The Big Cheese

Recently I was researching the 1871 Vermont Journal in the collection of the Springfield Art & Historical Society. While I didn’t find what I was looking for I did make an interesting discovery.

1871 Vermont Journal in Springfield. Photo provided

In the April 29, 1871, Vermont Journal I found mention of a cheese factory to be built on North Street in Chester and scheduled to open later that summer. In the October 9, 1871, issue I found the opening dedication. I have copied it below as printed.

“The dedication of the new cheese factory took place at Chester on Tuesday of last week. Everything but the clouds appeared to favor one of the largest gatherings of people ever known in town. Inauspicious as were the signs of the morning, however great crowds flocked to the place from every direction.  A procession of more than a mile in length began to move at 10 o’clock, in the following order: Grafton Brass Band; the mammoth cheese drawn by six horses; a cow in a wagon; the fire department with their engine, splendidly trimmed; a town team drawn by 105 pairs of oxen in one string; company of antiques and horribles mounted and on foot, under the command of J.B. Cram; invited guests and ‘citizens generally.’ About 11 o’clock it began raining, which dampened the ardor of all, but they kept on till the end of the route. Leander Wetherell of Boston arrived on the noon train and began his address on ‘dairy husbandry,’ but was interrupted and obliged to wait until evening, when he finished it in the town hall. It is estimated that over three thousand people were present. A delegation consisting of 100 teams started from Charlestown, N.H., and turned back on account of the rain. The mammoth cheese, weighing 732 pounds, was given away to the crowd, who stood in the rain while eating it. A banner carried on the wagon with the cheese was inscribed, ‘weighty but not mitey.’”

I know a little about the Antiques and the Horribles. They were a local marching band that dressed in exaggerated costumes. One account I found described them this way:

“They were led by Jim Cram. Over his shoulder he carried a tin sword more than six feet long. He wore an enormous artificial nose, and had a ‘fair ground belly’ stuffed with straw, and he was sweating profusely. Behind him came every conceivable kind of hobo. What they lacked in musical ability they made up for with volume and enthusiasm.”

In a separate document I found that in 1888 the cheese factory produced 100,000 pounds of cheese. Not bad for a seasonal operation. They closed for the winter months. All of the milk they used came from local farms.

Leander Wetherell was a writer for the Boston Cultivator, an agriculture magazine distributed throughout New England. Wetherell also addressed the New York State assembly in 1889 regarding dairy practices.

The cheese factory was located on the upper end of North Street near the cemetery and on that side of the street. It shows up on the 1905 Sanborn Insurance map but is not present on the 1925 map.

Chester, Vermont cheese factory on North Street in 1897. Photo provided

Chester Town Hall was built in 1884 so it was not the site of Wetherell’s speech. He would have spoken at either the Baptist Church or the Stone Church on North Street, as both served for town meetings prior to 1884.

The photo with this article is in the collection of the Chester Historical Society. I have not seen any photos of the parade. Do you have one?

One hundred and five pair of oxen would be close to 1,000 feet in length. A 732-pound cheese divided among 3,000 people would be about four ounces per person.

The Feb. 19 Antiques Roundtable will feature horses, including: work horses, show horses or riding horses. We are looking for exhibitors to show saddles, spurs, bridles, photos, etc. I will show an antique 1860s McClellan Civil War saddle and part of my Dan Patch collection. The historical society with show our WW1 McClellan saddle along with old photos of horses. This is your chance to show off your horses.

The March 12 Roundtable will feature musicians who make, repair and play their own instruments. Erik Johansson has already signed up. Each musician will show and talk about their instruments and each will be given a few minutes to play on the stage at Chester Town Hall. Later all will play together on the stage for as long as they like. This is a unique opportunity to show visitors what you do and jam a little.

This week’s old saying: “You can lead your son to college but you can’t make him think.”

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