MONTPELIER — The next stage in the redevelopment of a former Mowatt property in the Capital City will be discussed at a City Council meeting Wednesday.
The Mowatt Trust owned the former Montpelier Beverage & Redemption Center on Main Street. The building, together with the nearby former Vermont Association for the Blind building were both demolished to allow for the construction of a recreation path linking Taylor and Main streets.
A third parcel of land adjoining the beverage center is also in play as the city decides how to redevelop the site with a proposal to build an office or apartment building. The Mowatt Trust originally proposed to build on the site but said it was unable to raise the necessary funds.
The three sites have been redefined as two lots, according to a memo to the City Council.
“The current planning for these parcels is to build the alternate transportation path from the new bridge to Main Street, reconstruct a road from the Barre Street/Main Street intersection into the North Branch parking lot, create a small green buffer along the North Branch river bank, build 28 parking spaces and open a space for a new privately developed commercial building through an open RFP (request for providers) process,” the memo said.
The memo said the plan had been approved by the Federal Highway Administration, which funded the recreation path as part of the Taylor Street transit center and housing complex. The plan also has Development Review Board approval and is part of project construction plans for the recreation path, the memo added.
“Absent any change in direction, this is what will be built,” the memo said. “These plans were developed before the new parking garage was under consideration. They were also developed in conjunction with a particular private partner (Mowatt Trust) who ultimately withdrew from the building part of the transaction at the final closing.”
Particular questions which could be explored include:
– Can the parking garage meet all or a portion of a new building’s parking needs?
– Can the lot and entry road be redesigned to have more river front green space?
– Is a new private building still a priority for this location?
– If Barre/Main improvements and/or bike path connection need to use existing parking spaces, can spaces on this lot meet that need?
– If no building is built, should this lot support both parking and green space?
– What is the timeline for making decisions about possible changes given the current contracts and permits in place?
– What are the costs and funding sources of any potential changes?
Interested parties in redevelopment of the site include the Sustainable Montpelier Coalition, Parks Commission, Conservation Commission, Montpelier Development Corporation and Montpelier Alive.
The City Council meeting on Wednesday begins at 6:30 p.m.
MONTPELIER — A hearty meal and community warmth were the perfect antidote to frigid weather on Thanksgiving in the Capital City on Thursday.
More than 300 people were expected to attend the 46th annual Washington County Youth Service Bureau’s Thanksgiving feat at the Bethany Church. More than 350 meals were also home-delivered by volunteers organized by the Unitarian Church across the street.
The annual ritual first began at Christ Church before moving to Bethany Church to accommodate larger crowds. The event is supported by an army of volunteers working in shifts through the day, with all of the food donated, including dozens of home-baked apple and pumpkin pies that were brought to the church on the day. There was no charge for the meal but donations were welcomed to support the activities of the WCYSB’s Boys & Girls Club.
Volunteers arrived at 6:30 a.m. to start cooking 60 turkeys, 300 pounds of squash and 200 pounds of potatoes, as well as all the side trimmings. There were also hors d’oeuvres, hot cider, coffee, juices and cookies.
Kreig Pinkham, executive director of WCYSB, said he was happy to welcome the community and grateful to volunteers who staffed the event and made home deliveries of meals to local residents who were alone, unable to venture out or cook for themselves.
“I think we’re full, and we had hundreds of meals delivered before 10 o’clock,” Pinkham said. “As you can see, there’s not many empty seats here.
“Even on a cold day like today, people long for community, and I think this event provides that. I think if you’re a community service agency, you have to do things like this,” he added.
Christine Hartman, the office manager at WCYSB, has been a volunteer at the event for the past six years and the event coordinator for four years.
“It’s been going good,” said Hartman as she supervised a bustling kitchen. “We had a smoke alarm go off, but it just gets really active in here and things get on the burners, but if that’s the worst thing that happens all day, I’m all set.”
“We had a lot of volunteers which was great and I’m just hoping they’ll show up for the last shift which is the clean-up. We had already delivered 350 meals out into the community. I think that it’s just such a community-bonding experience,” she added.
Hartman said the event was symbolic of a strong community that celebrates its own and supports those in need.
“We have people from all walks of life who come here for the meal — people who are totally down on their luck and then people who are fine but just want some company,” Hartman said. “We get donations from big places like National Life and from small businesses like Global Gifts and the Capital Kitchen, and places like that.”
“Soliciting for any event is always a challenge but for this event, it’s no challenge because everyone wants to help and give back to the community,” she added.
Andrew Whitney, of Montpelier, said he was happy to be able to enjoy a meal on a day when he also had to work.
“I work in a profession where I don’t get to have the day off,” Whitney said. “I work at Walmart and they’re open today. I work from 4 p.m. to 1 a.m. because we go straight through until tomorrow.”
Sue Hummerding and her husband, Brian Laing, of Rochester, Minnesota, were in town visiting their daughter, Sadie Laing, who is a community service coordinator with AmeriCorp’s Vermont Youth Development Corps, working at Maplehill School & Community Farm in Plainfield.
“We were just saying this was better than we could have done because we’re in an Airbnb and don’t really have access to cooking facilities and my daughter is in a one-room apartment, so this is a godsend,” Hummerding said. “Sadie baked 10 apple pies.”
“I serve at a school, so I baked them with the students,” Sadie Laing explained.
“I just love that something like this exists for such a wide variety of people who could use a meal like this,” Laing continued.
“I came last year and it’s really amazing to see the diversity of people that show. There are families with young children, senior citizens and people from all over. I’m really happy to be here with my parents here today,” she added.
Server Alex Arnold returned to work as a volunteer at the event again this year.
“I’ve done this for 4 or 5 years,” Arnold said. “I like feeling useful and helping those who don’t have a family or the resources to celebrate Thanksgiving, especially at this time of year. It’s the beginning of winter, and we need to think about those who are less fortunate.”
Guests were also treated to doggy bags to take leftovers home.
In spring 1861, with reports of Confederate batteries firing upon Fort Sumter in South Carolina, young men joined militias in preparation for a war that seemed as imminent as it was inevitable.
The “Capital Guards” was organized in Montpelier. It was a unit of non-professional soldiers that recalled the days of the Revolution and the War of 1812, when an army of civilians fought the British. Since those days of the citizen soldiers, universal service in the nation’s defense had yielded to a professional army. G.G. Benedict’s “Vermont in the Civil War” lamented, “The time had passed away when every Vermonter was as handy with the rifle as with the ax. The State had ceased to make appropriations for the support of the militia. The “June trainings” had become a joke, and most of the people believed that all need of military arts and munitions was soon to be ended by the approaching end of wars and fighting among civilized nations.”
Benedict noted that 15 years before the outbreak of hostilities at Fort Sumter, all Vermont laws requiring service in the militia had been repealed. With the intimations of armed revolt in the South, an attempt was made to revive “uniformed companies,” with limited success. Interestingly, in the South, the militia movement had remained strong due to the perceived need to suppress slave insurrections.
In 1856, with war on the horizon, a law was passed authorizing $3 a year to each member of an organized company who “should be uniformed and armed and should drill not less than three days a year.” By 1858, a statewide muster in Brandon encouraged the formation of companies throughout Vermont, and in August 1860, a muster in Montpelier attracted 14 companies comprised of 900 men. Benedict reported, “The brigade went regularly into camp in tents provided by the state, and during the muster the men had their first instruction and experience in camp life, with which many of them were to become familiar.”
The strategy of publicizing gatherings of militia companies had its desired effect, and by the end of the year, there were 22 companies organized into a brigade of four regiments under the command of Alonzo Jackman, of Norwich University.
Montpelier’s Capital Guards soon joined the throng and named Francis Voltaire Randall as its captain. Randall, primarily responsible for recruiting the company, was born in Braintree, Vermont in 1824. He made his way to Montpelier where he established a successful and lucrative legal practice as well as being appointed a judge advocate of the Vermont militia. He was also regarded as a competent violinist.
With the threat of war, Randall distinguished himself as an able recruiter and later as a valiant commander. When the Capital Guards reached full strength, he was elected the company’s Captain. So committed to the cause of the Union was Randall, that when he went to war, he took his teenage sons with him.
Off to work
With a month of rudimentary drilling and formations, the Capital Guards performed their first official function, a patriotic demonstration at the Meeting House in East Montpelier Center. In early May 1861, a flag-raising was planned for the recently installed “Liberty Tree,” a 120-foot flag pole near the church. A witness reported, “A volunteer company of soldiers, the Capital Guards” came from Montpelier to witness the ceremony and show themselves, and they are a company who are “nobody’s fools.” Captain Randall of the Guards was called on for a speech but he declined, saying he soon expected to lead his men in battle, and we must be content to let him do the fighting and others the speech-making.
The Freeman reported, “A splendid American ensign was then flung to the breeze from this staff amid the cheering and salutes of the Capital Guards and the citizens assembled to give evidence of their devotion to the old flag. It isn’t now an easy thing to get out of sight of the Stars and Stripes in East Montpelier.”
A similar rally was convened in Montpelier at the end of May, when a flag was raised at the Catholic Church. St. Augustine’s was then located near the State House, and the speakers at the ceremony “represented different religious creeds, different party predilections, and different races” but, according to Walton’s Daily Journal, “all were loyal to the constitution and flag.” The Capital Guards were on hand to administer the customary three cheers.
On June 5, 1861, the company was entertained at the Town Hall (then a building on State Street) where the volunteers were presented with “Testaments, havelocks, etc. by the ladies of the village.” This was on the eve of the departure for their encampment in Burlington. The Freeman noted, “The soldiers passed slowly round in file before the platform on which the ladies were presiding, and received from their fair hands this very considerable and priceless token of their good will and anxiety for the welfare of those about to expose their lives for all we hold dear. The sword has often been most powerful when accompanied by the bible.”
City patriarch and Vermont Mutual Insurance Company founder, Daniel Baldwin, presented each of the 87 volunteers with one gold dollar in tribute to their service. As they boarded the train for Burlington, the Freeman reported, “this is a very unusually stalwart and powerful company of citizen soldiery, as is sufficiently shown in their average weight of 160 pounds — an average nearly 10 pounds greater than is found recorded in the annals of the general run in American military companies in this country.”
A few days later, the Freeman received the first of many public letters from the boys in uniform. This from Capt. Randall, “We had no unusual incidents on our way to Burlington. We arrived here in due time and marched from the depot in company with Capt. Dillingham’s command, escorted by our own fife and drum, to our quarters which we found much more comfortable than we had expected, as well as our provisions, all of which is due in a good degree to our quartermaster, Perley P. Pitkin.”
Pitkin’s ability was soon recognized and he was quickly promoted to serve the quartermaster of the Army of the Potomac. After the war, he became a principal in the Lane Manufacturing Company of Montpelier.
Randall’s letter concluded with a reassuring note. “The boys are reading their Testaments quite attentively and they find the dollars convenient.” A visit to the Burlington encampment by a reporter for the Freeman found the troops in good spirits. “The coffee was excellent, the bread capital, and the beef and beans were good and well-prepared. We visited the tents of the Guards. There are five men to a tent. They are a little crowded but they say they sleep well.”
One volunteer was unable to make the train to Burlington. Patrick Mahar had been arrested for robbing a Montpelier bookstore a few days before the company’s departure. Mahar, the eighth corporal of the Guards, had been at “an Irish dance on the Berlin side of the river, and had been badly disguised by the too free use of rum.” He eventually joined his mess-mates after his release from jail.
Within a week at Camp Underwood (a repurposed fairground) the Capital Guards, now designated Company F, received their initial uniforms “which consisted of a frock coat and pants – both made of durable grey cloth – in the outside seams are sewed a blue stripe and the coats are trimmed with blue and upon the shoulders are straps for knapsacks, and all together it is a fine uniform.” The uniforms, so much like that of Confederate soldiers, almost caused the company to be fired upon by a company of Zouaves, while on their way to Manassas.
Some volunteers had second thoughts. A missive in Walton’s Daily Journal gave an account of a man from Company H who decided that a solder’s life was not for him.
“One of the men who would not take the oath was brought this noon to his company’s quarters, there stripped of his uniform and drummed out of camp, the band playing the Rouge’s March. His name was Wesley Spaulding of Fletcher, it was a humiliating scene.”
Critics line up
On June 24, the entire Second Regiment departed for Washington, D.C., and the company found that camp life in the nation’s capital was harder than what they had experienced in Burlington. They named their camp “Fairbanks” after the Vermont governor, and an anonymous correspondent noted that “all the grumbling we have in our regiment arise from the want of sufficient rations. Some of the boys look pretty glum, but not many are willing to own their mistake in coming.” The letter to the Freeman concludes, “Our Colonel don’t seem to exactly understand how to get along with us and some dissatisfaction exists.” The first colonel of the Regiment was Henry Whiting, who would be severely criticized after Bull Run by the Rutland Herald.
“Col. Whiting it is positively asserted by the members of the regiment, distinguished himself in nothing except as a poltroon and a coward, having shown the white feather on the first approach of danger, and secreted himself behind a tree or under a pile of logs.”
Randall sent news of their departure from Washington and said that the regiment was on its way to Richmond under the command of Gen. O.O. Howard. “We get along as to food a little better than when we first arrived at Washington, but a good Vermont strawberry shortcake would suffer among us. But we don’t allow ourselves to think of anything better than hard bread, salt beef, and coffee without trimmings, all cooked on a pole with the fire built around it.” Randall noted that they were preparing to move toward Manassas Junction.
The battle of Bull Run was a rout for the Union forces. A correspondent to the Freeman reported that Randall “was as brave as a lion and behaved gallantly all through the action.” George Doty, a son of Montpelier, wrote his account of the battle and sent it to the newspaper.
“Our brigade passed over ground, covered with the dead and dying, every rod of which presented some awful spectacle, and showed that the ground had been given up only by inches. The cry of the wounded was, “Oh for God’s sake, a drop of water!” “Don’t step on me boys!” As we left the bushes and advanced over the hill within ½ mile of the battery, they poured into us a storm of iron hail such as is seldom faced. The Vermont boys yelled, “Hurrah for the victory and glory of the Green Mountain State.’”
When the supporting artillery ran out of ammunition, the regiment was ordered to retreat. Doty’s embellished account of the battle of Bull Run may not accord with official histories, but it does demonstrate the undaunted spirit of the Capital Guards, new to the fray.
Reports of Whiting’s inadequacies were rife after the debacle of Bull Run, with calls for his resignation from Vermont newspapers as well as his own soldiers. Whiting ordered the arrest of Joyce “for writing a letter to Vermont which appeared in the papers, censuring the Col. somewhat for the action he took at Manassas.”
A few weeks later the soldiers of the Second Regiment witnessed one of the most memorable events in the entire Civil War – the mock execution of William Scott, the famous “Sleeping Sentinel” from Groton. It seems that Scott, found sleeping on sentry duty, faced a hurriedly convened court-martial. He was found guilty of the crime and sentenced to “be shot to death.” Historian Thomas Lowry suggests that “the entire phrase was necessary; inaccurate marksmanship sometimes only wounded the condemned man, who crawled about, clawing at his wounds, and had to be shot repeatedly until he was, in actual fact, truly dead.”
The story was told by Randall in a letter to the Freeman dated Sept. 10, 1861.
“Young Scott was found sleeping on his post as Picket Guard. He was sentenced to be shot yesterday. But from the nature of the case all of the officers in camp petitioned the President to pardon him. The mitigating circumstance was that Scott stood sentry the night before for a sick mess-mate. The President ordered a respite that night and in the morning fully pardoned him.”
Randall then explained that Lincoln sent his stay of execution by telegraph and, not receiving confirmation that his message had been received, took it upon himself to travel the eight miles to camp after 10:00 at night to personally see that all was right. Randall concluded, “A thing occurred to me growing out of this that will induce me (Democratic, as I am) to vote for ‘Abe’ if he is ever a candidate again.”
With Lincoln’s intercession, Scott was pardoned, but not before the regiments were drawn up to witness his execution. Instead of reading the orders for the firing squad, however, Lincoln’s pardon was read in its place. The charade had the effect of instilling the gravity of the offense — sleeping on picket — as well as mythologizing the humanity of the President for all time. It became a seminal event in both the war and the life of Abraham Lincoln, confirming his compassion in a tale that soon assumed the status of legend.
The soldiers of the Second Regiment were later to witness the actual execution of two deserters, when John Tague and George Blowers faced a firing squad in January 1864. Wilbur Fisk, a correspondent for the Freeman wrote: “I was never obliged to witness a sight like that before, and I sincerely hope that a long time may intervene before I am thus called upon again. Such terrible scenes can only blunt man’s finer sensibilities and harden them the more; and Heaven knows that the influences of a soldier’s life are hardening enough already.”
As in the mock execution of Scott, the troops were drawn into a three-sided square with no one behind the accused.
“Two graves had just been dug there and after we got into the place assigned to us, ordered arms, and all was still as death; two ambulances drove on to the ground with two live men and two coffins to contain them, and these were to fill the newly made graves. I have seen men shot down by scores and hundreds in the field of battle; but I believe I never have witnessed that from which my soul shrunk with such horror.”
The chaplains then stepped forward to offer a prayer and read passages of scripture with prisoners kneeling as they prayed.
“The band discoursed a dirge-like piece of music, when the prisoners were conducted to their coffins, on which they kneeled. A sergeant put a circle around the neck of each, from which was suspended a white object over the breast as a target for the executioners. The prisoners were not blindfolded, but looked straight into the muzzles of the guns that shot them to death.
Tague was firm and erect until the last moment, and when the order was given to fire, he fell like a dead weight, his face resting on the ground, and his feet still remaining on the coffin.
Blowers fell at the same time. He exclaimed, “Oh, dear me!” Struggled a moment and was dead.
We marched in columns around the spot where the bodies of the two men were lying just as they fell. God grant that another such punishment may never be needed in this Potomac Army.”
Fisk’s poignant letter masterfully describes one of the most distasteful duties to which the Civil War soldier could be assigned.
By the end of their enlistment, the soldiers of Company F had distinguished themselves in numerous battles — many of them consequential engagements. Two of their number, Dayton Clark and William Noyes were awarded the Medal of Honor. Clark is buried in Montpelier’s Green Mount Cemetery.
Paul Heller is a writer and historian who lives in Barre.
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