East Dorset Village is much changed from its heyday of activity at the end of the 19th century.
Imagine the scene and sounds. Two mills, Dorset Mountain Marble Company to the north of East Road (today’s Mad Tom) and Dorset Marble Company to the south are milling marble from their quarries on the east side of Dorset Mountain.
Steam-powered saws are circulating; cranes, pulleys, boom lifts and other machinery are screeching; men are pounding, drilling, shouting and directing their laboring animals.
Across the road, the blacksmith, Hartwell Kendall, is repairing and creating implements for the farmers and the marble, lumber and grist mills operating in the village. His bellows puffing and forge roaring with coal delivered by the Holley & Gilbert Co.
Next door, Francis Jacobs, the shoemaker, is repairing a harness for one of the Beebe brothers whose farms are just north on the main highway. James M. Bebee (spelled thus to distinguish his family from that of his brother) is on his way to the Village to drop off his milk at the creamery where John L. Cochran is manufacturing cheese.
The Rutland-Bennington Railroad stops at the depot to pick up and disembark goods and passengers twice daily. There’s a postcard in the mailbag to Clara Buffum (three houses east of the school) that was mailed in Manchester a half-hour earlier. It’s from Clara, telling her mother she is staying the night in Manchester with her cousin.
Some folks walk over to the East Dorset Hotel (Wilson House) to spend a few nights while others — marble workers, business owners, service providers — meander to their nearby homes.
A couple is waiting for the stagecoach to take them to Peru on the road running along Mad Tom Brook. This was a popular route to the mountain towns because the road out of Manchester was a toll road.
A multi-ton block of marble is being loaded onto a flatbed car by crane and chain.
Children are loud and boisterous playing a game at School No. 6 east of the hotel.
Horses, carriages, buggies and wagons are passing through along the main dirt road. Amidst all this are two stores, both thriving throughout the period.
The need for services to support this bustling community was answered in the early 1850s. In 1852, three trustees of the Union Society Church (today’s First Congregational) sold a parcel of land to Plynn D Ames with the stipulation not “to erect any kind of a framed building less than 20 feet from the meeting house.”
The 1856 Rice Harwood map locates a store and post office to the east and behind the church along East Street.
Walton’s Almanac of Businesses attributes ownership of this store to the New England Protective Union, Division 384 with PD Ames as agent. Established in 1849, the Union was a cooperative movement to provide produce in exchange for goods to stock local stores. At the height of the movement there were 20 Divisions in Vermont.
PD Ames is identified as the agent or owner of this store from 1852 until he sold it to Harvey Albee Brophy c1890. Prior to his purchase, but after his service as a sharpshooter in the Civil War, Brophy clerked in the store. In 1914, both Harvey’s wife, Minerva, and daughter, Bessie, wrote postcards to relatives saying that “they are busy in the house and store.”
Due to its early association with the cooperative movement, it can be speculated that groceries were the main product for sale. Gilbert H Brophy, Harvey’s son, became store owner c1917. On the night of March 26, 1926, 5-year-old Doris Bowen stood behind the window in the house across the street from the Brophy’s store and watched it burn. She and her sister were dressed in warm clothing in case they had to leave the house. They did not.
HA Brophy resided at the house at 255 Mad Tom Road in East Dorset. He and Minerva Brophy are Ruth (Stone) Fowler’s grandparents. Ruth grew up in East Dorset and married the late Bob Fowler of Manchester family lineage.
A second store in East Dorset, located west and across the road from the Hotel, shared a similar history. AL Bowen is first listed in 1861, as an East Dorset merchant.
While there is no store shown on the 1856 map, there is one on the 1869 map located adjacent to the railroad. As the only flat-roofed building in the Village, it serves as a recognized focal point even today.
An Al Bowen advertisement in the Jan. 15, 1867, Manchester Journal reads: “I have a quantity of woolen goods, boots & shoes on hand which I have concluded to sell at pretty middling low rates. If you wish to purchase, I can sell you every time you try.” Was Mr. Bowen really trying to sell his customers!
Bowen partnered with Hopkins to advertise their “Railroad Store” in the Journal. They were selling dry goods, groceries, Yankee notions and fashionable clothing. But their 1870, ad also contained the plea: “Those owing me old bills, will please call and settle up before September 1st.”
Why? Because after 10 years of storekeeping, Andrus Bowen sold his store to James Marcellus Griffith, Sept. 3, 1870. The store building, apparently, lent itself to hosting social events. The July 19, 1883, Journal reported that: “A Bowen gave a dance for a select party of relatives and friends on Tuesday evening in the hall over his grocery. All had a good time and enjoyed it immensely.” Curiously, by deed accounts, Griffith, fondly known as Uncle Marley, owned the store.
On April 17, 1908, the Rutland Herald reported: “East Dorset has $15,000 Blaze this Morning. Store of J.M. Griffith Burns To Ground.”
Griffith wasted no time rebuilding. Archived at the Dorset Historical Society is the July 1908, eight-page document: “Specification for the various works required in the erecting of a store building at East Dorset, VT for Mr. J. M. Griffith.”
It is signed by Griffith, owner, and E. H. Beebe, contractor. The details are extensive from materials to use in the foundation walls, framing, building paper, plastering and hardware to the roofing, gutters and privy.
“Cover the main roof & that of privy & porch with M.F. or Taylors Old Style brand of roofing tin or their equal … in sheets 14”x20”, cleated down…(with) one good coat of metallic paint on the underside, joints locked & soldered tight, rosin being used as a flux! The contractor shall be required to entirely complete the work by the 20th day of October 1908.” And so it was!
Although JM Griffith died in 1912, Uncle Marley’s store remained in the family until that fateful day in March 1926, when the Brophy’s store, behind the church, burned.
Seventy-one days later Gilbert H. Brophy bought the neighboring store which had been nurtured by the Griffith family for 56 years. His son, Howard Brophy became the owner in 1934. The store remained in operation until the 1950s when Howard built a new store on the Route 7 highway, today’s Jiffy Mart.
The Village Street store was converted into a family residence. Today it is run as an Airbnb. The JM Griffith family lived at 129 Mad Tom Road with the KENT marble stepping stone out front.
It is a remarkable chapter about the tiny village on the eastern side of Dorset township.
East Dorset’s booming marble industry and agricultural community were supported by two stores, both serving vital, yet different, needs for the community. Both operated for more than 100 years, mostly simultaneously, both remaining in family ownership for long periods of time, and both destroyed by a fire. Much of this is gone or hidden in the quiet, residential East Dorset Village of today.