William Emerson Damon

We are all familiar with Damon Hall, situated in the center of Hartland Three Corners, but what do we know about the Damons for whom it was named? Bev chanced upon an article that whetted our interest and so we pursued it further and found a most fascinating man and family. As I’ve noted before;, Hartland is full of them!

As this building, Damon Hall, which we dedicate today is a memorial to Luther and Betsy Thayer Damon and to their children, and especially to their son, William Emerson Damon, through whose generosity the gift of this building has been made possible, a short sketch of Luther Damon and his son William E. Damon would seem appropriate. Luther Damon, son of Aaron and Lucy Emerson Damon was born in Reading, Mass. Dec. 17 1795. When 10 years old he came to Vermont to settle on the farm now known as the Damon Farm. He was married to Betsy Thayer of Braintree, Mass Nov. 15, 1819.  (He sold the Hartland farm and moved to Windsor but after a few years he became homesick for the old farm and bought it back, never to leave it gain. He built the present Damon house about 1845.) Ten children were born to the couple.

William Emerson Damon, the youngest son was born in Windsor in 1838. He was educated in the public schools and at Kimball Union Academy. Feb 14 1865 he married Alma Otis of Windsor. For many years Mr. Damon was superintendent of the credit department of Tiffany’s, New York City.  Largely through his efforts the New York aquarium was established and Mr. Damon came to be considered an authority on matters pertaining to aquaria. His interest in the New York aquarium is referred to as follows in “Bermuda, Past and Present” by Walter Brownell Hayward.  No less a personage than Phineas T. Barnum was the first to introduce Bermuda fishes to the New York  aquarium public. Barnum, ever on the alert for new thrills, conceived the idea of bringing live specimens from tropical waters, and sent out two expeditions, one to Honduras, the other to Bermuda. Both returned without their fish, all having died in transit. Barnum was disappointed but was prevailed upon by one of his assistants, W.E. Damon, to fit out the well-smack Pacific which sailed to Bermuda in the summer of 1863. These being the days of blockade runners, all Northerners were regarded with suspicion and soon it was rumored that Mr. Damon in his frequent trips across the bays was taking soundings, not fish. Finally a peremptory order from the authorities halted his work and it was not until the American Consul had intervened on his behalf was Mr. Damon allowed to resume his harmless occupation. His party caught 600 fish, all of which were successfully transported to the greater glory and profit of Barnum and the pleasure of his patrons of the Ann Street museum Mr Damon’s “Ocean  wonders” was published in 1879, was one of the first books to popularize life at the seashore. This book contains besides descriptions of various kinds of marine life, a chapter on marine and fresh water aquaria. All of Mr. Damon’s sisters were interested in natural history but he says in his preface to “Ocean Wonders” that it was his dear and honored sister, Elizabeth with her suggestive spirit and practical example who awakened in his mind a love for nature. He also acknowledges his indebtedness to the intelligent and sympathetic interest of his wife in his favorite study. Because of Mrs. Damon’s interest in her husbands avocation she has become interested in the Hartland Nature Club and has felt it a pleasure to contribute towards this building… Mr Damon never held public office …  He died on the home farm in 1911.

From a speech by Harold Rugg at the dedication of Damon Hall on Dec. 2, 1916, reported in The Vermont Standard.

Reprinted from the December 2006 Hartland Historical Society Newsletter

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