Reminiscences of the Venerable F. H. Wheeler---
Some of the Citizens and Business Enterprises of 75 Years Ago.
Probably there are not to exceed a dozen persons in the town who remain to recall the local events of 1824. The American house at that time was known as Uriel Sykes' tavern, and upon its enlargement, was given its present name. This property had been bought by Dea John Holbrook, who came from Weymouth, Mass, where he was born in 1761, to Newfane Hill after becoming of age. Later coming to Brattleboro, he bought the old mills then standing upon the Hines & Newman machine shop site, also buying the building upon the American house site for a residence and for store purposes. He formed business relations with David Porter of Hartford, Conn, where the firm name was Porter & Holbrook it being Holbrook & Porter at Brattleboro. Nearly all Mr Holbrook's goods were exchanged for produce. He started the first flat-bottomed boats on the Connecticut, it requiring 10 to 12 days to run from Hartford to Bellows Falls. He sold his property to Francis Goodhue, who came from Weathersfield. Afterward, near the Whetstone bridge stood Uncle Frank Goodhue's distillery, where good whiskey was manufactured from corn, something the present generation of Vermonters are deprived of, the refuse being used for fattening Mr Goodhue's cattle and hogs. Mr Goodhue died in 1839.
Franklin H Wheeler, the father of Mrs James Dalton, vigorous in mind and body, and able to read without glasses in his 93d year, came to Brattleboro by stage from Lincoln, Mass, arriving here March 19, 1822, at 9 o'clock in the evening. He is the oldest person of continuous residence in town. At that time, he says, there were three low buildings on High street, being occupied by Alfred Ellis, the Hadley and Bancroft families. The Bugbee-Dickerman-Elliot street house, with a small structure at the corner of Elliot and Elm streets where the Dea D B Thompson house now stands. On Main street was the Hunt residence, now occupied by Col G W Hooker, with a two-story brick building on the Brooks House side, in which was located the bank of Brattleboro, the first local institution of its kind, its vault being constructed of planks, bolted by steel bolts. Madame Chapin's attractive two-story building adjoined, she being the widowed mother of Dr Charles Chapin, afterwards a prominent physician and town official. Next came George W Blake's two story building adjoining which was the old stage-house, later known as the old Brattleboro House. Maj Henry Smith and Col Paul Chase were the hospitable and gentlemanly landlords during its prosperous staging days. Maj Smith was the father of seven children, his son, Elisha D Smith, liberally endowing the old people's home before dying recently at Menasha, Wis. Then running down into Elliot street was the John R Blake block, the most attractive structure on the street. Opposite on the east side was Widow Patty Fessenden's home. The land adjoining was largely used by Mrs Fessenden and Mr Wheeler for garden purposes.
Where the present Vinton paper mill now stands Holbrook & Fessenden made by slow process paper in sheets 15 by 30 inches, which had a large sale on account of its clearness, due largely to the purity of the spring water, for which the town has long been famed. Their product, with that manufactured by the Brandywine mills, led all others in the American market. The bulk of merchandise in those days was brought up the Connecticut, the larger boats being owned by Capron & Alexander of Winchester, N H. They were 68 feet long, 14-foot beam, 33-foot mast, with sliding topmast carrying some 200 yards of canvass. They drew only eight inches of water, carried about 20 tons, at $7.50 a ton from Hartford to Brattleboro, in either direction, and a trifle more from Bellows Falls. The Barnet, 75 to 14 ½ feet, was the first steamboat seen in Brattleboro, making its first trip in 1827. Capt Nelson Richardson of Hinsdale, NH, made his last trip on the Mary Ann in the fall of '47, the railroad being opened a short time afterward.
Judge Royall Tyler, the writer of the first American play, "The Contrast," was perhaps the most prominent resident of Brattleboro in 1824. He was born in Boston in 1757 and was graduated from Harvard in 1776. He was rather a gay lad and had to suffer for his reputation of gallantry, which broke off his engagement with the daughter of President John Adams. After his graduation from Harvard he began the study of law. He was admitted to the bar in 1779. After practicing law at Portland, Quincy and Boston he, in 1790 came to Vermont, settling in Guilford. In the spring of 1801, he moved to Brattleboro and in October of that year he was appointed an associate judge of the supreme court of Vermont and six years later he succeeded Chief Justice Robinson, who went to the United States Senate. In 1813 the federalists gained control and the whole court was changed. Judge Tyler returned to Brattleboro, where he practiced his profession until his death in 1826. Few remember Rev William Wells, who occupied the only pulpit in Brattleboro 75 years or more ago. He was a fine English gentleman and whatever his creed, which some declared to be moderate Baxterian, while others claimed him to be Unitarian, he was universally esteemed. He was engaged in the ministry about 60 years, when the infirmities of age rendered his retirement necessary. His daughter, Miss Hanna Wells, established the first Sunday school in the East village.
The Brattleboro light infantry in 1823, '24 and '25, under Capts Eli Sargeant and Samuel Whitney, was considered the best disciplined company in the state. At one muster of this company when Col Jonas Blake commanded the troops, it is reported that they marched through Main street with a consolidated band in which there were 50 drums. Capt Goodenough lost an arm in a sham-battle on this occasion, while Lieut Warren was seriously injured, Joseph Steen and James Capen having their faces peppered with powder. One of the old brass cannon taken from Burgoyne was presented to the patriotic citizens of Brattleboro and was used for many years on public occasions.
Brattleboro Reformer, September 19, 1899.
At Least So the Owners Believe--Specimens Sent to Assayists--Old Ideas of the Kind.
(Sunday Republican Correspondence.)
Should the hopes of two of Brattleboro's enthusiastic farmers be realized, two profitable gold mines may be unearthed in the near future. Already some specimens have been put in the hands of assayists for an expert opinion as to their value, which may lead to extensive prospecting between this and spring. An old resident, who is in the secret, declares that he has known for several years of the existence of gold on one of the farms not far from the village limits, and that he has anticipated a little Klondike boom for a number of years, though the fact that gold had been found there seems to have been kept a secret by a very few individuals, who had neither capital nor capacity for working the claim. Only a few days ago a resident took from a surface vein a large quantity of quartz, which he says contains gold in paying quantities, and that he knows that the vein is an extensive one, having quietly traced it out until he is satisfied of its value. While not over-enthusiastic, this farmer has abundant faith in the value of his find and when this is fully determined by a careful and systematic miner or assayist he will make the points known to the public. Until then he prefers to keep his own counsel, working quietly and understandingly, confident that the results will justify his fondest hopes. In speaking of the probable existence of gold in and around Brattleboro, a well- known townsman said Saturday that he had seen specimens washed from a stream in a farm in Guilford just over the Brattleboro line, and that he had no doubt whatever that under expert hands quantities of gold ore could be found on this farm. He said some 20 or 30 years ago considerable prospecting was carried on by a would-be miner, who took away some valuable specimens with the promise of further developments by a regular organized company. Some specimens have recently been procured for the purpose of demonstrating their character, and it is possible that some interesting developments will be the result of the investigation.
Brattleboro Reformer, October 31, 1899.
Reprinted from Frederick W. Child's Springfield Sunday Republican article.
Franklin Wheeler, a cripple who came to Brattleboro about 1820 to work for Hezekiah Salisbury making window springs, fell while wandering in the woods at West Brattleboro one Sunday, and uncovered some stones on which he discovered a yellow substance which he dug out and melted in a crucible. The resulting metal was declared to be gold, and he used it for plating the knobs of window springs. From authentic records there appears to be no doubt that Franklin Wheeler also studied out and made the first working model of "a breech-loading, six-shooting revolving pistol" ever made or invented. This was when he was 18 years old, and his revolver antedated Colt's by 14 years.
Vermont Phoenix, March 24, 1893.
From "Vermont in a Century of Invention" by Gov. Levi K. Fuller.
The Oldest Man In Brattleboro--A Resident Here Since 1822.
Franklin Hoar Wheeler, the oldest man in Brattleboro, and almost a life-long resident of this village, died soon after 5 o'clock Sunday morning at his home on Spring street. Mr. Wheeler's age was 94 years, 6 months. He was born in Lincoln, Mass., April 3, 1807. His ancestors came to this country from England in 1630, and he was of the seventh generation of descent. The original family name was Hoar, but in early life Mr. Wheelers' older brothers chose to adopt their mother's name before her marriage, and that branch of the family has since been known as Wheeler. It is of the same English stock as that of Senator George F. Hoar of Massachusetts, the father of the Senator and the father of Mr. Wheeler having been brothers.
Mr. Wheeler's grandfather, John Hoar, was one of the "embattled farmers," who withstood the attack of the English soldiers at Concord bridge on the morning of April 19, 1775. His father, Leonard Hoar, was a soldier in the Revolutionary army when a youth of 17. Mr. Wheeler came to Brattleboro March 19, 1822, at the age of 15, to live with and work for his oldest brother, John H. Wheeler, who then kept a store in the Blake building about where the Morris & Gregg store now is, and who in 1835 erected the store building now known as Granite block. Mr. Wheeler remained with his brother until 1841, when he and Lucius G. Pratt bought out John H. Wheeler and continued the business under the firm name of Wheeler & Pratt. In 1849 the partnership was dissolved, Mr. Pratt taking the business. Mr Wheeler, with a partner, then opened a new store, and he remained in business until 1859. From 1866 to 1876 he was in New York with his brother-in-law, the late Wright Pomeroy. Since the last named year he has lived quietly in his Spring street home, occupying himself with his garden and his other home affairs. He was one of the most expert gardeners in Brattleboro, and his well known plot of ground was a marvel of productiveness and painstaking cultivation. All through these years, season by season, he has shown the delight of an enthusiast in the variety and excellence of its products.
Mr. Wheeler lost his hearing in middle life, and this infirmity had shut him away in large part from intimate intercourse with those about him, but trim figure, his well-kept person and bearing of native dignity were a familiar sight on our streets, and he possessed a fund of reminiscence and accurate memory of the old days in Brattleboro equalled by no other resident. He had seen Brattleboro grow from the straggling village of 1822 to its present size and compactness. He used often to relate that when he first went to live on Spring street the tract above, where Green street now is, was an open country of pasture and woodland, where in summer mothers thought it not safe for their children to go alone to pick blueberries. Until the last few months, when his eyesight had begun to fail, he was a diligent reader, and kept himself accurately informed on all the affairs of the world.
Mr. Wheeler married Elizabeth Pomeroy of Newfane May 3, 1836. The Spring street house was bought and occupied by them in 1838. The death of Mrs. Wheeler occurred in July 1881. Mr. and Mrs. Wheeler had five children, three sons and two daughters. Of these Mary E. Dalton, wife of James Dalton, whose home has always been with her father at the homestead, and Frank Pomeroy Wheeler of Chicago survive. He had one grandchild, Mrs. Stella Dalton Dodge of New York, and two great-grandchildren, the young son and daughter of Mrs. Dodge. Mr. Wheeler possessed remarkable vitality, and has enjoyed an unusual degree of health and activity. His death was due to the changes brought by old age.
The funeral was held at the house Tuesday afternoon, Rev. E.Q.S. Osgood officiating. Mrs. Dodge, the granddaughter, arrived from New York Sunday night, and Frank Pomeroy Wheeler, the son, from Chicago on Monday night.
Vermont Phoenix, October 18, 1901.