What’s in a diary?

Keeping a diary in the 1800s into the 1900s was a common practice. Most every farmer kept a diary in those days. Many of these diaries record such things as: daily temperature, cut firewood today, boiled today, planted corn, went to church, or other daily activities. While interesting, they offer little of historical interest.

Some diary keepers recorded more useful and detailed information. Freak weather, a devastating fire, the circus coming to town, a political event, or family gathering. Sometimes we find an entry that fills in the blanks to information we already have.

John Leon “Gramp” Spaulding arranged for the Chester Historical Society to be gifted his collection of family diaries. I have yet to count these diaries but estimate they will number close to a hundred.

Recent diary donation from John Leon Spaulding. Photo by Ron Patch

I picked them up last Friday, July 19, and took them to the historical society. It was a hot, muggy day so I didn’t spend much time looking them over. Actually, I only examined eight or ten of the diaries. What I found were diaries kept by Albert Marshall, W.R. Spaulding (Gramp’s grandfather) diaries from when he was in Weston, John Marshall, Ben Marshall, and Ed Spaulding (Gramp’s father.)

To give you an idea of the years covered, I saw one dated 1872, and another as late as 1928, with every year between. Albert Marshall was born in 1857 and lived until 1929. John Lysander Marshall was born 1863 and died in 1933. William Ryland (W.R.) Spaulding was born in 1853 and died in 1928. The Marshalls lived in Popple Dungeon.

W.R. Spaulding lived in Weston until 1894 and then moved to Proctorsville briefly before moving to Springfield, working as a carpenter building houses. He then moved to Chester where he leased the Henry Farm on the Green Mountain Turnpike. Here he ran a dairy, delivering milk on his milk route. W.R.’s diaries are sure to provide us with useful information.

Gramp’s brother, Ted, has already given us hundreds of photos and documents. These diaries will add a wealth of information I’m sure. I will keep you posted though this column.

The first thing we will do is to sort the diaries by name. Albert Marshall’s diaries will go in one pile and then do the same with the other diary keepers. This won’t take very long.

Next each diary keeper needs to be put in chronological order. Let’s say Albert Marshall’s earliest diary is 1872. We would then have the next earliest diary (1873 if we have it) of his and so on. Once the diaries are sorted and arranged chronologically, the real work begins.

Danny Clemons, Peter Farrar, and I will then take a diary and beginning with Jan. 1, read each page through Dec. 31. As we read each page, anything of interest will be recorded in a word document on the computer. Let’s use Albert Marshall as an example. We might find an entry where he mentions Louis Marshall running away with the circus. This we would record by diary year, month, and day and where it could be found.

Albert’s son, Louis, went west and joined Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show and later Miller Brothers 101 Ranch. In the early 1900s, Louis returned to Vermont, living on the family farm in Bartonsville and working as a painter and steeplejack. I’m hopeful that we will discover information about Louis that has been lost or forgotten. There is also a possibility of finding a Civil War diary as some of these families had men who served in the war.

If there are a hundred diaries, you are talking about 36,500 pages we need to read. A big job but we can’t wait to get started. Other entries we might find might include an entry for a major fire in town. Perhaps Presidents Benjamin Harrison or Teddy Roosevelt’s visit to Chester was recorded.

These diaries were written with a soft, dull pencil and can be tedious to read. It all depends on their penmanship. Some diary keepers had poor penmanship, making them slow to read.

Based on the fact that these men were running a livery stable, delivering milk, teamsters, taxi services or other business, I’m sure we’ll find some interesting history.

While it will take months to record this donation, we hope to discover some of Chester’s lost history. I know of no other Chester family who collected so many artifacts, spanning so many years.

  This week’s new saying I heard watching a Red Sox game. Jerry Remy referred to this hot muggy weather we’re currently having as “humuggedy.”

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