NEWFANE—Through stories of their childhoods, area residents provided connections to a time forgotten by many during the Historical Society of Windham County’s annual meeting.
An attentive audience sat at long tables in the NewBrook Fire Station on Aug. 28 and listened as four senior citizens shared memories of their youths.
The fifth generation to live on her family homestead, Barbara Moseley remembered riding with her “very dear grandfather,” said the lifelong Vernon resident — in his buggy behind his horse, Betty.
The family farm included the main house, “a huge barn,” and multiple outbuildings like a sugar house, tobacco house, sawmill, cider mill, sheep shed, carriage house, corn house, and slaughter area.
Moseley’s parents married after World War I. When Moseley’s father lost his job during the Great Depression, the couple returned to Vernon.
Mosley said she never knew her father. A soldier in WWI, he was gassed and later developed a peritonsillar abscess, a rare complication of tonsillitis, when an infection forms between a tonsil and the back of the throat. Without antibiotics, she said, her father died. Moseley was seven months old.
Her grandfather — her father figure — worked for the railroad. In the fields, Moseley’s grandfather would use a horse to pull a mowing machine, she said.
The huge barn had chestnut beams, made from a tree that has almost died out in this county because of a infectious fungus commonly called chestnut blight, Moseley said.
The family used ice to refrigerate the food, stored in an ice house, where the family packed ice in sawdust to insulate it through the summer months.
Each day, in a cool, dirt-floored buttery off the back of the kitchen, her grandfather and brother would pour the milk from the family’s three Guernsey cows Molly, Polly, and Dolly, into long, flat milk pans.
The typically tan-and-white Guernsey cow’s milk tends to have a higher fat content than that from Holsteins. The cream was so thick and solid that her mother could fold it in half, she said.
Her mother would sell any extra butter to neighbors. Any surplus milk went to the pigs, she said.
“Everything was used up,” said Moseley, adding that she never learned to milk a cow, on the advice of her mother (Once you learn, you’ll be stuck with the job, warned her mother, who never learned to milk a cow, either, she said.)
In the pasture, each cow wore a Swiss-made bell with a distinct tone. Moseley pulled one of the bells, made in 1878, from a plastic shopping bag. Its ring echoed clear over the audience, and “you could hear the bells coming one after another” across the field, she said.
The family lived pretty happily until World War II, said Mosley. Her brother was drafted into the Air Force, and most of the farm help leaft for the war, too, she said. The farm was too big for the remaining family members to run.
So Moseley’s grandfather, then around 70, sold his cows.
“That was the only time I saw grandpa cry,” said Moseley, her own voice cracking.
After the war, Jack didn’t want to run the farm, she said. Her grandfather turned to raising potatoes.
To exercise Betty, grandfather and granddaughter would wheel around town in the buggy, now part of the collection of the Vernon museum. Her grandfather would stop at nearby farms to visit.
Moseley remembers shrinking down and cringing when her car-owning friends would speed past. She didn’t want them to see her riding in something so outdated.
“Today, I’d give anything for a buggy ride with my grandpa,” she said.
A view from the Skyline
Richard Hamilton, whose family owned a farm in West Brattleboro, near the town line of Marlboro, where he still lives, told the audience he grew up in a time of steam locomotives, steamrollers, ox carts, 110-pound grain bags, no electricity, kerosene lanterns, chamber pots, and a four-party phone line. His family’s line was 869-ring-one-two.
Bathtime took place in a large washtub normally used for laundry. Mealtimes were spent with the family together.
“We were also taught what was right, what was wrong, and how to have a conscience,” he said.
The family raised pigs, hens, and cows. Milk was made into cream, butter, and cottage cheese. The family would butcher the cattle and chicken for meat, which they preserved.
Beef liver was a real treat, he said, as was his mother’s bread. Another treat? Gingerbread with fresh whipped cream.
Despite living through the Great Depression, Hamilton said the family was poor, but never went hungry.
In 1928, he rode seven miles on a lumber wagon to his first day of school at the Academy School in Brattleboro, then in a two-story, wood building that is long gone.
The family would deliver their surplus farm food to Bushnell’s Store, trading it for items they couldn’t produce on the farm.
Hamilton remembers that in 1928, his father purchased a seven-passenger Hudson automobile that carried the family to and from church.
But his father died of measles and pneumonia in 1929, when Hamilton was 6 years old and his siblings were ages 2, 4, 8, and 10.
During a mission over Europe, the plane went down, and Hamilton spent the next 10 months in a German prison camp.
After returning in 1945, he married the former Joyce White, and they moved to the farm of a 70-year-old family friend.
“We gave care,” Hamilton said; in exchange, the couple inherited the farm and a drafty house. Real snow covered the Christmas tree that stood near a leaky door, he said.
A year later, the couple became restauranteurs.
The couple accepted White’s offer, and the Skyline Restaurant transformed from a 18-seat tea room to a 72-seat destination spot.
Richard and Joyce were the second people to ride Hogback’s T-bar lift when the ski area opened in 1947. He said he witnessed the area grow with the opening of what became Marlboro College in 1946 and then the Marlboro Music Festival in 1951.
In 1964, Hamilton said he and Joyce decided to winterize the Skyline and further raise the seating capacity. Ski groups, fall dinners, banquets, weddings, and more customers all followed.
Often, the line of hungry customers would stretch out the door, he said. After one chilly Easter sunrise service, the Skyline crew fed 225 people, he said.
The Hamiltons’ four daughters staffed the Skyline. Hamilton credits the success of the restaurant to Joyce, who used her charm and smile as hostess to smooth any ruffled feathers of waiting customers.
In 1994, the couple retired from the Skyline. For the retirement party, staff assembled a list of approximately 1,000 names of the people who had worked at Skyline over its 48 years.
Hogback Mountain Ski Area eventually closed, he said; so did the Skyline after it changed hands. The more than 600 acres that once comprised the ski area, however, was purchased for the town of Marlboro thanks to a citizen movement and is now a protected area with hiking trails.
“I’m blessed to still live in the same house in Marlboro,” Hamilton said — the town where he said he also feels blessed to have contributed for the past 70 years.
From one small town to another
“I would come before you as one of the flatlanders who has adopted Vermont,” said Fred Humphrey of Guilford.
Despite his growing up in Connecticut, Humphrey said his upbringing mirrored Moseley’s and Hamilton’s childhoods.
His family bought their farm in 1732, he said. Many a morning, in the 1800s-era farmhouse where he grew up, Humphrey said he would awaken with snow covering his bedcovers.
His grandfather started one of the first Holstein farms in the country, with approximately 25 cows, he said.
Humphrey and his second brother alternated doing the morning farm chores.
He remembers his elementary school as a one-room schoolhouse with an outhouse. The boys would walk to a neighboring farm to pick up spring water for the school.
Humphrey attended a separate school for grades five through eight. He’d return to his elementary school on winter mornings to light the wood stove before classes started.
It was his first job, he told the audience. He earned $15 that winter.
A pony, his mode of transportation to the elementary school on the chilly mornings, would routinely slip its bridle, Humphrey said. Many mornings he would exit the schoolhouse to find the pony waiting, sans bridle, with no intention of allowing Humphrey to ride him home.
“So I walked the mile home behind him,” Humphrey said.
Humphrey also rode a pony on his paper route delivering the Hartford Times. The pony knew all the routes and shortcuts, he said.
The pony also knew when Humphrey turned him toward home that there would be a feed bucket waiting. At that point, there would be no stopping this pony, Humphrey said with a laugh.
Humphrey described his middle-school teacher as wonderful. He had it in his head he wanted to become a farmer. She had it in her head that he would go to college.
As his older brother did, Humphrey joined the Air Force during World War II. He made it as far as aviation cadet when the war ended. He spent three years in the Air Force Reserve.
None of the three brothers returned home to run the family farm, said Humphrey, who attended the University of Connecticut and later the University of Pennsylvania, where he earned a master’s degree in psychiatric social work.
Humphrey worked for three years at Brattleboro Memorial Hospital. He earned his doctorate, left Vermont, and spent 26 years as a professor at UConn. He and his family, however, spent their weekends in Guilford.
Ultimately, Humphrey and his wife, Dot, who died in 2014 of Alzheimer’s Disease, retired to Vermont. Humphrey jokes that the long driveway starts and ends in Guilford and veers into Brattleboro a couple of times in the middle.
Humphrey sighed that he has the pleasure of paying property taxes to two towns.
Humphrey’s father continued to raise Christmas trees, and he still has a few growing on his property.
As a young man, his father took a canoe ride with three female friends. He would eventually marry all three of them, Humphrey said.
The first woman his father married died of the flu during World War I. His father later married Humphrey’s mother. After she died, Humphrey said, his dad married the third woman in the canoe, also a widow.
With a laugh, Humphrey noted that his upbringing prepared him for a career as a marriage and family therapist.
Old mills long gone
Forest “Zip” Jacobs, of Townshend, said the wind and flooding from the Great New England Hurricane of 1938 scared his mother so much that she gave birth.
Although Jacobs grew up to become a plumber, he said his first job in 1951was shoveling manure for a farmer in East Jamaica. He earned 25 cents an hour.
Jacobs was born in Wilmington into a logging family and worked in the many mills that used to operate in the county, he said.
Summer brought bare feet and stubbed toes, he said. Jacobs used to run barefooted with bandaged feet from running on the logging “slab roads.”
He remembered trying to sharpen an ax in the file room of one of the mills. He promptly took a chunk off of his thumb.
“That smartened me up in a hurry when I run back to mother then,” he recalled, laughing.
Jacobs listed more than a dozen long-gone mills in East Dover, Wardsboro, Newfane, West Townshend, and East Jamaica — mills that peppered the landscape and sometimes sat within a quarter mile from one another.
As for the fate of those mills? “They all sunk into the ground,” he said.
“All the old mill men are gone that I know of,” he said, pointing to Alan Bills, sitting in the back of the room, as the exception.
Bills, who runs Bills Lumber Corp. in Wardsboro and who has worked there for 56 years, said his father started the family business in 1935. In 1942, the mill burned; it did so again in 1960. Then the family lost half of the mill in a 1971 flood.
He has since downsized the operation to one that’s manageable for him and his son, said Bills. He still loves the scent of the wood and learning how to make different types of cuts for customers — like a 20-foot 3-by-8 board he had cut for a cabin earlier that day.
He lumps himself together with the mill.
“We’re both a little worn,” he said. “It’s been a good life there.”