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Using Old Maps to Find A House Site

One More Search - The Starch Factory
     Page  4

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After the success finding the old cellar hole, we moved on to look for the sawmill site which was co-owned by Urban Woodbury. No map shows Urban's name by a mill, but an old county history states that

 "...Woodbury & Wards saw-mill...on Pond Brook...was formerly used as a starch factory...converted in 1881..."

The Beers atlas (1878) shows a starch factory on Elmore Pond Brook, and the older map shows a saw mill there. This must be the spot. I thought we could walk right to it, as mill sites usually had large stone foundations, and this one was shown near a road. But we couldnít find the road!

The 1878 Beers atlas shows a Starch Factory (later a sawmill) just upstream from the main road leading northwest from Lake Elmore. The portion of this road in the Town of Elmore is no0w abandoned. The town line is just above the mill.

At present there are two roads paralleling the brook on each side, but on the 1878 map - the one with the starch factory - there is only one road beside the brook. A second road leads off that road at an angle, crossing the brook at a point just south of the Starch Factory.This same road alignment still existed in 1930, but is not the case today.

Now the road crossing the brook is abandoned and is very difficult to find on the ground. There was no evidence of its junction with the present main road (we discovered later that lots of fill used in road-widening was the cause.)

This modern map shows the same area as the Beers map. Now there are two roads on either side of the stream. The former "starch factory" road is not shown

After some bushwacking we discovered traces of the old road on the south side of the brook. This led to the old brook crossing - a sizeable stone bridge abutment perhaps 10 feet higher than the stream. At first we thought this overgrown stone structure might be the mill dam, but the lack of nearby stonework convinced us that it was the bridge. We looked downstream (north) for the mill. The right bank was very steep, while the far side looked like it had some level land that might support a mill. So we went back to the truck (the brook was deep and cold) and drove around to the other road (new road since 1878), to a spot near a white house (probably the "V. Slayton" house on the 1878 map) we had seen from the bridge. There we found the remains of the old road less obscured than on the east bank, and walked down towards the stream. The woods were quite thick, though we could see a little better than we could at the old house site. Before we reached the bridge abutments we saw some debris off to our left which led us to our second success of the day. We found the old mill site - with stone foundation remains, odd pieces of steel, and even some fragments of a wooden dam still intact in the stream.

Most of the mill siteís remains are on the west side of the brook. It was a little hard to discern what structure was where, but after some review we felt that there had probably been a large dam or perhaps two, and a sawmill building perhaps 30 feet square. While the site was labeled a starch factory on the 1878 map, its later use was as a sawmill. The 1883 Gazetteer reports that the sawmill had planing and matching machines and a shingle saw. It could cut 1000 board feet per hour.

One striking feature is this 4-foot wide section of what is probably the remains of a wooden dam. This view is from just upstream of the boards.

It isnít clear from the text whether this was a water-powered mill or if steam was used at that time. Since Lake Elmore was the source it is possible that the abundant water supply might have kept this mill running the old-fashioned way well into the steam mill era. One of Elmoreís other 1883 sawmills was listed as being operated by both steam and water power.

And thanks are especially due Arlo Sterner of Wolcott, without whose help this search would have been much longer and a lot less fun!

So, Iíve now trod in the footsteps of my ancestor Urban Woodbury - I have found all four of the Darling and Woodbury sites shown on the old maps - 3 house sites and one sawmill. It took two days of searching but it was worth it. The maps - especially the Beers atlas maps - proved surprisingly accurate.

David Allen, doing business as "Old Maps", has scanned hundreds of old Vermont maps and made them available on CDROM. Last year he re-issued all of the 1850s county wall maps, the oldest detailed Vermont road maps. This year he has published the 1870s atlases by F. W. Beers. These two map series are available on separate county map CDROMS. He also has a single CD containg all of Vermontís first USGS topographic maps. Allen sells the CDs for $30 each through bookstores and his web site He can also be reached at 413-772-2801 (days) or at at Old Maps PO Box 54 West Chesterfield, NH 03466.

Revised: 01/30/14
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