When we drive through North Hartland it is hard to not be impressed by the beautiful old store building on the West side of the common, but did you know that it was built as a showroom for carriages and not as a general store at all?
In 1875 and in 1883 Betsy Marble and Edmund McCabe sold land to Henry R. Miller, and in the late 1880’s Henry Miller constructed a building where he established a showroom for the sale of a variety of carriages. The showroom and workshops were on the ground floor and the upstairs held a dance hall. (I think it interesting that he would consider a dance hall so important to the well being of the town that he would make this a part of his construction project. I understand that it is a fine place to dance – complete with a bouncing floor. CYM) At first Miller sold many types of carriages but later became the exclusive agent of the Excelsior Carriage Co. This Company insisted that Miller move his business to White River Jct which was a fast growing trading center and railroad hub. In 1895, he made this move, ending a very short period of doing business in North Hartland. In 1904, Henry’s 18 year old son signed an order for a carload of Jaxson steam cars, and, like it or not, Henry was in the car business. None too happy at first, Henry was a great salesman and thus we still have Miller Auto in White River.
Henry Miller sold the building to the No. Hartland Building Association, and in the early 1900’s the space was rented from the Association by Hayes and Byrd Miles as a grocery store. Ester Miles worked for her father and it was her job to deliver groceries, but being afraid of horses, she had to deliver them on foot unless she could get her brother to drive her. When the Miles moved to California, Ester and her husband, Paul Morrison rented the store area. They separated and Paul Morrison moved to Hartland and opened a store in the Sturtevant building. The North Hartland store was closed for a few years but was reopened by Esther. A big undertaking for a single mom. The building was a busy place. Besides the store there were 5 tenements, a poolroom which later held church services. The library was also there at one time. The dance hall was the setting for many parties, shows and the showing of movies. It was even used as a place for archery practice. The town rented the space for the school at one time. Esther married Laurence Young in 1938 and they ran the store together. This was the typical country general store where men hung around and played cards, and I’m sure had a lot of good advice for the politicians of the time.
P.N. and Louise Courtemanche bought the building in the spring of 1946, starting a new venture in their lives. They had farmed in Hartford and moved with 7 of their 11 children to run a country store. Patrons were able to keep a running tab of purchases and then pay up on payday. At this time, country dances were held weekly and all the local children were allowed to attend and their parents helped them learn to dance. The family loved living in the closeness of a community but P.N. grew weary of working indoors so they sold and moved to Hartland where they ran “Breezy Hill” cabins and Mr. Courtemanche went to work as a carpenter.
In 1951, the store was purchased by Robert and Edna Coutermarsh and Mark and Shirley Coutermarsh. It stayed in Coutermarsh hands until Mark sold it in the early 2000’s. During this time, the post office was relocated to this building, the fire department moved a truck into a garage that was behind the store building and a fire siren was mounted on top of the building with the box located just outside the front entrance. The fire department remained there until 1986.
In recent years this wonderful old building has had a face lift. It is no longer a general store but still a community gathering place with the enlarged Post Office and the pottery store.
Many thanks to The Hartford Historical Society May-June 2005 newsletter, Velma Morrison Wright , Bonnie Downs ( formerly Coutermarsh), and Marilyn Courtermanche Gates.
As so often happens, the more I learn the more I realize how much I don’t know. North Hartland was a thriving community long before 1895 but where did the people shop? I have an advertizing card of a W.D. Spalding, North Hartland on which he advertizes a great range of items for sale, including groceries. In reading newsclips I think he ran this from about 1870 to 1900 but cannot find mention in The 1884 Windsor County Gazetteer, nor can I find him or any other store on a 1869 map. It seems a bit far to always go to the Three Corners or White River Junction for their needs, especially before the trains came through. That may be the answer before 1870, but why can’t I find any more evidence of Mr. Spalding , Dealer in Dry Goods, Clothing, Hats, Caps and much more ?? C.Y.M.