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History of Ryegate, Vermont
Chapter XXIII



R. Whitelaw tells us that on the 25th of January, 1774, those members of the Company who had arrived in Ryegate met and made choice of the lots which they intended to clear and convert into farms. It is a very interesting circumstance that the lands selected on that day by James Whitelaw, James Henderson, William Neilson, Alexander Symes, and John Gray, remain, wholly or in part, in the hands of their descendants, and with the exception of the land selected by John Grey, by descendants bearing the same names.

In this part of the country one hundred and thirty-seven years is a long time for an estate to remain in the same family, and Ryegate was one of the last towns in New England in which settlements began before the revolutionary war.

The eastern part of General Whitelaw’s farm became that of his son Robert, who added largely by purchase. The site of his house, in which he kept tavern, is marked by a depression in the ground a short distance east of where A. M. Whitelaw lives, and on the other side of the road. His son William T. Whitelaw succeeded him, and built, in 1842, the house in which his son lives. The house on the other side of the road is one of the oldest in town. Merrill Goodwin was born in it in 1820, and it was not a new one then.

The farm now owned by Hermon Miller is the one on which General Whitelaw lived and died, and his excellent taste is evinced by his selection of the fine site of the buildings. A part of the house built by him in 1775 stood till 1910. The present house was built by William Whitelaw, and after his death the farm had five owners before Mr. Miller bought it. The land along the road toward Boltonville was formerly called "Old Smoky," but the origin of the name is forgotten. Five generations of General Whitelaw’s descendants have lived on the land owned by him.

The farm owned by Henry W. Henderson is that on which his great grandfather, James Henderson settled, and the log house of the latter was in the field about twenty-five rods east of the present house. On a flat rock in front of the log house, James Henderson Jr., and Eliza Todd were married in 1806. The present house was built about 1808.

The farm now owned by Samuel F. Nelson is a part of the original purchase of William Nelson the emigrant, and the farm owned by John H. Symes is part of that settled by his ancestor, Alexander, of the same name. The farm of Campbell Symes is now that of Wesson Sargent, and the house was built in 1819, Mr. Miller says.

The farm of John Gray became that of his son William, whose daughter Mary married James Nelson, father of the present owner, George G. Nelson.

There are very few houses in Ryegate which have weathered the storms of an hundred years. According to our best information, and judging from the photographs of those which remain, the dwellings in Scotland which were inhabited by the class of people which settled this town were built of stone, thatched with straw and according to our modern ideas, dark, inconvenient and uncomfortable. Consequently the log houses which the pioneers built were fully as commodious, as well lighted and as comfortable as those they had left behind. In many cases people continued to occupy log houses for years after they had become able to build better ones. In most cases also, what may be termed the second generation of human habitations—the frame houses which earliest succeeded those constructed of logs—were small, low and inconvenient. The settlers brought from Scotland some ideas regarding domestic architecture which were very different from those which prevailed in the towns south of them. But the houses built after the town had been settled many years differ very little in their outward appearance or interior construction from those in the towns above or below them.

Some one has charactized Ryegate as "a town of one-story houses, and three story barns." Indeed, forty years ago, there were not a half-score of two-story houses in this town, and it is only since the villages at East and South Ryegate came into existence that larger houses with modern conveniences have displaced the older ones. But all over town one-story houses, the very embodiments of coziness and comfort, are the farm companions of immense barns. About 1825 a carpenter named Moses Barnett, a very superior workman came here, and not only built several substantial houses, but introduced a taste for a better class of dwellings. The house in which Rev. J. M. Beattie long lived, in which Mr. McLam lives at the Corner was built by Mr. Barnett for Alexander Harvey, and is a fine sample of his work. The "story-and-a-half house," giving more room in the chambers did not come into general use till about 1850.

Among the older houses in the east part of the town, Mr. Morrill thinks, the one in which Willard White lives, is the oldest, which, Mr. Miller says, was built by Benjamin Wright in 1800, the year in which the Morill tavern, now burned, was built. Another, about as old, nearly down to the Newbury line, was built by William Johnson.

The farm often called the "Bigelow place" was formerly that of Elihu Johnson. Mr. Miller says there was an earlier house on that farm than the one now standing, a long narrow house, which had the name of being haunted. No one would live in it, and it was taken down on that account. There are no very old houses on the river road, the oldest being that in which Mr. Manchester lives, built in 1819. The Thomas Manchester house is believed to be older.

Returning to the Corner, that in which Mr. Thompson lives was built by Judge Cameron, and according to Mr. Goodwin, at different times, part of it being the old store. Mr. Goodwin also said that at one time and another, within his recollection, there were between Wm. H. Nelson’s and W. T. McLam’s no fewer than eight houses, which have all disappeared. The Morrill tavern stand included a number of barns, sheds and other out-buildings, which were all burned.

The Cochran farm at the foot of Blue Mountain, has been in the family since 1799, and five generations of the family have lived in it. The oldest house in that vicinity is that in which the late James Miller lived, built in 1806 by Allan Stewart, Mr. Miller says.

If Mr. John Gates is correctly informed, the stone house in which Frank Hooper lives, near the Groton line, was built some years before the year 1800, and the farm has always been owned by the descendants of its builder, John Orr. This is a very quaint house, and worth visiting.

A very interesting house is the oldest part of Corwin Whitehill’s residence, on the Whitherspoon tract. This farm has been in the White-hill family for 114 years. The oldest part of the house is built of rough stone, and was erected by James Whitehill in 1805, or the following year. Many years ago the front or newer part of this rambling mansion was added, part of the old stone house was taken down, and the newer part built into and upon the heavy walls of the old house. The old kitchen with its vast stone fireplace remains as when first built, and is said to be a faithful copy of the old kitchens in Scotland in the 18th century. In this ancient room one seems transported to a far-off land in an earlier age, and it requires little aid from the imagination to people it

with the staid Elder Whitehill and his large family of a century ago. In the accompanying illustration many utensils once in daily use here are exhibited.

Another stone house on the Witherspoon tract was built, about 1812 by Abraham Whitehill, brother of James. Part of the front wall and the east end remain, and bear a curious resemblance to the ruins of Kirk Alloway.

And here, while speaking of the Witherspoon tract, some particulars regarding it have come to light since the earlier chapters were printed. Major James [On p. 39 his name was given as John. The latter was his brother, who became a physician.] Witherspoon is said to have inherited much of his eminent father’s ability. He came to his Ryegate possessions in the spring of 1774 with a number of workmen, and began to clear the land, intending to create an estate of the tract. Had he been spared to carry out his plans, and come to live there, with his ability, and the influence which he would certainly have exerted, he would have become very prominent in the state, and the political history of the town might have been very different. The curious documents by which this tract was transferred to the Whitehill family are given among the records of the Whitehills.

Mr. Gates mentions several farms in the west part of the town still owned by descendants of the pioneers—that of James Esden by Frank McColl; that of John Hall by descendants; and that of Alexander Holmes by Mr. Gates himself... the house having been built in 1817. The house built by Dea. Caldwell where Alexander Renfrew lives is nearly a century old, as is the old Hunter house and that in which J. R. Whitehill lives. East of Blue Mountain the farm of Robert Dickson is owned by a descendant and that of William Gibson also. There may be others to be mentioned in the records of the families to which they belong.

A farm or a dwelling which has remained in the same family for several generations and has long borne and still bears the family name, possesses a human interest which cannot attach to any tenement in which successive and disconnected families have found a temporary shelter and abiding place.

Around the time worn walls of such a family residence, and pervading every room and passage, are associations which touch the chords of memory whenever the place is mentioned. Many such there are in Ryegate, and in far away homes when these pages are read, there will arise once more in memory, vivid as its reality, the old house among the hills, the orchard, the fields, the pastures and the public road.

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 commonly suppose.

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 $1089.37.

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 library."

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 is over

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 public library.

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 and feed.

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 Telephone.

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 directly applied.

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. Taplin, Treas,
1910. A. Wright, Pres.; C. B. Helmer, Vice-Pres.; C. McLam, Sec.; C. H. Taplin, Treas.
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 themselves.

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 these words:

"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.

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