A Remarkable Character -- Model for the Statue of Ethan Allen
Whom He Much Resembled in Mind and Make up.
Willard H. Alexander, who has for two years past evidently been nearing his end, died early Tuesday morning at his Canal street home. But the remarkable mind which has always been his remained clear and active and prolific of epigrams almost to the last. He had carefully and long since made all his calculations and preparations for death, even to dictating obituary notes to the Republican correspondent. During the night Monday he had told his attendants that he should probably die before morning and not to arouse the folks when he did. He made frequent humorous allusions to his approaching dissolution. One of them was that if Gov. Russell should be reelected he should be willing to go, though he should like to stay to see Grover Cleveland in the White House once more.
Willard Huntington Alexander was one of the remarkable characters of Brattleboro history. Intense in his convictions, as illustrated by these political remarks, original in his way of viewing things, with a genius for effective statement, and a magnetic power that was sure to capture an audience whenever he arose before it, nature patterned him for a very great man. If he could have had the advantages of early education and cultured association to round off some of the roughnesses that became defects in his character, if he could have been spared the controversies that exaggerated these defects, and the misfortunes that kept him in a treadmill of debt-paying through his earlier manhood, there is no telling what might have been his achievements.
No one could look upon that strong face or catch the flash of that genius-lit eye without feeling that he was in the presence of a man of power. And when young Larkin G. Mead came to make the statue of Ethan Allen now in the state house, it was Mr. Alexander's head and form that he took for his model. It was a happy thought. The character of Allen, as history knows him, was markedly like that of Mr. Alexander, and one cannot stand before the statue of Allen, with its noble proportions, and the inspiring memories it brings up, without feeling something of the quality of W. H. Alexander, akin to that of the rugged old hero who demanded the surrender of Ticonderoga "in the name of the Great Jehovah and the Constitutional Congress." The very forms of expression of the two men were similar.
Mr. Alexander was born Sept. 14, 1806, at Montague, Mass., where one sister, Mrs. Scott, now lives at the age of 81. He was the son of Ebenezer and Rhoda Scott Alexander and one of 11 children. When 12 years old he went to Chesterfield, N. H., where he went to work for Capt. Brown, a Revolutionary soldier. In 1829 he wedded Eunice L. Scott, who survives him after 52 years of devoted married life, and took Capt. Brown's farm agreeing to take care of the old folks in return for it.
He lost the place however, when he was 36 years old, as the result of signing notes to favor others, but faithful to his contract he leased it, and kept his aged wards there to the end of their days. He was for several years also engaged in the manufacture of boots at Chesterfield, and was becoming very prosperous when the failure of large customers out west who were owing him heavily, ruined him financially again and kept him back for many years.
He was also in his younger days a schoolmaster in Hinsdale for seven years and among his pupils were Marshall Jewell, Governor of Connecticut and Postmaster General, and Harvey Jewell for many years Speaker of the Massachusetts House. It was interesting to hear him tell about his first advent to the school and the can-can the big boys struck up sending their heels as near his nose as they could. But he came out first best, as he was very apt to do anywhere.
In 1850 he moved to Brattleboro and built the Canal street house where he has since lived. Nearly the whole section of the village now called Prospect hill he bought, used for a time market gardening and then opened up for building lots. He himself constructed the Prospect and Washington street roads---there being only one house on the hill, that now owned by Mrs. L. A. Capen---and presented them to the town to further his project of extension. Later he bought a tract of land one mile south of the village and continued for several years the work of gardening and until he had reached the age of 80.
He served for four years as village bailiff and four years as town grand juror making things lively during the latter term by his efforts to enforce the prohibitery law, which he didn't believe in but at whose violations he would not officially wink as long as it was on the statute books.
He always took an active part in public affairs, and when he was in full vigor few were the town meetings where his voice was not heard, and his ready wit in play, while the schools and other matters of community interest held his attention. They tell a story of an encounter he once had in the court room over in New Hampshire with Franklin Pierce, who had broken down all the witnesses on that side of the case with his skillful questioning and thought he had got Alexander in a corner. But Gen. Pierce got the worst of it.
He was a kind hearted man and though he gave and took hard blows in controversy and his arguments were apt to be of the knock-down kind, he never harbored malice. It was a frequent thing for him to be sending succor to the needy, but always on the quiet, and it was about the only kind of thing he was afraid of having found out.
He took the lead in organizing the old lyceum that afforded so much interest to our people with its meetings in the lower town hall 25 years ago, and the debates in which he and Winslow Ward, David Miller and Lewis Putnam were the frequent disputants, had a zest and power that was peculiar to themselves and formed an interesting chapter of local life.
In his younger days he did a good deal of detective work and all his days he had a bent of mind for it. Many an interesting tale could be told of the skill and persistence with which he worked out difficult cases, and captured the perpetrators of crime in both Chesterfield and this town. It was only another proof of the mental keenness and concentrative power that marked him in so many avenues of life. He had a decided fondness for music and for years he led the choir in Chesterfield. He was also for some time captain of the militia company there.
Mr. and Mrs. Alexander celebrated their golden wedding in 1879, when nearly the whole town tendered congratulations. Besides his widow, four children survive, including Frank, now living in Georgia; Charles E. in Guilford, the oldest; Serotia, living at home, and John F., the well known Saxtons River manufacturer. Two other sons, Elijah S., a Chicago millionaire and Prof. Henry W., an accomplished teacher of music, have died within a few years and one daughter Eunice Augusta died at the age of 12 in 1853.
The funeral was held from his late residence yesterday afternoon. Rev. F. W. Sprague and Rev. F. L. Phalen officiating and a large concourse of people being present to pay their respects.
A striking and memorable figure in the local history of Brattleboro passed away in the death on Tuesday morning of Willard Huntington Alexander at his long-time home on Canal street. Mr. Alexander had been a resident of Brattleboro since 1851. For many years previous to that he had lived in Chesterfield, N. H., having grown up in that town from his childhood.
Mr. Alexander was born Sept. 14, 1806. He was one of the 11 children of Ebenezer and Rhoda (Scott) Alexander. He left his father's house at the age of 11 years to live with Capt. Oliver Brown of Revolutionary fame. As the boy grew toward manhood he taught school for a number of years, and entered finally into an agreement to care for the old folk, three in number, during their lifetime, for the farm. The signing of a note, however, brought him to financial disaster, and he lost the farm, but subsequently leased it and fulfilled his contract to the satisfaction of the old people and their friends.
His marriage to Eunice L. Scott, who survives him, took place March 3, 1829, and it was on the Chesterfield farm that their family of seven children were born and reared. In 1851, as already stated, Mr. Alexander removed to Brattleboro, building the house on Canal street which has ever since been his home. At one time he was the owner of nearly the whole tract now known as "Cemetery hill," and took the first steps toward opening it up as a residence portion of the village.
In conversation recently Mr. Alexander stated that when he bought the tract there was only one house standing upon it. He used the land for a market garden, but in due time laid out and opened Prospect and Washington streets, presenting them to the town, getting his return in the land sold for building lots. He has been best known to the present generation as a market-gardener on the well-known tract of land owned by him on the road to the Hunt farm, a mile south of the village. This business he continued with success up to the end of his active life.
Mr. Alexander has been several times honored with public office, serving as town grand juror for four years, and as a member of the board of bailiffs for the same length of time. No man ever had a more active interest in all community affairs than did he. He was a man distinctively of his own ideas on all public questions and expressed himself upon them with entire fearlessness.
For a long term of years no village or school meeting was complete without his presence. He invariably occupied a seat well toward the front, where his full head of white hair was a conspicuous object, and where he was ready to join in whatever discussion came up. His speeches were short, but always to the point. Whether one enjoyed them depended upon whether the old man was upon his or upon the opposing side. Oftentimes, in a certain temper of the public mind, he swayed a public meeting almost at will, and many is the man of far greater pretensions as a orator who has felt the sting of his abrupt thrusts of sarcasm.
He had a great love for children and the children in their turn looked to him as their friend. There are few Brattleboro readers who will not recall as a familiar sight the old man driving through our streets with his wagon or sleigh filled with merry school children.
To discuss all sides of Mr. Alexander's character would be an impossible task, but it would be easy to fill a long chapter with characteristic anecdotes and illustrations. While it would not be pleasant to recall all of his ways, and manner of speech, to his credit it must be said that he undoubtedly possessed a deep and innate hatred of everything that savored of religious cant, and that this was responsible for no little of the brusqueness which was sometimes offensive.
That he possessed genuine kindness of heart his thoughtfulness for the poor, the aged and the stricken, abundantly testifies. He was a regular attendant at the Universalist church, but in his latter days had come to feel, as he expressed himself to his friends, "a firm belief in an unconscious rest" to which he was about to pass.
All arrangements for the end of his life had been made, and instructions for his funeral had been given, with as much composure as though he was going upon a journey. Death resulted from the natural decline of old age. He has, however, shown a remarkable vitality, having been often thought to be at the point of death within the past two or three years.
Seven children were born to Mr. and Mrs. Alexander, of whom four now survive---Charles E., of Guilford, Serotia, who has faithfully cared for her parents in their declining years, John F., a well-known manufacturer at Saxtons River, and Frank E., now resident in the South. Henry W., another of their children, is well remembered as a prominent music teacher, as is also Elijah S., a successful Chicago business man, over whose large estate protracted litigation grew. The seventh child died in early life. A sister of Mr. Alexander, Mrs. Scott, is still living in Montague, Mass., at the age of 82.
Mr. Alexander was a life-long Democrat of the most pronounced type. In early life he was a member of the Congregational church, but left that church before his removal to Brattleboro.
The celebration of the golden wedding anniversary of Mr. and Mrs. Alexander took place in 1879, and was a happy event which is well remembered by the large company who were present.
The funeral was held at the house yesterday afternoon, attended by the Revs. Phalen and Sprague.
Man With Beaver Hat, Possibly Willard H. Alexander
Corner Clark And Canal Streets
---Mr. and Mrs. W. H. Alexander celebrated their golden wedding on Monday last, March 3d. The occasion drew together a large number of relatives, friends and neighbors, and was one of genuine and felicitous enjoyment. In the afternoon a company of sixteen old ladies, whose ages ranged from 75 to 85 years, took tea with the venerable bride and groom, and in the evening the house was fairly thronged with guests. The rooms were neatly decorated with evergreens, potted plants, statuary, etc., and all the arrangements for the occasion were tasteful and appropriate.
Upon the walls of the drawing room, among other family pictures, appeared oil paintings of the bride and bridegroom in the costumes and in the freshness of forty years ago.
The presents were numerous, appropriate and valuable, embracing among other things a gold snuffbox, a gold-headed cane, a silver tea-set, articles of china ware, beautiful bouquets of cut flowers, a considerable amount of gold coin, greenbacks, etc., etc.
Rev. M. H. Harris made the presentation speech, at the close of which the bride and groom were re-united in the hold bonds of matrimony. Mr. Alexander, in a few words, expressed the joy and gratitude which he and his wife felt in the occasion, and closed by inviting the guests to refreshments.
"The Old Oaken Bucket," "Auld Lang Syne," and other songs were finely rendered during the evening by a choir consisting of Mr. H. W. Alexander, William Taft, F. W. Childs, Mrs. Geo. W. Holbrook and Mrs. F. G. Howe.
Mr. and Mrs. Alexander (formerly Eunice L. Scott) have been residents of Brattleboro since 1851. They formerly lived in Chesterfield, N. H., where they were married by Rev. John Walker, March 3, 1829, and where were born unto them their seven children, of whom six are now living. Of these, four were present on this occasion, viz: Charles E., of Guilford, who is in business here; Serotia A., who resides with her parents; Henry W., a resident of Chicago, and John F., who lives at Saxtons River. Elijah S., a resident of Chicago, and Frank E., now in Texas, were unable to be present, but forwarded worthy tokens of filial remembrance. The grandchildren, numbering five, were all present.
The worthy couple whose fiftieth wedding anniversary was thus happily celebrated, are still in the possession of comfortable health, and have doubtless enjoyed more than an average amount of worldly happiness. Of this latter fact they are perfectly well aware; but, nevertheless, don't intend, evidently, to refuse whatever amount of enjoyment shall still fall to them, for fear of robbing others. That they may live yet many years in the enjoyment of the peace and quiet which belong to life's most sacred period, is not only the hope but the expectation of their friends.
Willard H. Alexander purchased parcels of land from Reuben Spalding, Resolved Wallen, and Royall G. Wood for his dwelling house and market gardens, with the water rights. When Willard Alexander arrived in 1851, this tract was known as the "Spalding Hill Woods". The name "Cemetery hill" came later. The area south from present Pine Street was called "Sheep Hill".
The southern reach of present Elm Street in 1851, running uphill from Canal Street to Prospect Hill, just west from Willard Alexander's house, was a narrow path trodden by a widow resident on Canal, in her visits to the burial ground.
Posted July 15, 1902 To Serotia Alexander
Pr Air First Opportunity