Page images
PDF
EPUB

that loyal and sensible bird, sometimes chooses a thick grove of evergreens for its winter home in New England and scorns to quit even temporarily the land of the Puritans for any change of climate. So, many Vermonters, equally loyal and sensible, find a local paradise in every valley and upon every hill-top, where the homestead is decorated by rollicking brooks and tree-arcaded roadways, ancient orchards, and fragrant clover-nooks, the welltilled fields and the giant sugar maples, and where a virtuous, thrifty, and hardy race, untempted by other attractions, find few occasions to quit their quiet surroundings even for health or pleasure. Stable as their mountains, summer or winter, here they are never unhappy. With the thermometer annually ranging from 30 below zero to 95 above, why should Vermonters seek a change of air ? True, some of our young ones, who don't know any better, fly away, but it does not seem strange to us, who have summered and wintered here that all who do not live in Vermont should wish to go there.

Strafford is not in itself extraordinary among Vermont villages, but has many counterparts, as everybody knows who has dipped into New England town histories. There are many which have more striking surroundings and present more magnificent views. None of the heights about it rise to the dimensions of mountains and its charming valley sinks nowhere to the depths of a gorge: it is a pleasant village consisting of little more than a single street that winds along the course of a modest stream on which has been imposed the mouth-filling and resounding title, out of all proportion to its size, of the Ompompanoosuc River. The contrast between the narrow stream and its sonorous name, reverberating like a Roman triumph, has diverted many visitors to Strafford as it did Vice-President Colfax in 1871. Coming from the broad prairies of Illinois with their great rivers, he found something deliciously amusing in the rolling syllables. “The Om-pom-pan-oos-uc,” he wrote, “which” -evidently repeating a Strafford phrase "is sometimes such a rough old fellow in the Spring!” The little river

where Morrill had bathed and skated as a boy and always regarded with affection is only twenty miles long from its source in the hills north of Strafford to its mouth where it falls into the Connecticut in the town of Norwich.

Strafford lies in the County of Orange which is about midway of the State, north and south, and is on the border of New Hampshire, close to Hanover, the seat of Dartmouth College. The township of Strafford is large, fully seven miles square, and the town in reality consists of two villages - the Upper Village, Strafford, formerly known as the Upper Hollow, and the Lower Village, South Strafford, about two miles farther down the valley. The Upper Village was the birthplace and remained the home of our hero. From his birth until to-day it has remained, in spite of all the changes and vicissitudes which have visited the rest of the world, a quiet hamlet, with a mild ebb and gradual reduction of population, but essentially unchanged in its larger features as is the farm land, the little river, and the enclosing hills which condition its life. When Morrill was born, the village consisted of about twenty dwelling-houses, two stores, a tavern, a meeting-house, blacksmith's shop, carpenter's shop, a lawyer's office, and a doctor's dispensary. Such it remains; for the years have treated it kindly. Travelers still reach it by stage, for no railroad has approached nearer than eight miles to this home of repose, as if even Commerce in its march, like Time and Change, meant to pass it by and leave it at peace.

Here Morrill spent his boyhood; here in his maturity he built his house and here he so firmly fixed his affections that no other spot ever drew him away.

It would be strange (he said to his fellow-townsmen in 1883] if I did not take a deep interest in the town of Strafford. I was born here. Here to me even the stars, the planets, and the moon seem to shine more brightly than elsewhere; and here has been my JUSTIN S. MORRILL'S HOUSE AT STRAFFORD, VERMONT

[graphic]

home until that age has been reached when I cannot fail to realize how soon I must join the great company of those who were and are not. Whatever may be the number of our living townsmen, that of those who have gone to their final rest is much greater.

All that tread
The globe are but a handful to the tribes

That slumber in its bosom." The work of our ancestors is finished, but our town will live forever, and may not something more from us be hopefully expected?

It has long been regarded by men as most fortunate to have been born in a city, notwithstanding that leaders of cities often hail from rural districts; but I have had an abiding affection and respect for my native town and for its citizens. More or less attracted, sometimes, when away from home, by a greater stir of business, by railroad accommodations, or by a more abundant society, yet, never forgetful of the old home, and that here are treasured the dust of my father, of my mother, of sisters, a brother, and of my eldest son,

“Where'er I roam whatever realms to see,

My heart untravelled fondly turns to thee." Whoever passes over the chief highway of the town, along by our pet branch of the Ompompanoosuc, however he may regret to find the road declining from its ancient stage-coach breadth to that of a one-horse road, and looks out for miles upon the charming landscape, upon the well-tilled and fertile farms, upon the two quiet villages nestling in the valleys, upon the tall steeple of the old, time-honored town-house, wherein we are now assembled, the architecture of strong-willed and strong-handed men, elevated, as the house is, upon a site fairly eclipsing in beauty even the historic mounds of the aborigines, cannot fail to recognize the fact that the town, even with all of its New England competitors, possesses, in its varied and heart-winning scenery, unsurpassed attractions. Like yourselves, I am familiar with all of its bore ders, and do not forget that almost every hill-top was once the home of some citizen whose history — noted for marked character, wisdom, or wit - has found a lodgment in all of our memories, and still enriches and embroiders our daily conversation.

« PreviousContinue »