Daniel Willard

Portrait of Daniel Willard

Just 100 years ago, Jan. 28, 1861, there was born in North Hartland perhaps Hartland’s most famous son, Daniel Willard. He was a product of pioneer stock as his ancestors were here at the very birth of Hartland. The Hoyt house, the Phelps house, and the Potwin house were all Willard homes. Daniel Willard, the son of another Daniel grew up on the farm now owned by William Smith.

He went to the church now standing here and taught Sunday School. He went to school in a building on the green and at fifteen taught in a one room school. He met Mrs. Samuel Taylor, who was to influence his whole life. She taught him to love books and he was ever after an ardent lover of good books.

He attended a term and a half at Windsor High School. He wanted terribly to attend Dartmouth, but couldn’t afford it. He did attend the Mass State Agriculture College in Amherst for a time but had to give it up, because of poor eyesight.

Running through the family farm were the tracks of the Vermont Central railroad, and young Dan’s imagination was fired by the idea of piloting one of those shining, wood-burning engines, especially the old Governor Smith which he never ceased to love.

Montreal of the Connecticut & Passumpsic Railroad, 1872 (University of Connecticut) So at eighteen, Daniel Willard got his first job on the railroad on a section gang for 90 cents a day for 10 hours on the Vermont Central. He soon went to the Connecticut and Passumpsic where he was a fireman. He weighed only 125 lbs. but he managed to feed the old engine the 10 to 12 cords of wood she consumed in a long day. At eighteen, he was an engineer on the line, respected by the men he worked with for his burning ambition and keen mind. He always had a good book in his pocket.

Soon after this he was lured to the level track and higher pay of a western road, the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railway.

This proved temporary and he went to the Minneapolis and Sault St. Marie which was being built. Here he became trainmaster, and in fourteen years was superintendent.

From here he went to the Baltimore and Ohio, then to the Erie, then operating VP of the Burlington and Quincy then back to the B&O as president, a job he kept from then on.

He had grown up with the railroads and knew every problem. He threw himself wholeheartedly into the job of building tracks and bridges, straightening lines, bucking the constant politics, both among the railroads themselves and government.

He understood the problems of the workers and fought for their interests. Against the desires of many another President he helped to get the 8 hour day. He remembered only too well the times he had fallen asleep and bumped a train in front of him when he had been forced to operate a train beyond the limit of human endurance.

Besides President of the B&O, he became Chairman of the Advisory Commission of the Council of National Defense in WW I. It was made up of distinguished men such as Bernard Baruch and others well known, and the War Industries Board.

He fought off a serious strike and organized the RR Presidents to try to fight off government ownerships which worked for a while. President Wilson did not take over while Willard continued his war job.

At the end of the War, the B&O had to be built up again from near bankruptcy and later fought through the great depression. He was no longer a young man, but took on such jobs as member of the Board of Trustees of John Hopkins University and this self educated man finally became president of the board.

In 1937, the B&O held the Fair of the Iron Horse, a great entertainment and show of railroading past and present. That kept Willard from accepting an invitation to speak at the Hartland celebration of the Sesquicentennial of Vermont but he had not forgotten Hartland. In his last years, he visited the Smiths at his old home, and asked to see the old steep back stairs he had remembered from early boyhood.

He died in 1942, and rests in Hartland soil.

He left his library to the three Hartland libraries and the quality of those books reflect the great intelligence and keen mind of this son of Hartland.

Found in the Hartland Historical Society archives - author unknown, but I suspect it was a speech. C.Y.M.

Reprinted from The Hartland Historical Society Newsletter, Spring 2003.

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