Charles Orcutt (1864-1929)

Charles Russell Orcutt always considered himself first and foremost a collector. It was largely through his writings and extensive collections that a foundation was provided for what is now known as the San Diego Natural History Museum.

Born on April 27, 1864 in Hartland, Vermont, he was the first of five children of Herman Chandler Orcutt and Eliza Eastin Gray Orcutt. In 1879, the Orcutt family left Vermont and relocated to San Diego. Herman Orcutt was considered a pioneer in the field of horticulture and had opened a nursery near the ruins of the San Diego Mission de Alcalá.

C.R.Orcutt was a self-educated man, who had a strong interest in the field of science. He accompanied his father on many expeditions throughout the San Diego region. In 1882, Orcutt accompanied his father and scientist Charles Parry to Ensenada. Even though Orcutt was brought along merely as a driver, he was curious about the discoveries being made. On this journey, he learned from his father and Parry how to collect and preserve specimens. Later when he talked of this trip, Orcutt stated that he “owed whatever skill he has as a botanical collector” to this expedition.

As his interest in horticulture grew, Orcutt began to explore the San Diego region alone. Charles Orcutt was constantly searching for new discoveries, something that would make him a standout in the scientific world. His desire for new fields to explore would take him to Southern California, Baja California, the mainland of Mexico, Central America and eventually to the Caribbean. On many of these expeditions Charles Orcutt found new species of cacti and was thus given the name “The Cactus Man.”

This combination of interests in natural history and collecting led him to an organization known as the San Diego Society of Natural History. He attended all the society meetings regularly, participated in the discussions and donated new specimens to the organization. Orcutt was considered one of the more colorful members of the society during the time. He was known as an eccentric individual who was always very boastful of his accomplishments. Charles Orcutt was elected a life member of the San Diego Society of Natural History on June 5, 1885. He also served on the Board of Directors in 1893, 1902, and 1903. Orcutt left the San Diego region to live in Jamaica and Haiti in the late 1920s. On August 24, 1929 at the age of 65, Charles Orcutt died in Haiti. He was buried there as well, according to his wishes.

From the San Diego Natural History Museum website.

John Harding – Marble and Granite Manufacturer and Engraver

From Industries and Wealth of the Principal Points in Vermont, American Publishing and Engraving, 1891.

JOHN HARDING Manufacturer of Marble and Granite Work Monuments Tablets Gravestones. An ably conducted house engaged in this line of industry in White River Junction is that of Mr John Harding manufacturer of marble and cemetery work etc. Mr Harding is a native of Hartland state and at an early age acquired a thorough knowledge of trade in all its branches and established himself in business in 1855i in his native place and in 1878 moved to his present location. His business premises are of ample dimensions commodious and provided with all the modern facilities required for first class work. Many of his productions are manufactured at West Rutland, Quincy and other places. Original designs furnished by skilled and experienced draughtsmen drawing and estimates are made and contracts of any magnitude are entered into for all kinds of marble and granite cemetery monuments tablets gravestones memorials vaults mausoleums tombs etc and executed promptly and satisfactorily on the reasonable terms. A specialty is the making of Quincy granite monuments to order while special terms are made for soldiers sailors cemetery work and in his warerooms will be found at times a fine assortment of monuments memorials tablets etc embodying the highest conceptions of artistic skill and of his production.

David Hubbard Sumner (1776-1867)

From History of Windsor County Vermont, 1891, Authors Lewis Aldrich and Frank Holmes

Colonel Benjamin Sumner was a land surveyor, and a man of considerable wealth and prominent in the early history of Claremont. He took an active part in the controversy respecting the New Hampshire Grants. Of his thirteen children, David Hubbard was the ninth. He was born in Claremont, N. H., December 7, 1776. Having given a number of his sons a liberal education, it was the purpose of his father that he also should take a collegiate course, but after fitting for entrance to college he expressed a decided preference for mercantile life, and was accordingly placed in the store kept by the Lymans at White River, Vt., as a clerk. After some service there he commenced business for himself. In 1805 he married Martha Brandon Foxcroft, daughter of Dr. Francis Foxcroft, of Brookfield, Mass. She died in March, 1824, and left no children. Soon after this marriage Mr. Sumner removed from Claremont to Hartland, Vt., and engaged in trade at that place. This business he continued for many years, and with considerable success. During the War of 1812 a militia company formed at Hartland, and much to his surprise Mr. Sumner was elected as their captain. In 1813 and 1814 he represented Hartland in the State Legislature. He also served many years as justice of the peace. About 1814 he was appointed postmaster of Hartland, which office he retained for nearly twenty years. He was a Democrat during his entire life, but in the War of 1812 imbibed such a dislike of any factional opposition to an administration engaged in carrying on a war and upholding the national honor, that he could not oppose the war to suppress the rebellion, although he never confessed to any sympathy with the Republican party in respect to the matters out of which the rebellion sprang. Soon after coming to Hartland Mr. Sumner interested himself in the development of the town by building roads, some of them at his own expense, also in bridging the Connecticut River between Hartland and Plainfield, and in establishing mills. The first bridge built by the company of which he was one of the incorporators, having been swept away by a freshet, Mr. Sumner, who had become its sole survivor, in 1841 completed another bridge which was destroyed in a freshet March 1859, after which time he maintained a ferry at that point. Mr. Sumner was one of the original incorporators of a company organized for the purpose of rendering the Connecticut River navigable at Water Quechee Falls, where canals and through locks were put in. Extensive mills were maintained at the same point by Mr. Sumner for many years. The mills were lost by freshets, and a small portion of the old canal walls is nearly all that is now left to indicate what was once one of the busiest parts of the town. Mr. Sumner was largely interested in a company organized for the purpose of carrying on an extensive lumber and timber trade on the Connecticut, the company owning for that purpose whole townships of land in New Hampshire and Vermont. In 1817 he purchased of the widow and heirs of the Royal Governor Benning Wentworth all the unsold lots of land in Vermont and New Hampshire known as the Governor’s Rights. These lands were the 500 acre lots reserved by the governor to his own right in each charter of his New Hampshire grants. These lands being widely scattered, the purchase threw upon Mr. Sumner considerable labor, and the defense of them involved him in some litigation.

As a business man Mr. Sumner had great grasp of mind, was hopeful, progressive, and quick to avail himself of all improved methods. He was strong in his personal attachment to his friends, and would never suffer them to be misrepresented in his presence. In personal address he was a gentleman of the old school, somewhat formal, dignified and precise, but at the same time affable, hospitable, and possessed of a keen relish for wit and humor. Though earnest in his business, and active in every legitimate effort to win success, he was still scrupulously conscientious, and not only so lived as to preserve to himself the consciousness of rectitude but also so as to inspire others with entire confidence in his integrity. He was married to his second wife, Wealthy Thomas of Windsor, April 25, 1839. There were two children of this marriage, Martha, born May 19, 1840, widow of the late Judge Benjamin H. Steele, who owns and occupies the old homestead, and David H., jr, born November 8, 1842. The son, after a brief illness, died August 18, 1867, but a short time before the death of his father, which occurred August 29, 1867. The death of his only son, who had already taken upon himself the responsibility of his father’s affairs, and whose loss was deeply felt, not only by his relatives, but also by the public, undoubtedly hastened the death of the father. A few days after the funeral of the son the remains of the father were carried to the grave by the Masonic Fraternity of the vicinity, to whom he had been warmly attached in life, and among whom he had stood as a senior member. The memory of Mr. Sumner is still green and fresh in the hearts of many with whom he labored, and whom his generous and hopeful energy encouraged in later life. His wife, Wealthy, died at her home in Hartland, February 7, 1887, a devoted mother, a faithful friend, kind to the poor, unsparing in sympathy, whereby she attached to herself a large and delightful circle of friends. Her heart and hand were given to every good work.


Lucia Summers (1835-1898): First Resident Botanist in the Pacific Northwest

Lucia Summers was a pioneer botanist in the Pacific Coast states between 1871 and 1898. She experienced the Northwest landscape as it was just beginning to be altered by the first generation of European settlers. When she arrived in Seattle with her husband, the Rev. Robert W. Summers (the first Episcopal priest in Seattle), it had been a mere 17 years since the arrival of the first permanent European settlers. Seattle of 1871 was little more than a village of about 1500 inhabitants. Lucia was well educated, and an accomplished linguist and musician, when she arrived in Seattle at the age of 34.

Lucia’s given name was Susan Ann Noyes, and she was born in Hartland, Vermont, on November 22, 1835, the older daughter of Benjamin Noyes and Julia Ann Bartlett. Her nickname Lucia was probably in honor of her father’s first wife, who died in 1831. Lucia had one sibling, a sister, Lavinia, who was born in 1839 (Noyes 1904). Lucia’s father Benjamin was listed in the 1860 census as a “master carpenter,” with a combined value of real estate and personal property of $2900, a considerable amount at that time. The Noyes were a long established New England family, and sufficiently affluent for Lucia to receive an advanced education, unusual for women at that time.

Some time during the 1850s, Lucia’s family moved from Vermont to Hannibal, Missouri, where she met her future husband, Robert William Summers. They were married there on July 17, 1859. Hannibal, of course, is the river town along the Mississippi that was the childhood home of Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain).

Dr. Friend Sturtevant (1767-1830)

Extracted from the Spring 2006 Hartland Historical Society Newsletter.

Dr. Friend Sturtevant was the 13th of Dr. Josiah Sturtevant’s children. Dr. Josiah was a Tory and died as a result of his treatment at the hands of Boston patriots. Dr. Friend was studying medicine with his half-brother, Dr. Thomas Sturtevant of Middleboro , when his mother and some of his sisters and at least one of his younger brothers went to Vermont. In 1793 he married at Middleboro, Mass. , Sarah Porter. After a brief experience of frontier life at Holland Patent, near Rome, N.Y. they settled in Pittsfield, Mass. by the spring of 1795. Ten years later, Dr. Friend moved his family to Woodstock and in 1807 to Hartland where he practiced until his death at age 63. During the war of 1812 Dr. Friend served for a time with the U.S.Army as a surgeon, being stationed at Plattsburg, N.Y. , but was taken sick and returned before the war finished.

The Sturtevant family first lived in Hartland Four Corners, occupying the house that is now the Skunk Hollow Tavern, which was then ornamented with a gambrel roof. The Dr. was the only educated physician in town for many years. (I question this as Dr. John Harding preceded Dr. Sturtevant but perhaps Dr. Harding did not have the same level of education . C.Y.M. ) He had an extensive practice ,and was as successful as the average of country practitioners. Let us now imagine how Hartland Four Corners looked when the young family came to live there. There were no buildings except the tavern which stood on the southeast corner in the village, the home that they occupied, and one other occupied by Captain Farwell who owned and ran a sawmill on the brook nearby; these with the schoolhouse made up the town. Later on the family moved to Three Corners and lived in the house that would later become the Congregational parsonage ( now Jane McClelland’s ). Here the good Dr. tied his horse and dispensed pills and plasters in the good old way, and, proving a good Samaritan to many a troubled household. No matter who called, poor or rich the Doctor must go and let the winter winds blow , he and his faithful horse must brave the tempest. The Doctor was a jovial, free-hearted , merry man, exceedingly fond of those things which go to make the happy part of the world – liked his joke and never lost a good opportunity.

Thus we see his life ran through times of war and times of peace, caring for his patients in the midst of a wilderness peopled with savages, where he got lost frequently and had to remain in the woods all night – binding up the wounds of those gallant fellows who fought to sustain the honor of the republic and plying his profession in a peaceful community where savage Indians and war were things of the past. He was taken ill early in the year 1830 and failed gradually till he died Aug 26th at the age of 63. His wife survived him and died in 1864 at the age of 92.

This was taken from an unidentified newspaper article.

A Farmer’s Manifesto

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.,



Sumners Falls and Lumbering

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. The 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.

“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.

Drowning at Sumner’s Falls 1895 (1) – Charles Barber

“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.