By Nancy E. Wood, Contributor
With this issue of The Charlotte News, the yearlong countdown begins for the 60th anniversary of its initial publication on July 18, 1958. They say it takes a village to raise a child, and the same applies to birthing and nurturing a local newspaper that endures this long. Hundreds of Charlotters over this 60 years have contributed thousands of hours to keep it vital. But in the beginning, it all started with one recalcitrant horse.
Her name was Sox. Fun to ride, easy to care for, her one fault was a fear of trailers. Obviously she had been persuaded to enter them before she became my horse, but it was beyond my ability (or my parents’) to coax her in. And we did not own a trailer. I could ride her anywhere I needed to go in Charlotte, including from my home at Cedar Beach to the Schermerhorn Farm across from CCS. That’s where she was boarded in the winter while I attended boarding school in Maine.
By the spring of 1958 it was clear it was time to part with Sox. I would be a senior in high school in the fall and then off to college. I needed a summer job and would have less time for leisurely summer days of riding with my friends.
My father, Lyman Wood, was an advertising man. He considered the options for finding a buyer who lived close enough so we didn’t have to use a trailer. Remember, this was 1958. No email, no Craigslist, no Front Porch Forum. And most significant to this story, no local newspaper. The Burlington Free Press covered Chittenden County and the state. Classified ads were expensive, and what would we do if a buyer popped up in St. Albans? I loved to ride, but not that far.
My father was hospitalized with a heart attack that spring and received a visit from Reverend Neill from the Charlotte Congregational Church. I wasn’t there when they met, but knowing my dad, I suspect he shied away from talking about his condition and mortality. Instead, he proposed that the church start a newspaper for the town. I don’t know if he mentioned the need to run an ad about the horse.
He recovered and Reverend Neill ran with the idea. He commandeered the gaggle of teenagers who were sometime participants in the church youth group. I suspect Dad had volunteered me to help. And so it began, with an energetic crew of 33 kids as the volunteer staff and a few adults guiding our efforts. A chicken barbecue was held to raise money to buy the first mimeograph machine, paper, stencils, typewriter and ink. And staples. For years the News was two or three legal-size sheets of paper stapled together by hand. As now, it was published every two weeks and mailed for free to every home in Charlotte.
I served as the first editor until leaving for school in September. My friend Connie Waller took over and ably served as editor through the next year. The youth group continued to write stories, find advertisers, staple and mail the papers. But as we all grew older and went our separate ways, the adults took over.
I’ve been asked if we ran an ad in the first issue and found a buyer for Sox in Charlotte. But no, word of mouth brought us a buyer on Spear Street in South Burlington before the paper was printed. It was a long ride on horseback, but I delivered Sox to their door. In 1958, there was little traffic on Spear Street.
However, my father, who spent much of his time experimenting with garden equipment, did run an ad for a different kind of “horse” in the first paper. I reread that issue this week and noticed a little handwritten ad at the bottom of the last page for a 3-horsepower rototiller.
The telephone number listed in the ad was VAlley 5-2761. That got me thinking about how things are both the same but different after 60 years. Over the years the “VA” for the Charlotte exchange became “82” and eventually today’s “42.” I still use the same but slightly different number as then: 425-2761.
In 1958, the original Town Hall was being converted into a museum memorializing those who served in World War II. It continues today as the home of the Charlotte Historical Society. Sixty years ago dairy farming was the major business in town. Today’s farming has dramatically diversified with dairy, beef, berries, sheep, wine and CSAs all contributing to the burgeoning local foods economy.
In 1958, the community gathered in a variety of ways. The PTA held an annual bazaar at the school each August, with games of chance, food and more. Now the PTO sponsors a Champ Run and barbecue, and the town has the annual library sale and town beach party. A favorite summer recreation was water skiing, with speedboats prominent on the lake. Sailing was just becoming popular, mostly in small day sailboats like Lightnings. Today, the lake continues to be dominant for summer recreation, with 30- to 40-foot sailing yachts not uncommon.
And then there are the horses. In 1958, we were just a few kids who raced bareback around town for fun, while a handful of farms still used draft horses. Over time, the Charlotte Pony Club was formed, and for several years there was an annual Converse Bay Horse Show. Today, horses have become a major business in town, with what seems like more horse farms than dairy farms, helping to keep our beautiful landscape open and productive.
It pleases me to know that my one stubborn horse contributed to starting this paper that now, 60 years later, still chronicles the stories of our town.