Hold your horses

Ron Patch is a Chester native, Chester Historical Society president, and a lifelong antiques dealer. He can be reached at 802-374-0119 or email knotz69@gmail.com

The photo with this article is the cover of the 2021 Chester Historical Society calendar. William Ryland “W.R.” Spaulding sits in his buggy one sunny morning on North Street.

W.R., as I refer to him, was Ted Spaulding’s grandfather. W.R. leased the Henry Farm in the early 1900s. Determining the exact year the photo was taken is difficult. It is best to say circa 1910. It could be 1905 to as late as 1915.

William Ryland Spaulding on North Street in Chester. Photo provided by Chester Historical Society
William Ryland Spaulding on North Street in Chester. Photo provided by Chester Historical Society

If I knew the exact date, I could determine whether it was taken when W.R. leased the Henry Farm or when he ran his livery and taxi service across the street from Smitty’s Chester Market. I suspect this is the taxi days.

W.R. ran his livery and taxi service with his son Ed. With the railroad station next door there would have been a steady flow of customers. In some cases reservations were taken. W.R. had a fleet of horse-drawn vehicles. He could satisfy someone on a budget who just needed a ride. Or by reservation he could show up with his Sturtevant. This was the Cadillac of horse-drawn vehicles drawn by four horses. The Sturtevant was for those who wanted to travel in style. Of course it cost more to hire this rig.

The horse

The horse is a beautiful dapple gray. The first thing you’ll notice is the horse’s tail. Cameras of the early 1900s didn’t have variable shutter speeds as we have today. The photographer had to manually replace lenses for different shutter speeds. The lens the photographer used this day was a slow shutter speed, as he knew he was taking a still photo. So when the horse flicked his tail it caused the tail to blur.

The buggy

The buggy is a sporty rig. Typical of the day, the front wheels are slightly less diameter than the rear wheels. Notice how slender the front axel is. It’s a very lightweight rig for a single driver. This rig was built for going for a drive. It was lightweight so a single horse could draw it without tiring.

The pose

Photography became an art form in the 1850s with Matthew Brady. Many country photographers were content with just taking the photo. The unknown photographer of this photo understood how to compose a photo.

The sunlight is coming in from the east brightening the side of the stone church as well as the stone house to the south. W.R. has parked his rig so his horse stands in front of the gray stone buildings. Notice how the gray shades of the stone buildings compliment the dapple gray horse. This didn’t happen by accident. The photographer chose this location and time.

Sometime previous to the photo being taken, I imagine the photographer saying to William Ryland, “I’d like to take a photo of you and your dapple gray some morning this week. I have an idea how I want to compose it.”

W.R. had a pair of these dapple gray horses. Examining the records kept by W.R. and his son Ed that Ted has donated to the Chester Historical Society we know they kept as many as 10 horses at times. They rented out rigs and boarded horses.

On the left where the stone house is a young maple tree maybe 20 feet tall. What significance could this be? For me it represents optimism. The homeowner planted it to replace a tree that had been lost. The homeowner knew he wouldn’t be here when it reached maturity but wanted future generations to enjoy what he had enjoyed. In recent years on Main Street in Chester we have lost most of our ancient maples. They have not been replaced.

On the left you can see the sidewalk. On the right mid-way up the street you can see that sidewalk. The right side of the street is darker. This side of the street is lined with maples and elms.

The gravel street has only buggy tracks visible. Try to imagine driving your buggy from Town Hall to this location. As you approach Yo-Semite Engine Company, the covered bridge by the gristmill would come into view. Clippety-clop, clippety-clop as you drive through the covered bridge.

Our 2021 calendars are available at Stone House Antiques Center, Chester Hardware, Blair Books & More, Smitty’s Chester Market, Town Hall, and Framery of Vermont.

  This week’s old saying my mother used when referring to the handheld tin cheese graters common in her day. She called them “knuckle softeners.”

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