The Vermont Company & antique glass

 

Lake Dunmore, one of the loveliest lakes in the Green Mountains, is a place of recreation today. Summer cottages, boys' and girls' camps, combination picnic places and dance pavilions line its shores; but for collectors the name means early nineteenth century glass. Here occurred the earliest and most interesting attempt at glassmaking in Vermont, followed sixteen years later by a second and longer lived venture.

Viewed superficially, it does not seem logical that, as early as I 812, a group of Troy, New York, businessmen should have looked so far from home to finance a glassmaking company. Also, with the storm clouds of the War of 1812 already on the horizon, there were distinct signs that this enterprise might come to grief.

But when it was launched the prospects were bright indeed.

The company had a state charter that gave it a monopoly for twelve years, waived taxes, and exempted officers and workmen from both jury and ordinary military duty. Vermont was developing rapidly. Its population showed large increases with each federal census; its farms were prosperous and substantial houses were replacing earlier primitive buildings of squared timbers. Here was a steadily growing market for a factory whose commercial product was window glass.

Close at hand, too, was the material for making it. There was proper sand in quantity along the shores of the lake and the forests immediately surrounding it assured a seemingly endless supply of fuel and wood ashes for potash. Lime could be had merely by burning native rock in a kiln. Further, the site of this glasshouse, where the Salisbury River forms the outlet to the lake, was only a few miles from the main highway of western Vermont. Near by was one of the five major roads that traversed the main range of the Green Mountains. Remembering that railroads were yet to be and that all goods were then transported by freight wagons, the outlook for the Vermont Glass Factory was so rosy that within three years the company had a second glasshouse in operation in the neighbouring village of East Middlebury, where bottles were blown. But the company was too ambitious. Overextended, it could not weather the financial stringency that came with the Treaty of Ghent; first the bottle factory was lost by foreclosure and then the glasshouse on the shore of Lake Dunmore had to discontinue.

Exactly what happened has for many years been subject to controversy and conjecture, with faulty and contradictory recollections of old inhabitants adding to the confusion. But in the Sheldon Art Museum at Middlebury are to be seen record books, early newspaper advertising, and specimens of glass gathered before 1890 by Henry Sheldon, its founder, that give a clear picture of the glass made by the Vermont Glass Factory, as well as that of the second undertaking, the Lake Dunmore Glass Company. The files of the Vermont secretary of state also have disgorged the original charters, giving exact dates when each was granted; and real estate transfer records kept by the town clerks of Middlebury and Salisbury (the Lake Dunmore factory lay in the town of Salisbury; that at East Middlebury in the town of Middlebury) established when these two companies bought their lands and when they lost title to them.

Thus, from official records, local histories written by men who knew both periods of glassmaking from day-to-day observation, newspapers and other contemporary publications, and notes gathered by Mr. Sheldon, who was born on a Salisbury farm less than five miles from the site of the Lake Dunmore glasshouse, the story of early Vermont glass emerges. It had its beginning on November 3, 18 0, when the state legislature granted a charter to "a body corporate and politic for the purpose of establishing and carrying on a Glass Factory, at such place in the State of Vermont as said corporation may choose, by the name of The President and Directors of the Vermont Glass Factory." This enactment named as the original" stockholders, Townshend McCoun, Hugh Peebles, John D. Dickinson, George Tibbitts, and Daniel Merritt, and gave the company until May 1, 1811, to organize.

The next year the legislature amended the charter, granting extension of one year and "exclusive privilege of manufacturing glass within the state for eight years," provided the company, within two years from October 30, 1811 had erected suitable buildings and was in full operation. Two years later this franchise was confirmed and extended to twelve years with the explanation that the company was already manufacturing window glass and contemplated "an establishment for the manufacture of glass ware."

This ended the concern of the state legislature with the affairs of the Vermont Glass Factory; and, although the venture was short-lived, its charter lingered on until 1906, when it was canceled for failure to pay the annual license tax that went into effect that year. The date of the company's organization meeting is not clear; but in the minute book now in the Sheldon Museum the first entry after a copy of the charter indicates that this first meeting was held "at the House kept by Platt Titus in the Village of Troy," that John D. Dickinson was elected chairman and "Ep. Jones Clerk of said Company."

This marks the appearance of Epaphras Jones in the affairs of the company and is practically the last mention of Dickinson and his associates, who presumably were all Troy businessmen. From then until the affairs of the company were finally settled, save for a brief period in 1814 when both glasshouses were leased to Artemus Nixon and Milo Cook, the names of only two other men appear in the records and advertising of the factory. They were Samuel Swift, who was president of the company from 1813 to the end, and Henry R. Schoolcraft, who acted as superintendent from October 27, 1813.

There is some question whether "Ep." Jones was actually a glassmaker. It is known that he came to Vermont in 1803 from somewhere near Hartford, Connecticut, and was for a time interested in stock raising. There is a tradition that he had previously learned glassmaking at the Pitkin works, established in 1783 at Manchester, Connecticut, near Hartford, but nothing has yet been discovered to substantiate the theory. The fact that Schoolcraft was superintendent of the Vermont Glass Factory from 1813 would indicate that Jones was not an experienced worker in glass but merely business manager. In either case, he stayed with the company until the end, resigning his post as clerk, August 30, 1817. The last entry in the minute book reads:

To the President and Directors of the Vermont Glass Factory,
In consequence of Various Persecutions which I have received since prosecuting the companies business finding no law in the State of Ver- mont to protect my person and property separate from the Company— it has become necessary that I resign the office of Clerk—& do by these presence resign said office. I recommend to all concerned that they see that the charter from the state be read, when it is asked who the company is and also that the subscription for stock may be exhibited to show that Henry Olen, Sam '1 Swift, James Andrus, Jr., Dan'l Chipman, Samuel Mattocks, Ep. Jones, Abijah Parker, Artemus Nixon, Isaac Neilson, R. L. Jones, and Joseph Capron were stockholders. With due Respect I am Ep. Jones.

Under this in another handwriting is this bit of doggerel:

Here lies Ep. Jones beneath this sod
Who was thought a shield but proved a rod;
And when he left this mortal soil
He run his race and ceased his toil;
To fartherest west he sped his way
And left his friends his debts to pay.

Actually, after Jones left Vermont he settled in Providence, Rhode Island, where he died some years later. His presence in that city may explain the glass marked "Providence" but proved to have been made at Sandwich and elsewhere. Such factories may have been executing special orders for Jones and marking them accordingly.

There is no doubt that Schoolcraft possessed practical glass-making experience. His father, Captain Lawrence Schoolcraft, was manager of the glasshouse at Keene, New Hampshire, and his son had worked under him. "Henry R. Schoolcraft," wrote Mr. Sheldon on the flyleaf of a book on the Mississippi River by the glassmaker, "was born near Albany in 1793 and came to Salisbury and Middlebury in 1813. He assisted in the erection and manufacture of Glass at Lake Dunmore, was initiated in Union Masonic Lodge, July 7, 1814, studied chemistry and mineralogy in Middlebury College, and at the close of the War of 1812 removed permanently to the West." His goal was not another glasshouse, however. According to Johnson's New Universal Cyclopedia, published New York, 1879, which devoted half a page to his biography, he went to Utica, New York, where in 1817 he started a work on Vitreology. This proposed scientific treatise on the art of glassmaking undoubtedly reflected his college studies but it was never completed because of lack of subscribers. So he turned his attention to exploring the mineral wealth of the West and from that to life and customs of the American Indians. For years he acted as their agent for the federal government. He wrote a number of books and was the principal founder of the Michigan Historical Society.

Samuel Swift, president of the Vermont Glass Company, had been graduated from Dartmouth in 1800 and served as a tutor at Middlebury College, i801-1803. After this he was interested in publishing the Vermont Mirror at Middlebury; was admitted to the bar; became secretary to the Middlebury College board of trustees, I 8 '5-1826, and a trustee of the college, z 827-1 855. In his History of the Town of Middlebury, published 1859, he wrote:

Epaphras Jones, who had previously, in the name of the Vermont Glass Factory, erected a large establishment for manufacturing window glass, at Lake Dunmore, in Salisbury, wishing to extend his operations, in the year 1812, erected in East Middlebury, a little west of Farr's hotel, a large circular brick building for the manufacture of glass ware.

The term "glass ware" was largely used at this period and even earlier to include bottles and other containers. One other bit of testimony regarding bottle making at East Middlebury is to be found in a semi centennial sermon preached in December, 1840, by Dr. Thomas A. Merrill at the Middlebury Congregational Church of which he was the minister from December 19, 1805, to October 19, 1842. In describing various sections of the town, he designated East Middlebury as the "bottle factory district from the circumstances that it was the site of a spacious building erected in 1814 in which was manufactured various articles of glass and among the rest bottles." Swift, in the preface to his history later wrote: "Dr. Merrill, as early as 1807, began to collect facts relating to the town."

Here, then, are two carefully considered statements by two men who should know that the East Middlebury branch of the Vermont Glass Factory was built, was actually operated, and that bottles were blown there. Yet people not conversant with the locality have mistakenly thought that the glasshouse at Lake Dunmore and that at East Middlebury were one and the same. Actually, they are about five miles apart and were once connected by a direct highway now referred to as the Salisbury Plains Road. The warehouse site of the East Middlebury factory is now occupied by an Episcopal Church chapel, and when excavations were being made for its foundations a great many glass fragments were unearthed.

The reason for selecting this little village as the site of the second plant of the Vermont Glass Factory is obvious. One of the five principal roads that crossed the Green Mountains ran directly through it. Could there be a better place for a glass company which sold its products on both east and west sides of Vermont and even penetrated as far down the Connecticut Valley as Hartford?

The story of the rapid rise and fall of the Vermont Glass Factory may be gleaned from the newspapers and other contemporary local publications. Most of the advertisements appeared in the Vermont Mirror, which Samuel Swift published from 1812, to 1816. Here on December 30, 1812, Ep. Jones as "general agent" advertised for "2,000 cords of wood, 40 tons weight transported from Troy and 8 or 10 good labourers by the year." From this the inference that the Lake Dunmore glasshouse was nearing completion would seem warranted. In a little less than ten months, the following advertisement, dated October 20, 1813, appeared:

Vermont Glass Factory
The public are informed that the Vermont Glass Factory is now in complete operation. The glass is warranted equal to any manufactured in the northern states and free from breakage. The following sizes are constantly manufactured and kept for sale at the ware houses in Middlebury, Rutland, and Windsor and will be sold at Albany prices.

6 by 8 9 by 11 12 by 18
7 by 9 10 by 12 13 by 18
8 by 10 11 by 15 14 by 20
  12 by 16  

Orders for window glass of any other dimensions will be received and punctually attended to by
Ep. Jones, Gen. Ag't.

A week later another advertisement over the signature of Henry R. Schoolcraft, superintendent, offers in the name of the president and directors of the Vermont Glass Factory one hundred dollars reward "to any person who shall discover within the state of Vermont . . . a bed of such clay . . . found equal to the manufacture of crucibles for melting pots."

He is very definite regarding the type of clay required, stating that it must be similar to that found in the neighbourhood of Philadelphia and in sufficient quantities to assure the glassworks an adequate supply. He also makes it clear that no reward will be paid until samples have been thoroughly tested. Then he gives full details of places where such clay is usually found and other information helpful to those who might be tempted by the size of the reward.

This evidently had the desired effect, for in an article about the glasshouse at Dunmore which appeared in December, 1813, in the Literary and Philosophical Repertory, Schoolcraft is quoted as follows:

Sand is found on the shores of the lake. Wood stands in exhaustless abundance in the immediate vicinity of the Factory. Fire-stone, an article hitherto brought, at great expense, from Connecticut, has been discovered within ten miles g
of the works. And the enormous chares heretofore incurred in e trans porting of clay from Philadelphia, f
th or the manufacture of pots for melting glass, is about to be avoided by the discovery that the Monkton (Vt.) Porcelain Earth will answer a good purpose. From the unusual success that has attended these works since their commencement, the many advantages which they hold and the variety of the materials with which the place abounds for the making of all kinds of glass, we are led to believe, they will become one of the first establishments in the union.

In the same article it is stated that glass was first blown at the Lake Dunmore glasshouse in September, 1812, and that "it is now on sale in the Middlebury stores and is beginning to circulate through a large section of the country." The making of window glass is further confirmed by a contemporary letter written by Mr. Sheldon's mother, in which she describes going to the factory at Lake Dunmore to buy some for the Sheldon homestead, then being rebuilt after a fire.

In December, 1813, and January, 1814, Ep. Jones again advertised for freight to be brought to the Lake Dunmore factory. The first was for twenty tons from Troy and the second for forty tons from Vernon, Oneida County, New York. Of course, the winter season when there was good sleighing was the ideal time to haul freight from such distances. The mention of supplies from near Vernon might suggest some connection between the Vermont venture and the Oneida Glass Factory. However, the latter was
organized by men from Utica; that at Lake Dunmore, as already stated, was financed by residents of Troy.

Mention of the fact that the company was issuing notes drawn on the cashier of the Farmers Bank, Troy, New York, in lieu of currency, which was very scarce, was first made in 1814. These, printed from copperplate engravings with the reverse left blank, were for $1, $1.25, $1,50, $1,75, $ 2, $3, and $5. Each bill bore the name of the person to whom it was originally paid, as well as number, date, and signatures of both the president and the clerk of the company. In form they resemble notes then being issued by banks and are of two types: one, immediately above the wording, has a symbolic design into which has been introduced cases of glass with dimensions marked on them; the other is decorated with the picture of the glasshouse at Lake Dunmore which tallies closely with a description published about the same time. It shows at least two large wooden buildings, each with its furnace chimney.

Despite lengthy and fairly frequent advertisements dealing with its methods of delivery in various directions, it is evident that by October, 1814, financial difficulties were already besetting the ill-fated venture. In the Columbia Patriot, Swift's rival weekly newspaper, there is a verbose explanation of why the company's bills are not being redeemed as expected. Three weeks later, in the same paper and under the heading "Window Glass and Glass Ware," an advertisement informs us that Artemus Nixon and. Milo Cook have leased both factories of the Vermont Glass Factory. This lease seems to have been soon relinquished and there was apparently a bad fire at the Lake Dunmore factory, for on May 3, 1815, Ep. Jones, as clerk and agent, advertised that the window-glass factory was to be rebuilt and operating in a few weeks.

Then, at a stockholders' meeting, a resolution was passed for a subscription to shares in a new company. It evidently did not materialize, for in 1816 the East Middlebury property was lost; and on August 30, 1817, the company suspended all operations. More foreclosures followed and the fires for glassmaking were not rekindled for fifteen or sixteen years.

The second period of glassmaking at Lake Dunmore began in 1832 when the Vermont legislature issued a charter to the Lake Dunmore Glass Company. This time the incorporators were all Vermonters, most of them living in Middlebury or near-by towns: William Nash, president of the Middlebury bank; Paris Fletcher, a local financier; George Chipman, a lawyer and member of one of the town's leading families; George C. Loomis, his brother-in-law ; Ebenezer Briggs, lawyer and politician of Salisbury and, later, Brandon; William Y. Ripley served as clerk of the new company and later made a fortune in marble at Rutland. In their first advertisement these six men stated that they had subscribed for all the stock of the new company. By February 12, 1833, they could advertise that the Lake Dunmore factory had been rebuilt and was in full operation. It was making window glass of all descriptions, cut to desired sizes and patterns.

On December 16th of the same year, the account books, now in the Sheldon Museum, show an inventory of $14,143.14, with two pages given over to an enumeration of tools and equipment. Nowhere do we find the name of, or any reference to, the practical glassmaker in charge of operations nor any list of the workmen. We only know that during this second venture glass was successfully produced for nine years. By 1849 the slate was wiped clean. The factory and all the land were acquired by the Lake Dunmore Hotel Company. So industry gave way to summer recreation.

With both ventures specimens of the glass made have survived. Those of the earlier period are, of course, more difficult to discover; but there are two collections in Middlebury with clear histories. The Sheldon Museum has a dark-brown bottle bearing Mr. Sheldon's label to the effect that it was made at East Middlebury; a cane which he obtained many years ago from a woman who lived near the bottle factory as a girl; and a small aquamarine sauce dish. In the Chemistry Department of Middlebury College is preserved a group of pieces which tradition, handed down within the faculty, attributes to the workmen of the Vermont Glass Factory. Considering Samuel Swift's connection with both college and glass company, this would seem entirely likely. Also, as early as 1813-1817, Jarius Kerman was professor of chemistry and mineralogy and it was under him that Schoolcraft studied before he left for the West. Could anything have given the latter greater pleasure than to provide his professor with needed, if crude, pieces of chemical apparatus, especially blown at either East Middlebury or Lake Dunmore under his own craft's supervision?

This collection at the college, which has long been cherished, includes a retort and bulb, a "receiver," and five bottles of varying sizes. All compare in colour with various specimens of rock-shaped bits of glass retrieved from both factory sites. About 1920 an antique dealer, then living in Brandon, made a house-to-house canvass of the old homes near Lake Dunmore, Salisbury Village, and Middlebury. Many of the pieces so discovered are now in a collection at Manchester, Vermont. Among them are a ribbed, wide-mouthed flask of aquamarine glass; a footed bowl of light-green glass; a delicate candy or apothecary's jar with ball cover of crystal-clear glass; a basin or milk dish of bottle-green glass; two pitchers, the larger with threaded top of deep-green glass and the smaller one of blue-green glass, from an old Salisbury family; a hurricane shade of very light aquamarine glass; and a carefully executed large bottle with swirl to the right of the same colour.Somewhere, too, in a paperweight enthusiast's collection, is the only known specimen of Lake Dunmore glass bearing within it wording and a date that furnish irrefutable evidence that this was another of the offhand pieces produced by a window-glass worker at this Vermont factory. So we have the story of a venture in glassmaking, laid in a state that was slower of settlement than the rest of New England, but on the whole typical of all glassmaking enterprises in America beginning with that at Jamestown.

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