Recently I happened upon an old newspaper clipping from January 1962. It was Ed Kendall’s column in the Springfield Reporter. It seems Kendall had copied a story written by Austin N. Chandler many years before. From about 1870 on Chandler ran a printing business and barbershop in Chester.
Chandler mentions Downer’s Hotel burning a decade or so before. Downer’s burned in 1916 so Chandler must have written his story about 1926. Chandler was 89 at the time he wrote this story so he was born about 1837 and had moved to Chester about 1847. These dates are estimates. I found no birth or death records.
Howe Hotel mentioned would be the Lackey place that burned to the ground a few years ago. There will be at least one more installment from Kendall’s column.
“My parents moved from Winhall to Chester when I was a boy 10 or 11 years of age. Among the first Chester people they formed an acquaintance with were Mr. and Mrs. Howe, an elderly couple who owned the hotel property on North Street just above the church. Mr. Howe was a little wizened up old fellow with a good memory who frequently came to my home for an evening visit with my father.
“He and his family owned and occupied the hotel property that had once been an important hostelry. I still retain memories of his conversations with father concerning his home in its best days. If he told the truth, and I think he did, it was on the stage route leading to Boston from Northern Vermont.
“Frequently stages stopped there to leave and take on passengers. For many years alcoholic liquors were freely dispensed to patrons of the place. The hotel possessed a dance hall that was in use for many years after the hotel closed its doors. It was in this hall that I learned to dance contradances and quadrilles.
“A century or more ago many dance halls were built with spring floors. The floor sills were fastened securely to the walls of the building at each end. Each side was unattached to the walls in any way. Thus, when the hall was filled with dancers the rhythm of certain dances would cause the floor to spring up and down six or more inches at its center. The floor in this hall was of this type. It was quite an experience to dance the Virginia Reel.” (Note: I looked online for the Virginia Reel dance and suggest you do as well.)
It was equally interesting to those not dancing to watch the dancers bob up and down. The dance hall in Downer’s Hotel which burned a decade of years or more ago contained this type floor. I have often wondered what would have happened to these halls if “jitter bug” had been in vogue at the time. I cannot recall that any form of entertainment other than dancing ever took place in the Howe Hotel hall.
For many years a cheese factory located farther up North Street did a thriving business. In this factory quite a large room was to be found in which a cheese was aged and cured. Eighty or more years ago, Orange P. Dunn operated the factory. Mr. Dunn’s product rated very high throughout New England. The factory did a very thriving business. In those days the tank truck had not appeared. Each morning buckboard wagons with three or four large milk cans, back of the driver’s seat, were a common sight on their way to the factory as the farmers made their daily delivery of milk to the cheese factory. Let’s get back to the subject I had in mind when I started this article: dramatics of years ago and some of the people who participated in their presentation in Chester.
Previous to building of the Town Hall (1884) the room in the cheese factory that I have made mention of, was the audience room in which the Thespians of Chester Depot and North Street held forth. Probably the climax was reached by them with their rendition of “Neighbor Jackwood” written by J.T. Trowbridge. The plot of the story being woven around the life of a slave girl in the South. It was rendered before my parents moved to Chester. It must have been a classic, however, as I heard mention of it many times before I reached an age that allowed me to become a Thespian myself.
The play was directed by Mrs. Hannah Gowing. Mrs. Gowing’s husband, Robert Gowing, and Robert’s brother, Quatus, owned and operated the gristmill just below the covered bridge. Seventy-five years ago three gristmills were kept busy grinding grain for Chester farmers. Although some of this grain was brought in from the West, the greater part was grown by farmers. In those days the fancy stock feeds in use today were unheard of. The majority of farmers grew their own grains; corn and oats were the chief grains grown. These were supplemented by barley, rye buckwheat and India wheat. Here I am getting away from my topic again. To be continued….
This week’s old saying is from the 1960s. “Better living through chemicals.”