Here are some of Chesterfield's well or little know tales from the past.
Most are based in truth. And then there are the others.....
With a personality like Madame Sherri, tales abound, each more exaggerated than the next. Did she run a brothel and hobnob with Al Capone and Supreme Court Justice Stone? Extremely unlikely, but she did like to party and loved being the center of attention.
One story that seems to always crop up is in regards to her 1927 crème colored Packard Touring Car with red wheels. Rumor had it she purchased it from the State Department. She liked to tell all that the Prince of Wales purchased it for her. Those who have researched it out claim it was one of three custom touring cars that the Packard Company built. Supposedly, it was purchased for $3,500 by Madame herself. Regardless of the purchaser, the rest of the story is pretty consistent.
Madame Sherri never drove it. Instead she would be chauffeured about the area by some handsome young man and an assortment of other beautiful young people. She would be attired in all her finery which always included a large fur coat, scarves, and a hat with an abundance of feathers. But under the coat, it was all Madame Sherri and nothing else. Also on these trips, she was usually accompanied by a small monkey on a leash.
She almost always used cash. She liked to carry it in a roll tucked in one or two places. It would either be held securely in her bare bosom or strapped under a garter belt on her otherwise naked thigh. Whenever it was needed, she would produce it with such a flair that it could hardly be unnoticed. It seemed she took perverse delight in shocking as many of the local merchants as possible.
Her chain-smoking habit was legendary. She was a believer in conservation of matches. She would light her first Fatima cigarette of the day with a match, and then ignite each succeeding one off its predecessor. Her cigarette holders were exquisite and long, very, very long.
Some of the townspeople got used to her eccentricity. During one of the local Town Hall square dances, Madame and entourage made an unexpected, grand entrance through the front doors. Not to be upstaged, the band started playing, Jingle Bells, much to the delight of the audience.
Her concept for the Castle was strictly in her head. Some of the contractors had difficulty with her changing her mind on what appeared to be a whim. Some didn’t last a day. While others toughed it out being grateful for the work and with some appreciation of the fact that she frequently delivered their directions in her flapping fur coat with nothing on beneath it. It is no wonder, that she had a statue of Aphrodite erected in a large round pond outside the Castle.
Poverty and the crushing discovery that her precious Castle was destroyed by vandals, finally took the spark out of her eyes. Those who only knew her in her later years, have a hard time believing that such a little woman would have caused such a big stir.
In the mid-1700s, a hunter named Spafford was fishing in his flat-bottom boat when he spotted a bear swimming across the lake. He tried to shoot it, but his musket powder was wet. Much to Spafford’s surprise, the bear swam right up to the boat, climbed in, sat down in the front, and proceeded to completely ignored him. The slightly rattled Spafford turned the boat around and headed back to the shore. However, this did not please the bear. It turned its head around, bared its teeth and growled loudly. Spafford tried turning the boat around 3 to 4 times. But, each time the bear’s responded with more bared teeth and louder and deeper growls. However, if Spafford headed the boat in the direction where the bear had been heading, Mr. Bear was quite content to sit in the front, upright on its bottom, like any other regular passenger. Being no fool, and keenly aware that 150 lbs of muscle with big teeth and claws was sitting just a few feet away, Spafford gave up and rowed the boat in the bear’s desired direction. When the boat reached the shallow shoreline water, the bear jumped out, nearly tipping the boat over. Spafford silently grabbed the gunnels and waited out the wobble while he watched the bear disappear into the woods. Then, he took up the oars and rowed to the opposite side of the lake, thinking this is one fish story no one would believe. And that's how a bear helped name a Lake in New Hampshire, Lake Spafford.
Please note that it wasn’t until the late 19th century that the summer people changed the lake’s name to Spofford. Seems it sounded more sophisticated. But, you can bet, not one of them ever had a bear captain their boat.
Dawn on New Year’s Day 1856 was clear and very cold in Brattleboro, Vermont. The few folks out on the snow-covered streets were soon glad that they had gotten up early. They scurried home to wake up family and friends with exciting news. An angel had appeared over night, as if by magic, on the corner of Linden and North Main Streets.
It was an eight-foot-high statue with feathered, folded wings, a flowing robe and a peaceful expression on its face. Most marvelous of all, it was made entirely of snow and ice. It was immediately nicknamed the “Snow Angel”. Because the figure held a pen and a notebook in its hands, some thought it represented the closing of the old year’s records and the opening of the New Year’s ones. Others thought that it looked to be marking down all the sins and misdeeds of the local townspeople. Thus, it was also called the “Recording Angel”.
Whatever they called it, all admired the angel’s wondrous beauty and workmanship. It was so lifelike, it was said that schoolboys, who rarely spared any object, refused to make it a target for their snowballs. An elderly man, who never bowed to anyone, was seen to tip his hat to the statue in respect as he passed. Numerous newspapers carried its image, spreading the story throughout the country.
But, what amazed the townspeople the most was that it was created by Larkin Goldsmith Mead, Jr. He was the son of a prominent local lawyer, and was known to be a very bashful boy. They thought he spent much of his time alone, sketching flowers and trees. But it was known, he had tried his hand at sculpture.
At the age of 19, Larkin had gone to work in the local Brattleboro hardware store. When he wasn’t sweeping the floor, weighing out nails, or wrapping up store goods for customers, he passed the time by carving a pig out of a piece of marble that he kept behind the counter. One day a vacationing artist entered the store and saw Larkin carving. He told Larkin that he had talent, and subsequently helped him secure a position as a student to a New York City sculptor. After two years, Larkin ran out of money and had to return home. Unfortunately, there was no work for an artist in the area other than giving drawing lessons at town hall.
On the last day of December in 1855, when Larkin was 21 years old, he decided to use his talents as a sculptor to pull a practical joke on the townspeople. As soon as it was dark, he set to work by lantern light. With two close friends, Edward and Henry Burnham, whose father owned an iron foundry close by, he began to make the angel. The brothers brought him snow to add to the figure. When the boys got cold, they fired up the oven in the Burnham Foundry to warm themselves and began to melt snow.
At times, in order to mold a part more accurately, Larkin would make it separately. Then, he’d attached it to the figure with wet snow. Slowly the angel took shape. In order to give it an icy sheen and make parts appear translucent, the brothers would carefully douse it with melted snow.
Larkin’s Snow Angel lasted two weeks, coming to the end during the January thaw. But, its fame spread and it became the landmark in Larkin’s life. It launched him into a life-long career as a renowned neoclassical sculptor. (Larkin was born in Chesterfield, just across the river from Brattleboro. See his biography in Notable People to learn more about his life and his famous works of art.)
(Portions of this story were taken from a Vermont History Website Story, Larkin’s Snow Angel.) https://vermonthistory.org/images/stories/articles/.../larkinssnowangel.pdf
Small rural churches often share ministers who travel back and forth between them on a regular schedule. This was the case of the Chesterfield Methodist Church and the Spofford Methodist Church. One day in 1911, the Methodist Pastor Grube Cornish was traveling from the Chesterfield Church to preach in Spofford. As his buggy took him along Old Chesterfield Road, his way was blocked by a stopped automobile with two gentlemen standing beside it. Unable to continue, the minister climbed down from his seat, and approached the gentlemen. The problem became quite evident, a flat tire. Now, the gentlemen were quite upset about this unforeseen delay. They were in a rush to attend service at the Spofford Church. They were quite surprised, when their unexpected assistant assured them, that the service would not start without them. The men joined forces, rolled up their sleeves and fixed the tire. It wasn’t until they all got to the church that the two gentleman realize it was the minister who had helped them. And, it wasn’t until after the service, that the minister learned that he had helped the Dean of the Columbia Law School, Harlan F. Stone (future Supreme Court Chief Justice) and his good friend Charles Evans Hughes, Associate Justice of the US Supreme Court.
As you enjoy the trails in the Chesterfield part of Pisgah State Park, you will stumble upon old cellar holes and sturdy stonewalls, that stand as monument to the hard-working farmers who built them. Even though the people long ago deserted this southeastern quarter of town, there still remains the fruit of their labors. The deer still feed on apples from the trees near the barn sites, berries grow where the forest has not crept back, lilacs and iris still blossom beside the old door stones. Here and there roses bloom in the tall grass and myrtle flourishes around some cellar holes to cover the time-scarred rocks.
One wonders about the early settlers who chose to live here and accepted the challenge of taming the wild land. Most of it was covered with trees that had to be cut, and the wood was used for building houses, barns, cradles, implements, etc. Stumps had to be removed for the cornfields and pastures. Since most of the original farms were about 250 acres, roads had to be built from neighbor to neighbor, following old Indian trails and wandering cow paths, and finally extending to the Center Village and surrounding communities. Stonewalls were built to clear the rocks and mark boundaries. Deep wells were dug that still are full of water and now present a danger to unwary hikers.
Few people settled in this part of Chesterfield before 1780, but after the Revolution more families came whose desire to own land overcame their fear of isolation. The old folks called it Hardscrabble, the jokesters called it Nash City, and later the summer people talked about the Lost City which they could not find due to the fact that the natives were not eager to give those city folk any help. But, the section was really the southeastern quarter of the town and included Hardscrabble, Nash City, and Fullam Pond. You cannot separate it, because it is held together by a maze of roads, and all but the portion of Hardscrabble is in Pisgah State Park.
Probably the best known name in this section of the Park is Nash City. Over the years, the mystery of its location grew, and the myths and stories intrigued many people. One story swelled its population to almost city proportions.
In the 1800’s, Dr. Buttler was summoned to Nash City. He asked his wife to ride along with him. She told him to wait, so that she could get her pocketbook, as she might see something to buy in one of the stores. Imagine her surprise to find that Nash City was so named for a large family of Nashs who lived in two houses near Fullam Pond! One house was still standing in 1914 or 1915 and was described as a weathered building, not very high, not very long, and not very wide.
The founder of this family was Abraham Nash, who came to Chesterfield in 1812 with his wife, Betsey, and four of his eight children. The other four were born in Nash City, as were most of the nine children of his son, Reuben. Abraham lived to be 71, and Betsey struggled on in poor health for twenty years more with assistance from the Town.
People knew them as the “Basket Nashs”, as they made and sold baskets in neighboring communities. There is a story told about one of them who came down to Chesterfield Factory (Spofford) to sell his baskets and get medicine for his wife. After getting the medicine, he traded his baskets for gin and stopped at the blacksmith’s shop to share it. He put the bottle of medicine on a beam, and when he was ready to stagger home, he picked up another bottle which he took home to his wife. She refused to take it, saying it smelled like horse liniment. He told her that someone had to take it, and drank it himself!
The last Nash in town died in 1904 at the age of 78. Abraham and Betsey are buried in the little cemetery on Beal Hill in the Park. On your next visit, after a picnic by the restful water of Fullam Pond, see if you can find this early graveyard where the oldest stone bears the date 1790.
(The above was written for The Chesterfield News, March 1982 addition, Vol. 6, No. 1)