By Audrey Richardson
Special To The Standard
Woodstock resident Kathy Wendling made a rather profound historical discovery earlier this year while preparing to move from her home. What Wendling found amongst her belongings was a 1798 leather-bound tax ledger for Woodstock and the surrounding 11 towns.
“I recognized its significance right away,” said Wendling. Wendling is a regular contributor to the Standard, known for her column “Historically Speaking.” Although Wendling was uncertain of the item’s origins, she knew that the document belonged with the Woodstock History Center. Wendling donated the ledger to the Center and the Center was more then happy to be the keeper of the document.
“This is one of the most valuable documents I’ve ever come across,” said Gordon Tuthill of the Woodstock History Center.
For the last half of a century, Tuthill worked with many land and title documents as a land surveyor and now volunteers and the History Center a couple of days a week.
Tuthill says the significance of the document lies in the details. The book includes footprints of all the buildings, cellar holes, sawmills and tanneries that existed at that time. It documents Woodstock as the fourth collective district along with 11 other districts including Pomfret, Sharon, Norwich, Royalton, Hartford, Bethel, Stockbridge, Barnard, Hartland, Bridgewater and Rochester. The volume of information alone is impressive and includes land and lease taxes along with the tax totals of all the recognized properties. Among the numbers, diligent and delinquent taxpayers are noted. “It is a very organized federal document and very valuable to anyone doing that kind of research,” said Tuthill. This document is no replica; according to Tuthill, neither federal nor state government have copies, so this is truly a one-of-a-kind find. “It is important because of its completeness of information relative to the parcel. It’s one of three in the country,” said Tuthill about the book.
Despite the value of this historical find, the mystery of its origin persists. The last written details on the possession of this book date back to March 1 1800, with Nichols Balyies listed as Surveyor of Revenue. There are few remaining properties in the areas that maintain the original building that once graced the footprint detailed in this antique document. Tuthill believes that there are a few, though; one of those properties is off Garvin Hill in Woodstock. The footprints in the book do not describe the building on the lot but simply the size or the cellar hole. For those properties that existed without a cellar hole, the original structure is much harder to distinguish.
What does the History Center intend to do with this document? Keep it safe and sound. Although the center tries to limit the number of times they pull the book off the shelf — due to its fragility — they are not afraid to share the information. Woodstock resident Macy Lawrence has scanned and copied all the books pages to CDs for the towns of each division. Those interested in looking at the information on these CDs are welcome to visit the Woodstock History Center.
By Audrey Richardson