How many times have you found an old photo, and flipped it over to see if someone thought to write on the back. Is there a date? A location? The photographers name? We hope for any tidbit that can add to our understanding of the visual information captured on film, and so often find only disappointment. God bless the folks who take the time to write a few words of what must seem obvious in the moment, for time surely has a way of dulling the details… especially when the photograph outlasts the photographer.
Here we have a perfect example. We don’t know when or why this picture was taken, nothing is written on the back, but most of us will quickly recognize the location. Our historic Town Hall is familiar to all of us Mont Vernonites, though it looks surprisingly exposed without the cloak of trees obscuring its west end. Look closer, and you may notice six windows on the first floor where there are only three at present. Two of these old windows were boarded up, another, converted into a door.
At first glance, the fire station seems nonexistent, what we see here is the horse shed. In the days before automobiles, buildings like this would have been a part of every town’s center. Think about how hot a car can get when it is parked in the summer sun, or how long it takes for it to warm up in the depths of winter, now imagine the engine is a living horse who must wait outside for you while you spend hours attending church services, or town meetings. The horse shed was built to get these essential animals out of the worst of New England’s weather. Understandably, these antique parking garages lost their value as folks learned to rely more and more on roofed automobiles.
But don’t give up on that Fire Station notion… it is noted in the 1958 History of Mont Vernon, that the sheds were augmented in 1918 to house the town’s first fire truck, a Model T Ford ton truck, (the cost of which was split between the town’s seasonal residents, and the folks who lived here year round). Can it be we see a hint of that improvement at the extreme right of this photograph? If so, it is sliver of Mont Vernon’s first firehouse. *
Although the majority of people living in larger towns and cities had electricity by 1930, only 10 percent of Americans who lived on farms and in rural areas had electric power. At this time, electric companies were all privately owned and run to make money. These companies argued that it would be too expensive to string miles of electric lines to farms. They also thought farmers were too poor to pay for electric service (according to this website). For once, our little farm town of Mont Vernon was ahead of the curve because electric lights began burning here as early as 1910. Perhaps we can thank the expectations of our electric savy summer residents for the lines we see on the pole in this photograph.
Our Town Hall has had a clock for only half of it’s existence. Before the building was moved in 1837, it didn’t even have a bell tower (click here to read more about this move). The clock was paid for, like the first fire engine, by both the summer and year round residents. It begain telling time in 1915. (click here to see a video about the clock and its workings)
To the left of the Town Hall, the ridgeline of the oldest house in the village peeks over the horizon. It was built by James Woodbury in 1760. In 1894 it became the porperty of Dr. Charles M. Kittredge who named it “The Hearthstone” and spent many summers there with his family. Look closely and you will see some
kind of contraption located between the house and Main Street. Likely, this had something to do with the well that can be seen next to the road today. Before electric pumps provided our homes with water, it had to be collected by hand.
Most of us are somewhat familiar with the hand pump, or the classic Jack and Jill bucket and hand crank, but the picture in question seems to indicate that the Hearthstone had a well sweep.
This machine was originally developed in Egypt more than 4000 years ago. A long pole is held aloft by a Y topped post. One end of the long pole is weighted, the other has a rope and bucket. The user would lower the bucket down to the water level, then raise it again with the help of the weight’s leverage. (What is a well sweep?) Seems like it would have been a lot easier than cranking a bucket up and down, and no priming necessary.
Now we have nearly 900 words for a photograph that had none. Be sure to look closely at any of those vintage photographs you may come across, you never know how many stories are lurking in the details!
*After publishing this newsletter, Richard Carleton, to whom we send thanks for the photo that inspired this content, sent us another set of photos of the same area.
The Society was happy to meet once again in August after a 4 month hiatus due to the pandemic. We planned to meet in the outdoors but original date, Tuesday August 4th, was rainy and windy due to the storm named Isaias. We managed to meet successfully on August 18th in the backyard of the Old South Schoolhouse. There weren’t many of us, and much of the usual topics for conversation have been postponed due to these historic Covid 19 conditions, but true historians persevere! Nothing stops history!
Our next meeting will be on Tuesday, September 1st. We will shoot for another back yard meeting at 13 Old Milford Road. We will get started at 6:30 in hopes that we can finish our business before the solar powered lighting gives out. Please bring a lawn chair to sit on!
Covic 19 delayed our anual membership drive, now the MVHS is hoping to catch up on Membership Dues. If you have not renewed your membership, please consider doing so now. Click on this link for more information. Thank you very much!!