Ben Thresher's Mill, Barnet Vermont
In 1836, a dam was first built here and a saw mill operated on this site from 1836 until 1855. The site was idle from 1855 until 1872. The mill was constructed in 1872 as a Dye & Print Works. A Wagon & Woodworking Shop was established here in 1893 and the Blacksmith Shop added 1895. A Boomer & Boschert hydraulic cider press installed was installed in 1915. Ben Thresher began working at the mill in 1941 and acquired the mill in 1947.
Ben Thresher's Mill is located on the Stevens River in Barnet Center, Vermont. The history of the site is recorded in the growth of rural industries and communities in Caledonia County. In the late 18th and early 19th century, saw mills, grist mills and textile mills were built simultaneously with small communities along the many waterways that flow into the Connecticut River. The Stevens River flows out of Harvey's Lake in West Barnet, through Barnet center southeasterly about seven miles and discharges its waters into the Connecticut River at Barnet Village. The Stevens River drains an area of forty-three square miles and falls approximately 450 feet from Harvey's Lake to the Connecticut River. In Barnet Village it falls eighty feet. Stevens Falls provided water power for the first rural mills in Caledonia County, Thresher's Mill is four miles upriver from the first settlement in the county at Stevens Falls.
Barnet Township was chartered in 1763 by Governor Wentworth of British Provincial New Hampshire. In July 1770, Enos and Villard Stevens, chief proprietors of the Township, contracted Colonel John Hurd to build the first saw and grist mills at the Stevens Falls. Colonel Hurd, a native of Boston, Massachusetts, settled in Haverhill, New Hampshire in 1765. He was a prominent citizen and a member of the Provincial Congress. Hurd agreed to build the mills provided that Stevens would supply the mill irons and deliver then to the Falls. Under his direction, the mills were completed in 1771. In return for building the first mills in Caledonia County, Hurd received 100 acres of land extending along the bank of the Connecticut River and running westwardly (up the Stevens River) far enough to include the Falls. Hurd cleared about twenty acres, erected buildings and encouraged the settlement of Stevens Village (early name of Barnet Village). By 1773, there were already fifteen families in the new village. In 1774 Colonel Hurd returned to Haverhill and the land and both mills were deeded to Willard Stevens. The 1770s was the first decade of rural industry in this region of Vermont.
The 1780s was the decade of Scottish settlement in Barnet and Ryegate, Vermont. The journal of Colonel Harvey contains the earliest accounts of the Scottish settlement in Barnet. Alexander Harvey was the Agent for the United Company of Farmers for the Shires of Perth and Stirling in Scotland. Harvey arrived in America in 1774 to examine the country and selected the green mountains of Barnet as a desirable location for colonization. In November 1775 Harvey made the original purchase of 7,000 acres from Samuel Stevens. It was not until after the Revolutionary War, however, that most of the settlers from the Company arrived. By 1790, Barnet had grown to 74 families, which included 560 people with 133 males over the age of sixteen.
The new Scottish communities encouraged the growth of rural industries. In 1785, Enos Stevens built a "new" saw mill at the head of the Stevens Falls. In his journal, Stevens speaks of the "old" and the "new" saw mills being in operation at the same time. In 1787, Stevens built another grist mill. At this time other industries in Barnet included a tannery and a flax oil mill. The manufacture of pot and pearl ashes, commonly called "salts" was extensive. Charcoal was made for local blacksmiths and, with the salts, was exported down the Connecticut River to Wells River and Hartford, Vermont. Maple sugaring was an early industry that continues to the present day. Saw mills were built at various sites on Joe's Brook, Endrick Brook, the Passumpsic River and the Stevens River. The up and down saw mills provided beams and boards for house and barn construction. In the late 18th century the principal industries centered around the production of the wood and wool.
The community at Barnet Center began shortly after the first Scottish settlers arrived in the Township. Prior to 1784, the first meeting house was built of logs. Construction for a second meeting house was begun in 1787 and the sale of pews began in February 1793. Dudley Carleton, a master carpenter from Newbury, Vermont, modeled the structure after others that he had built. The building served the town and Associate Presbyterian Church as a place of assembly until 1829. The Reverend David Goodwillie became the first minister in 1791 and continued until he was succeeded by his son, Thomas, in 1825. A Brick Meeting House was erected in 1829 of bricks made by Andrew Lang at the foot of the hill by the Stevens River. The old wooden meeting house was moved to the side and used only occasionally. The Brick Meeting House stood until it was destroyed by fire in 1849.
Barnet Center is a unique community. It takes its name from being located nearly in the center of the Township. The community of scattered farm houses centers on the Barnet Center Church, parsonage and cemetery. No stores or mills occupy the immediate vicinity of the church as in most rural villages. The first mill to be built in the vicinity of Barnet Center was probably erected on the present Thresher's Mill site. In 1836 a dam and saw mill was erected one-half mile up the Stevens River toward West Barnet on the old stage road to Peacham.
On September 16, 1836, James Shaw signed two indentures or contracts with Bartholomew Carrick. The first contract was recorded with the Town Clerk on October 6. In this arrangement Shaw leased to Carrick a tract of undeveloped land and water privileges on the Stevens River. Carrick was to erect a mill dam and to rent the land for twenty years at the rate of one dollar payable each June first. Bartholomew Carrick erected the first dam at this site in the fall of 1836 and began construction of a saw mill. The second contract was recorded with the Town Clerk the following March 1837. By this time Carrick had apparently finished constructing the dam. In this arrangement, Carrick gave Shaw the right to draw water from the floom (flume) or mill dam. Shaw was to receive water power necessary to carry on the tannery business for a building 'about to be constructed' near Carrick's sawmill.
The arrangements were something like this. In September 1836, Shaw made two contracts with Carrick. Shaw probably agreed to lease Carrick the land for the construction of the saw mill if Carrick would build the first dam. Also that Shaw would then have the right to draw water for his own tannery which he would build immediately down river (east) of the new sawmill. By 1837, the present Thresher's Mill site contained a dam, possibly similar to the present construction, and Bartholomew Carrick's sawmill. Shortly after, James Shaw constructed a tannery just east of the saw mill. Shaw operated the tannery until 1847 when he sold it to William Shaw and James McLaren.
Bartholomew Carrick, at age twenty-four, was an experienced carpenter. With the probable aid of a local blacksmith, Carrick constructed the up and down saw mill on the south bank of the river. The saw blade and the wrought iron cranky which drove the blade up and down in a wooden frame, would have come from a foundry. No records have survived concerning this saw mill. Barnet's historian, Frederick P. Wells, related the construction and operation of a 'typical' up and down saw mill of this era.
On September 9, 1837, Carrick leased to James Goodwillie his right to operate the saw mill. James Goodwillie's father, Joseph Goodwillle, was a brother of the Reverend David Goodwillie. Joseph Goodwillie was a blacksmith and operated a forge on the family farm near Barnet Center. (This forge was later, in 1895, removed and added to the present mill building) James Goodwillie operated the sawmill from 1837 until 1855.
In 1849, the lumber for the present Barnet Center Church was cut at James Goodwillie's Saw Mill. In February 1849, the Brick Meeting House was destroyed by fire. A building committee was organized on 1 April and the frame for the new wooden church raised within a month. The carpenters were John McGaffey and Charles Folsora, both of Lyndon, Vermont, each with a sixteen year old son. The lumber was cut at Goodwillie's Saw Mill by Henry J. Somers, probably a member of the building committee. The large timbers were all squared by hand with an adze. The finishing lumber, including the pews, came from James Roy's Saw Mill in West Barnet. All the planing of the doors and window sashes was done by hand. The present Barnet Center Church was completed in July 1849.
Goodwillie's Saw Mill was recorded in the Census of 1850. Goodwillie did custom lumber work and his business was capitalized at $200. In the previous year, the mill processed 3,000 hardwood logs and 90,000 pulpwood logs. The total value of wood and lumber products for the previous year was $570. The mill operated on the water power of the Stevens River with probably a breast type water wheel. Goodwillie's Saw Mill supplied lumber for nearly all the houses and barns in the vicinity of Barnet Center from 1837 until c. 1855.
The Goodwillie Saw Mill was "demolished" sometime around 1855. The term "demolished", as used in a later deed, is open to interpretation. The mill was possibly flooded out or destroyed by fire. Another possibility is that the mill was allowed to deteriorate and eventually fell down. In 1850 the mill was standing. Circular saws replaced many of the old up and down saw blades in Barnet around 1852. The original twenty-year lease with James Shaw would have expired in 1856 and, according to land records was not renewed. Goodwillie's Saw Mill was a small operation and was possibly abandoned at this time. H.F. Walling's Map of Caledonia County, published in 1858, does not show the mill. There was no mill standing from c. 1855 until the present mill was constructed in 1872. In 1870, James Shaw sold the mill tract at the "site of the old saw mill now demolished" to Alexander Jack.
The 1830s and 1840s were decades of continued growth throughout Caledonia County. At the encouragement of the Vermont Legislature, the local wool industry also flourished. At this time local wood industries manufactured a surplus of pulpwood, lumber and wooden ware. The Connecticut and Passumpsic Rail Road was chartered in 1835 and construction began in 1846. By November 1850; the section between Wells River and St. Johnsbury, a distance of twenty one miles; was completed. Mclndoes Falls, Barnet Village, East Barnet and Passumpsic Village all received railroad stations. In 1850, Barnet, which included these villages; boasted 2,521 people, its largest population in the entire 19th century.
Alexander Jack's Dye & Print Works - 1872-1887
The Alexander Jack phase in the development of the mill tract can best be explained with a brief introduction to the woolen industry in northern Vermont. The digression is important because the present mill was built partly on speculation that woolen industry in Barnet would continue into the last quarter of the 19th century. The textile industry did not expand and this affected the future history of the Jack Mill.
Domestic textile manufacture and the raising of sheep was encouraged by the Vermont Legislature as early as 1786. By this Act, a farmer was credited on the tax list with two shillings for every pound of wool shorn and one shilling for every yard of linen or tow hand-woven. This Act had a very favorable effect on the State's balance of trade. William Jarvis, among others, is credited with encouraging the sheep and woolen industry in northern New England. In 1811, while Consul to Spain, Jarvis purchased Merino sheep and introduced them to his farm in Wethersfield, Windsor County, Vermont. The Vermont woolen industry grew from Jarvis's original flock of 400 sheep.
Most farmers in the region raised sheep in the early 19th century. Several flocks in Barnet were started on a system of credit with the large sheep farmers in Newbury, Vermont and Haverhill, New Hampshire. Each farmer had a particular "ear mark" which identified his cattle and sheep. These marks were registered with the Town Clerk and heavy penalities were provided for the alteration of an ear mark. Until the introduction of spinning and weaving factories, farmers sheared their sheep in the early summer and brought their wool to the carding mill. After it was prepared for spinning, it was taken back to the home and spun into yarn by hand. The handspun yarn was woven on large wood-framed hand looms and then returned to the fulling mill for washing and finishing. Enos Stevens' Fulling Mill, built in 1797 in Barnet Village; was typical of the rural woolen industry. The mill had fulling stocks and later wool carding machinery; so that both processes were performed in one location.
In the 1820s several woolen mills were built in Caledonia County. In 1825, a charter was granted by the Vermont Legislature to Henry and Willard Stevens and Samuel Gleason. The enterprise was named the Barnet Cotton and Woolen Manufacturing Company and the initial capital stock was recorded at $40,000. Shortly after 1825, a large seven story woolen mill was built at the upper end of the Stevens Falls and was known locally as the "Upper Mill". The building of the first textile factory was hailed as the opening of an era of prosperity for the Village. By January 1828, twenty new houses had been built to accommodate the factory workers.
The second woolen mill was built by the Company probably in 1830 at the lower end of the Falls and was known locally as the "Lower Mill." In 1838, the original company was reorganized by Henry Stevens, William Gleason, and John Herrin with a capital stock of $300,000. The Lower Mill was a six story wooden factory with two complete sets of carding machines, pickers and power looms. The mill specialized in white flannel and contained finishing rooms and a dye house. In addition, the Company owned several tenements for the factory operatives. Sometime around 1840, the Lower Mill was purchased or leased by Thomas and George Greenbank. In 1843, a new partnership formed by George Greenbank and James Taylor installed machinery to manufacture cassimeres, shirting, blankets and frocking.
In the 1830s', the sale of wool was the most important single source of Vermont farm income. Peak wool production (raw wool, not woolen cloth) was reached about 1840. In 1840, Barnet farms boasted 4,437 sheep. At that time, farmers sold raw wool to the mills or had it custom carded, woven and finished.
During the Civil War, the price of wool rose from about thirty cents to one dollar a pound. Both mills in Barnet Village were running to full capacity and monthly payroll was $3,000. As the woolen mills prospered, other industries also grew in the 1860s. In spite of the "boom times", however, the Barnet Manufacturing Company, as it was known by this time, went bankrupt. In 1863, Edward Chappel of Norwich, Connecticut, purchased both factories in the village and the woolen mill in West Barnet. Chappel reorganized the company, naming it the Caledonia Manufacturing Company and employed about seventy-five people.
The close of the Civil War brought a decline in the price of raw wool and woolen goods. The decline in the number of sheep was especially rapid from 1840 to 1870: the total number fell from 1,682;000 to 580;000, a reduction of nearly two-thirds in the Vermont woolen industry. As was the fate of nearly all the woolen mills in this part of New England, to be burned, sooner or later both woolen mills in Barnet Village were destroyed. The Upper Mill burned in December 1869 and the Lower Mill in April 1871. The burning of the factories was an end to large textile manufacturing in Barnet and a blow from which the town never recovered.
Prior to 1870, the raising of sheep and the production of woolen cloth had been a major industry in Caledonia County that especially affected the growth and prosperity of Barnet. Based partly on the speculation that the woolen industry would prosper, Alexander Jack made plans to erect a new dye and print works in Barnet Center. In September 1870, prior to the burning of Barnet's second woolen mill; Jack purchased the old saw mill site from James Shaw.
Alexander Jack, son of William and Ann McGregor Jack, was born in Paisley, Scotland in 1810. Jack apprenticed the skills of a textile block cutter; dyer and printer in Paisley before emigrating to Lowell, Massachusetts. In 1849, a son, James Jack was born to Alexander Jack's first wife, name unknown. In Lowell, about 1851, Alexander married Janet Lackie, a native of Barnet, Vermont and had at least one child who died young. Possibly as early as the mid 1850s and certainly before 1867, Jack moved from Lowell to Hilton Mills, New Hampshire.
In September 1867, Alexander Jack and Edward Brierly received a Federal patent for a new method of dyeing and embossing table and piano covers. At this time, Jack was a block cutter and printer at Brierly's Felting Mill in Milton Mills, New Hampshire. The felting mill processed raw wool into felt for cloaks, overcoats, table covers and lamp mats. Brierly established his business in 1850 and Jack may have been associated with him since that time. Brierly began a second felt mill east of the Salmon Falls River in Acton, Maine. Both mills were destroyed by fire in 1873 and rebuilt in 1874.
Jack's 1867 patent was a wooden block-printing device that allowed several stripes or designs to be printed at once on wool cloth or felt. By this device an imitation woven pattern could be printed on flannel cloth to produce plaids. In the patent description; Jack referred to the device as a "dye-frame". In this dye frame, wool cloth was clamped in wooden strips or blocks at certain intervals to produce a design. The whole device was immersed in a dye vat and the "ground" (or parts of the cloth not clamped) were dyed a desired color. This is a resist method of printing. After each piece of cloth was dyed (with stripes or patterns of it left undyed) the undyed parts were embossed or raised. Embossing was accomplished in the same frame. Scotch plaids were printed by first clamping the wooden blocks together and dyeing the cloth. Then the cloth was turned perpendicular; re-blocked and dyed a second time to produce stripes.
Jack claimed that his invention differed from other methods used in the making of embossed or printed table cloths. Instead of printing the ground color, Jack's device dyed the ground color and thus produced a more even color throughout and on both faces of the cloth. The new process produced clear grounds with defined edges to the stripes or patterns. A combination and arrangement of "medalions" (separate color-resisting blocks) could be used with the dye-frame. The products of Jack's invention were embossed and printed table and piano covers and the very unusual woolen printed Scotch plaids.
Cloth samples printed on the 1867 patented dye-frame have survived. In 1874, Brierly was still using the dye-frame to produce Scotch plaids for his salesman's folders. The cloth samples are dyed with different width color stripes; browns, greens, reds and yellows. Most samples are dyed only twice to produce a three-colored plaid. The fabric is woven wool flannel and this resist printing technique is very uncommon. The printed Scotch plaids were an alternative to weaving the stripes into the material.
Sometime after 1867, Alexander Jack went to work in Meriden, Connecticut. He was probably a dyer and printer for the firm of Jedediah Wilcox and Company, the only woolen goods manufacture in Meriden at this time. In 1848, the Wilcox Company began making carpet bags and in 1860 added a woolen mill and dye house. Wilcox manufactured ladies' cloakings, shawls, flannels, balmoral skirts, cassimers and other woolen items. Jack's association with the Wilcox Company is only probable. Jack listed Meriden as his place of residence when he purchased the old saw mill site on the Stevens River in Barnet Center in 1870.
In September 1870, Alexander Jack acquired the site of the old Goodwillie Saw Mill in Barnet Center. The one-half acre mill tract included all the land between the Peacham Road and the Stevens River and between the old tannery site and James Goodwillie's land to the west, upriver. Jack purchased the mill tract from James Shaw for $25. On the same day, Jack purchased the old tannery site for $100 from William Shaw of Monroe; New Hampshire and James McLaren of Barnet. Since 1847, Shaw and McLaren had operated a tanning business at this location, but by 1870 the business had failed.
The following May, 1871, Jack purchased the house across the road from the old saw mill site from James S. Somers for $350. Jack, with his wife Janet and possibly his son James, moved into the house. The house was formerly owned by Lydia Harvey and stands west of the house of Nathaniel Batchelder. The house is still standing, although altered from its original construction.
In July, Jack purchased a small parcel (1/16 of an acre) of land directly upriver from the mill tract. Jack paid James Goodwillie $80 for the "site of old blacksmith shop near mill dam," The shop was standing in 1865 when Goodwillie acquired it from Isaac Harriman. It was not standing as of the time Jack acquired the land in 1871.
Alexander Jack purchased the mill tract and water privilege in September 1870 and possibly began construction of the Dye & Print Works in the Summer of 1871. A stereograph, photographed and published by C. Goodrich of Plainfield, Vermont, has survived. The following inscription is handwritten on the back: "The Alex Jack Mill Built in 1872." This stereograph, in excellent condition, pictures the present building (without the Blacksmith Shop on the east side) and was probably taken not long after the mill was completed in 1872, It is a rare and unusual photograph of the original construction and owners of the property. Featured in the photo are four people standing in the mill and obviously posing for the picture. Alexander Jack and his wife, Janet, are standing in the open door on the south side of the first floor. Two young ladies are also seen looking out windows on the second floor. The photo was taken from across the road facing the southeast corner of the mill. The photo clearly shows the two story mill plus attic and cellar. The dye house, added to the west side first floor, has a large metal ventilator on the roof. (This ventilator would have allowed vapors and steam to escape from the dye vats.) There is also a brick chimney near the west wall of the main mill and a sky-light on the south side of the roof. The east elevation on the cellar level has a door near the northeast corner. A post and plank fence stands between the road and the driveway into the mill.
In early October 1869, the Stevens River flooded and destroyed all the dams and bridges from Harvey's Lake to Barnet Village. Jack would have had to rebuild or make extensive repairs to the wooden dam prior to using the water power. A vertical turbine was probably installed in the new mill. The main mill building was constructed of wood all at the same time and remains essentially intact. The two story main mill measures 30' x 40'. The mill was built with a stone foundation into the earth bank on the south side. The north side (riverside) in the cellar is constructed of wood. The west addition, dye house, measures 20' x 18'. This addition was completed at the same time as the main mill, or not long after. The earth cellar, with its stone rubble foundation on the south side, continues into the west addition. Yet it is clearly a two story addition, as the main mill is covered with clapboards on the west exterior in the cellar and on the first floor.
The first and second floor of the main mill building still exhibit the original plastered walls above the window ledges and the second floor has a plastered ceiling. Presumably this fancy interior finish to a textile mill was to keep the work place as clean as possible for the printing operations. As the mill was initially constructed then, the first floor of the main mill was a woodworking shop where Jack made and repaired his dye-frames, dye-vats, air-chambers and hydro-extractors. The second floor was a textile printing room. The west addition was a dye house with dye vats for dyeing sheep skins and woolen cloth. The Blacksmith Shop, the east addition, is not original to the 1872 construction.
The Vermont Business Directory published in 1873, listed "Alexander Jack, Dyer, West Barnet." Jack continued to use this state-wide directory as a source of advertising until 1887. F. W. Beers' County Atlas of Caledonia Vermont, published in 1875, listed "Alexander Jack, Proprietor of Dye Works, All kinds of Job Dyeing, Block Printing, etc, done promptly." A map of Barnet in the Atlas, shows Jack's residence across the road from the "Dye and Print Works" on the Stevens River. The Atlas and business notices indicate the principal woodworking and woolen industries in the many villages of Barnet in 1875.
Alexander Jack filed a patent request in Barnet in December 1874 and it was. published in the Official Gazette of the U.S. Patent Office in March 1875. Jack's patent was a "Method and Apparatus for Dyeing Wool on Sheep Skins". This device was a dye-vat for tanning or dyeing whole sheep skins. Jack claimed that the skin was kept "perfectly cool" during the operation of dyeing, thus preventing the skin from being injured. It was also claimed that the dye-liquor would remain hot during the entire operation. In this method, the sheep skin was sewn to a cloth and hooked to a movable frame under an "air-chamber." By a combination of guide brackets and pulleys, the skin was lowered in and out of the hot dye-liquor on the frame several times to get an even and thorough coloration. While out of the hot vat, cool air was forced into the top of the air chamber above the sheep skin on the frame. In this process the sheep skin was not injured by the hot steam of the dye-liquor. It was possible to keep the skin in the vat (while being cooled by the air chamber) and not always in the hot dye-liquor. Also the cool air could escape from the top of the air-chamber and not cool down the hot dye-liquor. Previous methods of dyeing sheep skins required that the skin be taken completely out of the dye vat and cooled before a second dip into the hot dye-liquor. With Jack's patented process, this was unnecessary. The skin could be dyed, cooled in the air-chamber and redyed in less time and without removing the skin from the vat each time. Also, several dye vats containing different colors of dye-liquor could be used to receive the air-chamber in succession and the skins dyed. The same skin could thus be dyed a number of different colors. The dyed sheep skins were used as carriage and parlor mats. How extensive this business became, or if the patent was ever sold, is unknown.
Sometime in the early 1880s, Jack began the manufacture of "hydro- extractors." A hydro-extractor is essentially a drying machine used in the textile industry to remove excess water from yarn and cloth that has been dyed or washed. The machine consisted of a perforated copper cage or basket built around a central spindle and the whole device was housed in a wooden or cast-iron casing. The belt-driven central spindle was rotated at speeds up to 1,000 rpm, developing centrifugal force. This sent the wet cloth to the sides of the basket and extracted the excess water from the cloth. Perforations in the side of the basket allowed the liquor to escape and drain away. In about two to ten minutes, depending on the speed of the spindle, the diameter of the basket, and the size and type of cloth, the cloth was partially dried. About 50-60 percent of the water could be extracted by this method. The advantages of the hydro-extractor over the roller squeeze machine was that the cloth could be placed in the machine in a loose and free condition without pressure and there was less danger of forming wrinkles or pulling the cloth out of shape. How many of these hydro-extractors were made or exactly what they looked like is unknown.
Alexander Jack's Dye & Print Works does not appear on the incomplete 1880 Census of Manufactures for Caledonia County. Without diaries, journals, insurance inventories or other business records, it is difficult to estimate the extent or success of Jack's Mill from 1872 until his death in 1887. Fortunately Jack's probate inventory of 1887 has survived.
At this time the water-powered machine and woodworking shop contained many hand tools and some large machines for woodworking. The bench tools included planes, saws, hammers, wrenches, chisels, screwdrivers and two sets of taps and dies. On the work bench was a vise; a bench-anvil and a pair of shears for cutting iron. Also listed is a portable forge valued at $10, used by Jack for iron-working. A large "turning lathe" is valued at $13 and includes a set of turning tools. A "boring machine" is valued at $25 and a grindstone is valued at $4.87. It is likely that the turning lathe, boring machine and grindstone now in the mill, are those mentioned in the 1887 probate inventory. Jack's chest of engraving tools for cutting wood blocks for textile printing was valued at $15. There was also a chest of dye colors valued at $5. Absent from this inventory, however, is any mention of dye-frames, dye-vats or other textile apparatus. Apparently the second floor, attic and dye house were not inventoried.
Jack's "Steam Dye Works" with a "never failing water privilege" was a vital local industry. At this time, there were five carriage makers or wheelwrights operating in Barnet, along with several blacksmiths and one machinist. In nearby St. Johnsbury, there were several large factories manufacturing all types of machinery, including water turbines. The well known Fairbanks Scale Works was operating at this time and their enterprises were very extensive.
Smith, Bishop and Ford 1887-1893
The Smith, Bishop and Ford phase in the development of the mill site begins with the administration of Alexander Jack's estate and continues until the mill was sold to J. Loren Judkins in 1893.
On July 25, 1887, Alexander Jack died at the age of 77 and was buried at the Barnet Center Cemetery. There was no will and the estate was declared intestate, Isaac M. Smith (1830-1893) of Mclndoe Falls was appointed Administrator. At this time; Smith was Deputy Sheriff for Barnet and often employed in the settlement of estates. Smith served for many years as a Director of the Merchants National Bank in St. Johnsbury and at one time was President of the Woodsville Savings Bank in New Hampshire.
On September 27, George Blair and W. John Gilfillan both of West Barnet, inventoried Jack's Mill and house. The mill and water privilege were valued at $800. The personal estate, including shop machinery, hand tools and barn implements, was valued at $144. The house with one-half acre was valued at $250 and the household goods at $100. The total of the September inventory of Jack's estate was $1,293.50.
On October 22, Isaac M. Smith obtained a license to sell the property of Jack's estate at public auction. Smith named his friend, Ora Bishop of Barnet, the auctioneer. On the same day, by an Administrator's Deed, Smith sold Bishop the Jack property for $150. This deed, however, was not recorded with the Town Clerk until January 23, 1888.
Ora Bishop (1848- ?) operated a general store and hotel at Passumpsic and later in Mclndoe Falls. At various times, Bishop held many town offices and was also Postmaster. He was a bridge director, a trustee of the Wells River Savings Bank, a fine mathematician and in "wide demand as an auctioneer". The auction of Jack's estate took place about December 1. A notice appeared in the St. Johnsbury Caledonian on December 8: "The house and mill owned by the late Alex Jack were sold at auction last week. The property that cost thousands was sold for as many hundreds to Ora Bishop of Mclndoe Falls". There is something not entirely proper here with Bishop, the Auctioneer, ending up with the Jack property. On February 4, Catherine Jack, widow of Alexander, sold the Jack property to Ora Bishop by a Quit Claim Deed for $500.
The final Administrators settlement, including claims on the estate, and an additional personal inventory of the estate for $86.36, was presented on March 30, 1888. Jack was survived by his third wife, Catherine May Jack. They had been married at West Barnet in 1881, shortly after the death of Jack's second wife, Janet Lackie. Alexander Jack was also survived by his son, James Jack (1849-1907) who at that time was a painter in St. Johnsbury. In early June 1888, Mrs. Catherine Jack and Mrs. Lewis Henderson and child, traveled to California. They were preceded to California by Mr. Henderson a few months before. They all returned the following November.
Ora Bishop, the auctioneer, sold a one-half interest in the Jack property for $500 to Isaac M. Smith, the Administrator of Jack's estate. Smith and Bishop were co-owners in July 1888 and in September they contracted with Elmer S. Ford of South Peacham to erect a cider press in the vacant Jack Mill. Ford had loaned Smith and Bishop $1,000 so that they might purchase the Jack property. They agreed to pay Ford six notes of $300 each or $l,800. They further agreed that Ford would get the deed to the Jack property if Ford paid Smith and Bishop fourteen notes of $50 each or $700.
Elmer S. Ford was twenty-five when he began running a cider press in the old Jack Mill. His father, Fowler S. Ford, was a carpenter and owned a sawmill in South Peacham from 1870 until 1886. In 1874, he began manufacturing sash, blinds, and doors. He also sold paint, oils, and repaired glass. Fowler S. Ford moved to Cabot, Vermont in 1886 and left his son, Elmer, to manufacture butter prints in the wood-working shop in South Peacham. Elmer S. Ford married Corra Mable Libby in December 1836 and had a son, Charles Harrison Ford in August 1888. In September 1888, Ford agreed to the cider mill arrangement with Smith and Bishop.
While there were no cider mills in Barnet in 1887, cultivated orchards and wild apple trees supplied seven cider mills elsewhere in the County. In the Fall 1888, Elmer S. Ford installed a wooden screw-drive cider press in the old Jack Mill. The press was operated manually and an apple grinder was powered from the line shafting. In fact, little is known about the mill during the period 1888-1893. The mill was probably used as a seasonal cider mill. The cider press was still in the mill in October 1893.
Judkins Wagon & Woodworking Shop 1893-1947
During the Judkins phase in the development of the mill site, the Blacksmith Shop was added and the main mill was used primarily as a Wagon and Woodworking Shop.
James Loren Judkins was born in Danville; Vermont in 1834. He operated a sawmill and apprenticed the carpenter's trade from David Morse of Danville. Upon his return from a brief trip to Illinois, he helped build the Academy and South Hall in St. Johnsbury. In September 1870, Judkins married his third wife, Mary Jane Lindsay of Danville. In 1875, he acquired the carriage and general repair shop in South Peacham, built by Lewis Gilson in 1855. Judkins was a versatile craftsman serving occasionally as village blacksmith, wheelwright, carpenter, and cooper.
J. Loren Judkins' Wagon and Wheelwright Shop was located on the South Peacham Brook in the center of the village. In 1880, the shop was invested with $2,000 in capital. Judkins operated on ten-hour days throughout the year and employed one man and one boy under the age of sixteen. He paid a skilled worker $1.75 per day and an unskilled worker $1.00 per day. At this time, the total wages for the year were $400. The iron, wood and carriage hardware purchased by the shop amounted to about $400 a year. The total value of goods produced by the shop for the previous year was $1,150. The woodworking machinery operated on water power supplied by one fifteen-inch Leffel water turbine. The turbine ran under eighteen feet of head and produced about twenty horse power.
In October 1893, Judkins purchased the Jack property in Barnet Center. The mill was probably in use at this time as a seasonal cider mill. It is likely that Judkins wanted to expand his operations into a larger shop. The property, including water privilege, machinery, mill tools and cider press, as well as the house across the road, were purchased in his wife's name, Mary Jane Judkins. One-half interest in the property was acquired from Ora Bishop for $300. The other half interest was acquired from the estate of Isaac M. Smith for $300 (Smith had died the previous January). For a total of $600, Judkins obtained a valuable water privilege, mill and house. Now all he needed was a blacksmith shop and he could begin a business in Barnet Center.
In the Spring 1894, at the age of sixty, J. Loren Judkins, with his wife and two sons, Fenton and Donald, moved into the house. Judkins brought the essential wheelwright's tools from the shop in South Peacham. Judkins introduced some wood-working machinery into the shop. It is known that he brought the spoke lathe and possibly the belt sander and the wood-framed table saw now located in the shop. From 1893 until 1947, the mill was known locally as Judkins Woodworking Shop and was involved mostly in general carriage and wagon repair work.
The Blacksmith Shop, the east addition to the mill, was added sometime in 1894 or 1895. The shop was originally built on the Joseph Goodwillie Farm located across the Stevens River. Goodwillie, a blacksmith and gunsmith, used the forge in his work. His son, James Goodwillie, operated a saw mill on the present site from 1837 until c. 1855. The old Goodwillie Farm was owned by John Manning when Judkins purchased the Blacksmith Shop, disassembled it and moved it across the river to the mill site. It was moved to the east end of the main mill and altered somewhat. A concrete foundation was poured against the east exterior wall of the main mill and for the south and east cellar walls of the new shop. The cellar door (original construction) was used as an entrance into the cellar of the new addition. One door was cut into the east elevation of the mill (formerly a window on the first floor) to provide an entrance to the forge area. A front door was added to the first floor of the Blacksmith Shop and a back door added to the north wall. The back door leads down a flight of steps to the cellar level or outside to the river bank. At this time, a new brick chimney was built for the forge.
J. Loren Judkins died in April 1900 and his two sons, Fenton age nineteen and Donald age seventeen, carried on the business as a partnership until 1905. In January 1905, Fenton married Jennie B. Wallace of East Barnet and in June, Donald married Lottie E. Roy of Barnet. At this time, Fenton and Donald dissolved the partnership and in September, Fenton was deeded the mill, house and a barn from his mother for $1,000. From 1905 until 1947, Fenton Judkins was the sole proprietor of the Woodworking Shop.
Don Judkins acquired the Pioneer Electric Light Company from Arthur Hunt in 1907. The company was originally organized in Barnet Village in 1894 to supply electricity for residential areas and public street lights. In 1907 the plant was closed and in very poor condition. Don Judkins rebuilt the penstock and purchased a pair of fifteen-inch twin wheels from the Rodney Hunt Machine Company in Orange! Massachusetts. In November the Barnet Electric Light and Power Plant was back in operation. In January the first power plant burned and was rebuilt using the same Rodney Hunt water turbines. Based on the success of the electric light plant in Barnet Village, Judkins decided to run lines to Monroe, New Hampshire and to East Barnet, West Barnet and the Peachams. At this time Don Judkins was a contracting electrician. He installed poles and wires in homes and to many outlying farms.
In 1911 the water power system in the Judkins mill was rebuilt. Fortunately the original blueprint for the turbine installation has survived. A Rodney Hunt horizontal turbine was installed in the cellar in approximately the same place as Alexander Jack's vertical turbine. A round penstock was built to replace the original square penstock. The wooden staves for the new penstock were made upstairs in the woodworking shop. At this time the particular construction of the dam allowed sixteen feet of head water. The blueprint specifications stated that the center of the wheel should be set at least four and one-half feet below the top of the dam. At this level the new turbine was estimated to achieve about 30 hp. There was blasting on the rock ledge in the cellar to provide room for the draft tube. New concrete bearing supports were poured for the main drive shaft that runs from the back of the horizontal turbine. All the line shafting in the mill was powered from this main drive shaft.
There were at least two reasons for installing a new turbine at this time. The old vertical turbine was forty years old and probably not producing sufficient power to run the new machinery that Judkins had put in the mill. Secondly, the mill was to become an auxiliary power station to add electricity to Don Judkins' electric company. Don Judkins began setting out new poles in front of the mill and to West Barnet and the Peachams in the Summer of 1911.
At this time, electric milking machines were coming into use on the farms in Barnet. The milking schedules were all the same: early morning and late afternoon. Twice during the day there was a large demand for electricity. The generators in the power plant in Barnet Village were not able to supply the large demand. In 1911, Don Judkins installed a generator in the mill in Barnet Center to 'boost' the electric output at the critical milking times on the farms. The first generator installed in the mill has powered off the main drive shaft from the new horizontal turbine. The water power, however, was not always constant and the first generator was often out of use. In 1913 a second generator driven by a kerosene engine was used to supply electricity. The manufacture of the first engine is unknown. The engine presently in the cellar of the Blacksmith Shop dates from 1923.
In November 1915 Don Judkins removed his electric power plant to a larger mill at the foot of the Stevens Falls in Barnet Village. He operated the business here very successfully until 1917 when the Eastern Vermont Public Utilities corporation purchased the works. (From 1917 the Judkins Mill in Barnet Center produced and used its own electricity.) At that time the Judkins plant was connected with a circuit of plants in West Danville, Groton, Boltonville and elsewhere. Judkins continued in business as an electrical contractor for the utility company. During the 1920s Don Judkins built several houses in Barnet Village. Judkins also engaged in the automobile and trucking business until his death in 1928.
About 1916 the Judkins house across the road from the mill became the Central Office of the Barnet Telephone Company. A central switchboard in the living room was maintained by members of the family. Business increased to such an extent that a girl was hired to operate the switchboard. At this time, a telephone extension was also installed in the mill and it is still in place.
About 1915 Fenton Judkins installed the cider press now located in the cellar of the west addition (old dye house). This addition has since been known as the Cider Mill. Fenton's father acquired a wooden screw-drive cider press when he purchased the mill in 1893. The old cider press was installed by Elmer S. Ford in 1888 and probably used up until c. 1915 when Fenton Judkins installed the new hydraulic press. The press was probably purchased in used condition. The press was manufactured by the Boomer & Boschert Press Company of Syracuse, New York and has no patent date. The apple grinder, also made by Boomer & Boschert, is patent dated May 16, 1881 and April 13, 1881. The press head operates hydraulically; under water pressure. The apple grinder is powered from a separate jack shaft. The third line shaft in the main mill extends into the cellar of the Cider Mill. A Fairbanks Morse scale and wooden apple hopper are located on the first floor of the Cider Mill. At this time, Judkins also installed a large cider storage tank and a smaller tank for evaporating cider into cider jelly. Shortly after acquiring the cider press, Fenton Judkins purchased a steam boiler and located it in the cellar of the main mill. The steam boiler was manufactured by the Ames Iron Works of Oswego, New York. Judkins probably purchased the boiler in used condition. The steam boiler is featured in the 1894 Fairbanks Morse Catalog. At the time of the boiler installation, the floor, just inside the front door of the wagon shop, was cut and removed so that the large boiler could be lowered into the cellar. The wood-fired boiler generated steam, not for an engine as pictured in the 1894 Fairbanks Morse Catalog, but rather for the cider evaporating tank in the cellar of the Cider Mill. The boiler also supplied live steam through pipes to the steam box located on the roof of the Cider Mill. Access to the steam box was gained through the west wall on the second floor of the main mill. The boiler, cider evaporating tank, pipes and steam box are still in place.
About 1918 Fenton Judkins constructed a barn and a lumber shed just north of the mill. The barn (now demolished) was removed from a local farm and used by Judkins to store farm implements. The lumber shed (now demolished) was built at the corner of the mill. The two story 23' x 45' shed was used to store wood and wagons.
Sometime after 1900 and before 1938, Fenton Judkins added a number of wood and metal working machines to the mill. He added a small drill press, band saw, jointer, surface planer, and the metal lathe; now all located in the shop. (Much of this equipment was not purchased new; as it pre-dates 1900). During this period he acquired a trip hammer and installed it in the Blacksmith Shop. Following the November 1927 flood, he purchased the power threader used in the machine shop at the Roy Mill in East Barnet.
Work at Judkins' Woodworking Shop consisted of general wagon and farm implement repair. At various times, snow rollers, water tubs, wagon bodies and traverse sleds were manufactured here on a custom order basis. Work tended to be seasonal, and generally all the rural industries, including logging, sugaring, framing, etc. were dependent on the shop for repairs.
Ben Thresher's Mill 1947-1979
Benjamin A. Thresher, son of Charles W. Thresher and R. Lillian Wilson, was born October 12, 1912 in Peacham, Vermont. During the 1930s, Thresher held various jobs as a blacksmith and driver of horse and ox teams. Thresher began working with Fred Fields; a blacksmith from Mclndoe Falls, logging the trees that had fallen in the hurricane of 1938. In April 1941, Thresher married Emily L. Hubbard and on July 4, 1941 began working for Fenton Judkins in the Woodworking Shop. For six years Thresher expanded his knowledge of the wheelwright's trade before purchasing the mill and property on February 18, 1947. The property was mortgaged for $3,500 at the Citizens Savings and Trust Company in St. Johnsbury. In May 1947 Ben Thresher and his family moved into the house. Since 1947 the mill has been known locally as Ben Thresher's Mill and the business has been general wagon repair and woodworking.
Ben Thresher rebuilt the round wooden penstock c. 1949 and in the early 1950s added several tools to the shop. He acquired a large manual-feed drill press to replace the small automatic-feed drill press used by Fenton Judkins. Thresher brought his own anvil to the shop and acquired the bench threader from a blacksmith shop in Ryegate Corner. The John Deere crawler tractor was also acquired in the early 1950s. The gas-powered crawler can be positioned in the driveway and can power the mill in tines of low water or when the dam or turbine are being repaired.
When Ben Thresher operated the Cider Mill he usually charged twenty-five cents per bushel for pressing or took apples in payment. He pressed some for home use and his children sold gallons by the side of the road on nice fall afternoons. Thresher stopped operating the cider press sometime around 1965 for several good reasons. Small apple orchards were disappearing from local farms and many people were bringing in quantities of apples that were too small to warrant running the press. Also, fall was an especially busy season for wagon repair work in the shop. Valuable time could not be spent in both places. The Cider Mill could have continued if someone had been willing to operate it as a small business. This would have required buying apples, pressing the cider and finding a market for it. With custom repair work piling up in the shop; Thresher decided to stop pressing cider every fall.