Fourth in Series of Articles By Brattleboro Chapter, D. A. R.
Sections Now Grassed Over.
Several Old Cellar Holes Mark Locations of Houses Which Bordered Boston-Albany Route Near Meeting House Hill Cemetery.
Further facts concerning the interesting subject of the old post road from Boston to Albany by way of Brattleboro are contained in a paper read before Brattleboro chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution, Dec. 2, 1919, by Mrs. Grace Bailey Dunklee, chapter historian. This paper is published in full herewith as the fourth in the series of historical pen sketches furnished by the chapter:
Just as we were preparing our papers upon Old Trails Roads, these lines by Daniel L. Cady, upon Old Vermont Roads, were published in The Reformer. As they were so very timely, and exceedingly appropriate to my subject, I wish to repeat them now in my sketch upon The Old Post Road from Boston to Albany.
The old-time roads, they used to run Right over all the hills and rises, And made the shortest kind of cut To get to Benning Wentworth's prizes; They wasn't tipped with tepid tar, They might have made a shofer cavil, But they was all the kind of roads Our settler fathers had to travel.
They run them roads from town to town About the way they shot a rifle; A river didn't change their course, A mountain made 'em bend a trifle; Oh! yes; they jest was "water-bound"; No grease or graft or even gravel, But still they averaged 'bout as good As what we modern "dusties" travel.
The fathers didn't walk abroad Arrayed in pumps and Paris slippers; They took no hikes along the pikes, They never posed as "Sunday trippers," The didn't wash their socks with Lux, Or rense 'em out in can de javel, And where they went they had to go-- That's why the fathers used to travel.
It's 'bout the same with us today; You don't back out your panting flivver To take a pleasure ride--not much-- And get an embolismic liver; You know jest how a shell-hole looks, You've seen all sorts of "surface" ravel, You know that when you near a bridge You'll see it billed, "Unsafe for Travel."
And when a highway hit a grant In them old days, it didn't schism, But plowed right through to Center Town, Like highbrows chasing up an ism; And there they built a hard-shell church But didn't fool with soft-shell gravel-- The road the circuit rider used Was good enough for all to travel.
The teams from Albany got through, The stages seldom missed in summer, The sacred cod was right on hand But not as yet the Boston drummer; He didn't come until he heard The rap of Trade's compelling gavel, And all the road he counted on Was one a traveling man could travel.
It's great to trace them roadways now Through worn-out field and back-lot mowing; The suller holes and lilac trees Still show where life was once a-flowing; They're smoother now than lots of "pikes," All dum-dummed up with soft-nose gravel-- I often wish we had 'em back, Them roads the fathers used to travel.
A few years ago, Mr. Dunklee and I were wandering about Meeting House Hill cenetery one day, when it chanced to be our good fortune to meet two of the older residents of Brattleboro, one of them at least a Civil War veteran, and brother of the late Ezra Fisher, to whom we are indebted for what few markers we have in that cemetery.
These old acquaintances, Roscoe Fisher of Western avenue and George Wheeler of Melrose street, were interested in the old roads, markers, and all landmarks of Brattleboro's early history and all the traditions of its first settlement. During our conversation, they showed us several points of interest and helped us trace the old road leading west from the cemetery.
This road, as marked by Ezra Fisher, was a part of the old post road from Boston to Albany, through West Brattleboro, Marlboro, Bennington and Troy. We have an old family paper among those belonging to the Dunklee farm which gives Jonathan Dunklee, Jr., the free use of this post road from Brattleboro to Marlboro, so I suppose this section was at that time a toll road. Jonathan Dunklee purchased land and subsequently settled in Marlboro.
The section of this road above mentioned turned west at right angles from the cemetery, in front of the old church, near the point where the present pump and tool-house now stand, and ran, as I should judge, a little south of west, first through open land and then down a gradual slope (wooded at the present time) and across a small flat or meadow towards West Brattleboro, where it crosses the well-known road of today, running north and south down what is called "The Long Hill," at the foot of which there are two bridges over Whetstone Brook. As the road mentioned nears these bridges the traces of it are less distinct, but it must have crossed the brook near this point not far from the old mill-site and then past the Hayes Tavern, where it joined the present Marlboro highway.
But a great many signs of this old highway, now entirely grassed over, are still very distinct, especially near the cemetery. If I remember correctly, it was walled in like a lane for a distance at least, and at the time we were there some of the old stone wall was still standing. And there are several old cellar holes that border it, not far from the cemetery, where there are piles of old bricks from the ancient chimneys plainly visible--the only relics left to tell the story of these once prosperous and happy homes. These houses, being so near the church, probably formed a part of Brattleboro's first community and it would be a very interesting study to discover from old deeds to whom these homes once belonged.
Mr. Dunklee and I are making such a study from the original deeds of the Dunklee farm and we have in that way already found out quite a good deal of the early history of the occupants of the farm, and the location of the early residents of the town, in fact the exact home of one of the great-grandparents at the time of her death. This evidence is corroborated by the old cellar hole upon the farm, the exact ownership of which no living descendant seemed to know.
Mr. Fisher also told us that there was the site of an ancient well, west of the cemetery and south of these old cellar holes that border this old highway. This well used to supply one or more of these houses in the old days of long ago. Mr. Fisher said it could still be found but had been nearly filled up. He gave us careful directions for finding it, but we failed to do so as we didn't have time to search thoroughly, and in the woods as it was, looking for such a landmark, unless one is very familiar with the ground, is like looking for the proverbial needle in the hay mow. We have always intended going to search for it again, but have never happened to find the opportunity. But it is interesting as a fact of the history of these early residents of our town, showing the mode of their living and customs of the times.
My grandmother, Arvilla Jackson Bailey, remembers driving, as a child, with her father and mother, around 1835-8, from Wiswall hill in Newfane, to the Dunklee farm in West Brattleboro, her mother's childhood home, and always as they passed Meeting House hill "burying ground"--there were no cemeteries in those days--it was on their left, and not very far from there they turned off from the post road and went in a more northerly direction towards the farm. But grandmother says the approach to the cemetery was always a delight--so level, and pleasant, and opened up such a vista--they were on the height of land for some distance. But of course the settlement there had entirely disappeared by that time. But I think the very fact that they had to pass this cemetery goes far to prove this a part of our national highway, for they would not have gone so far south and out of their way, had there been any other road at that time.
Meantime, as grandmother had no occasion to pass over these roads for a long period of years, for such was the reality as Daniel L. Cady has so well said in his poem, that in those days as a general thing people traveled only "where they had to," great was her surprise and bewilderment in approaching Meeting House Hill cemetery from the north in later years, and not realizing the roads had been changed to find the cemetery on the right of the highway instead of on the left, as in her childhood trips. She could hardly make herself believe it to be the same cemetery, still she knew of course that it must be.
In coming from Newfane at that time they followed West river down through Dummerston to the present turn below the Bailey farm, where now the road divides, one branch following the river and one over the hill, but at that time the hill road was the only highway to Brattleboro.
As they drove by the "burying ground" on Meeting House hill grandmother's mother would point out the graves of the Dunklees and say that those were her grandfather and grandmother. These old graves were on their left, very near the highway, and now they are at the extreme rear of the cemetery, which fact goes far to prove to grandmother that the highways have indeed been changed.
Another fact which puzzled her in the later years was that the graves of her own grandfather and grandmother were beside the highway, on the right, as she approached the cemetery, exactly as the older graves had been on the left, years before, and she forgot that her mother had said that they were her grandparents. A proof of this fact would be that grandmother's own grandmother was still living at the time that they were making these journeys, for it was she they were going to visit at the Dunklee farm.
After turning off from the main post road, I think they must have followed a crossroad northerly till they reached the present Wickopee Hill road, running past the Dunklee farm, for they didn't go so far west as the Whetstone brook and West Brattleboro, but I cannot place this crossroad accurately without first actually going to the spot and following it in reality, but I think I am right when I say that I believe it has been pointed out to me, but do not know of any one living now who would know of its exact location.
Brattleboro Reformer, March 20, 1920.
In his old account book, Jonathan Dunklee makes a record of boots, shoes, and shoes for infants made by him and repairs on the same, also of pewter spoons made in sets of six or twelve. He owned a sleigh, renting it as he had the opportunity, and he paid a tax on a "four-wheeled vehicle called a waggon."
Sarah Scott, wife of Jonathan, while on a horseback journey to the western part of the town, was chased by wolves, and only escaped by climbing the branches of a tree, when the horse made his way home and brought the family to her rescue. The Dunklee place stood on the east side of road 4.
Among the pioneers of Brattleboro was Jonathan Dunklee, born in 1755, who with brothers David and Joseph, and sisters Sarah, Martha, Mary and Ruth, came from Brimfield, Massachusetts, with their father and mother, Robert, Senior, and Martha (Singleton) Dunklee, in 1774, by way of the old blazed trail along the Connecticut River. They settled on road four, upon the farm which Robert Dunklee, Senior, purchased of William and Abigail King of Boston. (Old family deed--one hundred acres.) This farm was owned in the Dunklee family for six consecutive generations. Robert Dunklee, Senior, died June 5, 1776, aged sixty-six years, and is buried on Meeting-House Hill, with his wife Martha, who died February 15, 1805.
The eldest son, Robert Dunklee, Junior, is supposed never to have come to Brattleboro.
Joseph Dunklee, born in 1753, son of Robert, Senior, married Hannah Cook, daughter of Captain Oliver Cook. They had nine children. She died, and he married, second, Sabra Whitmore of Marlboro. A son of Joseph Dunklee by the first marriage, Benjamin Dunklee, resided in Brattleboro for a time, and was instrumental in establishing the first public library.
After Robert Dunklee's death, the Dunklee homestead was owned jointly by Joseph and Jonathan for a time. Then Jonathan became the sole proprietor until his death.
Jonathan Dunklee was a shoemaker by trade, as well as a very prosperous man. His name appears, July, 1818, shortly before his death, with others, on a committee of the church to adopt a confession of faith. "Jonathan Dunklee started for the Battle of Bennington but it was over before he got there." He married Sarah Scott of Winchester, New Hampshire, daughter of Abraham and Mehetable Scott, and reared ten children. It was his wife, Sarah Scott Dunklee, who had the exciting experience with wolves. After the death of Jonathan Dunklee the farm became the possession of his son Solomon, who spent the whole of a fruitful and prosperous life upon it.
His daughter, Ruth Dunklee, born February, 1817, attended the Mount Holyoke Seminary, married Reverend Nelson Barbour, a graduate of Middlebury College, who was first settled as pastor at Saxton's River in 1836 and later at Dummerston, Vermont, and also in towns of Massachusetts and New Hampshire.
It is from the four sons of Jonathan, Senior, namely, Jonathan, Junior, Solomon, Jacob and Admatha, that the present generation of Dunklees of this section have largely descended.
Grace Bailey Dunklee (1882-1963) is writing here about her grandmother Arvilla Jackson, Mrs. Silas A. Bailey, and her great-grandmother Roxana Dunklee, Mrs. David Jackson (1802-1858), the youngest daughter of Jonathan.