Probably the very first Catholic services ever held in Brattleboro were those conducted by Father Callahan, who came here from Chicopee and who said mass from a stump on a farm which later passed into the ownership of the Morningside Cemetery association. These services were only intermittent, however, until some years later when the congregation removed to a carpenter shop on Spring street. This building, which was occupied during the week for mechanical purposes and which is still standing---being used as a tenement---
St. Michael's Catholic Church; Story of its Foundation,
its Growth and its Present Prosperous Condition---Numerous Obstacles Overcome
Henry Allen sold his machine shop to Rev. Zephyrin Druon outright on October 13, 1854. Apparently for some time before this, the mostly Irish Catholic had assembled here for worship. Henry Allen moved his machinery out within one month of the deed, which states,
fully reserving to myself all the machinery in the shop and the brick arch upon which the boiler lies, and the pump connected with the engine, the tin condenser upon the west end of the attic--also the temporary platform on the south side of the said shop belonging to Mr. Asa Miller
The Roman Catholic Church served the mainly railroad and Estey Company working Irish neighborhood of "little Limerick" or simply "Limerick", at the west end of Elliot Street, and the neighborhood called "the Patch", a name in general use in the language for any Irish neighborhood--taken from the fondness for the kale or cabbage patch that was everywhere in evidence.
The church was bordered north and east by Spring Street, which turned here at a ninety degree angle to the west. The lot itself was seventy four and a half feet long and sixty two and a half feet wide, and the church itself was rectangular, lying lengthwise from east to west. Nathan Miller's land was to the south, and Franklin H. Wheeler's land lay to the north, across Spring Street.
Fire---Early on Wednesday morning Mr. F. H. Wheeler discovered smoke issuing from the building on Elliott Street, owned by the Roman Catholics and used by them for a church. Col. Nathan Miller, whose residence is near by, burst open the door of the basement where he found a wood-pile in one corner and all the surrounding portion of the building in flames. A few buckets of water checked the fury of the fire, while the Engines and Hook & Ladder companies were promptly on hand and rendered such assistance that no serious damage was done. The floor of the main room was considerably charred underneath and in some places slightly burnt through. From indications that were observable it appeared that the fire might have been the work of an incendiary; and the selectmen have very properly offered a reward of $50 for the discovery of the offender. Every good citizen will do his utmost to punish such an outrage and to prevent its recurrence, without regard to the source from whence it originated.
Another attempt was made to fire the Catholic church in this village, on Thursday evening at about 9 o'clock, but the flames were fortunately discovered by the family of Col. N. Miller, who live near by, in season to be easily extinguished. The incendiary broke a light of glass from one of the windows, and applied the fire to the window curtain. If we have such black hearted villains among us as these frequent attempts at incendiarism indicate, it is high time our citizens were inventing means to exterminate them.
The Origin of Our Fires.---William Hill, an Irish lad thirteen or fourteen years of age, was detected in an attempt to set fire to Henry Reed's barn, in this village. He was seen with a box in which was a light, when about to communicate the fire to some straw that was protruding from a window. He was immediately taken into custody. To several of our citizens he made a confession of the mischief in which he had been engaged. From this confession it appears that he commenced his career by stealing maple sugar from the railroad depot in this village. Afterwards he set fire to the shanty in which his mother lived, the flames of which were extinguished without damage.
Two years since he set fire to James Reed's barn, which was burned to the ground. The following autumn he fired the buildings of Joshua G. Clark, in the grove on Cemetery Hill. These were also destroyed. In November of the same year, 1856, he fired the barn of Asa Keyes. In the spring of 1857, he set fire to the buildings then owned by Dr. Carley, on Elliot-street, when the barn with its contents were destroyed. In December of last year he set fire to the barn belonging to the Vermont Asylum, which, with its contents including twenty-nine head of cattle, was totally destroyed.
In these several acts he was assisted by different Irish lads about his own age, but he was the ruling spirit. He gave as a reason for firing the Asylum barn that one of the teamsters employed by that Institution struck him with a whip a few days before. It also appeared that Henry Reed, Jr., "shook him up" a few days before his last attempt, for stealing apples. It is now recollected that he sufered from a similar operation for stealing wood from the Messrs. Clark's planing mill shortly before J. G. Clark's house was burned. Whether all these fires were the result of revenge on the part of young Hill it is impossible to say.---Some of them he attributes to a desire to see the engine companies come out.
All these fires were set between eight and nine o'clock in the evening. They were in different parts of the village and owned by different persons. No satisfactory reason has ever appeared why they should have been set by an adult acting according to any recognized motives for human conduct. All the tracks about the buildings, and the routes taken by the supposed incendiaries correspond precisely with the confessions of this boy. The footsteps seen the day after the Asylum barn was burned, leading from the north end of the barn, off into the meadow, then up the bank, across the road and over the hill west of the village down into High-street, and their size, precisely, agree with the description of his route given by Hill, and the size of his boots. It seems to us impossible for an adult of admitted sagacity to have given such an exact description, unless he was personally cognizant of the facts. The appearance of the boy indicates an unusual maturity and thoughtfulness for one of his years, and an organization that will, with such an unfavorable education as he has received, prove dangerous to the community.
He was arraigned before Royall Tyler, Esq., on Saturday, and after a careful examination, held to answer to the County Court, in the sum of $500. The sum was fixed thus low because it was believed that it would as effectually answer the purpose as a larger amount. In default of bail he was committed to jail. His accomplices are out of the State, and difficult to reach.
We believe this confession, if true, accounts for all the fires that have created much surprise to our inhabitants. The great fire of September last quite likely arose from accidental causes. The other fires in this village with which he denied any connection are pretty satisfactorily accounted for by the majority of our citizens. It is a comfort to know that the origin of those heretofore seeming unaccountable is not traceable to deeper seated and more persistent motives.