates the place which they held in public instruction,
and indicates also that the business was a profitable one.
There seems to have been no organized library
association here till one was formed at South Ryegate on May 23, 1877, of
whose proceedings Mr. Gilfillan has prepared an account. The declared
object was "to establish and maintain a library for the mutual benefit of
its members and all others who may be admitted to the privilege." W. N.
Gilfillan was chosen president; Stephen Sly, secretary and treasurer; and
James B. Darling, librarian. Seventeen citizens paid $3 each for
membership fees. Later the young people gave the proceeds of a dramatic
entertainment towards making eight of them members of the association. Dr.
Darling, S. Mills, Sr., and M. B. Hall were a committee to select books.
The library was kept in the store of Sly & Darling. Mr. Sly was succeeded
by R. J. White as secretary and treasurer, Mr. White being followed by
Alexander Dunnett. Books of a solid character were purchased. But the
association did not thrive, the reading habit not being yet formed, arid
after some attempt to continue interest the organization fell asleep.
At the March meeting in 1895 it was voted to establish
a library at the Corner and secure books from the state in the manner
provided by law, for the encouragement of town libraries. The following
trustees were elected; Wm. J. Henderson, chairman; W. T. McLam, W. A.
Gil-christ, F. R. McColI, and H. J. Park, trustees. On Jan. 27, 1896, a
citizens meeting was held at South Ryegate to consider ways and means for
establishing a branch library at that place. Individual subscriptions of
one dollar each provided necessary fixtures, and at a special meeting of
the old Association its books, then numbering twenty-seven, were trans.
ferred to the town library.
The main collection was placed in J. R. W. Beattie’s
store at the Corner, and the books were all saved when the store was
burned. Miss Mary Beattie, Mrs. F. H. White, Mrs. F. M. Powers and Mrs. C.
F. Smith were librarians. A new trustee is chosen each year, and W. N.
Gilfillan, Rev. F. A. Collins, N. H. Ricker, E. E. Symes, T. A. Meader, F.
H. White, A. R. Bone and Geo. B. Wallace have served in that capacity. The
entire amount voted by the town for the library to Jan. 1, 1911, is
The entire number of books at the main library has been
1311. Of these, 304 were donated by the W. C. T. U. at the Corner, 131
came from the state, and many have been given by friends. Part have been
transferred to the branch libraries.
The South Ryegate branch was located in Hibbard’s
store, Mr. Hibbard being librarian. In the fire of 1898, 133 of the 136
books were consumed, with the book-cases, fixtures, etc. Miss Marion Hall
has been librarian since 1899. Special donors of books have been Mrs.
Whitehead of California (now Mrs. Welch) and Miss Birckbeck of New York
City. Entertainments have been given by the young people, and the proceeds
used in the purchase of books. In 1908 a branch was established at East
Ryegate and Geo. B. Wallace made librarian.
A very unique library, well worthy of our especial
mention, is the "Whitehill Library," in the northwest corner of the town.
It has been styled "A library that travels, but is not a traveling
In the fall of 1901, Prof. N. J. Whitehill of White
River Junction, who had attended the winter schools in that district when
a boy, made a collection of about one hundred volumes, which he offered to
furnish for the use of the school, if a suitable bookcase would be
provided for them. The people were pleased with the idea, and by means of
entertainments secured funds for a sectional Wernicke case. The idea
expanded from a school library to a neighborhood library, and by the time
they had a case, the number of books had increased to about 200, and now
450. This library spends a year in one house, and is
then moved to another, the mistress of the house caring for them, and
acting as librarian. The association also owns an organ and a set of
dishes. With these they get up suppers and entertainments, and with the
proceeds buy new books. When not in use the organ is kept in the
schoolhouse and used by the teacher, and some of the reference books are
kept there. The books are well selected and free to all who use them, and
indicate a high standard of intelligence in that community. "This
collection of books is the centre of the social and intellectual life of
that corner of the town."
It would seem that a town whose inhabitants desire the
benefits which a collection of the world’s best literature gives to a
community, should also have some one to do what Miss Tenney and the Blake
family have done for Newbury and Corinth—provide a suitable building for a
The change from a time when Ryegate was practically a
self-supporting community, producing within itself nearly everything which
it consumed, is shown by the amount of western grain and feed brought into
the town and fed to dairy, stock and teams. The amounts can only be given
approximately, but are near enough to stand for comparison with what the
town may require fifty years hence.
At the present time grain and feed are sold in town by
grain dealers at South and East Ryegate and brought from Groton,
Boltonville, Wells River and Mclndoes. In addition there are farmers who
combine to purchase their own feed, a carload at a time, dividing it among
themselves. Mr. G. G. Nelson computes that not less than 4500 tons of feed
are brought into town and fed out, in each year. At the same time the
acreage of corn and grain can hardly be less than it was fifty years ago,
as other grains have taken the place of land once devoted to wheat.
Mr. W. T. George, who has been connected with the grain
and feed business at South Ryegate for more than thirty years, has given
us some particulars of that portion of the local trade which has been
under his immediate observation.
In 1879 Mr. G. L. Hall sold all the western
grain and feed called for here, which was ground at Clark’s mill in
Groton, and delivered in one-horse loads as wanted—from 1500 lbs. to a ton
per week. Sometimes in the fall or early winter, the larger farmers would
club together arid buy a car of assorted feed from the west.
When the Ryegate Granite Works were in full operation
they used large quantities of feed, which they drew with teams from Wells
River, and sold to customers. Then P. Gibson and Son were in the same
business, which Terry and George took up after they went out of trade. In
the later ‘70’s Beattie & Nelson built a storehouse and did a large trade
for two years, selling about 100 cars a year. This building, sold to M. H.
Gibson, was leased to Everett Forsyth as a depot for his Topsham and
Corinth trade. In November, 1900, Mr. George was employed by the latter to
open a retail trade, and supply customers, buying out the business Feb. 1,
1904. In these seven years he has averaged sixty-five cars a year of
twenty-five tons each. In addition during the dry years 1908-‘10 he
received and sold forty-five cars of pressed hay from Ohio, in contrast
with common years, when large quantities of hay are baled and shipped from
this town. Not all this amount is fed out on the farms, as stone, road and
lumber teams use large quantities, and much is sold to other towns. Many
of the cars received were partly loaded with flour, amounting to two or
three cars a year. Mr. Nelson averaged about forty cars a year at East
Ryegate most of which was consumed in town.
Mr. N. A. Park, although not a regular dealer, has
bought for himself and his neighbors some forty cars of feed, within ten
years, and Charles E F. Miller was in the feed business for some time. It
will be seen that Ryegate expends large sums annually for western grain
Mr. Whitelaw mentions that in April 1774, they made
about 60 lbs. of maple sugar,—the first article which the colonists
produced in Ryegate. This was an entirely new thing for them, a very
wonderful thing too, and we would have liked to see those Scotchmen
tasting maple sugar and maple syrup for the first time.
The manufacture of sugar and syrup has been one of the
leading industries of Ryegate, and the amount of money which it has
brought into the town would surprise people. Its evolution from the wooden
trough, the sap-yoke, and the great kettle hung from a pole, to the modern
pail, the metal gathering tubs, the evaporator, the sugaring-off arch,
would be a tale of experiment, selection and rejection. A demand
constantly increasing has stimulated production and improved its quality.
The telephone and rural mail delivery have greatly
changed the condition of farm life, and people wonder how they ever got
along without them. The first telegraph was extended to Wells River about
1850 and followed the highway to St. Johnsbury. Telephone service began
about thirty years ago, but it was very expensive, and confined at first
to communications between fixed stations. Improvements in construction,
and the expiration of patents brought it within the reach of all, and the
telephone is a household necessity. Part of the town is served by lines
connected with the New England Telephone Co, and part by the People’s
Electricity as a mode of lighting and mechanical force
is the greatest of modern applications, and has revolutionized many
industries by the ease with which power is transmitted from a distance and
The Ryegate Light and Power Co., was incorporated April
7, 1906, with the following as members: M. F. Sargent, Robert Farquharson,
F. J. Tewksbury, A. D. Grant, G. H. Roben, A. T. Beaton, James Craigie,
C. H. Taplin and H. W. Goodine. In October, 1908, the
company purchased water power at Boltonville, and erected an electric
plant there and a line to South Ryegate at a cost of about $25,000. The
current for power and lighting is chiefly used at South Ryegate where the
amount sold for manufacturing purposes is about 170 horse power. There is
also a street lighting plant and about thirty-five buildings are lighted.
The operations for the first full year gave very satisfactory results. The
power is also used for running the machinery in the granite works. The
present officers are, M. F. Sargent, President; N. A. Park,
Vice-President; Mrs. Jane Park, Treasurer; R. Farquharson, Clerk.
The Blue Mountain Telephone Co., an independent line,
was incorporated in Nov. 1908, with a capital stock of $3,000, divided
into 120 shares of $25 each. At the first meeting held Jan. 2d, 1904, of
which R. Farquharson was chairman, A. J. Whitcher, Albert Wright and H. E.
Brown were chosen directors. The former was chosen President, A. T.
Beaton, Secretary and Treasurer. The succeeding officers have been:
1905. R. Farquharson, Pres.; A. J. Whitcher,
Vice-Pres.; L. G. Welch, Sec.; F. Weld, Treas.
1906. Geo. Cochran, Pres.; James Craigie, Sec.; A. T. Beaton, Treas.
1907. C. M. Libbey, Pres.; C. H. Grant, Sec.; A. T. Beaton, Treas.
1908. C. M. Libbey, Pres.; J. S. Bone, Vice-Pres.; Carlyle McLam, Sec.; C.
H. Taplin, Treas.
1909. C. M. Libbey, Pres.; H. Randall, Vice-Pres.; C. McLam, Sec.; C. H.
1910. A. Wright, Pres.; C. B. Helmer, Vice-Pres.; C. McLam, Sec.; C. H.
1911. T. A. Meader, Pres.; G. G. Nelson, Vice-Pres.; M. E. Beckley,
Vice-Pres.; F. R. McColl, Treas.; F. J. Tewksbury, Gen. Manager.
The company owns and operates wires in Newbury, Ryegate
and Groton connecting with the People’s Telephone system.
The Order of Scottish Clans is a fraternal institution
composed of Scotsmen and their descendants, and its object is to preserve
the traditions and recollections of Scotland, cultivating its customs and
amusements, and furnishing to its members those benefits which are usually
conferred by fraternal societies. The constitution is elaborate and
provides for the government of the Order, whose officials and divisions
are designated by titles which were anciently held by the officers of the
Scottish clans. One of the principal objects of the Order is to care for
its sick and disabled members, and provides a mode of insurance for the
benefit of their families in case of death. The Order was organized at St.
Louis in 1878, and now consists of 204 Clans, as each local body is
designated, which are grouped in divisions called Grand Clans, in whose
annual meeting each Clan is represented, and whose delegates comprise the
Royal Clan which meets biennially. There are three Clans in this State, at
South Rvegate, Hardwick and Barre, the latter being the largest in the
country. The organization is prosperous, and by means of the Bequeathment
Fund hundreds of widows and orphans have been assisted. The Order supports
a monthly paper called "The Fiery Cross."
Clan Farquharson, the 8th Clan to be organized, was
instituted in 1883. Robert Farquharson, the prime mover in its origin came
here from Quincy, Mass., and there were eighteen charter members. About
fifty have been connected with it, of whom seven have died, and others
have moved away. M. F. McDonald is the present chief, Wm. Terry,
secretary, and Robert Farquharson, treasurer.
To the names of college graduates who were natives of
Ryegate should be added that of William H. Symes, a graduate of Cornell
Univ., 1909, and Edward Cowlesat Dartmouth in 1859. There must be a number
whose names have not reached us, and it is safe to say that there must
have been thirty-five natives of the town who completed a classical
course, besides several who did not complete their
course. Several young men and young women are now in college. This is a
very good showing for a farming town whose population has been small,
which had no large village or a class of people of wealth and leisure. So
far as can be ascertained all have been able to give a good account of
Mention has been made of Rev. William Forsythe.
Deming’s catalogue states that the election sermon before the legislature
of 1799 at Windsor was preached by a clergyman bearing that name. Diligent
search at the state library fails to find any other clergyman in this
state of the name at that date, than the Ryegate minister. In those days,
when some prominent minister was invited to deliver a discourse before the
General Assembly, it was an honor greatly coveted, and Mr. Forsythe, who
had been in this country only two years, must have been a very unusual man
to have attracted suflicient attention for the reception of the honor. The
printed discourse which we have mentioned, shows him to have possessed a
very elegant style, and Gen. Whitelaw mentions him as a very able man. His
work in Nova Scotia was most honorable, both as a teacher, and as pastor
of the same church for forty years, where his name is still revered, and
it seems most unfortunate that Ryegate people of that day allowed so
valuable a man to go away, when a little more liberality might have kept
him. It seems by his letters that he did not receive all that was due him
from Ryegate for several years.
The custom of having a sermon delivered at the opening
of the General Assembly was brought from Massachusetts, and began with its
first session at Windsor in 1777, when the election sermon was delivered
by Rev. Peter Powers of Newbury. It was also the custom that all the
ministers present afterwards dined at the tavern at the expense of the
state. The practice was discontinued "from motives of economy" many years
ago. It is doubted if the state gained anything by its discontinuance. If
any assembly ever needed wholesome advice at its opening it is the Vermont
legislature. Other than Mr. Forsythe, Rev. John Fitch of Danville and Rev.
Thomas Goodwillie of Barnet were the only ministers of Caledonia county
who attained to this honor.
Mr. Miller pays a tribute to the women of Ryegate in
"No nobler race of women ever lived than the wives and
mothers of Ryegate people." To record all their noble deeds would require
a volume. There were many cases of young women suddenly widowed, with
children, and a farm not paid for, who resolutely grappled with adversity,
paid off mortgages, reared and educated children, erected comfortable
buildings, and lived to enjoy a tranquil old age. The Scotch women of
early years liked to work out of doors and were skilled in many
occupations which their descendants know nothing about. Mr. Miller records
feats of women’s work in reaping which seem marvelous. Mrs. J. B. Nelson
mentions that two young women on the farm of William Nelson, 2d, dug in
one fall, and put into the "potato hole" 500 bushels of potatoes.
The early immigrants to this Scotch town in Yankee-land
and their immediate descendants, preserved and exercised some customs of
the old country which are only traditionary with the present generation.
Martinmas, Lanmas, and All-Hallow-e’en were observed, but Christmas was
considered as savoring of popery, and it does not appear that Thanksgiving
Day was kept until the town had been long settled. New Year’s Day was to
the people of those days what Thanksgiving is now, a day of feasting and
home coming. The traditions, the folk-lore, the superstitions of Scotland
were rehearsed at the firesides of Ryegate, and the stories of the
sufferings of the Covenanters were told over and over again to audiences
which never wearied of them.
In reviewing this imperfect presentation of the annals
of Ryegate for a period of one hundred and thirty-seven years the one
thing most evident is the inadequateness of words and sentences to embody
the real history of a town. We may catalogue its events., enumerate its
people, relate the history of its institutions, and speak of the changes
which time has wrought. But these are only the outward and visible
manifestations of things which underlie all events. Men and women of
untiring energy, faith in God, self-reliance and sturdy good sense, built
up the town. They were people of very positive views, unyielding in their
convictions, and held first of all, a sense of personal accountability to
God. Strong traits of character were manifested by these children of
Scotland among the Vermont hills. That they sometimes erred is only to say
that they were very human people after all. The schools, churches and
other institutions of the town have arisen from small beginnings, and the
experience of several generations has been applied to their enlargement.
The present era will pass them on to the next. What the future has in
store for the town is beyond our knowledge. Neither do we know what use
coming generations will make of this noble heritage of the fathers.
The Sons and daughters of Ryegate have carried to a
thousand communities the good seed garnered upon these hills. We are glad
to speak in these pages of their achievements and success. But all honor
to those who have remained here, and have in the face of many
discouragements, preserved its institutions and its good reputation.