In the writing room right now ...

In the writing room right now ... I have taken down the brown "butcher" paper that held ideas, photos, drawings, and my hand-drawn maps and plot outlines for the past five or six books. I've placed all those items into three-ring binders, and cleared the deck for paintings and photographs that involve courage, as I move forward in GHOSTKEEPER, the new novel set in Lyndonville, Vermont. My 1850 Vermont adventure THE LONG SHADOW is under contract with Five Star/Cengage -- I will give you a publication date as soon as I know! Scribbling lots of poems, too. And there's a possible route to publication of the "Vermont Nancy Drew" novel I built on Wattpad (see right-hand column). Yes, I guess I do like multi-tasking! How about you?

Monday, December 15, 2014

Things Change: In Small Towns in Vermont, Often via Disaster

When my husband Dave and I began investigating the people and events indicated by an 1880 postcard mailed from one small town near us, to another, I opened up a resource that I'd purchased a few years ago, knowing it would be significant -- but at the time, I'd finished one project related to it, and didn't need the details. It was a doctoral dissertation by Northeast Kingdom historian Allan Yale, and gave details of operations at E. and T. Fairbanks, or, as it was locally called more often, the Mill -- or today, "Fairbanks Scale."

Thanks to Scott Wheeler, editor/publisher of Vermont's Northland Journal, I pulled together all the research around the postcard into a story of discovery, with some suprises in it. And that will be an article in the February issue of Scott's magazine.

I gave to Scott images of the front and back of the postcard. I really wanted to also send along images of a building that has an important role in the story, the company store that the Fairbanks factory operated. But I got frustrated, trying to find a good image. This shows the structure at that location, more or less "today," in brick with the name FAIRBANKS inset up high on the building. But I wasn't sure it fit with the 1880s, and didn't know how to find the right version of the building.
Left to right: St Johnsbury Athenaeum, St. J. Fire Dept., "Fairbanks" building, dental office. Circa 2005.


Well, you know how "collecting" can be -- my puzzle inspired Dave to keep searching in his own "ephemera" (the fancy name for items that have a very short lifetime, especially old paper). He found a lovely old stapled booklet of photos of the town, and called me to his work space in triumph: there it was, the Fairbanks company store, probably photographed around 1880 to 1900.

But what a difference from today's lineup of structures! In fact, it's clearly made of wood, not brick, and even the "St. Johnsbury House" next door is not the same building we see today.

Fairbanks company store, left; St. Johnsbury House, right. 1880-1890?


More or less today's St. Johnsbury House. Photo postcard about 1950.
What happened?

Sadly, we know the answer is likely to have been: Fire.

Next task -- find the record of the local disaster that wiped out those earlier structures, and put a date to the change. Even in the past 15 years, St. Johnsbury has seen more than its share of fires in the wooden or wood-framed downtown structures. Someday, the idea of towns that are forced to change via fire, or even via flood (more on that at another time), will seem quaint to us. But today it's still very real. We wish our extended neighborhood a safe winter, and hope this will be a year when fire does not escape its proper place.

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