by Doug McClure
HARDWICK – Last August, Hardwick Historical Society (HHS) President Elizabeth Dow told the select board that the HHS found a previously undiscovered 1890s Hardwick Gazettes in the Gazette morgue. (A “morgue” is newspaper parlance to describe the room in which archived newspapers are preserved for research and posterity.)
Extreme care was taken to preserve and protect the deteriorating newspapers. The papers were dispatched to a specialist for microfilming and digitizing. Through a partnership between the Vermont State Archives and Records Administration and the Department of Libraries, the digitized newspapers are now available to the public through newspapers.com.
The preserved newspapers document a period when much change was taking place in the then-booming Town of Hardwick and, until their discovery, some of the context of the time was not precisely understood.
Very few Gazettes were known to exist before 1898. The 1890 issues pick up in September, with the Gazette just entering its second year, months before the Village of Hardwick separated from the Town of Hardwick. Most of the 1890s papers were four dense pages containing few illustrations and no photos. The paper came out on Saturdays.
Hardwick Gazette stories from that period feature an editorialized writing style rather than modern-day reporting standards of supported facts and balanced coverage. The Gazette of the early 1890s also had a clear political bent and featured an abundance of sarcastic commentary and personal opinions from its editor, J.E. Harris.
News items covered by the 19th century Hardwick Gazette were often the type today’s newspapers would pass over. For example, in one story, the friends of a couple “somehow discovered” that couple had an anniversary and surprised them with a party. The Civil War (1860-1865) was then still fresh in readers minds and references to the Grand Army of the Republic and Civil War battles were not uncommon.
Some reader concerns remain relevant to readers in 2020. The Gazette devoted ample ink to criticize the state’s education policies, and almost as much to pupils who did not show up to class. There were fears that graduating students would leave the area for other places. Farmers faced struggles, with a September, 1890 issue describing farmers as “completely surrounded by monopolies, trusts, and corporations that are continually forging chains to bind the honest toiler, and the sooner we break those chains and get upon our feet, the better for us.”
The old Gazettes shed new light on what led to the forming of Hardwick Village. Water was a driving force behind the incorporating the village as an entity within Hardwick Town. The bill creating Hardwick Village in 1890 was created at almost the same time as another bill created the Hardwick Aqueduct and Water Supply Company. There was concern that the village incorporation was an unreliable water supply.
In 2020, Hardwick frequently discusses the critical nature of clean water, but in 1890, people were far more worried about fires in the densely populated village, which had no water supply and no fire department. The winter of 1890-1891 was described as a bad one for fires. Noted in February 1891: “Nearly the entire business portion of Richmond was wiped out by fire Tuesday night. There was no water supply for fire purposes, and little or nothing could be done until the arrival of help from Waterbury and Burlington. ” A massive Hyde Park fire later that month was “another lesson for Hardwick,” as that town had no water supply, either. Several sections of the incorporation documents specifically created a fire department.
The actual vote was not controversial, according to the Hardwick Gazette and the St. Johnsbury Republican. Representative Melvin E. Tucker of Hardwick, a farmer and businessman who sat on the education committee, introduced the bill in mid-October of 1890, and by November 15, it had passed into law.
In October 1890, work began on the water system. “[R]epresentatives of the Aiken water system have joined with Messrs. Dorman and G.W. Bridgman in the putting in of a new and adequate village water supply … we hope the preliminaries are finally settled and that work will be pushed to a speedy conclusion,” the Gazette reported. A week later, the paper reported a new water pipe and a push to complete the project by the fall. That plan did not come to fruition. In late November, the Gazette noted, “it is not all likely that anything will be done in this season on the reservoir or pipeline.”
By law, the residents of the Village had 90 days to call a meeting after the bill creating Hardwick Village passed on November 15, 1890. The Gazette noted its approval of the bill as written which “gives the village two-thirds of the highway taxes, as amended. This should be enough.”
By the end of January 1891, a meeting took place at which “about three-fourths of the voters inside village limits” easily passed the measure, 65-17.