News from Vermont #405 Vermonters Ain’t Nuthin’ If They Ain’t Quirky!
|November 12, 2018
Hello again Maple People,
I’ve recently been reading “The Cow That Tried to Swallow a Potato: A Quirky History of Worcester, Vermont” by J. David Book with Douglas E. Hull and Dell Waterhouse. It’s indeed a “must” read for anyone who values Vermont life the way it used to be. The word “quirky”, however, drew me directly to Webster’s before I opened up to page one. I mean one normally thinks “quintessential” or “quaint” with these history books of Vermont towns but, “quirky”? I found, though, quicker’n a freshet off Hunger Mountain, that “quirky” fits to a tee: “Characterized by peculiar or unexpected traits.”…and sure ‘nough that’s Worcester!
My first introduction to Worcester was as a four-year-old. My dad, Harry Morse, Sr., no doubt would have said something in his witty, exaggerated way like, “Goin’ ovah to ‘Sweeeet Rooster'”, followed by the part I remember as clear as it happened yesterday. We climbed high up into our vintage Dodge cab-over farm truck heavily loaded with fresh-cut logs. I remember proudly sitting beside my dad as he shifted the gears and rounded the corners on the way to a place called “Rooster” in a huge truck…can’t get any better than that for this four-year-old boy!
Ladd’s Sawmill, our destination, stood as the sole survivor of multiple mills that had once taken advantage of the North Branch’s unique water-power offerings. By that time, 1952, internal combustion engines and electrification had already rendered water-power obsolete but the array of North Branch mills in Worcester once upon a time created a commerce Mecca equal to no other in our whole area.
Speaking of water “power” back in the 1800’s, Minister Brook, one of the North Branch’s tributaries, was thought to hold huge gold deposits. Several “Wild West” style sluicing/dredging operations were set up there, only to be eventually dismantled and abandoned…not enough gold in “them thar” Worcester Hills to be worth the effort. Once again, “quirky” fits Worcester like a a thick leather mink-catching glove.
“Mink-catching glove?”, you ask. Yup, Worcester also was a huge center for mink ranching. Back in the first part of the 20th Century, Worcester entrepreneur Earl Maxham turned his dissatisfaction with traditional farming into an investment in mink ranching. At the height of his career in addition to his huge Worcester ranch, he even had branched out as far as Newfoundland! He was also a land-baron, tree farmer, store owner, and water system operator. Late in Earl’s life, social attitudes turned against the business of harvesting fur forcing David, Earl’s chip off the ol’ block son into “damage control”. David turned the Maxham knowledge of raising carnivorous animals into, what else, the pet food industry. At one time, David had a large processing plant in Worcester and a fleet of tractor trailers busy hauling food byproduct for cats and dogs all over the US.
Where “quirky” fits the Maxham clan like that same leather glove, down through history there were many other Worcester families well worthy of the same description. In fact, whether human or geological, that place on earth which lies in a thin valley between the Worcester Range and Gould Hill, Worcester, Vermont, begged a special narrative, a narrative special enough to be deftly crafted by J. David Book, Douglas E. Hull, and Dell Waterhouse. “The Cow That Swallowed a Potato: A Quirky History of Worcester, Vermont” is a must read!