“Time is a jet plane; it moves too fast.” – Bob Dylan

I started writing historical articles for the Norwich Times in the summer of 2015. After 33 journeys into Norwich history, it’s time to pass the computer, the pen, or maybe the quill onto another chronicler. Before I sign off, I’d like to revisit a few of those intriguing people, places, and events in Norwich’s history that have made their way into print. To spice things up, I’ve included a review question at the end of each passage. Answers will be at the end of the article.

Wartime Celebration in Norwich

July 4, 1944

Let’s start with a softball question: What event happened in Norwich on July 4, 1944, that drew over 400 people? The gathering opened with a rendition of “God Bless America” with Fred Metcalf accompanying on his organ. A ribbon was cut, and folks enjoyed grilled burgers and hot dogs cooked on stone fireplaces built by Ernest Fitzgerald and Dan Fraser. Kids and adults participated in races and contests. Bill Aldrich, a lifetime Norwich resident, was a small boy at the event and remembered one game that “involved drinking a Coke out of a baby bottle, and the quickest to empty was the winner.” The celebration closed with “The Star Spangled Banner.” Need a hint? Visit the Norwich Town Hall and check out the Paul Sample painting in the clerk’s office.

1. Why was there a celebration in Norwich on July 4, 1944?

  1. Celebrating the success of the D-Day invasion
  2. The opening of the town pool
  3. Birthday gala for long-time Norwich resident Verne Lundquist

Town Reports

There’s no better way to understand the history and character of Norwich than by thumbing through the town reports, which first appeared before Town Meeting Day in 1778. By the late nineteenth century, the reports covered the town’s financial health to the last penny. They explained how the village educated its children, treated its poverty-stricken citizens, and supported its local institutions year after year. Here is a question from one town report:

2. On November 13, 1963, President Kennedy signed a bill that created what landmark development?

  1. The first interstate school district in the nation, joining Norwich and Hanover
  2. The building of Interstate 91
  3. Property taxes could not be based on home value

To Save the Union

During the Civil War, 178 Norwich men, out of a population of 1,759, joined the Union Army and Navy. In September 1861, a farm worker from Norwich joined the military after he received a $100 bounty for his patriotism. This young Vermonter fought in 18 major battles, including Gettysburg and Antietam. The soldier was wounded near the end of his enlistment and sent home, where he ran a farm on Turnpike Road, married, and helped raise five children. He is buried beneath a large family tombstone in Hillside Cemetery.

3. Who was this Civil War soldier?

  1. Eldred Huff  
  2. Asa Fix
  3. Gomer Pyle 
  4. Ransom Slack

Big Business on the River

In the later part of the nineteenth century, Pattersonville, a bustling hamlet, was established on the northern edge of Norwich along the Ompompanoosuc River. Between 1872 and 1910, L. S. Patterson developed a company that was Norwich’s largest and most prosperous. The products made in Pattersonville were shipped to St. Johnsbury and Burlington and dealers in Boston, New York, Baltimore, and Philadelphia.

4. What was made in Pattersonville?

  1. Musical instruments
  2. Furniture
  3. Lumber for new homes 

Crossing the River

Since 1804, there have been six bridges across the Connecticut River between Hanover and Norwich. The first span was a toll bridge. Every walker paid two cents, and a horse and rider cost five cents. In 1859, a third bridge was constructed, covered, and free to cross. It survived a flood in 1869 and stood up to the historic 1927 flood. During the log drives in the 1890s, “logs used to jam up so badly against the old stone pier that they had to be dynamited to effect their release – but the old bridge stood.” Goods bound for Hanover were shipped to the Lewiston train station in Norwich and carted across the bridge. Many Dartmouth first-year students were dropped off at the station and “walked through the covered bridge and up the hill to view the Hanover plain for the first time.” The covered bridge lasted until 1935; today’s bridge, completed in 1999, cost $11.2 million.

5. The current Ledyard Bridge was subject to a heated debate regarding…

  1. Its lack of a proper bike path
  2. The decorative stone balls along the bridge
  3. Should the bridge be renamed after then-President Clinton

The Concrete Octopus

The Concrete Octopus

In 1964, Interstate 91, the new superhighway, approached Norwich. The state of Vermont announced its intention to build two on-ramps and two exit ramps at the shortest and most direct route between Norwich and Hanover. The proposed interstate did not sit well with the community and set off a four-year battle that included letters to the editor, petitions, and town votes. Some citizens were upset about the destruction of the hamlet of Lewiston, a small group of homes and stores on the Vermont side of the Ledyard Bridge. In contrast, others welcomed the opportunity to enjoy the benefits of a modern transportation system.

6. During the discussion about where to locate the I-91 interchange, several alternatives were suggested. Were they to:

  1. Shift the interchange to the Loveland district two miles north of the Ledyard Bridge and build a new bridge
  2. Set the interchange in the general vicinity of where Willing Hands is located today
  3. Both a & b

Skiing in Norwich: From Rope Tow to the Olympics

Flying at Sample’s Jump

What’s the magic behind Norwich and its Olympic skiers? Are ski jumping classes a requirement at the Marion Cross School? Or is there a magic elixir in the town’s maple syrup? What else could explain the abundance of Olympic athletes from this Vermont town in the last 70 years? In the late 1940s, the Ford Sayre ski program, which originated in Hanover, got rolling in Norwich on the south side of Cemetery Hill with a rope tow. The area, Altow, was named after the first owner, Al Peavy (get it?: Al’s Tow). Near Altow, off of Hopson Road, a 25-meter ski jump was created in the 1950s. It was called Sample’s Hill after the Dartmouth artist-in-residence, Paul Sample, who lived nearby. “Ski jumping was viewed as an extreme sport when the hill opened,” said Buff McLaughry, who grew up in Norwich. “Spectators flocked from all over to watch us sail through the air for jumps of even 50 feet.” Norwich has produced 11 Winter Olympians, highlighted most recently by Hannah Kearney, who brought home a gold medal from the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, where she won the women’s moguls event.

7. Which Norwich skier won the silver medal in the 1960 Olympics women’s slalom at Squaw Valley, California?

  1. Picabo Street
  2. Penny Pitou
  3. Betsy Snite

A Rare Norwich Gem 

Ruby Fitzgerald, “A gem from Norwich”

In the 1940 Norwich census, farmer, lawyer, doctor, and professor were all positions held by men. Women were listed primarily as housewives. That made Norwich’s Ruby Fitzgerald, who worked at the New England Telephone and Telegraph Company for 48 years, a pioneer. Born in 1902, Ruby grew up in a 21-room home on the corner of Hazen and Main Streets. In 1909, the Fitzgeralds operated the first telephone exchange in Norwich. When Ruby was 17, inspired by her experience with the family exchange, she joined New England Telephone in White River Junction. In 1928, she became a junior switchboard supervisor; in 1933, the company promoted Ruby to senior supervisor. Ruby’s final promotion came in 1946 when she became the chief operator. She hired new operators in this position, led visiting dignitaries on exchange tours, and spoke to civic groups. In a 1955 White River Junction Rotary Club presentation, Ruby predicted that “a dial system would be introduced here between 1956 and 1957.” It arrived in 1961. In 1967, Ruby, who turned 65 that year, retired from the telephone company. Ever the groundbreaker, Ruby left with a flourish, with awards and a testimonial dinner before 200 people at Lebanon’s Landers Restaurant.

8. Ruby’s nickname was:

  1. Mrs. Ding A Ling
  2. Mrs. Bel of Tel. And Tel.
  3. Mrs. Number Please

Norwich’s Mayor

Al Foley, the Honorary Mayor of Norwich

By many accounts, Allen Foley was Norwich’s grandest storyteller and one of its finest public servants. Born in 1898, Allen attended Dartmouth, earned a master’s degree in history, and returned to Dartmouth, where he taught history for over three decades. Al had a home on McKenna Road and, in 1956, became Norwich’s town moderator, a post he held for 20 years. In 1963, as a thank you for his years of service, he was named “Honorary Mayor.” He said his duties as mayor consisted of riding in a convertible during the Norwich Parade each summer.

In 1964, Al retired from Dartmouth and increased his civic responsibilities. He represented Norwich in the Vermont legislature for five terms and was the town moderator until 1975 when he began his subsequent career as an after-dinner speaker. His stories poked fun at people who ventured into Vermont from out of state. For example, one told of a visitor from Massachusetts who drove to Vermont and came to a fork in the road with signs pointing in both directions to White River Junction. He asked a Vermonter walking on the road: “Does it make any difference which road I take to White River?” and received the reply: “Not to me, it don’t.”

Allen died in 1978. A colleague from the legislature wrote, “We shall miss Al Foley, his humor, his caring, his demonstrated belief in good government, his love of people and conversation, his mastery of the Yankee put-down. His was the ultimate gift, to make life more bearable for others.”

 9. Al Foley was a lifelong bachelor and rarely ate at home. He enjoyed most of his meals at:

  1. Umpleby’s and Ramunto’s
  2. Molly’s and the Hanover Inn
  3. Lou’s and the Norwich Inn

Bonus Question

Where is one of the most beautiful places on the shores of the Connecticut River to enjoy a summer afternoon?

Answer: Foley Park. Dedicated to Allen Foley’s memory, the park lies on the southwestern side of the Ledyard Bridge. In addition to its beauty, the park is a historical landmark. In 1765, the Messenger and Hutchinson families built a log hut on the site, becoming the first pioneer families to winter in Norwich.

Adirondack chairs allow you to sit and watch ducks feed or canoes skim across the water. As you gaze down the river, you can almost imagine those first families slowly paddling upstream. The older gentleman standing nearby and looking downstream may be me scanning the river with you.          

I hope you have enjoyed reading these articles as much as I have enjoyed writing them. A big thank you goes to my research mentors at the Norwich Historical Society: Sarah Rooker, Nancy Osgood, and Judy Brown. A final shout-out goes to Alan Berolzheimer, whose close reads and edits consistently improved my articles.

Quiz Answers

Ski Altow

1. b) The opening of the town pool

2. a) The first interstate school district

in the nation, joining Norwich and

Hanover.

3. d) Ransom Slack

4. b) Furniture

5. b) The decorative stone balls along

the bridge

6. c) Both a & b

7. c) Betsy Snite

8. b) Mrs. Bel of Tel. And Tel. 9. c) Lou’s and The Norwich Inn

Learn more:  info@norwichhistory.org

Story ideas: editor@norwichtimes.com

To contribute articles: editor@norwichtimes.com

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