Archive for November, 2014

Drowning at Sumner’s Falls - Charles Barber

Tuesday, November 11th, 2014

“An interesting bit of history came to light in connection with the death of a riverman many years ago at Sumner’s Falls in the Connecticut River, near this town.
“Mr. J.G. Underwood, who heard the story in a hotel in Groveton, a small town in northern New Hampshire, tells it as follows.
“As we sat talking, one of my acquaintances asked me where I was living now. When I told him Hartland, an old man who sat near us said “Isn’t there a Falls in the river there? I buried a man there.”

“When asked how it happened, he explained. “It was in 1874. (The stone clearly says 1895. C.Y.M.) I had charge of the rear of the drive. One of our men went into the water near Wilder.”
“This was a characteristic expression meaning that he fell into the water and was drowned.

“Several days later the body was found at the Falls in Hartland. They sent for me. His name was Barber, a nice boy, —Fred, I think they called him, but he was a fine boy. I tied the body to a tree and sent for the selectmen. But the authorities wouldn’t let the boy be buried in their cemetery, and the minister wouldn’t even come and say a few words over him. Some people in those days didn’t think much of river men. Course, we had some that were tough sometimes, but as a general thing we were a pretty good sort of folks.”
“The narrator went on: “The boy’s father came down. He was a hard man, a mean man. The boys had chipped in, two dollars apiece, to buy the boy a casket.  When the father asked how much pay was coming to him I passed the word around to the boys and we all took back our two dollars, so that the father wouldn’t get it himself. We bought the casket afterwards, but the father didn’t want any casket, and wouldn’t even pay for taking the body home. So we buried the boy where he was, on high ground near the river bank. We put stones over the casket first, before filling in with dirt. I have visited the grave a number of times since and kept it in repair.”
“When was the last time you visited it?” he was asked. “Let’s see. I’m seventy-six now. I was forty-eight then. How many does that make?” Twenty-eight, he was told.

“Yes, twenty-eight years ago. Is the grave still there?” He was assured that it was, and in
good condition.

“We put up a stone and marked it.” He said, “Is it still there?” He seemed gratified that the stone was still there after so many years. “The speaker is a fine looking old man. Strong and well preserved.
“As for the boy’s name, it was found to be Charlie, not Fred and old residents remember
the circumstances well. They also tell of several Hartland men who were expert river men in former times, among whom were Fred Freeman and Milton Short. It was a job which called for quick thinking, good judgment, strength and courage.”


Extracted from the Spring 2012 Hartland Historical Society Newsletter.   Another published version of this story is here.

Sumners Falls and Lumbering

Tuesday, November 11th, 2014

The town of Hartland is now the proud owner of the area known as Sumner’s Falls. I would encourage you to go visit this section of town along the Connecticut River. There is an interesting history connected to the area. Knowledge of this history should make your visit more satisfying. The first accounting comes from Wilbur Sturtevant – long time Town Clerk, store owner, and recorder of the town’s best stories. C.Y.M.

“Lumbering on the Connecticut River was carried on very extensively in the early days of the town. Just at the upper end of Sumner’s Falls, a dam twelve feet high stretched across the river, and a saw mill stood near it on the Vermont side.

“The big logs of first growth pine, four or five feet in diameter were floated down from points north and guided by a boom to the west side of the river and held there above the mill until wanted. Two men would go up the river in a boat and bring a log from the enclosure down to the mill where it was raised by means of a pulley on a big wheel run by power, to the saw mill, where it was sawed by gang- saws all in one operation. Then the men would go back and get another log. The manner of getting the log was simple. One man held the oars and managed the boat. pick2The other, in the stern, threw a rope which had an iron pick in the end of it, with an iron “dog” attached to it so that the “dog”, which was a piece of iron bent like a hook, could be driven down into the log with an axe. When the log was secured, it was guided under the boom by the man in the stern, while the rower started the boat down-stream, towing the log behind it. It was necessary to watch carefully lest the upper end of the log should be carried out into the current. When that happened, the man in the stern had only to knock out the “dog” and then the log was allowed to float down and go over the dam where it was caught and held in the eddy, Then it was drawn up to the mill by oxen.

Lumberman's dog. The hooks were either connected with chain, like this one, or a solid bar, for holding logs together.

Lumberman's dog. The hooks were either connected with chain, like this one, or a solid bar, for holding logs together.

“Fred Freeman was one of the men who worked at this dangerous occupation and has told the story many times of his narrow escape from death. He and Harrison Hanchett went up from the mill to get a log from the boom. After it was secured they started on the return trip. Soon Freeman, who was at the oars, noticed that the log was getting out into the current and without turning his head said quietly,” Knock out the dog”. But Hanchett did not comply. So leaving the oars he went to the stern where Hanchett sat white and motionless and knocked out the dog himself. By that time they had drifted into swift water, and Mr. Sumner, watching from the shore, said to himself that that was the last they’d ever see of Hanchett and Freeman. But Freeman, with intrepid courage and great strength, soon guided the boat to safety, while his companion, petrified with terror, was unable to lift a finger.

A lumberman's peavy used to roll and move logs.  A long wooden pole attaches to the metal shown here.

A lumberman's peavy used to roll and move logs. A long wooden pole attaches to the metal shown here.

“Adam Crandall was one of the early settlers and a Revolutionary War soldier. His son Aaron W. was the father of Aaron Crandall who the present generation remembers. The first Aaron was a blacksmith and had a shop and house on the “Plain”, nearly opposite the road that leads to the “Falls”. He was also a lumberman and teamster. When the river was high was the best time to make rafts of the logs and float great loads of lumber – tons of it at a time, and take it down the river to Middletown. At night it was the custom to tie the raft to trees on the bank, and camp there until morning, with a rope at each end of the raft. One time when Mr. Crandall was “helping” do this difficult task of “snubbing” the raft, as it was called, he inadvertently stepped into one of the coils of the rope which lay along the bank, and as the swift current bore the raft along, snapping the rope taut, his leg was instantly cut off, as with a pair of shears, and hurled forty feet into the bushes.

“The blacksmith shop was moved in later years, taken down and hauled, one side at a time, to the farm on the Quechee Road where it was again set up and used for some purpose.”

Reprinted from the Hartland Historical Society Newsletter, Spring 2012.

Harlow Brook Farm Barn Restoration - North Hartland

Tuesday, November 11th, 2014

Reprinted with permission from the Knobb Hill Joinery website.

Barn before restoration

Barn before restoration

Matt Dunne and Sarah Stewart Taylor of Harlow Brook Farm, a beautiful Federal era homestead in North Hartland, VT, received a state barn grant to restore an early square ruled barn on their property.  Their thirty-seven  by twenty-six foot barn features English tying joints with flared posts.  The large timbers were mixed softwoods, mostly pine.  The braces and other scantlings were hardwood, mostly oak.  The plates and tie beams feature a boarding groove.  The drive girts in this barn are set in from the traditional drive reference to catch the pegged planks in the drive.  The stanchion bay of this barn has no joists but was  clear-spanned with three inch thick pine planks, some of which measured up to thirty inches in width

013When the project first began, the lowest post in the barn was more than fourteen inches below the highest post elevation.  The highest post in the barn was resting on its stub tenon directly on the stone foundation.  With the stub tenon being nearly three inches long and the sill timbers being nine inches in height, we determined that the post with the highest elevation was at least six inches low.  Needing to clear the stub tenon when installing the new sills, we lifted the highest post to one inch above the height needed to clear the stub tenon with a nine-inch sill timber and stoned up to this finish height.  This means that the lowest post was lifted a full two feet to the final resting height.

The entire sill system was replaced.  Many of the original timbers were gone altogether while what remained was largely buried in the dirt with severe rot.  One section of the rear sill that was still on the stone foundation was reincorporated into the new sill system as a summer girt in the drive.  The nine-inch by nine-inch timbers for the sill system were replaced with bandsaw milled hemlock from a local sawyer.    The original joists in the drive were log joists with only their tops hewn.  The original joists had significant rot and were replaced with joists from timbers felled and hewn on the site.

The stone foundation had settled into the ground on the side of the barn toward the road.  We excavated these stones and removed the loose soil and rotten wood along the front of the barn.  We added crushed stone to the excavated trench before relaying the stone foundation.  Much of the stone in the original foundation was round and had contributed to the sills slipping past.  Although we did reuse all of the stone from the original foundation, we added two pallets of flatter stone from a local supplier in order to provide more stable support at the load-bearing points and make up the difference in height.

Two corner posts were replaced entirely. One corner post had severe rot at the top, another corner post was hollow due to carpenter ant infestation.  All but three of the remaining posts required new post feet.  The repair stock for the posts and feet were white pine to match the original post species.  All of the post feet repairs were conventional bladed scarf joints with tables ranging from eighteen inches to two feet.  All of the original braces and girts were able to be saved.  Three of the braces required a new tenon at one end and one other brace required both a new tenon and shoulder.  The repairs for the braces were also standard bladed scarf joints.  The white oak repair stock for the braces was left over from the Willard twin bridge reconstruction a few miles down the road.  The brace repairs were pegged with handmade pegs and wedges.

One of the middle girts on the gable  required a free tenon and partial shoulder repair.  This repair was made from white oak from the old decking of the Big Eddy covered bridge in Waitsfield,VT.  The upper girt directly above the repaired middle girt required a new tenon.  The softwood for this repair was recycled from materials on site.

One of the plate and tie beam junctions  had severe rot, but fortunately good wood was found within a few feet of the corner.  New ends were scarfed on to both the plate and the tie.  These repairs were done in pine to match the original materials.  Both of these repairs were bladed scarves with a wedged sheer key added to the table of the tie scarf.

One stud on the gable toward the house required a new foot.  The two studs centered on the drive opposite the main doors  were re-fabricated to fit original mortise positions.  When we first began, these two studs had been moved.  The tenons were gone and there was rot at the bases of both studs.  The stud for the small door in the mow had been removed long ago.  We fabricated a new stud for this location.  A new stud and accompanying girt were also fabricated for the small door in the stanchion on the road-side of the barn.  This doorway was not an original feature of the barn but had been made long before this restoration project.  This was the only stud not to be mortised in.  All of the new door studs are made of local red oak and reduced at the tennons with an adze to match the remaining studs in the barn.

Four out of five of the studs in the stanchion bay were gone and two of the studs were missing from the mow side of the drive.  All of the missing studs were re-made using existing materials on site.

The most of the three-inch thick decking in the stanchion bay was too rotten at the ends to consider reusing to clear span as they had originally.  These original planks are tagged, stacked and stickered in an adjacent barn to be placed in the mow bay at a later date.  The original stanchion planks will fit neatly with the joist spacing in the mow bay with only the ragged ends needing to be trimmed.  The clear span configuration in the stanchion bay has been kept and decked with new, three-inch thick planks.  Ten feet of the original decking in the drive bay was able to be reused.  The two-inch decking in the drive bay was elevated with furring strips, as it had been, to match the three-inch height of the stanchion bay decking.  The drive bay decking is pegged at the log joists and spiked at the sill girts as they had been before.

In spite of the challenge, we managed to re-sheathe the barn with existing materials at the site.  Most of the siding runs continuously from the boarding groove to the lower girt with short sections of siding running from the lower girt to the sill.  We used all of the original wrought nails available to put the siding back on.  The rest of the nails were cut, no wire nails were used in the siding.

The sliding doors on the front of the barn were put back with the existing hardware.  The bottoms of the doors had rotten and hung a bit short of the drive.  We cut a level line across the bottoms of these doors and added a horizontal base with new battens on the backs of the doors.  A few of the boards on the doors were missing and replaced with left over siding material.  The small door on the front of the barn was rebuilt with materials from the original small doors.  The three small doors on the back of the barn were built with new materials.  The batten height of each door is set to match the notches found in the posts adjacent to where they are hung.  We had recovered four strap hinges and four pintles from the barn.  We had the strap hinges hammered back into shape by a blacksmith in Marshfield.  We purchased four more strap hinges of the same era and had a blacksmith in Woodbury make new custom pintles for the four purchased strap hinges.

It was a great privilege for Seth and I to save such early example of scribe rule framing.


A Farmer’s Manifesto

Tuesday, November 11th, 2014

Visiting the Hartland Historical Society in Vermont, historian Bill Hosley of Enfield, Ct., came upon a paper written in 1907 by a prominent local farmer, Byron P. Ruggles.

It was a hand-typed, 10-page manuscript with the less-than-compelling title “Modern vs. Conservative Dairying.” Hosley began reading.

One of the joys of poking around in the archives of a local historical society is that almost invariably you come upon something – letters, old photos, documents, something – that amounts to a revealing window into long-ago life. Sometimes that window gives us perspective; sometimes it helps explain how we got where we are, for better or worse.

The Ruggles paper, Hosley discovered, was one of those windows. He photocopied it.

In it, Ruggles , who was born in 1838 and died in 1917, was skeptical of the advice farmers were getting from academia, government and commerce.

Farmers were told: “We must use a seed drill, a land roller, a corn-planter, a corn-weeder, a cultivator, a corn harvester, a corn husker, a potato planter, potato hoer, potato digger, a reaper, mowing machine, hay tender, horse rake, horse pitchfork, ensilage cutter, threshing machine, drag and circular saws, and an engine to run some of the machines. We must have a silo. It would not do to think of stock or dairy farming without it.” He goes on for two pages complaining of what he was supposed to be buying, doing and not doing.

Most notably, though, Ruggles was bothered by the advice “to own and run large farms; that small farms are not profitable.” That of course became the government mantra of the 20th century, and led to the industrial farming dominant today. Industrial farming may be good at producing lots of food comparatively inexpensively, but it is fair to say, I think, that we are still sorting out the hidden and not-so-hidden environmental, nutritional and societal costs of the bigger-is-necessarily-better philosophy of farming.

Ruggles was one of those independent, civic-minded old New Englanders, the kind of guy, Hosley learned, who also founded the Hartland Nature Club and assembled its impressive natural history collections. He was an influential local leader in a small town along the Connecticut River that remains to this day a community of only 3,223 people. He also was a photographer. But first, he was a farmer. Bigger is better? After decades of farming, Ruggles figured he could shuck nonsense as easily as an ear of corn. He offered his own advice.

“Do not be a farmer unless you like the business and prefer it to another trade or occupation.”

“Do not buy a farm larger than you can do all the work on yourself.”

“Do not have a great multiplicity of farming tools. A plow, a harrow, a roller, a cultivator and a hoe are all the tools you need for working the soil.”

“Do not use any commercial fertilizers. You can raise good crops and increase the fertility of the soil without them.”

“Do not buy any meal or grain feed for your cows. Feed them with what you raise on the farm; that is what your farm is for. They must have good pasturage in summer; plenty of nutritious grasses… They must have good water to drink, such as you would drink yourself.”

“Do not keep cows in the barn all of the time in winter, nor most of the time. You cannot raise good calves from cows so kept. Let them out in the yard at least five or six hours a day except in stormy or very cold weather for sun and air and water and salt and exercise and general enjoyment.”

The Ruggles message was fundamental: respect the land, treat farm animals humanely.

It all sounds a lot like the kind of small, sustainable agriculture emerging in Connecticut and many parts of the country in recent years. I think, for example, of Megan Haney growing vegetables and flowers on three acres of land along the Housatonic River in Kent, Ct.

She starts and ends a long hot day in the field with a sunbonnet and a smile.

Oh, when she was starting out the representative of one federal agency told her that if her farm store wasn’t open every day she could fail. But her Marble Valley Farm store is open to the general public only two days a week in the growing season. After three years she has no plans to change; she is doing fine. Her Community Supported Agriculture program, in which families pay a farmer up-front for a season’s worth of vegetables provided weekly during the growing season, attracts more customers every year. Her farm store is a hit.

She uses a 60-year-old Allis Chalmers G tractor with 11- or 12-horsepower that looks, as she says, more like a Go-Kart than a serious farm tractor. It helps, for sure, but most work, all of the planting and much of the weeding is done by hand anyway. She farms organically. She does most of the work. She keeps it simple.

Her farm and her philosophy, it seems, are not unlike what Byron Ruggles was talking about all those years ago.

Reprinted with permission from the April 7, 2010 blog by Steve Grant, a freelance writer living in Farmington, Ct.,