By Curt Peterson, Standard Correspondent
HARTLAND – Clyde Jenne, who has invested 24 years in the town of Hartland as town clerk, town moderator and lister, entertained and educated a full house at the Hartland Public Library on Tuesday, Nov. 7. His program, called “Tales of Hartland,” was jointly sponsored by Aging in Hartland and the library.
When the town was first chartered in 1761, Hartland was called Hertford, Jenne said, but frequent confusion with Hartford, just upstream on the Connecticut River, inspired locals to rename their settlement. At first they chose Waterford, perhaps because it was a place where one could cross the river, but that label lasted only 3 days, Jenne said, probably because they discovered there already was a town in Vermont called Waterford. The second choice was Hartland.
“You may notice,” Jenne said, “that Hartford and Hartland are pretty similar as well. To this day I still get communications meant for Hartford.”
Lull’s Brook runs through what’s now the center of town. Jenne said over time there were 19 milldams on the stream.
“One of them was built to create a place for washing sheep,” he said.
Jenne’s program was peppered with whimsical stories, one of which began with the mention of sheep. A consul named Jarvis, who was the first farmer to bring Marino sheep to Vermont, in Weathersfield, had a daughter who married Judge Spooner and settled on a farm in Hartland. One day, Jenne said, Ms. Spooner discovered Judge Spooner dallying with their handmaiden in the family privy. Not sure what to do, the betrayed woman nailed the privy door shut so the two adulterers could not get out, and drove her buggy to Weathersfield to get her father’s advice.
Hartland had informal “districts”, usually named for families who owned farms in the area. Remembering that traveling across town in the eighteenth century didn’t happen as fast as it does today, these districts were a good way to describe a geographical location or destination. Foundryville, which was on the corner of Rte. 12 and Bowers Road, was named for the foundry there. The Bateses lived in the Bates district, the Grouts in the Grout district, and the Evartses in Evarts district. Advent Hill district was named for the Advent Church there.
At different times, Hartland had two “town farms,” farms owned by the town and where it was hoped people down on their luck could live and work and sustain themselves. One of them, in Hartland Four Corners, has ironically become one of the most valuable showplace properties in the area, Sunnymede Farm, Jenne said.
At one time Hartland had a three-hole golf course, part of a property operated as a summer destination for visitors and called Fairview Farm on Clay Hill Road.
Jenne confesses to being a document lover – he’s combed through many death certificates. He said quite a few have under Cause of Death: “Don’t know, dead when I arrived.”
Another oddity, he said, is the death certificate inquiry regarding the “occupation of the deceased, if a male 16 years of age or older”.
“One of them just said ‘idiot’ in that blank,” Jenne said, explaining the term was an accurate description of someone too mentally challenged to be employed, rather than a pejorative.
The Connecticut River was often used to transport logs to be milled into lumber. During one such log drive in 1895, Jenne said, a young man from
Maine named Charles Barber, 19, was accidentally killed. Word was sent to the boy’s father, who drove all the way from Maine to pick up his son’s unpaid wages. The man turned around and went back to Maine, leaving his son’s remains to be buried at Sumner Falls – a grave marker is there today.
Attendee Chuck Fenton asked about “Center of Town,” which was in the area where Center of Town Road, Advent Hill Road, Mace Hill Road, and Brothers Road converge. Jenne said the early town government had determined where they thought the hub of Hartland should be, but it soon migrated on its own to Hartland Four Corners.
“The Town Hall was in Four Corners,” he said, “there were two taverns, a blacksmith shop and two stores.”
Later the commercial and municipal center migrated again, to Three Corners.
New Hampshire and Vermont have a long history of disputes, one of them involving the Connecticut River. Jenne said in 1932 the Supreme Court ruled that New Hampshire was the owner of the River right up to the high-water mark on the Vermont side. Prior to that decision, it had been assumed the two towns’ jurisdiction met in the middle of the river.
“The decision hasn’t worked out all that well for New Hampshire,” Jenne said. “Every time a bridge has to be repaired, replaced or built new, New Hampshire has to pay for most or all of it.”
Jenne ended his talk by describing the influence the advent of Interstate Highway I-89 has had on Hartland.
“The early 1800s were a hayday period,” he said. “The population of the town was higher then than it became by 1880. Then it hit about 1,800 souls in 1950 and stayed steady until 1972 when I-89 opened up and people could get here easily. Now the population is pretty steady at 3,300.”
This article first appeared in the December 7, 2017 edition of the Vermont Standard.