Stephen Greenleaf's 1836 History


Stephen Greenleaf's Letter.

Brattleboro, Vt., 1836

Dear Brother and Sister: -- It is now, as nearly as I can recollect, about fifty years since you removed from Brattleboro. During that time we have been gratified with but one interview, and very seldom with a letter. But not complaining, we give you credit for your late interesting communication just received, but cannot conjecture the reason for its arrival so long after its date. You informed us that you contemplated removing from your present residence to Ohio, in the spring after you wrote to us, and apprehending your removal more than probable, I concluded a letter would not be likely to find you without a correct address and therefore forebore writing at that time, and I now write with but a faint hope of your ever reading what is here written.

I noticed in your letter that from age and infirmity you never expected again to visit your friends at Brattleboro, and accordingly bid us a final adieu. However, a visit may happen, and I cannot bear the thought of such a parting. And now to cheer your spirits I will try to call up some reminiscences of our early days, and relate something of a later date for your entertainment. I propose that you take a mental view of the old residence of our parents in the east village of Brattleboro, as it was when we lived there 65 years ago, and then another view as it is now. The comparison I think will astonish you. If you were now on the premises I presume you would not recognize anything you ever saw there except the river and the mountain east of it. They would doubtless appear the same as of old. I wish to direct your attention to things as they appeared to you in former times and to describe them as they now are, that you may see the change, and make comparisons for yourselves.

Place yourselves at our old dwelling, and direct your eyes to the place where once stood our old sawmill. Upon that site now stands a brick paper-mill, wherein are employed four engines for grinding rags, and three paper machines from which issue continuous sheets rolling on and dried in their course by heated cylinders, and cut into sizable sheets at one operation. The machinery of this mill is propelled by water taken from an artificial pond, supplied by a canal dug in the south bank of the brook. Connected with this paper-mill on the south is a large brick printing office, three stories high, with seven power presses. In the whole establishment as much business is probably transacted as at any other establishment of like magnitude in New England, and as many workmen are employed. Across the road opposite the dwelling-house our father erected on the hill or bank above the old sawmill, stands a large factory for wheel carriages; adjoining to which is a machine factory, where steam engines are made, and all kinds of mill gear of iron and wood. Both factories have appliances of steam power to facilitate their work. A few rods below the mouth of Whetstone brook is erected a superb bridge, spanning the Connecticut river and connecting New Hampshire with Vermont. The road leading from the village to this bridge commences at the south end of the bridge over Whetstone brook, and passes easterly on the bank of the brook and northern barrier of our former goat pasture, which we so often traversed in by-gone days, and which is now interspersed with buildings, (not quite so high, however, or numerous as the oaks and pines that waved once over it,) extending to the foot of Long hill, now Burying Ground hill. A new road leading to Vernon, (formerly Hinsdale,) commencing at the great bridge, has been built on the margin of the river, and passes down the same through Fort Dummer meadows, and engrosses the whole of the travel between Brattleboro and Vernon. On the little meadows usually passed on the way to Little island, is an iron foundry for casting machine and mill gear and various other articles; also a smithery, a pearl factory, a rule shop and sawmill, put in motion by steam power, and supplied with logs from the river, drawn to the mill-carriage by the same power. On the south side of the brook nearly opposite our old grist-mill, a huge wall is erected from the bed of the brook 60 or 70 feet in length by 30 in height, and on a level with the bank of the brook, which fences in and secures a curve in the rock that forms a large wheel-pit, over which is erected a building 33 feet high from the top of the wall, which gives an elevation from the foundation to the ridge of 63 feet. This site, taken altogether, furnishes one of the finest and safest mill-seats for water-power in the State. It is now improved as a tannery, is in successful operation, and doing a good business on a large scale.

The old grist-mill by our father has undergone several alterations, received many and important additions, and is doing a good business in the custom line. In the lowest story is a paper-mill in full employ. Connected with these and under the same roof are a fulling-mill, clothiers' works, and a wool-carding machine, and extensive machine shop, with all the necessary apparatus for working wood and iron, also machinery for manufacturing aqueduct lead pipes. A few feet north of our old hovel is a block or row of brick buildings, used principally for merchants' stores. One of them is a bookstore and bindery, in which extensive business is carried on in connection with the paper-making and printing establishments before mentioned. There are ten stores for dry goods and other merchandize on Main street; two drug stores, one tin and sheet- iron factory, two goldsmith and hardware stores, one brass foundry, and twenty-five mechanic shops, occupied by various trades-people; one banking house, two meeting-houses -- one Orthodox and one Unitarian, one chapel for lectures and village meetings, one High School, and a well attended lyceum. There are 175 dwelling-houses within the village, besides more than double that number of other buildings, and among them 30 buildings made of brick and stone; one office for a weekly newspaper -- The Vermont Phoenix; one post-office, at which arrive daily several mails, and others during the week; three inns or public houses, one of which covers the ground where once stood our old hovel; one situated on the westerly side of Main street, southeasterly from the house formerly occupied by Judge Knight; and the Stage House, formerly Dickinson's house, which for magniture and accommodations is equalled by few in the State. The village supports two fire-engine companies and one band of musical instruments. There are resident in the village two ministers of the gospel, one Unitarian and one Orthodox, five lawyers, four doctors, one register of probate, ten justices of the peace, the high sheriff of the county, sundry pedestrians and equestrians and but few loafers. The villagers are amply supplied with water, the pure nectar of nature, at their dwellings, brought by four aqueducts, that are under the direction of four corporate associations. The people are also well supplied with the varieties of meat by a regular and well attended butcher's market, and in their season are furnished with a good supply of vegetables and fruits.

Having given you a historical view, I will now proceed to give you a view of the landscape as it appears at present. Take a view in a northern direction, and you will see that dwellings have arisen nearly half the way from the bridge over Whetstone brook to the West river bridge, on the road leading to Dummerston. In a direction following the road to Newfane, and on the premises formerly occupied by North, Church and James Smith, several elegant houses line the street on both sides thereof, nearly to Arms's, now Goodhue's meadows. On the road running west to the West village are many handsome buildings, and comfortable domicils extending west to the top of Breakneck Hill, formerly so-called. On a new street, Green street, some distance south of said road and nearly parallel with it, leading west and meeting it at the top of the aforementioned hill, are dwelling-houses and other buildings arisen and rising in rapid progression. And yet farther south you may behold below the site of the Sawyer Weight Hut, and almost covering Fever-bush Swamp, now intersected by Elliot street, several beautiful houses and other buildings, together with appurtenant gardens and shrubberies and appearances of preparation that promise large additions.

The north margin or bank of Saw-mill Pond, now Paper-mill Pond, comprehending our former garden plot, is set out with buildings somewhat larger in magnitude though fewer in number than the mammoth cabbages once growing there. You may now extend your view southwesterly, following the stage road leading to Greenfield, and you will see many buildings erected and erecting nearly across the basin, so-called, in the neighborhood of the old clay-pit or brick-yard, and also notice that the intervening space between the clay-pit and Goodhue's meadows is thickly dotted with locations for additional structures. To finish the picture, I now point you to the best possible position for taking a bird's-eye view of nearly the whole village at a single glance. But preparatory to this you may take your stand in imagination at the southeasterly eminence of the village on the brow of Long Hill, now occupied as a village burying ground, and wherein the mortal remains of our honored parents are now at rest, and after paying reverential tribute of affection due to their memory, you will remove a few rods westerly of the burying ground and there take a view north, east and west, and to the foot of the hill beneath you, and after attentively surveying the prospect I think you will exclaim, as did the Queen of Sheba in another case, the half has not been told us. The village appears to me a city in miniature, and seems fast approximating to city maturity. Yes, my present view of the village, compared with early views of it, seems the effect of enchantment. The once howling wilderness is turned into habitations for men. The infant is cradled over the lair of the wolf, the panther, the mountain cat and the bear. Can this be so? Is it not a delusion, a flight of fancy or dream remembered after a slumber of fifty years, from which I have just awoke? No, I must acknowledge it to be a reality which cannot be controverted.

Sixty years ago, you will remember, there was in the village but one solitary house, containing only two rooms, and in one of those rooms our father opened the first store of goods ever opened in Brattleboro. Our mother was then the only woman residing within a mile of our dwelling, and not more than twenty families inhabited the whole town. Now the inhabitants have become numerous, especially in the east village. At that early day our family numbered six children, of whom only five would now be considered common district scholars, and these were all the scholars then living on the village premises; but now, incredible as it may seem, there are more than seventy-seven times as many scholars on the same premises. On the 1st day of March last, (1836,), there were numbered and officially returned to the town clerk's office 387 legal scholars belonging to said village, under 18 and over 4 years of age; and your unworthy brother, the writer hereof, and the oldest of the five scholars before noticed, is believed to be the oldest person now living of the early settlers on what was then termed the Governor's farm, a part of which is now located as the East Village of Brattleboro, where his life has been providentially prolonged to the present time, and who in retrospecting past scenes, those of his boyhood as well as those of maturer years, finds that the survey affords him abundant cause for regret, little to approve, and much to deplore.

By an act of the Legislature of the State, passed less than a year ago, the village of Brattleboro was incorporated as a body-politic, with the power and privileges usually granted to similar corporate bodies. The citizens accordingly availed themselves of the act, organized, elected village officers, prescribed rules, passed necessary by-laws for its internal regulation, and promulgated the same, and they are now operative.

The Trustees of the Vermont Asylum for the Insane have selected a location for it in the northerly part of the village, partly on the south end of Wells's meadow and partly on the plain adjoining the south line of said meadow. The whole purchase contains about 51 acres of excellent soil, at the cost of $6200. The location is the best selected, the most commodious and appropriate for the object in view that could have been chosen. It is far from being a place of solitude, yet it is sufficiently distant from the throng and bustle of the village. It is bosomed within the high crescent banks of the meadow, rising at the west, south and easterly sides of the location. These banks afford many points for viewing the charming objects in the prospect. There is now standing on the location a well-finished house with appurtenant outbuildings and other appendages tastefully displayed.

Having exhibited the most prominent features of the village, and prolonged the narrative to a considerable length, I shall now endeavor with more brevity, to introduce the villagers themselves to your imaginary vision, with whose deportment I think you will be pleased. The common people appear generally to be untiringly industrious and economical; have free and friendly intercourse with each other in true neighborly style, without the fashionable preface of starch and buckram. The gentlemanly manners of the villagers are obvious at their meetings, and passing interchanges of civilities, when a "good morning," "good day," or "good morrow" is elicited with unequivocal sincerity and urbanity. Their harmony in effort and unity in purpose, to support the law, "shoot folly as it flies," promote and encourage intellectual improvement, are apparent. At meetings for the purpose of exciting laudable emulation, the most useful and interesting subjects are proposed for discussion, in which the old and the young are equally privileged and free to contribute and partake of the banquet of intellect, the "feast of reason and the flow of soul," and where all respectively receive the award merited by attainments, displayed in taste, tact, talent, and march of mind.

In connection with the reverends in their exertions for moral and general reform are seen lawyers, doctors, magistrates, merchants, mechanicians, philosophers, preceptors, poets, politicians, printers, postmaster and farmers, all zealous of bettering the condition of their fellow-villagers, and rendering them more consistent, social, civil and happy; administering to those wanting intelligence, dealing out even-handed justice, suppressing vice, supporting virtue, consoling affliction, mending manners, correcting misconceptions, and "teaching the young idea how to shoot."

The laboring classes in the village are diligent in their various vocations, and emphatically beating time in allegro to the hum of industry, which claims general notice and elicits the following remark: The physical energy, together with the ingenuity and activity which the village workmen so eminently possess, and who with corresponding effort have exhibited its effects in the village, seems to be compounded of grit, buckram and whalebone, or more technically of extra bone, muscle and elastic, which set to action by extraordinary buoyancy of spirit produces extraordinary effects, which are seen in the new creations in the village; effects that might prompt a sheer Yankee observer to exclaim, with the usual Yankee preface, "I guess the workmen in this village have taken their primary lessons in industry by perusing the ant-hill and bee-hive, have followed up their example to the T, have learned their motto by heart, and act it out to the letter, 'Mind your business.'"

In contemplating the present state of the village, it is with no small degree of self-complacency that I indulge something of a patriarchal feeling towards citizens and their hopeful offspring, who are seen at their diversions, promenading the streets, common and lawns, the same which, while in a state of nature, I so often perambulated in the days of my youth, hunting for game, or looking for the cow in the fenceless pasture, the forests, accompanied by two favorite companions, my dog and my gun, alternately looking and listening for the bounding of the rabbit, the start of the squirrel, the drumming of the partridge, and the tinkling of the cow-bell, at the same time suffering from the gnats and mosquitoes. At that time I assisted in toppling the forest and clearing the soil of its incumbrances; that soil which now sustains the east village of Brattleboro, and which, by common consent, has become the wealthiest village of its dimensions in the State of Vermont.

To wind up the narrative with as good a grace as possible, I shall eke out the finale with a short statistical climax of village enterprise at the present time. And as the most prominent part of the village is founded on the aforesaid Governor's farm, I shall now add that the said farm was purchased by our father 66 years ago at $1 per acre, while at the present time some of the most commanding lots on Main street are now valued at $25 per rod, equal to $4000 per acre. The article of wood, which was once offered gratis on the village premises, ready cut for drawing off, and the offer indignantly rejected, is now selling for $3 per cord. At the Stage House there is consumed from 150 to 200 cords yearly. At the paper-mill and printing establishment more than 400 cords are used in the same period; and within the precincts of the village, according to the estimate of the most competent judges, between 3000 and 4000 cords will be consumed the current year. I take the medium, 3500 cords, at an average of $3 per cord, and obtain an aggregate of $10,500. The various kinds of meat marketed in the village, per week, is estimated at $200, and in one year at $10,400.

The business transactions at the Stage House for one year, from a hasty look at receipts and other memoranda, amount to $18,500; at the two other taverns or inns the amount of business is considerable, but not ascertained. The business performed by the stage company, connected with mail contracts, as seen from the books of the company, will foot up for the same time in round numbers $20,000. The business performed yearly at the livery stable is computed at, and may exceed $2000. The transactions at one store, in all its multifarious concerns, I am permitted to state, will amount at the close of the year to $125,000. The total amount of business at nine other stores will foot up at $300,000. The Bank of Brattleboro is located in the village, with a capital of $75,000. At one tannery a company performs business to the amount of $25,000 yearly. At the steam-engine factory the amount of business for the present year will be $30,000. The business done at the machine factory, in connection with the grist-mill, saw-mill, clothiers' works, wool carding machine and paper-mill, all under the same roof, and by one company, is estimated for the year to amount to between $30,000 and $40,000. The artizans and tradesmen occupying 25 book-shops, are profitably employed and doing a good business. At the boxwood rule factory they are doing a large business, having a contract on hand to the amount of $20,000. The article of hay sold at market is estimated to amount to 450 tons, and to average $10 per ton, equal to $4500.

The establishment comprehending the paper-mill, printing power-press and book-bindery performs an amount of business not easily nor accurately ascertained without minute investigation, therefore only a few imperfect statements relative to them will be attempted. In the paper-mill is worked up daily, on average, $84 worth of rags, making for a year $26,292. The book-bindery performs its full proportion of business pertaining to the concern, frequently doing business to the amount of $1000 per week, and it is presumed will work up in the course of a year 10,000 calf and 25,000 sheep skins, and the superintendents of the trade have advertised for 900 dozen eggs, being only one ingredient in the composition of paste used. Taking into view the business of the whole establishment, we may derive something near the amount of their transactions for the year, which it is more than probable will foot up at $500,000.

The business performed collectively at the steam saw-mill, at the cast iron foundry, at the stone quarry, at the factory of slate and marble monuments, the purchase of granite blocks, and the expense of finishing them, the building timber and all other lumber, the stone, brick and lime, together with other stuff, oats, potatoes, and other marketable matter poured into the village the present season, is without a parallel; the amount of which, together with the toll of two corporate bridges, the proceeds of seven productive farms, lying mostly within the village, (a small part of some of them, however, is adjacent to it,) added to the avails of the grit and gristle applied to the neap and traces, the oar and the setting-posts, propelling the wagon and water craft, employed in the commercial pursuits of the villagers, makes a formidable sum in addition to the already estimated enormous aggregate.

To illustrate the enterprise of the villagers generally, I will introduce one instance in point. One man by his enterprising and persevering spirit, delivered within the year 1834, at the village market between 70 and 80 tons of hay, and more than 200 cords of wood; in doing which he was often seen on the road alone, managing five teams with five loads of wood for a distance of more than four miles. At other times he was seen conducting two teams with two loads of hay the same distance, and to the same market. The amount of travel in the performance was equal to 1650 miles, and the proceeds of the wood and hay were more than $1250, exclusive of other marketed products of his farm during the same period. And now appearances seem almost to establish the fact that the spirit, enterprise and industry of this individual, reduced to fractional parts, has, like the mantle of Elijah, fallen on many Elishas in the village.

It is supposed there are 300 families in the village, and about 1500 inhabitants, which gives an average of 5 persons to a family, whose yearly expenditures will not vary materially from the following estimates: -- 200 pounds of various kinds of meat, 4 cents average per pound; $8 for one family, for 300 families, $2400. 10 bushels breadstuff for each family, 50 cents per bushel, $1500. 15 bushels potatoes and other vegetables for each family, at 25 cents per bushel, $750. 1 barrel cider, $1; 5 bushels apples and other fruit, at 25 cents per bushel, $675. 15 pounds cheese, 6 cents per pound, 20 pounds butter, 12½ center per pound, for each family, $1020. 8 cords wood, $3 per cord, for each family, $7200. 20 pounds sugar, 10 cents per pound, 5 pounds tea, 50 cents per pound, 10 pounds coffee, 15 cents per pound, 4 gals. molasses, 50 cents per gal., all other groceries at $2, making for each family $10, for 300 families, $3000. The articles of clothing, furniture, periodicals, novels, notions, all at a guess, $50 each family, $1500. Doctors bills, nurses wages, and other necessary expenses, estimated for each family at $4, $1200. To this is to be added the state, town, school, highway and minister taxes.

Letter by Stephen Greenleaf, 1836.

Copied by his great-grandson O. M. Ellis.

[Printed in four parts in the Vermont Phoenix]

October 23, 1868, October 30, 1868, November 6, 1868, and November 13, 1868.

Ozro M. Ellis was eighteen years old when he copied his great grandfather's long letter. He later worked for his brother-in-law Henry C. Squiers, on a farm located on the east side of South Street---which was then more commonly known as Tater Lane, informally signifying Potato Lane. Ozro was the son of John S. Ellis and Roxana Pratt.


Site Design © Vermont Technology Partners, Inc.