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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