Author Archive

Rebuilding Downtown Richmond – Spring 1908

Posted by -- October 10, 2012

Bridge Street before the 1908 Fire

In the spring of 1908, a catastrophic fire destroyed the main business block in Richmond. Today’s familiar downtown streetscape was constructed in the aftermath of that disaster.   At about 11:30 pm on April 23, a fire broke out in the basement of the Masonic Building, located on the corner of Bridge and Depot Streets. Fanned by a light breeze, the fire quickly spread northward on Bridge Street and west on Depot Street. By the time it was halted early the next morning, it had completely destroyed the business district, including two hotels, the post office, the village library, and several homes and apartments located along Bridge Street.

April 1908 Fire as seen from a Distance

At midnight help was requested from the Burlington Fire Department to supplement Richmond’s limited firefighting resources. A special train engine and flatbed car were requisitioned and a horse drawn steam pump engine was sent to Richmond by rail. Unfortunately not enough hose was brought to reach from the Winooski River to the blaze, so the Burlington firefighters pumped water into milk cans and carted them to the scene of action. The fire was out by about four a.m.

Rebuilding after the Fire

Work on rebuilding the business district began almost immediately. Along the west side of Bridge Street, the new design featured a row of attached two story buildings with storefronts at street level and apartments above, just as before. This time around, however, the buildings were constructed of brick rather than wood, with thick firewalls between them. Never again would a fire sweep unchecked through so much of Richmond’s downtown area at once. The occupants of upper Bridge Street have changed many times over the years, but the downtown buildings themselves remain much the same as when the new business district first took shape after the April 1908 fire.

Richmond's New Downtown Business Block

Adapted from Richmond, Vermont – A History of More Than 200 Years

Eleanor Roosevelt Visits Richmond

Posted by -- March 23, 2012

 

Eleanor Roosevelt is greeted at The Richmond

On June 23, 1933 Eleanor Roosevelt paid a visit to Richmond en route from Massena, N.Y. to the Maine coast to join her husband, President Franklin D. Roosevelt. She stopped for lunch at The Richmond, a hotel located on West Main Street across from Millet Street. The Burlington Free Press reported:

Traveling in an open blue roadster with two women companions, Mrs. Roosevelt was enjoying to the utmost superb scenery and weather. She lunched on a terrace underneath a large elm.

She wore no hat, her hair held in place by a white band, and she was attired in a simple blue dress, white blouse, and fine-knit sweater of powder blue.

As her convertible drove through Richmond that day, it had to stop and wait while Gordon Brown drove the family cows across Route 2 to pasture. In spite of the delay, Mrs. Roosevelt must have enjoyed her time in Richmond, for she and her secretary Miss. L.A. Hitchcock returned to the hotel on July 9 to spend the night before driving up Mt. Mansfield and continuing on to Quebec.

Richmond Underwear Factory

Posted by -- March 23, 2012

The Richmond Underwear Factory employees, circa 1900

The Richmond Underwear Company began production of women’s and children’s muslin undergarments on July 9, 1900. Established by J.S. Baker of Peekskill, N.Y and I.H. Goodwin of New York City, the factory consisted of a large two-story structure located on what is now Millet Street in Richmond Village. The company prospered immediately and was employing 160 workers by 1904. Finished garments were sold to wholesalers and very large retail businesses, including the John Wanamaker department stores in New York and Philadelphia.


Factory, boarding house and tennis court

The Richmond Underwear Company was responsible for developing a large section of the village near the factory. The company built homes, apartments and boarding houses as well as a tennis court for the benefit of employees. Residents of company housing were the first people in Richmond to receive electric lighting. An electric dynamo was built to serve the factory, and power was extended to company property. The rest of the village did not have access to electricity until 1903.


Cutting room

Work on the garments began in the cutting room, where large electric machines could slice through up to 198 layers of muslin at once. Cut pieces were transferred for assembly to the operators’ room. Skilled technicians seated at special machines worked to complete specific parts of the process. There were seaming machines, tucking machines, buttonhole machines and hemming machines, as well as hemstitch machines and button-stitching machines. The company recruited single young women for this work, offering them housing in company facilities and paying them $1.25 to $1.75 per day according to one early advertisement.


Finishing Room

To early 20th- century onlookers, the Richmond Underwear Factory brought modern industrial technology to a rural farm town and provided unprecedented opportunity for employment and economic development. Demand for the company’s products declined in the 1930’s and 1940’s, however, thanks to changing popular tastes in clothing and to the financial hardships of the Great Depression and the World War II years. In 1946, the factory building was sold to Cellucord Corporation, which made paper backing for rugs. Since the early 1970’s, the building (now known as the Goodwin-Baker Building) has housed a variety of business offices and small commercial enterprises.

From the Richmond Historical Society archives

A woman walks down snowy Bridge Street in 1900 or 1901

Posted by -- March 17, 2012

A winter scene in the early 1900

Downtown Richmond might have seemed almost deserted on a winter day at the beginning of the 20th century. With no utility poles or electric wires in view, and no cars parked outside the businesses, the wooden storefronts and snow-filled streets would look quiet and empty to modern observers. Electricity came to Richmond in 1903. Frank Gillett of Jonesville bought Richmond’s first automobile, a Stanley Steamer, in 1906. The wooden storefronts were replaced by today’s brick buildings after a fire burned them to the ground in 1908.

 

Snow rollers like this were used to tamp down snow in winter

Business did not come to a stop on snowy days, however, despite the absence of snowplows and snow blowers. Richmond was one of the Vermont dairy industry’s busiest hubs in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and area farmers had cows to milk and milk products to sell all year round regardless of the weather. Railroad depots in Richmond village and Jonesville allowed local milk to be marketed throughout the northeast, while several award-winning creameries in Richmond made cheese, butter and canned condensed milk that could be sold all across the country. To keep the roads open to traffic during the winter months, road crews pulled huge horse-drawn snow rollers through the streets, packing the snow into a smooth firm surface for sleighs. The town also hired men to pack snow onto the floors of covered bridges, again for the sake of sleigh travel. In the winter of 1900-01, three men were paid a total of $12.85 to put snow on the bridges.

Ice skating in Richmond circa 1900

In the early 20th century, like today, Richmond residents turned to outdoor recreation to help pass the long winter. Snow skiing had not become popular in Vermont yet, but Richmond youth enjoyed sledding or tobogganing and ice-skating. An ice-skating rink was sometimes constructed on an empty lot at the corner of Pleasant and Bridge Streets (where the Richmond branch of TD Bank now stands). Clarence Call, who grew up in Richmond in the early 1900’s, later recalled that the lot was sort of a park, with a hitching post where visitors to the downtown area could tie up their horses. From time to time a carnival would come to town and set up there. Like so many people before and after, Clarence Call found Richmond a good place to live, no matter what the season.