It Has Been a Good Day

Diary entries of Homer Stanton circa 1900

By Mark R. Moore

Life in rural Danville was very active and exciting for young boys at the turn of the century. Herbert and Homer Stanton were the robust sons of William Henry Stanton who, in turn, was one of the many offshoots of the Stanton family who came to Danville in the early 1800s.
At Historical House, we have received and are cataloging a large collection of artifacts, photos and archival information that William J. Stanton of North Danville saved during his lifetime.  Many of these pieces are unsorted, unlabeled and present both a difficult and interesting puzzle. Sometimes, though, we are blessed with a clear record that reveals the ebb and flow of life in a time gone by. Such is the luck we had with the three journals of Homer Stanton of North Danville, written in 1900, 1903 and 1904.
One of Homer’s entries from the diary of 1904 gives us his age: July 17, 1904. “Uncle Jim and Aunt Eva have been here today. I went out of doors. It is my birthday. I am 18 years old.” So, in the 1900 diary, he is a young man of 14. Young Homer’s diary gives us the texture of daily life through which the history of Danville during the early 1900s can be seen:
“March 7, 1900. Mama, Herbert and I went to singing school. It has snowed and blowed some. Herbert drawed (sic) slabs and phosphate. Read in the Bible.”
There is even some mystery as to road repair:
“March 9, 1900. Read in the Bible. Mama and Herbert and I went to the singing. Papa has been cutting out cradle [?] holes on the St. Johnsbury road. Herbert went with slabs and phosphate.”
But there are also activities that we understand well:
“April 6, 1900. Read in Bible. Papa has been up helping tap trees to Grandpa’s. Herbert has been drawing manure. The singing is finished tonight.”
And we can understand the holiday food traditions:
“December 9, 1900. Herbert and I went to meeting. The wind has blowed  (sic) all day. Grandma and I popped some corn and made some corn balls.”
What is amazing to me, having read the diaries of Homer, is the number of daily activities that revolve around a large network of church, family, friends and community. Card games occupied the family at night:
“May 16, 1903 …Alice, Helen, Chauncey and Bert Massey were here tonight. We played Younker [?]
and whist.  It has been a good day.”
At least that is true until Thomas Edison’s invention makes its appearance:
“June 20, 1903 …Grandma has been down to Uncle George Sanborn’s tonight hearing the phonograph.
“July 29, 1903… We all went down to George Sanborn’s to hear a graphaphone [sic] tonight.”
It’s nice to find out that even audio advancement couldn’t beat old time fun of a good dance.
“August 5, 1903 Herbert went to St. J. this afternoon after meal. Papa and myself chopped. We all went to a promenade and dance at the hall.”
There were times when even the stalwart Stantons needed medical assistance. Medical practitioners were located in Danville, which was identified by Homer as “the Green.”  Dr. Brown had to come to North Danville to see Homer’s father, William, who was in his early fifties at the time.
“March 24, 1904. Papa fell into the silo this morning and stuck a pitchfork into his leg two times, one clear to the bone. The other all most to the bone. We had Dr. Brown from the Green. Herbert, Win and I have been sawing wood with Win horses.”
March 28, March 30 and April 1st 1904. Homer noted his last visit laconically:
“April 1st 1904…Dr. Brown was here today and he is finished coming.”
One assumes William was getting better although there is no mention of the charge for a house call or Dr. Brown’s treatment. Less than a month later, William was splitting wood.
“April 14, 1904: Papa and I split some wood today. Herbert has been doing odd jobs. Net Langmaid has been here cleaning house today. It snowed a little today.”
The attitude about oral health was shocking to me.  My research into the diaries began innocently enough, but things rapidly accelerated in the Stanton family, especially for his brother Herbert, who was in his twenties.
“June 11, 1904: Herbert went to the Green and had 21 teeth pulled. Papa and I cultivated corn and potato[s]. Bee [s] swarmed today.”
Then it was 18-year-old Homer’s turn.
“June 18, 1904: I went to the Green and had two teeth filed [does he mean filled] and three pulled. Ira has been hoeing.  Papa and I put some fire out.”
Finally on June 23, 1904:
“June 23, 1904 Herbert went to the Green and had the rest of his teeth pulled. I have been to school.”
There is no given reason in any of the diaries as to why a young man like Herbert should have all of his teeth pulled out. Surprisingly, there is no mention by either Stanton of the existence of false teeth!
The diaries and records of the Stanton family in North Danville,Vermont, are multifaceted beyond these excerpts quoted here. There were several Stantons with many male and female children who, perhaps, had experiences similar to these which the Historical Society is yet to discover. Even more interesting are the known historical figures who appear momentarily in the family and public records i.e. Langmaids, Siases, Sanborns and Beckwiths, whose history waits to be fleshed out.
The habits and customs of the 1900s as revealed in the diaries are, to me, stories of hard, determined work but also of the joy of companionship which give us the tapestry of life.
This article was first published in the January, 2011, issue of the North Star Monthly.
To see the complete photo album associated with this article click here.
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2 Responses to It Has Been a Good Day

  1. Sally Von Benken says:

    I have a letter, written in 1862, by an unknown union soldier to his wife, Caroline. In the letter, he tells Caroline he is giving Homer Stanton money to be delivered to her. Do you have records of such a person who would be of the right age to be serving in the civil war? Do historical vital records show a woman named Caroline residing in the town in 1862? Is there on line access to the town’s records that I might search myself? Thanks.

  2. Mark R. Moore says:

    Dear Sally:

    Sorry this has taken so long but I was in the hospital at Dartmouth-Hitchcock for several weeks. One place to look would be in old pension records. The Stantons were quite and expansive family who owned stores and farmed in the Danville, Vermont area and there were several sons of different branches that bore the same name. One can look alphabetically on the Vermont Civil War website and see if a Homer Stanton is there. If not let me know and I’ll look for him in what we have here. Thanks

    Mark Moore

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