Vermont Archives Month Blog

Historic Gems Discovered During Research

-Brian Lindner, Archives Month Committee Member

Have you ever been to a flea market and come home with a remarkable find for which you paid next-to-nothing?  We’ve all heard of people acquiring some object only to discover much later that it has some amazing historic or monetary value – have you seen at least one episode of Antiques Roadshow?  It happens.  Researching in any archive has the same potential.  You may discover the most amazing story only because you stumbled across it while looking for something entirely unrelated.

A few years ago, I was at the Vermont State Archives and Record Center in Middlesex.  While waiting for the newspaper microfilm I needed to research a decades old, cold case homicide, I stopped to look at the contents of a bookshelf I had walked by roughly one or two million times.  After rummaging through a few books on the shelf, I spotted a binder labeled “Houston Studios.”  Holy Cow!!!! 

E.T. Houston was a Waterbury fixture for decades. For years I had half-heartedly searched for his photographic collection.  Had any of his works survived?  I had even looked for his collection while researching old train wrecks in/around Waterbury.  Although his photos appear with some regularity on e-Bay, they are mostly formal portraits of (now) nameless persons.  For years this historic collection remained elusive, but thanks to shear dumb luck, here was a large collection of his oversized negatives of extremely detailed images.

I quickly focused on Houston’s photos showing the early stages of construction of the Waterbury Dam built by the Civilian Conservation Corps 1935-38.  There were views up the river, down the river, over the massive CCC Camp Charles Smith and under the ledges where the dam would begin to seriously leak during the 1980s.  There were views of the conduit under the dam where the Little River was rechanneled, the rock quarries, the steam shovels, dump trucks and rock crushing gear used by the C’s during construction.  Even my mother’s one-room schoolhouse, which had been moved downstream for use as a CCC building during the dam’s construction, was visible!  This was remarkable documentation of how the (then) world’s largest earth-filled dam had been built from local materials.

One of Houston’s photographs of the early stage of construction of Waterbury Dam. This view is looking downstream toward the Winooski River valley. CCC Camp Charles Smith is in the distance. When completed, the flood control dam filled this entire valley from left to right. Courtesy Vermont State Archives & Records Administration.

In 2021 the U.S. Corps of Engineers was working to determine the next steps in a rehab of the flood control gates at the far end of the dam.  They discovered the engineering plans were no place to be found in government archives.  The plans had vanished.  Low and behold – I was able to send them to Middlesex where they could see, in full detail, the early stages of construction.  In many ways, the Houston photographs were better and more informative than the original blueprints could have ever been.

Another historic gem that rates high in excitement – at least for me – happened in 2018.  I was working on a project to document the deadliest automobile crashes in Vermont.  I discovered one in Newbury from December 11, 1952 when Doctor Stanley Dwinell and his three young sons had died after he drove in front of an oncoming train.  It turned out there had been an earlier head-on train wreck at this same crossing on October 30, 1948.  I wondered if the earlier wreck had any pertinence to the doctor’s crash.  At the Archives, I ordered the newspaper microfilms to see how the earlier train wreck story had been reported in 1948.  However, the spectacular, head-on, multiple-fatal, train wreck was NOT the banner headline.  What?  The headline instead was “Russians Kill East Hardwick Man.”

From the Caledonian Record, November 1, 1948.

Off I went on a new project.  Why would the Russians murder someone from Hardwick, Vermont?  The story turned out to be one of international importance. 

At the time Irving Ross was killed in Vienna, the Cold War was going strong.  The U.S. Army, the State Department and even the White House got dragged into the case that was reported in nearly every newspaper in America.  The Russians shut down the investigation, prevented the Austrian police from participating, and blocked every attempt by U.S. authorities to determine what had happened, late at night, in Soviet-controlled territory when Ross had a former Hungarian princess with him in a remote area of Vienna.  She barely survived.  At the same time the Russians were beating Ross to death with the butts of their rifles, Ross’s young wife and three daughters were finishing packing for their scheduled transatlantic voyage to join Ross in Vienna with departure intended on the next day.  Instead of leaving, their house filled up with state troopers and men in dark suits.  The daughters were even split up and taken by troopers to separate locations.  Nobody knew if the Russians might also be after Ross’ family.

The full story is too long to tell here but declassified Army and State Department documents in the U.S. National Archives tell of Ross working on the Marshall Plan (America’s effort to pump millions of dollars into rebuilding Europe following the Second World War) while unofficially tinkering in the dangerous world of spying.  He ventured into the black market and repeatedly ventured into Soviet-occupied areas where he was pointedly told to never show up again.  He showed up again and it cost him his life.  Approaching the 70th anniversary of the murder, in 2018 Austrian newspapers, television and magazines began to recall one of the more famous unsolved murders in their country’s history.  The answers probably reside in some obscure Russian archive.  Ross is buried in the Sanborn Cemetery in East Hardwick.

And lastly, there was the history “gem” I discovered at the U.S. National Archives in College Park, MD.  I was there researching the most famous aviation photographs taken of American bombers over Germany during World War Two.  A pile of binders under one table was a bit of a nuisance, but I didn’t pay much attention despite my bumping into them repeatedly.  An archivist was assisting me with a question when I off-handedly mentioned the binders that had been slightly in my way.  She asked, “Do you know what those are?”  “No,” I said.  “I have no idea.”  “THOSE,” she said, “are Eva Braun’s personal photo albums.”  (Actually, these are high-quality copies for researchers to use.  The original albums themselves are not on display.)

A rather graying and dumpy looking Hitler in one of Braun’s photographs. He would never have allowed a photo such as this to be published. Courtesy the U.S. National Archives.

That would be the Eva Braun, as in Hitler’s mistress who became his wife in the final hours of their lives.  The next day I dropped my own research and slowly looked through all those albums.  If you want to see an unguarded Adolph Hitler, this is where to look.  He is seen tying his shoes, blowing his nose, and in many other moments that would never have seen the light in any Nazi press.  All the Nazi elite appear in Braun’s albums along with photos from her childhood. 

When you head into any archive to research Topic #1 – the only reason you are there…….be prepared to stumble across another historic gem that might spin you off into an entirely new and potentially more exciting direction.

Stormy Weather: How Floods Shaped Vermont’s Landscape

-Sally Blanchard-O’Brien, Archives Month Committee. This is a revised version of an article that appeared originally in the History Space Column of the Burlington Free Press, printed June 5, 2016. 

Roads and bridges washed away.  Railroad lines destroyed.  Farmland devastated. And worse, 84 deaths – including Vermont’s lieutenant governor.  The aftermath of the storm that ravaged Vermont on November 3 and 4, 1927 created an unprecedented disaster for the state.  Heavy rains and high water deposited layers of mud and slime in homes and businesses, with losses estimated at about $25 million dollars.   

Telegram from President Coolidge to Governor Weeks following the flood, November 10, 1927. Courtesy of the Vermont State Archives and Records Administration.

Extraordinary action was necessary to deal with a catastrophe of this magnitude. A meeting was held at the Vermont State House with U.S. Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover, and among his suggestions for relief was the involvement of the Red Cross, headed by President Calvin Coolidge. On November 30, legislation was passed to issue bonds for $8.5 million of reconstruction. Within three years, the State Highway Board considered flood damage repairs to be nearly complete. But the flood of 1927 had left Vermont open for major changes in its landscape. With the national push for hard-surface roads and flood control, and Vermont’s budding tourist economy, the state embraced the idea of coming back “better than before.”   

Sample of a Vermont State Flood Bond, 1927. Courtesy of the Vermont State Archives and Records Administration.

The increase in tourist traffic and the challenges of road and bridge maintenance called for the creation of a state-controlled system of highways, and in 1931 Act 61 authorized the construction of a state highway system. The State Highway Board proposed the construction of about 550 miles of hard surface over the next decade to meet demands. With improved infrastructure, a bustling tourism economy, and revitalized families, farmers, and business owners, there was the natural desire to protect assets from further flood damage. State advisory reports recommended reservoirs as the most feasible and effective method of reducing this threat. In the 1930s, the nation’s New Deal was underway, which included large scale public works projects. On July 19, 1933, the Vermont legislature formally approved the cooperation of Vermont with the federal government, creating the Board of Public Works. By 1936, and after another significant flood in Vermont, the federal government was advancing flood control proposals all across the country. 

Creating reservoirs meant building dams, but not all Vermont residents were eager for an extensive program of dam-building. While dams offered protection from future floods, as well as the benefits of more power and more jobs, the costs were more than monetary. Towns were irrevocably altered and individual properties affected by the construction of these dams. There was also the concern that not all Vermonters might benefit from the proposed flood control projects. As time went on, these issues continued to be battled out amongst Vermont lawmakers, leaders, and citizens. 

Poster advertising public auction for properties at the Wrightsville Dam Site, 1933. Courtesy of the Vermont State Archives and Records Administration.

Ten years ago on August 28 and 29, 2011, heavy rains fell from Tropical Storm Irene. Destruction was eerily evocative of the 1927 deluge, with nearly every river in Vermont flooding.  Four people drowned.  50,000 Vermonters were left without power.  There were over 260 road closures, with thirteen rural towns completely cut off. As with previous disasters, the initial response was first to take care of storm victims’ immediate needs before tackling the more costly, longer-term rehabilitation.  But repairs commenced quickly.  Over 500 miles of damaged roads and bridges were rebuilt in four months. 

The major difference in financing relief efforts between Irene and 1927 was the existence of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), created in 1979 following pressure by states for centralized federal emergency functions. Vermont received its first post-FEMA presidential disaster declaration in 1984 and one month after 2011’s Irene, FEMA had approved more than $16 million in assistance to individuals and families. 

Dealing with floods and their aftermath has been an ongoing challenge for Vermonters throughout our history, and over the decades we have looked to our government for support and relief.  Advisory reports from 1928 and 1936 both indicated that storms with the potential for causing great damage have the probability of occurring every fifty to seventy-five years. The 1984 Interagency Flood Hazard Mitigation Report declared flooding to be the greatest natural hazard found in Vermont. 

Section of a map depicting road damage following Tropical Storm Irene, September 5, 2011. Courtesy of the Vermont State Archives and Records Administration.

But if one constant is the fact that flooding will continue to occur in Vermont, the other is the resilient spirit of Vermonters in the face of adversity.  After the 1927 flood, Governor Weeks repeatedly spoke of the courage of Vermonters in facing the greatest disaster in the state’s history, saying “the faith and valor of Vermonters has turned catastrophe into opportunity.” Governor Shumlin echoed the words of his predecessor when, in January of 2012, he stated that that Vermont “has demonstrated over the course of the past year what it means to be united as one community to overcome tragedy.” 

The Little Archive That Grew Strong

-Beth Kanell, Archives Month Committee Member

As local historical societies go, Waterford, Vermont, is on the small side. A well-attended meeting is a dozen people; a public event that draws 30 is a striking success. And the treasury is healthy for the group’s needs, but modest. Annual dues are $5 per person.

However, this Connecticut River town embraces a complicated and rich history, with abundant documents that provide details. From the land records in the town vault, to recent newspaper clippings from one of the few remaining daily newspapers in the state, and from old photo albums discovered in residents’ belongings, to unusual notes and photos found via online markets, there’s a lot to save!

“Upper Waterford,” that is, the original town center of Waterford, is under the waters behind Moore Dam (completed 1954), part of a three-dam hydroelectric facility on the Connecticut River that began to tame the region’s Fifteen Mile Falls in the 1930s. That awareness of a “drowned village,” where even the local church was burned to the ground to make room for progress, may be one reason that this little local group embraces its archives so enthusiastically.

But it also reminds us that the waters of the river and local streams that have fueled the town’s growth in past centuries can also sweep away the paper evidence of its inhabitants and their stories. So can fire, which is locally managed with a volunteer department and mutual aid from nearby towns. Preserving our archives requires strong, deliberate choices.

Fortunately, those aren’t expensive, other than in terms of volunteer hours.

We strengthened our initial archival effort with an invitation to VSARA (Vermont State Archives & Records Administration) professional Rachel Onuf. She joined the board and other interested members around a set of tables covered with materials. Excitement rose as people began to talk about individual items. Conversation ranged across the usual reminders to each other of how to preserve and protect paper—getting rid of staples and paper clips, storing under low humidity, even protecting from sprinkler systems, as well as from sunlight.

A lockable metal cabinet protects the document archives of the Waterford Historical Society.

A shopping list at the end of the session included archivally stable folders, boxes, and tissue paper, available online. Using these, we housed materials in a six-foot-tall lockable metal storage cabinet, with access controlled by a partnership of the Waterford Historical Society and the Town Clerk. Importantly for our location, the seller provided delivery of the parts. The Town Clerk shared space in the vault for a few Items too large for the cabinet, and less rare books and town reports stayed on shelves in the adjoining town library for easy access.

After that, the biggest cost turned out to be time: hours and hours of volunteers, sorting, separating, labeling. It wasn’t simple to raise enthusiasm—it meant weeks of photos, blogging, research, sharing enthusiasm, and directly inviting people to become involved.

Yet that process turned out to be exactly what gave the most strength to our archive development, as we shared town history in widening circles and scaffolded people’s interest in the buildings, families, and changes in this small town.

The result: Each November, and often in other winter months, the Waterford Historical Society announces archive work days, whether in the library, the church fellowship hall, or the lobby of the town office. With a laptop, our cellphones, and most importantly, a few older residents bringing in material and helping to identify faces and families, we make discoveries and deepen our understandings of how times change and how families survive.

Waterford Historical Society board members (from right) Donna Rae Heath, Roberta Smith, Helen Pike, and Craig Brown and historian Nola Forbes sort donated materials into archival boxes and label binders (alphabetical by family name). Photo by WHS board member Beth Kanell.

“Small but mighty” has become the tag line for this group. It’s surely a subtitle for the state’s own sense of how to get things done and hold onto our history: We are Vermont Strong. And we’re strengthening our archives daily.

Thank You for a Great Archives Month!

This year’s Archives Month is a wrap, and we’ve had a month full of activities and blog posts to commemorate the voices of Vermont’s past and the importance of records with enduring historical value. But you don’t have to wait until next October to engage with Vermont’s archival institutions! Throughout the year, look to your local historical societies and research institutions to see what they’re highlighting and working on. Check out some online archives such as the Green Mountain Digital Archive or Vermont’s various music archives. And search for #vtarchives on your favorite social media platforms to see what’s happening in the Vermont archival world! 

The 2020 Archives Month Committee thanks you for your participation this year, and looks forward to gathering together again in 2021. 

Sally Blanchard-O’Brien
Prudence Doherty
Mary Ide
Beth Kanell
Gary Shattuck 

Green Mountain Digital Archive

-Prudence Doherty, Archives Month Committee Member

We often read about exciting documents discovered in dark and dusty archives. However, these days researchers are just as likely to make those discoveries online. To make the process of finding digital materials from Vermont repositories easier, the Green Mountain Digital Archive (GMDA) brings over 72,000 items from eight partners and four contributing institutions together in one searchable database.

The GMDA partner institutions, including Middlebury College, Norwich University, the Rockingham Free Public Library, St. Michael’s College, the University of Vermont, the Vermont Department of Libraries, the Vermont Historical Society, and the Vermont State Archives and Records Administration, collaborate to support a Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) service hub for Vermont. Contributing libraries and archives include the Bixby Memorial Library (Vergennes), the Brooks Memorial Library (Brattleboro), the Stewart-Swift Research Center at the Henry Sheldon Museum and the Vermont Folklife Center. GMDA participation in the DPLA is supported through generous funding provided by the Library Services and Technology Act administered by the Vermont Department of Libraries.

The materials represented in the GMDA include photographs, documents, maps, recordings and other resources, mostly related to Vermont but also extending beyond the state.  At the GMDA site, you can search by keyword. The results appear as a list of thumbnail images, accompanied by brief descriptions and a link to see the item at the contributor’s site. You can refine the results by subject, date, language and contributing institution.

To explore the site, we searched for items related to two subjects of current interest: Halloween and elections. A search for “Halloween” produced 55 results from three institutions and included a great group of vintage holiday cards, photographs of parties held for children, and groups in masks and costumes.

Halloween greetings from a collection of holiday cards at Special Collections and Archives, Middlebury College. The postcard was mailed from Syracuse, New York to Grand Rapids, Michigan in 1909.
Child decorating a pumpkin at a Big Brother/Big Sister Halloween party sometime between 1989 and 2005, from the St. Michael’s College Archives.
L. L. McAllister photographed this costumed and masked group in 1947-1948. From Silver Special Collections, University of Vermont.

Not surprisingly, GMDA contains many photographs, documents and other items related to political campaigns, elections and voting from the early nineteenth century to almost present day from many of the participating institutions.

Calvin Coolidge took advantage of two innovations during the 1924 presidential election: the automobile and the radio. With radio broadcasts, the Coolidge campaign reached millions in their living rooms. This August 1924 photograph shows Coolidge standing next to an automobile equipped with radio equipment. From the Vermont Historical Society’s collection of Coolidge portraits.
Presidential candidate John F. Kennedy with St. Michael’s College President Bernard Boutin during a 1960 campaign stop. The poster on the wall proclaims, “He has served all New England with distinction!” From the St. Michael’s College Archives.

The GMDA is a rich resource for research and discovery that can be explored not only during Archives Month, but all year long! Stay tuned as the Green Mountain Digital Archive continues to grow and change – including a newly designed web portal to be launched later this year.

Town Reports: Telling the Community’s Story Year by Year

-Prudence Doherty, Archives Month Committee Member

One Vermont tradition that exemplifies our Archives Month theme, “Voice and Vote,” is the annual town meeting, when community members come together to share opinions, make decisions and vote on local issues. The annual town report is an essential reference tool for town meeting. After the meeting, it provides a record of one year in the civic life of the community. Because Vermont’s nine cities also produce similar annual reports, here we will refer to municipal reports. 

Towns and cities are required to give voters an annual report on their financial condition, indicating expenses, income and indebtedness. Auditors, who may be volunteers or professionals, are responsible for gathering and certifying that information. The municipality presents the financial data in the annual report. The report typically includes a great deal of additional information, including reports from elected officials, community related entities and social service organizations that receive funds from the community; the proposed budget for the next fiscal year; the warning for the annual meeting or election indicating what will be voted on; and  records of births, death and marriages. Reports might also include special sections honoring community members or reporting on an important issue or event that year.  

The back cover of the 1912 Barnet, Vermont report includes a list of the questions voters considered. Number 6, “Shall license be granted for the sale of intoxicating liquors in this town?” undoubtedly prompted a spirited discussion.  

Political scientist Andrew Nuquist described some late 19th- and early 20th-century reports as “long pages of dreary listings of the town orders [bills paid], arranged chronologically month by month,” without totals or explanation. In 1933, the Vermont Chamber of Commerce announced a competition designed to make the annual reports more useful to voters. The Chamber pushed for reports “interesting enough for women to read and clear enough for children to understand…through the use of graphs, charts and simple comparative statistics,” according to the Brandon Union. The competition, supported by UVM Extension, continued for many years, with the ultimate goal of providing citizens with information they needed to act responsibly at town meetings and polling places. 

A section from the Overseer of the Poor’s 9-page report in the 1933 Barnet report. The details—who received what kind of help and at what cost—provide a snapshot of how the town cared for the increased number of townspeople who struggled during the early years of the Depression. 

Information collected in annual reports helps tell the story of communities year by year over many decades. The reports from officials and departments document the evolution of municipal services to meet changing needs. They chronicle how Vermont towns and cities have responded to challenges such as natural disasters, environmental degradation, economic recessions, world wars, and public health threats.  Above all, the reports are about the people of the community, from the officials who volunteered for the common good, to those who worked on road crews, took refuge at poor farms, turned out to vote, visited the library, or listened to a summer concert. 

The town reports competition encouraged municipalities to add attractive covers, a practice which continues. The aerial photos on the 2015 Barnet report provide dramatic evidence of the first step the town took to solve the problem of backflow into Harvey’s Lake, a major recreational resource. 

Officials once mailed reports to all residents, but later restricted the distribution to voters. Now, as more towns and cities post reports online, print copies might only be available in the municipal offices. Older print reports may be available in municipal offices and local libraries. For historical research, the Silver Special Collections Library at the University of Vermont, the Middlebury College Library and the Vermont State Archives and Records Administration (VSARA) have extensive collections of print town reports. Town and city websites and VSARA provide access to the more recent digital reports. 

Voicing Concerns: The Use of Petitions throughout Vermont Governmental History

-Sally Blanchard-O’Brien, Archives Month Committee Member

Vermonters have had a lot to ask of and say about their government over the centuries. From pre-statehood times to the present Vermonters have been petitioning their government to effect action on certain issues, to obtain their rights and dues, and to make their voices heard. While there are numerous reasons for petitioning one’s government, we’ll take a look here at three historical reasons in the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries.  

Tired of the New York and New Hampshire colonies both laying claim to the land between them, Vermont declared itself an independent republic from 1777 until it achieved statehood in 1791. While several English settlements existed in Vermont by 1777, there were still areas unclaimed by white settlers. The newly independent Vermonters set out to inhabit these areas by petitioning the General Assembly. Bethel was the first town established by the independent Vermont government, petitioned for in 1778 and chartered in 1779. Many petitions for land came to Vermont’s legislative body in these years, and these petitions have been published and can be read online.

Part of petition for the town of Bethel, including sketch of proposed land, 1778. Courtesy Vermont State Archives & Records Administration (series SE-118).

Vermonters often petitioned the legislature for services or money owed them. In 1778, John Cannon petitioned the Governor and Council for redress of his losses on account of the Battle of Shelburne and Captain Thomas Sawyer. In his petition, he gave an account of what happened: he had prepaid for some wheat, went to collect it and found Captain Sawyer claiming it as wages for his men. Cannon then worked alongside them to re-earn the wheat. However, the fight at Shelburne broke out and — Cannon broke his hand, rode express for the men, and lost his wheat a second time. The Governor and Council found that his request needed more examination, but they gave him twenty pounds’ relief in the interim. In an 1829 incident, Joel Houghton of Stamford found his store robbed; he took it upon himself to track down the culprits, who were later convicted. Because he went to “great trouble and expense to find out and prosecute to conviction said culprits,” he petitioned the legislature for financial compensation for his service. His request was granted. 

Part of petition from Joel Houghton asking for financial compensation, 1829. Courtesy of Vermont State Archives & Records Administration (series SE-118).

Vermonters have also petitioned their government in favor of causes they are passionate about, and have done so for generations. They wrote to their government and expressed their opinions about temperance and abolishing slavery in the 19th century, for and against women’s suffrage in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and many other issues and laws that come up for debate up to the present day. Collecting signatures adds impact to a statement in support of or opposition to a political issue, demonstrating the public’s opinion about proposed policies.

Petition from residents of Middlebury asking for municipal and presidential suffrage for women, 1904. Courtesy of Vermont State Archives & Records Administration (series A-122).

Whether it’s a list of names in support of a social cause or a narrative plea to obtain what’s due, petitions have had a long tradition in Vermont of voicing the needs of the people to their government. There are thousands of petitions that exist in Vermont’s historical record, each giving voice to the unique social, economic, and political mores of the time. If you are interested in conducting your own research related to petitions to Vermont state government, you can contact the reference room of the Vermont State Archives and Records Administration at  

Farming in Perspective from the Archives

“American Agriculturist” sign on one of Waterford’s historic barns. Courtesy Beth Kanell.

-Beth Kanell, Archives Month Committee Member

The “small but mighty” Waterford Historical Society relies on many archives to build an understanding of history’s effects on the people of this Connecticut River Valley farming town. Dairy farms face immense pressures, and there is a sense of mourning around the loss of each one. Waterford once had farms along every road, but now has only two dairy farms producing milk, although the surge in diversified land-based plant and animal tending gives us hope that the old bumper sticker “Farms Keep Vermont Green” will still apply in the future.

Identifying the historical details of our farms is challenging. In 1860, the U.S. Census provided a tally of agriculture for each state by county, and Caledonia County, where Waterford is, showed 32,300 sheep, 11,582 “milch” cows, 3,736 working oxen, and just one animal in the category of “asses and mules.” The county reached third in the state for butter production (1.3 million pounds that year) and a respectable amount of hay, but sadly low amounts of barley, buckwheat, orchard products, wine, cheese, and hops; however, it ranked fourth in the state for clover seed, something that may not even be sold in Vermont today.

Hamilton Child’s 1887 Gazetteer of Caledonia and Essex Counties actually listed the town’s residents individually with their farm assets. So we know that West Waterford postmaster Amos Carpenter farmed with 3,000 “sugar trees,” 35 Jersey cows, 20 head “neat cattle” (beef cattle, dairy heifers, and bulls), and five horses. Sheep still appear on the list, though their numbers had dwindled from before the Civil War; the town’s apiarist, George Felch, had 27 swarms, and Stephen Hastings bred and sold Poland China hogs.

For individual production after this, Waterford relies more on family archives. A particularly rich one is held by the Lee family, which backed up its rich paper holdings with digital scans stored on two different servers. What a great pairing of historic documents and modern caretaking! Bertha Lee’s detailed records of her farm’s milk production actually give figures for each cow, by name.

Bertha Lee’s cow-by-cow milk records. Courtesy Waterford Historical Society.

Over the winter, our town’s history laborers gather to sort donated material into accessible labeled folders for the group’s archives. This past February, a yellowing typed document in a stack of donated “papers” suddenly provided a fresh wave of detail, thanks to the work of the noted WPA, the Works Project Administration. Now we know that in 1935, before World War II, this farm community’s 212 farms from 1850 (before the Civil War) had dwindled to only 97, but by consolidation, since the number of acres farmed remained about the same. The tables give us solid information on livestock, their products, and crop production compared over the years, data that we never had before.

Table of production figures of various crops. From “Agricultural Trends in Waterford Vermont”, published in February 1940 by the Agricultural Extension Service, University of Vermont and State Agricultural College “as a report on Official Project No. 665-12-3-56 Conducted under the Auspices of the Works Project Administration.”

Now when we consider how farming thrives in our town, we have real numbers to work from—numbers that came to us from sorting those overwhelming boxes and bags of worn saved paper, with a team ready to be surprised and excited.

Vermont Music Archives Available Online

-Prudence Doherty, Archives Month Committee Member

Music is an important part of Vermont culture, past and present. Libraries, historical societies, and music organizations throughout the state house collections that document the state’s diverse musical traditions. To reach wider audiences, many are making their collections available online. Here are profiles of five online music archives.

Vermont Sheet Music. The Leahy Library at the Vermont Historical Society, UVM’s Silver Special Collections Library and Champlain College Special Collections all have significant collections of sheet music related to Vermont that was extremely popular from the middle of the nineteenth century to the middle of the twentieth century. Champlain College makes their collection available online. You can search the Special Collections catalog for “sheet music” to view covers, and in many cases, music and lyrics as well. During the last academic year, Champlain students studied the collection and produced a documentary and a community local history event for the Green Mountain Melodies project, funded by a Humanities for the Public Good grant.

Where Lamoille River Flows: A Song of Old Vermont

Helen Hartness Flanders Ballad Collection. Helen Hartness Flanders of Springfield, Vermont began collecting Vermont folk songs and ballads in 1930 for the Committee on Traditions and Ideals of the Vermont Commission on Country Life. For thirty years, Flanders and her collaborators recorded over 4,800 songs using wax cylinders, disc, and reel-to-reel magnetic tape. The geographic coverage expanded to New England, and while mostly representing Anglo-American traditions, the collection includes some Franco-American songs. Flanders donated her collection, which also includes a research library, broadsides, songbooks and hymnals, manuscripts and song transcriptions, to Middlebury College in 1941. In 2013-2014, Middlebury participated in a project using innovative technology to digitize deteriorating wax cylinders and cracked records. Middlebury makes recordings, broadsides and photographs from the Flanders collection available through the Internet Archive.

Martha Pellerin Collection of Franco-American Song. As a proud Franco-American who grew up in Barre, Vermont, musician and community organizer Martha Pellerin worked to document, preserve and share Franco-American cultural heritage. The Martha Pellerin Collection is an online database of French and English songs drawn from nine songbook manuscripts and six interviews with Alberta Gagne. UVM and the Vermont Folklife Center make the material available to audiences who might not have the opportunity, as Martha did, to learn the songs at family gatherings.

Martha Pellerin and a group recording.

Marlboro Music. Every summer since 1951, master artists and exceptional young professional musicians have come together in Marlboro, Vermont to learn, rehearse and perform chamber music. While Marlboro Music’s complete archive is located at the University of Pennsylvania, Marlboro Archives Online offers vocal translations, a repertoire search, and information about participants, concerts and tours. From the Archives is a series of long blog posts that profile outstanding Marlboro musicians, including Pablo Casals and Rudolf Serkin, with biographical essays, recordings, interviews, career timelines, and photographs.

Vermont Music Archive at Big Heavy World. With the same passion that drove Helen Hartness Flanders and her team, the folks at Big Heavy World are dedicated to collecting, preserving and promoting contemporary Vermont recorded music. The archive contains over 5,000 items representing all genres and media types. The website provides a searchable catalog that includes album cover images and Sound Proof, portraits of Vermont musicians photographed by Matthew Thorsen from 1990-2000. Musicians are encouraged to submit copies of their recordings for the archive.

Rick and the Ramblers album cover.

Census Records: Stories of People and Places

-Sally Blanchard-O’Brien, Archives Month Committee Member

2020 brings another iteration of the United States census, an event that happens every ten years to gather information about the American population. While the census is of crucial importance for determining services for communities, it also serves as a rich resource for historical and sociological research. Census records can show both macro-level trends through the patterns of change within entire communities, as well as micro-level trends by showing the details about one family, or even one individual, through time. Here, we’ll take a quick journey through 150 years of the census to see the story of Glastenbury, Vermont and a family who lived there for generations.

If the name Glastenbury sounds familiar, it may be because of the mysterious disappearances of several individuals that occurred in the mid-twentieth century. But that’s not the part of the story we’re telling here (though, if you must know more, try searching for the term “Bennington Triangle”). This tale begins in 1761, when Glastenbury was first chartered as a New Hampshire grant. Unfortunately for the grantees, the area was “one of the roughest and most inaccessible towns in the state,” as described by Child’s Gazetteer and Business Directory for Bennington County. This fact is probably why the town was so sparsely settled for its entire history – Glastenbury’s population peaked in 1870 at 119 residents.

The first page of the 1870 US Census for Glastenbury. The population peaked for the town in this year. From

There are some clues as to why the population increased, and later decreased, when you look at the occupations listed in the census. In 1870, most Glastenbury residents were farmers, but 50% of the male population was involved with the lumber industry, listed as woodchoppers, sawyers, or lumbermen. Lumbering was a big industry for Vermont, coming to its peak around the same time as Glastenbury’s population. However, as more land was clear cut there were fewer lumbering jobs, and the census shows a steadily declining population.  By the 1920 census, only 41 residents were listed; 45% of the male population still worked in the town’s lumber camp. And most of those men were temporary boarders, not settling in the town. By 1930, the population had plummeted to 7 people, then to 4 people in 1940. All of those residents were members of one family, the Mattisons.

1940 US Census for Glastenbury. The population decreased to just four residents. From
Vermont State Senator Norman Mattison of Glastenbury (1851-1913). From Vermont: It’s Government by William H. Jeffrey, 1913, pg. 37.

The Mattisons lived in Glastenbury for at least a century. They first appear on the Glastenbury census in 1850, and for the previous decades in the neighboring (and more populous) town of Shaftsbury. In 1850, John Mattison was the head of one household in Glastenbury, and by the following census of 1860, his son Norman had been born. Norman Mattison spent his entire life in Glastenbury and was a prominent member of Bennington County society. He served in many government roles, including as Bennington County’s state senator and Glastenbury’s town clerk. He married Abigail “Angelia” McDonald in 1874, just around the time of Glastenbury’s population boom. Angelia had also been born in Glastenbury, and her own family appears on the census as far back as 1820. Together, Norman and Angelia raised several children and you can trace them through the decades using the census, as they have families of their own and become neighbors to their parents. Norman died of a sudden illness in 1913, and Angelia continued to live in Glastenbury for thirty more years. After she was widowed, she lived with her son Ira, and his family. By 1930, there are only two households that appear on the Glastenbury census with just 7 residents between them, all of the Mattison family. Ira Mattison clearly followed in his father’s footsteps as he is listed as the Glastenbury town clerk and treasurer on the 1930 census. But, by 1940, Ira has passed, and there is only one single household enumerated in the entire town – the widow Angelia Mattison, age 81, her daughter-in-law, and two grandsons. Glastenbury was disincorporated in 1937 and has been an unorganized place ever since. An unorganized place means that it does not have its own town government, instead relying on a governor-appointed supervisor to deal with taxes and other governance. In 2010, census data shows only eight residents in the former town of Glastenbury.

US census records are available for research up to 1940 through and and the 1950 census records will be opened to the public in 2022. However, more recent census data is searchable through the US Census Bureau’s website: There are many more stories that can be told about Glastenbury beyond this brief overview, and it will be exciting to see how those stories continue to unfold when the 1950 census is available. And, right now, we can make our own history by filling out the 2020 census. You can learn more at: