Lighting the Village

This post describes the electrification of St. Johnsbury streets in 1889, and a proposal by E. T. & H. K. Ide to install and power the lights from the water power in Passumpsic. It’s interesting to think “what if?” but in some respects supplying power was an important part of the business anyway–the Ides sold power to a neighboring business, the water power was eventually sold for a favorable price, and coal became a lucrative part of the business.

The most interesting part of this post, to me, is the letter E. T. & H. K. Ide sent to the Caledonian because it provides some details about the water power and how it worked to power the mill, and reveals that the mill and water power were very under-utilized because a planned flouring mill had not been installed.

The year before our mill burned in 1883 we had put in a new flume, of 4 and 6 inch plank, and attached to it were four iron water wheels. Also we had a place prepared and new race-way built for another and larger wheel which we have never utilized, but in which a water wheel could be “set” in two days time.


Large Fire 1883

This article is transcribed from a newspaper clipping in a scrapbook. I am fairly sure it did not come from the Caledonian, since they ran a large article about the fire, and the St. Johnsbury Republican was first published in 1885. My main interest in the article is that it provides a complete history of the ownership of the original mill:


1796 First recorded sale of water power rights from John Stevens to Potter, William Kendall and son. Mill built soon after.
1804 Potter sold to William Kendall and son, mill known as Kendall’s Mill.
1808–1810 William Kendall Jr. sold to Joseph Armstrong.
Armstrong sold to Jacob Kendall.
Kendall sold to Josiah Thurston.
1810 Thurston sold to Ira Harvey and John Woods
1813 Harvey and Woods sold to Timothy Ide.


New Photo of Passumpsic Mill

A summer or two ago, I purchased several 5×4″ glass dry plate negatives from a dealer. He had approximately 200 slides, but I only purchased several showing the aftermath of the 1904 fire–basically I purchased pictures of something that was no longer there. It was difficult to examine the plates without a light box, but I also selected one that I thought showed the valley and might show the mill. Now that I’ve scanned it, I’ve discovered that it’s an excellent image of the mill from a different angle. I don’t know the exact date of the photo, but I believe it was taken around 1900. Curiously, the mill does not appear to have its two-tone paint job.

Big Fire at Passumpsic 1904

Loss Will Exceed $75,000

The Ide Mill and Fiber Leather Plant in Ashes.

The continuous blowing of the steam whistle at the Fiber Leather mill at Passumpsic just after 6 Monday morning gave the general alarm of fire at that mill and within an hour both the plant of the Passumpsic Fiber Leather Company and the adjoining grist mill of E. T. and H. K. Ide were burned to the ground. So quickly did the flames spread that all that was saved at the leather factory was a carload of finished product which was pushed down the side track away from the hot flames and a few bags of meal at the grist mill. The only part of the burned district that is standing today is the boiler house of the leather board factory and the boilers are believed to be in good condition.


Passumpsic Grange Hall curtain with E. T. & H. K. Ide advertisement.

Passumpsic Grange Hall Theater Curtain

Passumpsic Grange Hall curtain with E. T. & H. K. Ide advertisement.
Passumpsic Grange Hall curtain, courtesy of Curtains Without Borders

A recent article in Seven Days, A New Book Documents Restored Theater Curtains, reminded me that way back in 2013, I found an image of the Passumpsic Grange Hall curtain that has an advertisement for E. T. & H. K. Ide in the lower left corner. At the time, I contacted Christine Hadsel, Director of Curtains Without Borders, who graciously granted permission to reproduce the image here. Curtains Without Borders has a new art book out, which can be purchased on amazon.

Disastrous Fire at Passumpsic 1883

Disastrous Fire at Passumpsic, The Business of the Village Wiped Out

On Sabbath morning, about three o’clock, fire broke out in the Cushman pulp-mill at Passumpsic, and in about two hours that mill, a saw-mill connected, the rake-factory of Smith & Galbraith, and the flouring mill of E. T. & H. K. Ide, were all totally destroyed. The included all the manufacturing of the village. After fighting the fire for about one hour, a messenger was dispatched to St. Johnsbury, where an alarm was sounded and a portion of the fire department responded with Torrent engine, but before the engine had gone far, a telephonic message announced that the fire had spent itself and help of that nature would be no avail.


Passumpsic Mill c. 1850

Passumpsic Mill c. 1850
Passumpsic Mill c. 1850

This sailboat in a circle stampbox on the back of this postcard dates it to 1905-1908, but the image itself is known to be older because this mill was destroyed by fire in 1883. The fire started in an adjoining pulp mill which is not visible in this photo; it’s possible that it’s hidden due to the angle, but it’s a large building and that leads me to conclude that this photo pre-dates the construction of the pulp mill. It certainly appears more rustic than the 1865 photo, but that may be due to its condition. Another version can be seen on a Northeast Kingdom Genealogy page.