Monday, August 2, 2010

Vermont 2010: An Overview in Four Stages

Because I’ll be gone for the next several days, I thought it might be good to stack up some posts for while I’m on the road. The content of these posts represent a synthesis of some background reading I’ve done in preparation for this ride. The posts are fairly short, but I hope they give some flavor to the experience I hope to have. I also spent some time reading about the area covered in the ride I took yesterday. Consider this a prologue to the longer event.

Prologue: Wayfarer House to Deerfield, Haydenville, Goshen, Ashfield, Conway, Deerfield to Wayfarer House.

Deerfield has been in my mind for a while now, since I’d read The Unredeemed Captive: A Family Story from Early America (Demos, 1994). This work recounts the story of Eunice Williams, an English colonist taken captive as a child by French and Mohawk warriors from Deerfield during a raid in 1704. Her mother, also named Eunice, was killed not far from Wayfarer House (a plaque marks the spot, and there is a covered bridge bearing her name nearby). The elder Eunice, wife of Deerfield’s famous reverend John Williams, had given birth just hours before, and was slain and thrown in the Green River by her captors because she was unable to keep pace with the march north through the frozen, snowy forest.

This story really brings to life what it must have been like to be here during those very difficult times. Another tragedy, which I only became aware of on this ride and only because I stopped to adjust my pack, is chronicled in Haydenville. On May 16, 1874, the Williamsburg reservoir dam broke, sending an avalanche of water over five of the villages that lined the Mill River Valley. When the flood reached Haydenville, the water was moving with such force that it picked up a house and slammed it into a brick factory with enough force to cause it to collapse like a cardboard box. The heaps of debris were so dense and tangled that people searching for survivors had to use crowbars to pry things apart. One hundred thirty-nine people were killed in that event, 27 of them from Haydenville.

I didn’t take a picture of the river itself, but it’s hard to imagine that it ever had enough force to cause such devastation. The village today is shown here.

The town of Conway was the victim of an earlier dam break, in 1869. Home of one of the few covered bridges left in Massachusetts, Conway has always had an abundant water supply. In its early years, this water provided power for grist and saw mills, as well as a number of tanneries. In the 19th century, a dam was created to provide a reservoir for the several woolen and broadcloth mills along the South River. These mills, the largest industries in town at the time, were all completely washed away when the dam burst. Conway has since returned to its roots as an agricultural community, and sports a number of maple sugar houses.

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