Thomas Martin Easterly


Thomas Martin Easterly, Daguerreotype 1845, Vermont Asylum for the Insane

In this daguerreotype, five children---possibly at recess from the village schoolhouse standing on the north-west corner of the Common---overlook the ground that slopes steeply down to the campus of the Vermont Asylum For The Insane.

Two men in plug hats stand by, teachers, or parents, half-turned toward each other. Three people appear in the distance below down the steep slope---possibly patients, who stand, or sit, by or upon a rail fence.

Thomas Martin Easterly plays with perspective---perhaps with some measure of irony, or whimsy---but he certainly plays with skill. As an artist, Easterly knows that anyone who looks at this daguerreotype who has actually stood at the edge of this slope looking down, will not see his daguerreotype in the same way as the stranger who has not seen the land at all.

The adults who appear in the daguerreotype lower right, looking so small, seem to be the toys, dolls, or the puppets, of the children, who have apparently left them carelessly on a bench nearby.

The land in the daguerreotype looks like it is perfectly level---to the stranger. But anyone who is familiar with the actual site would be aware that a steep slope is hidden by the camera angle.

This distorted and slightly disorienting perspective is sharpened by the contrast between the innocence of the children, and the troubled maturity of the adults.

Easterly perfectly matches theme and style with subject. The daguerreotype's real subject remains completely silent in the background---the Vermont Asylum for the Insane. The subject, theme, and the style alike---disorientation.

Thomas M. Easterly was born in Guilford, Vermont, on October 3, 1809.


The Village Common.--- Had any one looked at our village common nine years ago this spring, he would have seen a barren plain of sand cut up by cross-roads, with a very few small scrubby trees upon it; and, provided the rays of the sun were not too scorching, here and there a little patch of green grass, while on one corner was placed one of our village school houses.

With these exceptions, if we call them such, there was nothing interesting or inviting on it. At that time, permission was gained from the public authorities by a few individuals, to enclose, and, if possible, to improve and beautify the common!

And while those who have had charge of the same have never to our knowledge boasted of their labors, we think them deserving of much credit, as no one can fail to see that very great improvement had been made, and that the common now is a beautiful spot.

The ground has not been graded or ploughed as suggested by some, for the reason there was so little soil, and under it nothing but stones and gravel. It was thought best to top dress it, and thus save and deepen what soil there was.

And as it has been suggested that some trees be put out, we would simply state that there have been seventy-five trees set out, most of which are well started and doing well, making as many as there should be when they have grown a few years longer.

A neat and substantial new fence has just been made around it, and some bronzed iron settees are not to be placed near the walks.

About $1000 have already been expended in bringing about this change, and if those of our citizens who have always been liberal in giving for this object, are willing to continue their contributions from time to time, our village common may be made a spot that we may well be proud of.

Vermont Phoenix, June 1, 1866.



The Chase Street schoolhouse---seen here in 1894, standing opposite the south-west corner of the Common---was built in 1806 as the first meeting house for the growing East Village. It served the congregation which became the Church on the Common in 1816. It was also a chapel, a Sunday School, and later the District No. 2 schoolhouse until 1832.

The "neat and substantial new fence" that was built around the Common in about May 1866 may be the one seen here in this 1894 photograph, unless this is a still later fence. The new Brattleboro Retreat tower is almost entirely visible here, not hidden by trees.

The school was removed to Chase Street in 1857, then removed once more briefly to the Putney road, then back to its present place on Chase Street. It survived one major fire, and more school-children, before its final sale for private residence.






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