Rutland’s past, by the month
The Rutland Historical Society and Jake Sherman as compiler have outdone themselves in the production of the quarterly publication that consists of a calendar for the year 2013.
Once a year for the past few years a society quarterly has been a calendar entitled “Faces of the Past.” Each month is accompanied with the portrait of a person who took part in the life of this community. This year the portraits are largely of those who took part in the community’s intense growth between 1850 and 1920. Dorr, Ripley, Clement and Proctor are all familiar family names connected with the area even now.
Among people with two middle initials, I have long wondered about the middle names of Julia C.R. Dorr and William Y.W. Ripley. In this year’s calendar Julia Caroline Ripley Dorr (1825 to 1913) and William Young Warren Ripley (1832 to 1905) are each given their full names beneath their pictures.
Julia Dorr, wife of Seneca M. Dorr, was a well-known literary person and very active in Rutland’s cultural life. Among many other things she was a leader in the formation of the Rutland Free Library. The calendar notes that she was a friend of Emerson, Longfellow and Whittier.
The influence of Redfield Proctor on the Rutland region is still being felt today. Governor, secretary of war and head of the Vermont Marble Co., he ended his career as a U.S. senator. It is not generally remembered today that in his day the U.S. senators were elected by the legislatures. Popular election to that office didn’t arrive until about 1914.
In his day each town or city, regardless of its size and population, sent a single member to the Vermont House. What is now Rutland City, Rutland Town, Proctor and West Rutland were all a single community, with the area now comprising the city existing as a village within the town. Elements who often were rivals or opponents of Proctor dominated the village, and that often had an effect on who went to the Vermont House.
So the Proctor forces engineered creation of the separate communities of West Rutland, Proctor and Rutland Town, turning the village into an independent city. In that way Proctor was almost certain to have three favorable votes when he ran for U.S. senator in the Legislature. Whatever vote came from Rutland City didn’t count as much as before.
William Y.W. Ripley became well known as head of the Rutland County Bank, but he also was interested in the family marble business. The firm’s display yard was west of the village south of the railroad tracks in the company of other firms that also worked marble. At some point Ripley discovered that marble pieces were being stolen from his lot. So he wrapped himself in a large cloak and hid out during the night in his lot. And in a short time he discovered that the marble was being stolen by people from the Temple Brothers marble property next door. I don’t know that any official legal action was taken. John Pixley Clement, who told me the story, indicated the matter was settled unofficially between the parties, but that Ripley acquired an increased reputation for decisiveness and innovation.
His brother, Edward Hastings Ripley, became a brigadier general in the Civil War and was noted for having led the first Union army unit to enter Richmond after the Confederates left and earned praise for restoring order in the city.
He lived in Mendon on the site that is now occupied by the Sugar & Spice restaurant, but for years could be seen on horseback leading the Rutland City Memorial Day parade. John Clement watched him in that position almost until the year he died in 1915.
Speaking of Clements, two members of that family have their portraits in months of the 2013 calendar. Charles Clement became a railroad owner and banker and strongly opposed Redfield Proctor’s effort to divide Rutland Town into separate units. He gave his name to Clement Road, and his mansion was called Clementwood, now part of the College of St. Joseph.
His son Percival W. Clement became president of the Rutland Railroad and owner of the Rutland Herald, was twice mayor of the city and after many failed attempts was finally elected governor in 1818. He promoted the use of local option on liquor sales, a usage which prevailed until quite recently.
Of course, the Civil War was a major event in the lives of the people displayed in this calendar. Redfield Proctor and both Ripleys were in it, with William Y.W. Ripley wounded in battle on the Virginia peninsula and subsequently receiving the Congressional Medal of Honor. The calendar also portrays two who lost their lives in that war — George T. Roberts and Charles B. Mead.
Jake Sherman has done a magnificent job of displaying personalities who were prominent in what have been called the “tumultuous decades.” And the Rutland Historical Society is to be congratulated for another informative publication.
Kendall Wild is a retired editor of the Herald.