Ginseng Hill


Charles W. Grau 1860 Map Of Brattleboro Vermont.jpg

Charles W. Grau Map Of Brattleboro 1860


Ginseng Diggers.


The High Prices Paid for the Root

Which is a Remedy for Diseases With the Chinese---

What George Whitney of Marlboro Says About Gathering Ginseng.


[Brattleboro letter in Springfield Sunday Republican]


Two Brattleboro residents derive handsome profits from the sale of ginseng root. While many more people have successfully hunted the root for the past three or four years, the work entailed seems to have gradually discouraged them, until, dropping out one by one, they have left the field to two or three persistent diggers, who, having become experts, find their searchings not only remunerative, but likewise fascinating in the open-air exercise which their efforts require.


We all remember how our grandfathers, many years ago, dealt extensively in the root, employing in many instances their neighbors in the season of ginseng digging, sending their product to Boston by team.


In those days if the crop brought 75 cents to $1.25 a pound, the diggers considered themselves fortunate, though it is probably true that the root was more easily found than today, when a digger must traverse a wide territory, and oftentimes spend several days in securing a very few pounds of the root which however, brings much higher prices than were paid half a century ago, while the demand has constantly increased.


To the many New Englanders who possibly have never heard of the enormous profits realized from the traffic in ginseng, the story of its digging and marketing by one who has made a business of it, and the fact that this valued commodity flourishes, as it were, at their doors, affording to those who know and seek it a most satisfactory income, will be of interest.


Vermont's ginseng product is said to be of a superior quality, commanding, like the ginseng of certain sections of Canada, Maine and northeastern New York, the highest market price. Vermont's crop is generally marketed in Boston or New York, and is supposed ultimately to find its way to China, where the great bulk of all the ginseng raised is sold.


Here in Windham county there are half a dozen dealers in the root, most of whom do their own digging and who have so quietly pursued their vocation as to attract little or no attention, though the results of their labors are shown in sizable incomes.


One of the most successful "diggers" in this section of the state is George Whitney, whose farm is located on the old turnpike which leads off from the stage road about four miles west of Brattleboro village. Mr. Whitney has dug ginseng for the past 11 years, during which period he has familiarized himself with the hills and dales of Windham and Windsor counties, having travelled over nearly every farm in both.


About nine years ago Mr. Whitney secured his largest crop, gathering in the months of September and October a large quantity of the root, which, when thoroughly dried, as it must be before sold, amounted to about 75 pounds, for which he was paid $3 a pound by White Bros. of Boston. This was considered a good price then, though since that time ginseng has increased in value, until, last year Mr. Whitney sold his crop for $6.75 a pound, and hopes to do as well, or even better, this year.


Brattleboro 10 years ago was considered a great locality for ginseng. The Aldrich, Clark and Miner farms were, to quote Mr. Whitney, "literally alive with the root." At that time he was supposed to be about the only digger in this vicinity, though Paul Willis, a war veteran, and Orrin P. Shepardson, the old carriage maker, hunted the root. J. J. Barnes of Westminster, has gathered ginseng for years in connection with his farm duties.


Ginseng can be found in July and August, though September and October are considered the best months for digging, as the berry is red and fully ripe then, and more readily seen in the yellow vegetation.


The most Whitney ever found in one locality was on the farm of Mrs. W. H. Bigelow, in the west part Brattleboro, just northwest of Round mountain, where he dug steadily for at least two weeks, with most satisfactory results. When he began, it was his custom to pick off the little fibres of the root before shipping, but now that it has been ascertained that these little feelers are well nigh invaluable, the buyers invariably require the fibres to be left on the root.


Ginseng, growing, looks something like sarsaparilla, only the stalk and leaves are blue. When ripe it has a bunch of red berries at the top and centre of the stalk, around which is a growth of beech-shaped leaves. Most stalks have their brances with five leaves to each branch, and it has been found with as many as five branches with 25 leaves. The stalks grow all the way from six inches to two feet, depending altogether upon the quality of the soil.


Ginseng is generally found in woodlands, among hard wood timber, butternut timber land being the best locality for it, although it is indigenous to the soil of old-growth ash and maple where the land is partly shady. The roots grow in all shapes and lengths, and Mr. Whitney reports finding as many as nine roots to one stalk, though it generally grows with two or three roots. Whitney's best find this year has been a root that weighed nine ounces.


After digging the roots are washed and dried as much as possible before shipping, but the seller must await another and more thorough process of drying by the buyer before it is finally weighed, when he gets his money. The root is dug with a little hook-like contrivance attached to an ordinary walking-stick, and great care must be exercised not to cut or break the root, for such damage takes from its selling price.


For the past two or three years ginseng has been reported as scarce, owing, it is supposed, to too much hunting and the fact that cattle and sheep seem to be very fond of it, and where they graze it is difficult to find enough to pay for the digging. Mr. Whitney says he has never dug less than this year, but then he was late in getting at it and some other fellow, evidently, had got there first.


Ginseng is of slow growth and takes five years, at least, for the root to mature from the seed. A Newfane man is engaged in growing ginseng under cover something as Sumatra tobacco is grown in Florida. The Newfane patch is fenced in and protected, according to common report, by a system of electric bells, which ring whenever the wire fence is touched. This grower is said to have sold recently over $300 worth of ginseng berries to different ones, who will attempt to cultivate it as is done in the West.


Ginseng is pleasantly aromatic and probably slightly stimulant. The celestials value it highly and consider it a specific for almost every trouble from which they suffer. It has been used in China for 40 centuries, where the product is one of great commercial importance. Imperial ginseng raising is a government monopoly, being grown in the royal parks and gardens, where a death penalty is visited upon those who steal the plants. This product sells as high as $200 a pound, and is used by the aristocrats of China.


American ginseng is bought as third grade, though it is the great staple kind, for which there is an enormous demand. The second grade comes from Corea, while the fourth grade is the Japanese product used to adulterate the better qualities. But, notwithstanding the great traffic in ginseng, its use is still a mystery, nor has the almond-eyed craze for the root ever been satisfactorily explained.


We know, of course, that Americans are given to the use of ginseng, believing in its efficacy in severe bowel complaints. Some people habitually keep it in their homes as a medicine and consider it a great tonic, while others chew it as they would gum, the taste being very pleasant.


Vermont Phoenix, October 31, 1902.


Ginseng Hill, 1925, Merrill Hall Plowing On The Newton Farm.jpg

Merrill Ellis Hall Plowing On Roy William Newton's Farm On Ames Hill

Looking Easterly In 1925

Ginseng Hill In The Distance

Photograph By Walter H. Cheney


The Ames Hill dairy farmer Roy William Newton, the son of William D. Newton and Helen, was married to Clara Sophia Taylor. Their sons were Harold Albert, Walter R., and Lawrence T. Newton.


Ginseng, May 1910, Albert H. Harvey.jpg

Ginseng Crop At The Old Camp Ground

Albert H. Harvey, Advertisement

Vermont Phoenix, May 27, 1910


Sunset In Winter Fog, Round Mountain, 1929, Walter H. Cheney Photograph.jpg

Walter H. Cheney Photograph 1929

A fog-screened sunset

beyond Round mountain West Brattleboro, on a winter day


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