The following stories were submitted during Archives Month in October 2010. For more
information on Archives Month visit
Left click on the + / -- to expand or collapse the stories listed below.
Finding Medical History Treasures - Submitted by Joanna Weinstock
When I started working as a reference librarian at UVM's Dana Medical Library in the 1980s,
my main job was to help clinicians and researchers find the most up-to-date medical information.
However, I was asked to manage the small and uncatalogued medical history collection as well.
One day I happened to open a leather-bound copy of Samuel Thomson's 1835 book
A Narrative of the Life and Medical Discoveries of the Author. I had heard only vaguely of Thomsonian
Medicine and was stunned to read about his Vermont connections and the roots (quite literally)
of this system of botanic medicine in Vermont. This got me started on an obsessive treasure
hunt through town archives, academic libraries, the state historical society, and the Vermont
State Archives. In 1987, Gregory Sanford, while helping me look for items related to the
early history of medicine in Vermont, pulled out a series of petitions, elegantly hand-written
in the 1830s, from the Manuscript Vermont State Papers. These declarations, signed by people
from across the state, called on the legislature to repeal the 1820 medical practice act so
that botanic doctors could practice on the same footing as the "regular" doctors who favored
blood letting, arsenic, and mercury compounds. Here are excerpts from one of these treasures:
"We your petitioners… respectfully represent to your honorable body that in our opinion the law
of this state regulating the practice of physic and surgery is oppressive and unjust, and as
free citizens we claim the right to lay our aggrievences [sic] before your honorable body for
relief… The free and independent right to select our family physician is one of the dearest
privileges men can enjoy… yet our rights have been grossly invaded by the passage of a law which
gives the regular doctor [so called] the supreme advantage over all other orders of men…
justice to all is our motto…" [Petition from Bennington, filed August 5, 1834, MsVSP vol. 63, p. 157]
While the issues have changed with time, I was impressed by the eloquence and passion of these 19th
century Vermont citizens. I wonder if we will hear such language as the legislature continues to
debate health reform in the 21st century.
Joanna Weinstock is a former librarian who is now a family physician
and still loves to spend time treasure hunting in archives.
McCarthyism and French Cinema - Submitted by Rick Winston
This spring, I began work on an article for the Vermont History Journal on how the
"Red Scare" came to Vermont in 1950. I focused on a controversy that arose in Bethel
concerning the joint ownership of land by two friends who were under Senator Joseph
McCarthy's microscope: the Arctic explorer and writer Vilhjalmur Stefansson and the
Far East expert Owen Lattimore. What a thrill it was to sit in Dartmouth's Rauner
Special Collections Library and read the letters that flew between these two (and
their wives) - from prosaic matters such as how much the renovations would cost
("If you think the house is worth putting $1600 into, how shall we proceed?"), to a
chilling response to an inquiry from Lattimore two years after the event, wondering
if it was safe to visit ("If you decide that coming is no more dangerous than not
coming, we can get up some presentable wakes here for the demise of American liberty.")
The archival material gave me a new measure of the personalities of my subjects, and
a new understanding of their times.
On another occasion, in 1992, I was hoping to write a book about the French film "Les
Enfants du Paradis," ("Children of Paradise") a historical romance that featured several
actual figures on the French stage in the years 1825-40. My wife and I were in Paris
and had an appointment at the "Carnavalet" (City of Paris Museum); there we were given
white gloves and a chance to see several remarkable documents relating to the characters
in the film, among them the actual contract for the Funambules Theatre signed by
Baptiste Dubureau, the film's central character, in 1828. It took several moments of just
staring at this piece of paper with our mouths open before we got down to the translating
that awaited us. The book never came to pass, but we will always cherish that moment in
Rick Winston owns and manages the Savoy Theatre in Montpelier and is
for the Green Mountain Film Festival
Studying Vermont's Changing Landscapes - Submitted by Paul Bierman
Back in 2004, seven of us were scanning photos from the Agency of Transportation collection
is the basement of the old archives building. The photos were stored in boxes, the boxes
filled with manila envelopes. There wasn't much labeling. One of the interns pulled out
an envelope that was stuffed full of what seemed to be random images - no rhyme or reason.
It was late afternoon and we all were tired and needing a break. Everyone gathered around
the old wooden table, spread the 30 or so images out and tried to make sense of them. I
can't remember which one of us noticed first - but, once we figured it out, everyone was
amazed. The images were taken over time at the same site as the Interstate highways
bisected Vermont. There was the Winooski River, then the coffer dams, then the bridge,
then the finished highway. The image series showed better than anything else the massive,
rapid landscape change brought on by these highways.
Paul Bierman is Professor of Geology at UVM and heads the Landscape
Filling in Gaps in a Family History - Submitted by Rhonda Hayward
The University of Vermont has a long history and documents to back it up.
As a staff member in the Office of the Registrar, I have enjoyed the opportunity
to research a number of inquiries regarding alumni of the University. Recently,
two emails were received asking for confirmation and information about two College
of Medicine graduates from the 1880's.
Searching carefully through fragile hand-written and printed records from the period,
I was able to confirm that the doctors were indeed graduates of the University of
Vermont. Here is the response I received from one family member I was able to
provide with information:
"The information you sent fills several gaps in my knowledge of George Fisher. The
graduation dates were previously unknown as were the residence at Standish NY and
the teaching at Rouses Point. Family tradition holds that George contracted some
sort of disease while treating a patient, probably in S Braintree MA, and it killed
him. Apparently he and his family returned to Cabot when his condition became
serious and he died there. He married in late Dec 1889 and a son was born, in
Braintree MA in 1891. Descendents of that son live in Idaho and Arizona.
Thank you very much for your help. I am eager to re-write the relevant part of the family history."
Rhonda Hayward works in the Registrar's Office at the University of Vermont
Preserving Vermont Folk Music - Submitted by Andy Kolovos
Dover, Vermont celebrated its 200th anniversary this year. As a part of the
celebration, singer Tony Barrand of Marlboro sought to perform songs from Edith
Stergis's book, Songs from the Hills of Vermont
, a work published in 1919 that presented songs from the repertoire of members of
the Atwood family of Dover. The Vermont Folklife Center Archive holds the field
recordings and working papers of folksinger Margaret MacArthur. Tony knew that
in the 1960s Margaret had sought out both Stergis's heirs and members of the Atwood
family to learn more about this collection of songs. The VFC archive supplied Tony
with copies of Margaret's recordings she made in the 1960s with Fred Atwood. Tony made a
trip up to the Vermont Folklife Center in Middlebury to go through Margaret's
papers in search of additional information on the Atwoods and Stergis's work.
In addition to performing in Dover as a part of their Bicentennial in June 2010
Tony, along with Keith Murphy, released the CD On the Banks of the Cold Brook:
Atwood Family Songs from the Hills of Vermont.
Andy Kolovos is Archivist/Folklorist at the Vermont Folklife Center
The British-led Raid on Weybridge - Submitted by Ida Washington
My son and I had already spent eight years researching the extent of the 1778 raid by
British forces, Tories, and Indians along the shores of Lake Champlain and Otter Creek.
It all started with the marble monument over a potato cellar in our town of Weybridge
and the oral tradition that a brave ten-year-old had gone out barefoot in November to
bring rescuers to his family and neighbors hiding in the cellar after their cabins had
been burned. Son Paul was just ten when we started looking at local histories to see
where else the raiders had gone. By the time he was ready for college, we had a pretty
good idea of the path the raiders took in Vermont. Then we had the opportunity to
visit the Canadian archives in Ottawa, where we thought we might find a few letters or
other memorabilia. What we found was much better than that – the journal of Major
Christopher Carleton, who had led the raid. We found, too, that an attack by soldiers
and Indians carrying firebrands brought very different reports from attacker and attacked.
Over the next few years we were able to juxtapose the items from Carleton's journal to
stories from local histories, and in 1977 the book Carleton's Raid, was born, the first
U.S. account of a Revolutionary War action regarded as major by Canadians, but overlooked
here. That book is about to go out of print for the second time.
Ida Washington has written numerous books and
articles on literature and Vermont history.
The Record of Self-Government - Submitted by Gregory Sanford
After decades of doing my own research as well as helping others with theirs, picking
an archival story or moment is difficult. There are too many such moments. Still,
there was a moment from early in my service as state archivist that stands out. An
older woman stopped by and, brandishing her umbrella with a zeal that would have made
Errol Flynn envious, demanded I show her the Vermont Constitution clause that allowed
us to secede from the Union.
There is no such escape clause; instead the records at the Archives document how we,
met in government, have confronted the issues and challenges of self-government. The
records document our struggles to balance individualism with community; tolerance
with equality; and the "freedom to" with the "freedom from"; encountering these
discussions routinely occasion archival moments.
But I also find these moments in the practice of archival management as we confront
difficult questions in times of great change. How can we reach into the incredible
flow of government records and information to identify and preserve that 2 to 5% that
are archival; how do you keep archival digital records accessible and authentic over
time; what distinctions are there in a connected world between search and research?
The questions are endless, each providing its own archival moments.
Gregory Sanford is the State Archivist of Vermont.
The Joe's Pond Canal - Submitted by Dave Allen
I love historic maps and whenever I visit an archive or museum I poke about looking
for maps, especially those of old Vermont. A few years ago I was in the National
Archives in Washington DC, and I found a treasure trove of early 19th century canal
maps of Vermont. It turns out that in the pre-railroad 1820s a "canal fever" swept
over the northeast. Man-made canals were a great way of moving goods across lands
that were otherwise almost impassable. What I found were the US Army Corps of
Engineers surveys for several proposed canals, mostly in northern Vermont. My
favorite shows a canal route from Lake Memphremagog over the mountains to the
Winooski River. It shows the route with small villages along the way, elevations,
and even a proposed tunnel through a mountain near Joe's Pond in Danville! You
never know what you will find in an archive.
Dave Allen collects and digitizes historic maps of New England.
History from the Ashes - Submitted by Michael Bellesiles
Every scholar knows that moment of dread, opening the storage box to see a pile
of charred documents. I was seeking the daybook of Levi Allen, just hoping to
get some sense of his movements in the years after his brothers Ethan and Ira
exiled him from Vermont. It appeared as though my search had ended in a
handful of ashes. But Gregory Sanford and his incredible staff remained undaunted,
working with meticulous care to patiently reconstruct and preserve the Stevens
Collection, much of which had been seriously damaged in the 1911 Albany State
Capitol fire. I watched as Linda Bluto's painstaking camera work slowly brought
the ink on burned pages back to the light of day, history literally coming to
life before my eyes. As I read through these ancient pages, I found not only an
account of Levi Allen's travels, but also his ruminations on the free market, his
interesting though not always elegant poetry, and, in the midst of the daybook,
a brief memoir. This latter document is, I believe, of significance not just for
Vermont's history, but also for that of the entire Revolutionary period. Other
than the letters of Benjamin Franklin's son William, we have few sources quite
like Levi Allen's eloquent memoir exploring how the Revolution tore apart a prominent
patriot family. Writing from a Quebec jail cell in 1797, Levi wrote passionately
of the war's effect on his family and of his desperate efforts to find a way around
their political disputes. It was exciting to witness its retrieval from the ashes,
and an honor to transcribe and edit the memoir for Vermont History (1992), where
anyone can now read Allen's lonely musings. I've been to dozens of archives over
the years, and, except for one in Italy adjacent to a winery, there is no archive
in which I would rather work than Vermont's.
Michael Bellesiles is a historian. His most recent book
is 1877: America's Year of Living Violently (New Press, 2010)
A Stereograph - Submitted by John Johnson
In 1979, I located an ancestor of a wheelwright that once owned a wagon shop in
Barnet Center. I traveled to Rutland and discovered that the Judkins Family had
kept a prized possession, a stereograph of the object of my research. That was
a wonderful summer, my first living in Vermont at Harvey's Lake. I was working
for the Historic American Engineering Record and we were documenting the
building for Lawrence Rockefeller.
The building was originally a Dye & Print Works constructed by Alexander Jack on
the Stevens River in 1872. When I saw that stereograph, a pair of stereoscopic
images that give a three-dimensional effect when viewed through a stereoscope,
I had a moment of exhilaration. I was holding the 'baby picture' of the factory
that revealed its original configuration and standing in the doorway was Alexander
and his wife Janet. Upon Jack's death the factory was acquired by the Judkins
Family and they converted the building into a wheelwright's shop. The building was
still being used for that purpose when Ben Thresher described the operation of his
water-powered machinery that wonderful summer in 1979. I hope you can visit Ben
Thresher's Mill in Barnet Center, it is a step back in time.
John Johnson is an industrial historian living in Marshfield.
Unsealing Governors' Records - Submitted by Chris Graff
One of the most exciting moments for political journalists and historians is
the opening by the State Archives of the papers of a former governor.
In 1999 I was on hand when the Archives unsealed the executive privilege
records of Gov. Richard Snelling for the eight months he served as governor in 1991.
Among the boxes of documents was a memo from Snelling to his executive assistant
that said, "Quite some time ago, it was agreed that we were going to set up a
special meeting with Chris Graff - sort of a deep background meeting. Time goes
on and he continues to write things that bother me and do not seem to be factually correct."
That's the beauty, though, of the Vermont State Archives. You never know what you will find.
When the executive privilege records of Gov. Madeleine Kunin were unsealed, I found that some
of the most interesting and candid items were in the personal daily schedule that the governor
was given by aides at the start of each day. It would tell who she was meeting with and would
include background on the meeting and the people. And often the Governor would write her own
comments about the meeting on the daily schedule - with some real gems included.
These papers shed light on the issues of the day - with real-time opinions.
Governors, understanding the historic value of their honest-in-the-moment-thinking, trust the
Archives to hold and catalogue their papers.
That trust has been built over time - thanks to the efforts of the state's longtime archivist,
Gregory Sanford, and so we are seeing governors keeping (rather than shredding) important papers.
And that is priceless.
Chris Graff is the former Vermont Bureau Chief for the Associated Press.
He is now Vice President of Communications for National Life Group.
Cookbooks and the Seasonality of Tourism and Farm Labor - Submitted by Blake Harrison
One of the more memorable moments for me while I was doing research for a book about tourism (
The View from Vermont: Tourism and the Making of an American Rural Landscape
) was not so much a distinct "a-ha" moment as a gradual accumulation of ideas that coalesced to help
me find my way through a tricky part of the book. I had been trying for some time to figure out how
to bridge from what became my third chapter to my fifth in a way that addressed some
mid-twentieth-century trends in tourist development. I wasn't having much luck with this before I
came across a variety of mid-century cookbooks for New England products like apples and maple sugar.
At first I thought I should copy some of the recipes just for my own use, but then I began to see
connections between food and the seasonality of tourism and farm labor. The cookbooks eventually
led me to look deeper into the story of apple farming and sugaring in Vermont. They helped me to
see broader trends in the expanding seasonality of tourism in Vermont that I had been overlooking
up to that point, and they helped me write what ended up being my favorite chapter in the book.
I still have some photocopies from those cookbooks up in the attic. I ought to take another look.
Blake Harrison teaches in the Department of Geography
at Southern Connecticut State University
Repurposing Government Data - Submitted by David Healy
I have always had a knack for ferreting data out of the deep recesses of
government data repositories and then make them work for other purposes.
The first time was right after the state completed the E911 system in the
1990's. One of the GIS databases was "Esites" a coded building database.
I realized early on that is could be used as a surrogate for conducting
town-wide onsite wastewater studies in towns that did not have digital
parcel maps. Later when I was asked if I could help the Public Service
Board develop a defense for the FCC's rural telephone subsidy, I returned
to the same database to do a statewide housing density analysis based on
the same Esites database. It resulted in bringing additional subsidy money.
More recently, I have worked on a number of composting food scrap projects
including most recently a statewide Compost/Biogas project.
The core data both for the locations and amounts of food scraps came from
the regulatory "Food Establishment" database from the Department of Health.
As it turns out any institution serving prepared food must have a Health
Department permit. I was able to convert that into the underpinning of a
highly useful unrelated database.
David Healy is Senior GIS Specialist/Vice President
at Stone Environmental Inc.
No-bid Contracts, the Bill of Rights, and Butterflies - Submitted By Bryan Pfeiffer
As a newspaper journalist, I often found myself beating a path to the fertile
grounds of the Vermont State Archives.
Early, before the days of electronic filing, there was that story I wrote about
the Vermont State Treasurer giving no-bid contracts to his campaign contributors.
Never would we have known without my plowing through the campaign finance reports
on file at the Archives.
Then there was that day in October of 1990, when Phillip Morris Companies Inc.,
producers of Marlboro cigarettes, rented an original copy of the Bill of Rights
and put it on a 50-state tour, launched to much fanfare in the city of Barre. At
the time, Vermont was among the first states considering a ban on smoking indoors.
With a visit to the Archives, I pointed out that Vermont already had on file,
without much fanfare, its own copy of the Bill of Rights, which, like all the
others, said nothing about a constitutional right to smoke.
After my journalism career, I found precious archival material away from the
Secretary of State's office -- yet in the same tradition. As a consulting
lepidopterist, I was working for a project assembling knowledge of butterfly
abundance and distribution across Vermont. We found a treasure of historic
data in the form of preserved, pinned specimens at the University of Vermont.
These insect archives offered us insights into how butterfly populations
have changed over the course of more than a century. Later, while doing similar
research at Yale University's entomology collection, I discovered specimens
from Dorset and Pomfret of the rare butterfly Regal Fritillary
(Speyeria idalia), a species now extinct from Vermont and from most of
the eastern US. Little did the collectors know 70 years ago how
valuable those butterflies would be.
So whether it is on paper, in electronic form or attached to an insect pin, these
echoes of our past, wisdom preserved for the ages, are integral to our culture,
our society and our collective memory. Let every month be Archives Month.
Bryan Pfeiffer is an author, nature photographer and conservationist.
Solving the Two Hundred Year Old Mystery of the Spitfire - Submitted by Eloise Beil
A family document helped Lake Champlain Maritime Museum solve a two hundred year old
puzzle. In 1997, during the Sonar Survey of Lake Champlain, Lake Champlain Maritime
Museum (LCMM) staff located a Revolutionary War gunboat, upright and intact on the
bottom of the lake. There was no doubt of its identity -- this was the last missing
gunboat from the fleet that Benedict Arnold built and led against the British Royal
Navy at the Battle of Valcour Island in 1776. The existence of the missing gunboat
was well documented in the historical record, but its name was a mystery. Historians
and researchers had combed Benedict Arnold's surviving papers, pension records and
diaries of American veterans, and British records of the conflict for any references
to the eight gunboats or their captains, and succeeded in narrowing the possible
vessels to three. When news of LCMM's discovery of the missing gunboat reached the
public, John Townsend of Connecticut contacted the museum. Among family papers, he
owned a document dated October 22, 1776, headed "A Return of the Fleet Belonging to
the United States of America on Lake Champlain, under the Command of Brigadier
General Arnold." The document summarized the Fate of the Fleet. Clearly legible on
the list was "Spitfire" commanded by "Ulmore" and her fate: "Sunk at her anchor by
the Enemy." The Townsend Document is now one of highlights of the Lake Champlain
Maritime Museum's collection.
Eloise Beil is Director of Collections at the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum
Striking a Blow Against Apartheid - Submitted by Terry Allen
It was the late 1980s and South Africa was a repressive apartheid state.
Nelson Mandela was still imprisoned on Robben Island. A growing global
boycott movement was trying to force institutions and countries to
divest stock in companies that did business with South Africa. The
University of Vermont was heavily invested in IBM, which supplied
computers and other equipment used to help perpetuate the racist regime.
A UVM student, I joined with other protesters to try to pressure the
university to adopt a socially responsible investment policy and dump
its apartheid-tainted stock. The board of trustees had the authority
to direct investments, but few thought that it would turn against the
corporation that was one of the state's biggest employers and one of
the university's most generous boosters. Indeed, the majority of the
board voted against divesting.
I can't remember how, but I found out that trustees had a conflict of
interest policy, and that the records were stored in a small office on
the bottom floor of Waterman Building. The policy defined a conflict
as when a board member had more than 5 percent of his/her stock in a
particular company, and it mandated that trustees recuse themselves
from any votes that might affect that company.
Digging deeper into the university archives, I ferreted out the conflict
of interest disclosure forms that trustees were required to file. They
revealed that several trustees had more than enough of their assets in
IBM to trigger a conflict of interest. Interestingly, trustees required
to recuse themselves had voted against divesting university stock in
companies doing business in South Africa.
Also in the records was the required action: in case of a conflict of
interest, the problem should be reported to the president of the
university, who was also a voting trustee. But Pres. Lattie Coor, was
one of the members with a conflict. With the help of a sympathetic
professor, I was put on the agenda of a faculty senate meeting and
publicly charged Coor and several trustees with the ethics violation.
Not yet a reporter myself, I gave the documentation to the media.
Pressure from the vigorous student/faculty movement, the terrible p.r.,
and the irrefutable documents forced the board of trustees to hold another
vote. Madeline Kunin, a semi-honorary trustee by virtue of her position as
governor, exercised the unusual option of casting a vote – for divestment.
With that vote and the anti-divestment trustees with conflicts of interest
barred from participating, the university did the right thing and shed its
investments in the South African apartheid regime.
Terry Allen is a freelance investigative journalist.