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History of the Industries of Norwich VT

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Although the products of the industries in Norwich have not been of great magnitude they have been quite varied in character. Such information in regard to these callings as we have been able to obtain we will present to our readers, though not in strict chronological order.

Among the earliest establishments coming under this head was a grist mill established as early as 1770, by Hatch and Babcock on Blood Brook, on or near the site of the grist mill now operated by J. E. Willard, a short distance up the stream from where it empties into the Connecticut River. As has been stated in a previous chapter, it was voted at a proprietors’ meeting held September 17, 1770, to give to Joseph Hatch and Oliver Babcock the “tenth river lot on condition they execute a deed * * * * for upholding a grist mill where said gristmill now stands.”

Since the ownership by Hatch and Babcock this property has been in the possession among others of Aaron Storrs, who sold it in 1793 to Doctor Joseph Lewis; Horace Esterbrook, who sold it to J. J. Morse; the latter to G. W. Kibling; Kibling to Crandall and Burbank; they to Doctor Rand of Hartford, Vt., and from the latter’s estate, J. E. Willard, the present proprietor, bought it. During Mr. Kibling‘s ownership of the property he had a department for making doors, window sashes, etc., in addition to a grist mill.

In 1766, Jacob Burton built a saw mill on the north bank of Blood Brook, a little further down the stream than Messenger and Hazen‘s late tannery (what is now R. E. Cook‘s mill). The great freshet of September, 1869, carried the mill away. At that time it was owned by George Burton, a great grandson of the original proprietor, and up to the time of his decease the property had been continuously in possession of that family.

Knapp’s Mill, Norwich, Vermont
Knapp’s Mill, Built by Elisha Burton, about 1769

About 1770, Elisha Burton built a grist mill along Blood Brook, a little distance west of Norwich village. The mill is now standing on its original site, and had been occupied by Joseph Amsden, Levi Richards, and, perhaps, others, previous to its ownership by the late Allen W. Knapp, who used it for the purpose for which it was originally built.

About the time the above mentioned mill was built, a saw mill and a grist mill are supposed to have been erected along Ompompanoosuc River, in the territory now known as “Pattersonville” (formerly “Gleason’s Flats”). We are informed that the present dam at Patterson’s mill occupies the site of the one built to operate the first mills. Mention of the grant of land for “upbuilding” these mills may be found in another chapter in this book.

Johnson Safford and Jacob Burton had a fulling and cloth dressing mill along Blood Brook, in the southwestern part of the village, and operated it until 1836, when they sold the property to Sylvester Morris, who converted it into a tannery. In 1853 Morris sold the property to Asa Blanchard, and he to Wardsworth and Felch in 1856. Wardsworth bought out Felch and sold the property to Messenger and Hazen in 1869, from whom it passed to R. E. Cook, the present owner, who changed it into a grist mill.

Ira Baxter, son of Elihu Baxter, had a tannery north of Norwich village and a short distance south of his dwelling house, on property now owned by Messenger and Hazen. The tannery stood on land, now overgrown with alders, on the easterly side of the highway and a short distance south of the road leading to the site of the old “Center” meeting house.

About 1836, Charles P. Hatch had a tannery on the north bank of Blood Brook, a little below Knapp‘s mill. Azro Johnson succeeded Hatch and made winnowing mills there. Deacon Sylvester Morris purchased the building and fixtures, some of which he removed to his tannery lower down the brook.

A number of years later, Charles M. Baxter made and repaired furniture in a shop that stood near the south bank of Blood Brook and on the opposite side of the highway from the old Morris tannery, where he was in business for some years, until his shop was destroyed by fire. Afterwards, Mr. Baxter removed to Woodstock, Vt.; thence to Lebanon, N. H., where he was successfully engaged in manufactures for several years previous to going to Redlands, California, his present residence, where he is interested in orange culture. Mr. Baxter was with us “Old Home Day,” August 16, 1901, and gave material aid towards the observance of that occasion.

About 1830, Pierce Burton, manufactured potash where Nelson Sayers lives, just west of the village cemetery and in 1817, Waterman Ensworth, father of the present Charles E. Ensworth had a like business where Mrs. Mary Burton‘s barn stands. The little stream that flows along the northerly base of the cemetery and on by Sayers‘ garden was known as “Potash Brook.” For these facts and for much other aid in compiling this volume, we are indebted to our fellow townsman, C. E. Ensworth, Esq., our walking encyclopedia.

In the early part of the past century Deacon Eleazer T. Raymond made trunks and harnesses in a shop that stood in what is now Mrs. Ruby W. Lewis‘ garden, where, so we have been told, he made the leather hats worn by the cadets attending the military school here in its early years. The shop was subsequently removed to its present site, where it is the house of Mr. A. B. Nye on Church Street. Deacon Raymond removed to Fremont, Ohio, where he died. Erastus Leavitt was a harness maker, and his shop was located near where F. W. Hawley‘s woodshed stands. As Leavitt was a voter in Norwich in 1790, it may be fair to presume that he pursued his trade here at that early date. It is understood that he went to South Carolina and died there. But the old sign that announced his vocation here in Norwich remained in town and showed itself, saddled and bridled attached to the front of a building in our village during the late Civil War. It is feared that Leavitt was not as mindful of the conduct becoming a church member and a moral citizen as he should have been, for we learn from early church records that he was reported to the church for discipline because of “drunkenness and profanity.”

In 1805, Jacob Burton, then the first postmaster in Norwich, kept the office in his harness shop located about opposite the present home of Mrs. William E. Lewis.

The first blacksmith in town of whom we have any knowledge, was Elishu Emerson, who came here from Westfield, Mass., in 1792, followed, three years later, by his two brothers, Joseph and Thomas. Mr. Emerson built a brick shop in what is now the north dooryard of Ed. W. Olds‘ residence, and there pursued his calling for many years, making axes as well as doing ordinary blacksmithing.

Mr. Emerson was succeeded in blacksmithing by Samuel Currier, who carried on the business for several years in the shop where the former had worked. In 1835, James S. Currier (also a blacksmith and brother of Samuel) moved to town and built a shop just north of and adjoining his brother’s shop. After the latter moved onto a farm a little north of Norwich village, James S. took his brother’s shop, and worked at his trade there until he retired from business many years afterwards. Several years later the old Emerson shop was taken down, and thus disappeared one of the town’s early landmarks.

Joseph Emerson built the house where Henry Lary lives. There he manufactured wool hats for a number of years. Subsequently he had a shop on what is now known as Elm Street, where he was succeeded in business by one Cottle George, whom we have already mentioned. The building is now the residence of Mrs. Emma Hatch. Mr. Emerson built for his residence the house that is now the home of Mrs. Baxter B. Newton.

Among the early painters in Norwich, though not the earliest, probably, were Samuel Nye, who came to an untimely death in Canada in 1844, while visiting there; Morris L. Nichols, who followed this calling for many years previous to his death in town, in 1870, aged seventy-five years; and David Morrill (“Uncle” David” as he was familiarly called) who came into town from Strafford, Vt., where he had previously plied his trade. Many of us remember how entertaining it was to visit Uncle David’s shop and view some of the products of his brush, notably the band wagon with its prancing steeds, and load of musicians, arrayed in gorgeous uniforms; and to listen to his dissertations on free-masonry.

A firm believer in the mystic order, Mr. Morrill governed his daily life by the square and rule, and passed to his reward some years since, having reached a ripe old age.

There may have been brick-masons in Norwich at an earlier date than those of whom we have any record, who were: Joseph Cutting, Cyril Pennock, Samuel Sproat and Luman Boutwell.

Cutting, who married a daughter of Reuben Hatch, moved into town in 1808, or earlier, and built the house, on the Plain, where David Stewart lives. Later he removed to Rochester, N. Y. Pennock and Sproat were long-time residents in Norwich, and worked at their trade until declining years forced them to cease work, when the former removed to St. Paul, Minn., where he died several years since, and the latter left his “turnpike” home to be with a daughter with whom he died. His remains were brought to Norwich for burial.

The writer has been told that Pennock was the first cadet of the A. L. S. & M. Academy to sleep in the Academy building and the first to wear the uniform of that institution.

Sproat and Boutwell built, on joint account, at the Plain, the “Seven nation house” so called, that stands on the site of a former dwelling occupied by one Marshall Hodgeman until its destruction by fire, at which time the following incident is said to have occurred:

Judge Aaron Loveland owned a frame building near the fire, and evidently fearing greater injury to his property from the fire hooks that the local firemen were using in tearing down a nearby structure than from the flames, directed the men to cease using those “hellhooks” and use the “squirt gun” (a hand fire-engine that constituted a part of the armament of the fire company) language truly expressive, perhaps judicial surely not Chesterfieldian.

That St. Crispin has had many disciples in Norwich the list of boot and shoe makers abundantly proves. Reuben Partridge, son of Elisha Partridge, was the first of the craft, of whom we have any knowledge, to locate in town. His shop was in a building, already noted in this article, in one part of which Erastus Leavitt had a harness shop. As he was married in 1791, we may reasonably suppose that he was in business at that time. Daniel Russell had a shop very near where the creamery building stands at the north end of the village, and he lived on the opposite side of the street, in the house now occupied by C. C. Sawyer. Levi Blood, James Harrison, Eber N. Clark, Cyrus Tracey, and Abel P. Hatch worked, at different times, in a shop that stood until within a comparatively few years about on a line with F. W. Hawley‘s woodshed, perhaps a little further west. At another time Harrison had a shop in a small building on his own premises, which were those now occupied by Miss Ellen Hutchinson, on North Main Street. It is believed that this shop was moved to the south side of what is now Church Street, and became the home of Lydia Haskell.

Thomas Brigham, of strongly marked physical characteristics, is recalled by many persons of the present day. He followed his calling of boot and shoe making in the second story front of what is now Ed. W. Olds‘ residence. He was proverbial for promising many more pairs of boots to be completed by the next Saturday night than it was possible for the most industrious craftsman to accomplish.

George Clark worked in a shop that stood where Egbert Blaisdell’s barn is. There he performed his six days’ labor, and rested on the seventh by playing the bass viol in the choir of the Congregational church in the village.

Later, about 1856, Abel P. Hatch had his shop where Henry Lary lives (a building that has sheltered more mercantile ventures, work-shops and post offices than any other structure in town). Subsequently, Hatch built a shop on Mechanics Street, where Hazen Batchelder‘s house stands, where he worked at his trade until fire destroyed the building. Another shop was erected on that spot, and there Hatch worked until failing health compelled him to cease labor. Mr. Hatch had a remarkably retentive memory and his mind was well stored with events in the town’s history, and to him many people went for information on various matters.

A steam sawmill was erected by George A. Ames on the West bank of the Connecticut River, a little south of and across the highway from the home of the late Deacon Henry Hutchinson. Soon after, a box-making department was attached to the mill. The property was destroyed by fire, but was rebuilt and operated as a sawmill only. F. G. Ames, a son of George A., is the present proprietor of the industry.

In 1889, S. M. Morrison took possession of the Hatch shop, and worked at his trade of shoe and harness making until flames again visited that spot. In 1893, Morrison built the “Klondike Building” on Main Street, where he has worked at his trade until the present time, and is now the only person, actively engaged, of the many who have pounded the lapstone in our village.

In 1888, the “Norwich Creamery” was established at the north end of Norwich village, occupying a building previously used as a school-house. It was operated with apparent success for a number of years. A few years since the building was partially destroyed by fire, but was rebuilt and the business continued under different managements until the spring of 1904, when the property was sold to Hood & Co., who for several years have had a factory of a like character near the railroad and a short distance south of the Norwich and Hanover station.


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