The first of our observers, Mary Rogers Cabot (1856-1932), whose memoirs form the core of this documentary chronicle, was a person of considerable stature who deserves more than passing mention. She is best known as the compiler of Annals of Brattleboro, Vermont, 1681-1895, the two thick volumes which have been quarried and requarried (not always very accurately) by local historians and schoolchildren, columnists and space writers, ever since their publication in 1921-1922 by E. L. Hildreth & Co. of Brattleboro. With no pretensions to "professional" history, Miss Cabot spent many years assembling this massive scrapbook. Its main disadvantage to the more scientifically-minded is that the scraps are often unattributed or undated, so that it is not always easy to determine who said what, and when. Nevertheless, few small towns can boast such a rich compendium of local lore as this great labor of love.
The Annals reflect some of Miss Cabot's own values and those of a New England town of her period. It is also a bit of a social register. I recall that there was, at the time of its publication, considerable tongue-wagging, even heart-burning, about which family genealogies were or were not "in Cabot." The first settlers, the honest farmers, ambitious merchants, ministers, educators, doctors, lawyers, all fared well at Miss Cabot's hand, as did printers and publishers, as well as those families who had swarmed to other parts of the nation (or world) while maintaining their cousinships and even summer homes in Brattleboro. As the terminal date for the Annals is 1895, the time had not yet come for talk of "ethnic minorities," nor will one find much in Cabot about the potential Kennedys and Spiro Agnews. If there was a "proletariat" in town, little is heard of it. One thing, however, is most evident: Miss Cabot's conviction that Brattleboro was a "cultured community." The writers, the artists, the architects, the musicians, are singled out for generous attention: Royall Tyler and Thomas Greene Fessenden; William Morns Hunt, the painter, and his brother, the architect Richard Morns Hunt; William Rutherford Mead, another architect (Mead, McKim and White), his sister Elinor Mead (Mrs. William Dean Howells), and their brother, Larkin G. Mead, Jr., the Yankee stonecutter. Younger people of Miss Cabot's own generation also find a place in her Brattleboro Parnassus: Mary Wilkins (later Mrs. Freeman), the writer of New England tales; opera singers like Hattie Brasor (Stella Brazzi) and Mary Howe (daughter of an outstanding local photographer); the French-trained portrait painter, Robert Gordon Hardie, Jr. And, of course, Wolcott Balestier and Rudyard Kipling. On the title-page of the second volume of the Annals, Miss Cabot placed Kipling's lines:
"God gave all men all earth to love,Mary Cabot's roots lay deep in New England. Her father, Norman Franklin Cabot (1821-1912), was born in Hartland, Vermont, in sight of Mount Ascutney, some sixty miles up the Connecticut River from Brattleboro. Norman's grandfather was one of the pioneers who had come up the valley from the older settled regions of Massachusetts and Connecticut in the 1760s and 1770s. The Treaty of Paris (1763), concluding the last of the "French and Indian" colonial wars, had released this wilderness frontier area from the perils of raids and counter-raids and thus opened it to settlement. In geographical terms it is little more than a hundred miles, as the crow flies, from Boston to Connecticut River Valley towns like Brattleboro or Hartland. Historically speaking, the distance is some one hundred and fifty years. In 1836, at the age of fifteen, Norman Cabot, one of nine children, left the family farm in Hartland to seek his fortune elsewhere. His pilgrim's progress took him south to Georgia and to Alabama, where he established a successful mercantile business at Wetumpka—his headquarters for the next seventeen years. Here he met other New Englanders, including Francis Brooks, with whom he formed a partnership. In 1851 he journeyed to California ("walking across the Isthmus of Panama," according to family tradition) with Francis Brooks's brother George. Back east again, Norman Cabot was married to the Brooks's sister, Lucy, at W etumpka (13 December 1853).
In 1856 the Cabots came north for a visit to relatives in Brattleboro, where their first child, Mary, was born on August 20, 1856. The future annalist of Brattleboro was thus a native of the town, born in the Main Street house of her maternal aunt and uncle, May Brooks Goodhue and Col. Francis Goodhue. After another year in Alabama, Norman Cabot wound up his affairs there (perhaps sensing the approaching Civil War) and returned to his native state for good.
In 1857 he purchased land in Brattleboro, where he supervised the building of his house, completed in 1859—the Terrace Street house that appears frequently in the pages of the present book. During the Civil War years Norman Cabot made a second visit to California (where his brother-in-law George Jones Brooks was prospering), and then, until the turn of the century, served as Treasurer of the Vermont Savings Bank in Brattleboro, while pursuing various agricultural enterprises of his own.
Mary Cabot, with her brother Will and sister Grace, grew up in Brattleboro. Grace eventually married one of her brother's boyhood friends, Frederick Holbrook II. Will Cabot (known as "Labrador Cabot" to his Explorers' Club friends) was trained as a civil engineer and worked on railroads in the West, as did also his brother-in-law, Fred Holbrook. Rudyard Kipling, who knew both, would have recognized them as "bridge-builders," of the type he portrayed in his stories of the Empire—men of the generation of Theodore Roosevelt, Cecil Rhodes, of John Hays Hammond. Both eventually came back east and were for a time associated in the Boston-based contractors' firm of Holbrook, Cabot & Rollins. During the early years of World War I Holbrook was in Russia, engaged in supplying railroads? Will Cabot and Fred Holbrook never lost touch with their hometown of Brattleboro. The former had a summer place in Dublin, New Hampshire, at the base of Mount Monadnock, while it was Fred Holbrook and his wife Grace who, after 1903, made their summer residence at Naulakha, the former Kipling house, "in sight of Monadnock."
Miss Mary—"Molly" to her family and close friends—loyally remained with her parents in the Terrace Street house until their deaths, her mother's in 1912 at eighty-seven, her father's a year later at ninety-two. She continued to reside there, under the watchful eye of Theresa McGrail, until her own death in 1932. Miss Cabot was no mere "village spinster" of the sort that Mary Wilkins portrayed, but rather, as Wolcott Balestier said of one of his fictional characters,
"the metropolitan villager, who is the common product of the system of summering with the boarders in one's native village, and wintering with them in the city."Her horizons were broad, not limited to the town she called home and whose history she recorded. In her later years she traveled extensively abroad and spent many winters in Boston. One might think of her as a "Connecticut River Cabot" (as she termed her branch of the family) who evolved into the proper-Bostonian species. Her formal education had been limited to lessons at home or at small private schools like Miss Barber's "Laneside" (later Miss Sawyer's) on Keyes's Lane or North Street, in the Cabots' neighborhood; she apparently did not attend the Brattleboro High School or Glenwood Ladies Seminary in West Brattleboro, as did other young women of her generation. Nor was she sent away to boarding school, as m the case of her sister Grace, who attended St. Agnes School in Albany, New York (the Right Reverend Wm. Croswell Doane, Bishop of the Diocese of Albany, Principal and Rector). Mary united with the Centre Congregational Church in Brattleboro in 1877, but, as is evident hereafter in her memoirs, her inquiring mind was long attracted by the creed and ritual of the Episcopalians. The Centre Church records note that she united with the Episcopal church in Brookline, Massachusetts, in 1915, but "without dismission" from the Congregational fold. At the time of her death it was remarked that "she never lost her affection for the Centre church." Her concern for the general welfare was exemplified by her devoted work in the community health program of the Brattleboro Mutual Aid Association, of which she was president from the time of its organization in 1907.
Miss Cabot was a grande dame, of stately bearing, held in some awe by her townspeople. One of the great pleasures of her last years was conversing with younger people, eager to find out what they were thinking or reading, and often evoking her own earlier acquaintance with Wolcott Balestier and Rudyard Kipling.
The Cabots' house was on a pleasant, tranquil street near the Common in what was then known as the "North End" of the East Village. The earliest homesites in the town (township) of Brattleboro had been farms scattered over a wide area, with an isolated meeting-house located at a central point. Gradually, small clusterings, with a mill or store as the nucleus, formed into villages or hamlets. By 1800 the "town" of Brattleboro had its West Village, on the road leading westward over the ridge of the Green Mountains to Bennington and hence to Albany in the Hudson Valley; and its East Village, situated at the confluence of the Whetstone Brook and Connecticut River, along the principal route leading north from Hartford and Springfield, to Bellows Falls, Windsor, and eventually to Canada. The East Village soon eclipsed the West in size and came to be thought of as the town's "center."
During the mid-nineteenth-century the older wooden houses, once residences, were replaced by "blocks" of stone or brick, so that by the time Kipling knew Brattleboro, the East Village had its characteristic Main Street'—its "down town"—still recognizable today. The basic pattern has not changed and several landmarks survive: for example, Crosby Block (1870-71), the Brooks House (1871-72, now shorn of its balconies), and the former Peoples' Bank Building m the "Philadelphia style" (1879) at the corner of Main and Elliot Streets. The Town Hall (1855) of Kipling's day, which also housed the Post Office, was demolished in 1953, by which time the Hunt mansion across the street, at the corner of Main and High Streets—one of the town's earliest brick dwellings, dating from the 1820s—had also disappeared. Main Street in the 1890s, from the Town Hall to the Wels Fountain, was a tree-shaded thoroughfare lined with residences. These, too, with their lawns and gardens, have largely disappeared, but the spire of the Centre Congregational Church with its gilt weather vane from the earlier edifice on the Common) and of the Baptist Church still punctuate the Main Street skyline, as does the steeple of the former Unitarian Church. St. Michael's Episcopal Church, suggesting an English rustic chapel, next door to the Town Hall, was towed up Main Street and replanted at the north end of the village, but St. Michael's Roman Catholic Church still stands on Walnut Street, at the foot of the Cabots' Terrace.
An event of far-reaching importance in the history of Brattleboro—and one which has a distinct bearing on the Kipling story—took place in 1845, when a German émigré, Dr. Robert Wesselhoeft, came from Boston to open a "hydropathic establishment" designed to exploit the pure waters of the Whetstone Brook and its tributary springs. The Wesselhoeft Water-Cure soon attracted patients from far and wide, from the northern cities and even from the south. The construction of the first railroads (1848) coincided with the growth of the Water-Cure, thus placing the town in convenient communication with Boston and New York. Brattleboro found itself on the main line from New York to the White Mountains, which were then being discovered by vacationers in quest of "romantic" scenery. The Wesselhoeft Water-cure itself (Dr. Wesselhoeft died in 1852) lasted but a few years, but it spawned rivals and successors (such as the Lawrence Water-Cure), as well as boarding-houses in profusion. Taking m summer boarders, maintaining genteel pensions de famille for city folk, became a significant local industry: Brattleboro became a small-scale Saratoga, something of a spa town reminiscent of its European prototypes.'
Attracted by the vaunted "natural beauties" of the region, many water-cure visitors acquired summer residences or permanent homes, thus contributing a bit of yeast to the life of the village community. In the years before the Civil War their newly-built houses reflected the latest mid-century fashions and if the demolishers and modernizers had been more merciful, Brattleboro might today boast a veritable architectural museum to delight the revivalists and preservationists. Overlooking the Water-Cure on Elliot Street, the architect Richard Upjohn designed an elegant estate for the Stoddards of Savannah, Georgia (later acquired by Julius J. Estey, now demolished); George Folsom, a wealthy New Yorker and retired diplomat (U.S. Minister to The Hague) erected a- "Florentine villa" facing the Common, which survives, as does the battered "Elizabethan" cottage on Linden Street that once belonged to Miss Higginson, the sister of Thomas Wentworth Higginson. Another of the Southerners who came to the Water-Cure, General Buckner, built the mansion on the heights above the Whetstone Brook that was subsequently occupied by Professor Charlier and eventually by the Crowells. Richard Bradley the elder, a native son who married well, built a fine residence and developed an extensive farm on the northern edge of the village near the mouth of the West River.
This digression brings us to the Balestier family, who was part of this influx of new blood into the growing town of Brattleboro. It was during the Civil War that Joseph Neree Balestier (1814-1888) and his wife Caroline Starr Wolcott (1818-1901), from New York City, first became acquainted with the region. They acquired in 1868 one of the Sargent farms, some three and a half miles north of the East Village, part of it in the town of Brattleboro, part across the town line in Dummerston, in the so-called West River District. They remodeled and enlarged the sightly place and named it "Beechwood" (only city people gave their farms such fancy names) and adopted the life of gentlemen farmers. If J. N. Balestier, then a bit over fifty, had already acquired enough of a fortune to permit retirement to the country, where - he could enjoy his books, his pictures, and his wines, he had begun his career as a merchant trader in New York, moved west to Chicago, speculated successfully in real estate there, and then moved back to New York. Rudyard Kipling, who never knew him personally, referred to him (he was Caroline Kiplng's paternal grandfather) as “a Frenchman," but too much significance need not be attached to this label. The name Balestier is indeed of French origin. Joseph Neree Balestier, of an international mercantile family engaged in Transatlantic trade, probably from southwestern France, was born in Martinique in the West Indies, but came at an early age to the United States. Joseph Neree had an elder half-brother, another Joseph, who served as the first U.S. consul at Singapore in the days of the celebrated Sir Stamford Raffles. J. N. Balestier personified to later generations, however tenuously, their French ancestry; then his wife represented the New England heritage. Caroline Starr Wolcott (Mrs. Kipling's paternal grandmother) was from Connecticut, as her maiden name indicates, of the family that produced Oliver Wolcott, the "Signer."
The Balestier's second son, Henry Wolcott Balestier (1840-1870), Caroline Kipling's father, married Anna Smith, daughter of Anna Beatty Smith and the Honorable Erasmus Peshine Smith, who had served as an advisor on international law to the Mikado of Japan: There was thus a breath of the exotic and of the Orient in the Balestier tradition. Caroline Kipling's forebears had sailed the seven seas as much as if not more than had Rudyard's. It may be noted in this connection that when the Ladies Auxiliary of the Y.M.C.A. sponsored an "art loan exhibition," including curios from far countries, in the Brattleboro Baptist Parsonage in 1895, Rudyard Kipling lent a "collection of Indian weapons and curios," but still more spectacular objects cane from the Balestiers, such as "a long handled halberd or Japanese battle sword of black lacquer and gold appliqué used by maiden fighters in the 16th and 17th centuries, owned by Beatty Balestier." It was taken for granted in Brattleboro that Caroline Kipling, both as a Balestier and as the wife of an Anglo-Indian, would be conversant with things Oriental, especially after her wedding journey to Japan. In reporting "Vermont's First Flower Show," which transformed the Centre Congregational Church chapel into a "bower of beauty," the Brattleboro papers quoted Mrs. Kipling's compliments to C. E. Allen, the local florist, for his display of chrysanthemums: 'although she had seen the national flower of Japan in its home in that country, and at its best, she had not seen there finer specimens of individual blooms than were shown by Mr. Allen."
The heyday of Beechwood was in the 1870s and 1880s, when four sets of children and grandchildren successively spent vacations at the Brattleboro farm. It was natural that the children of Henry Wolcott Balestier, who died at the early age of thirty, should be of special concern to the grandparents. He left his widow (nee Anna Smith) with four small children: nine-year old Charles Wolcott, eight-year old Caroline, followed by the two little ones, Beatty, only three, and baby Josephine, born the year of her father's death. They spent their childhood and younger days chiefly in Rochester, New York, the home of their maternal grandparents. As is often the case with a family of fatherless children, they were bound together by a sort of clannishness, with the older brother and sister feeling special responsibility for the little ones—a "family square," to borrow Kipling's term. Charley ("Wolcott," as he was later known) was the apple of Caroline's eye and was generally considered to have great promise, while the unruly ways of Beatty were the despair of his big brother and sister. Wolcott seems to have made more extended stays with his grandparents at Beechwood than the others, and one winter in the 1870s attended the Brattleboro High School.
With Grandfather Balestier's death in 1888 Beechwood lost his unifying spirit and the place was never quite the same again. The year before his death the old gentleman summed up his years there in a letter of advice to one of his grandsons:
Brattleboro, November 11, 1887Grandmother Balestier continued to maintain Beechwood, but only as a summer residence, until her death in 1901. She arrived in Brattleboro each year in May and returned to her New York City boarding-house in November, always accompanied by the formidable Kate Monks, the Irish family retainer who had [come to livwe with Madame] Balestier and look after her, and meant to do so as long as she lived! According to the recollections of one young visitor there, it was known to intimates of the household that after Mr. Balestier's death "no two of the sons or their wives could be sheltered at the same time under Beechwood's much enduring roof." The same observer describes a characteristic Sunday at Beechwood, as it was in the 1890s: Accordingly, when the Joes were at Beechwood, a caravan would start out every Sunday morning for the village: Madame Balestier, with two guests and a driver in the double carriage, for the Unitarian Church; Joe and Emma in a single rig for the Episcopal Church, which while far from high in belief, m Brattleboro, was still better than nothing; and a one horse carryall and driver with Kate and either of the other maids, cook or waitress, who happened to be Catholic, for the 11:00 o'clock Mass. The same procession came home, often trailing one another, some time after twelve, and dinner of course was a late midday affair on Sundays."
By the 1890s, when Rudyard Kipling appeared on the scene, Brattleboro as a town was about one hundred and twenty-five years old. It was not old by European standards, but not at all "a raw frontier town' like those Kipling had glimpsed along the railroads of the West. Its population was about 7,000, roughly two- thirds concentrated within the "village limits," the rest in the outlying rural districts, where, as Kipling wrote: "Roads, sketched in dirt, connected white, clap-boarded farmhouses, where the older members of the families made shift to hold down the eating mortages. The younger folk had gone elsewhere.” (Somrthing of Myself , Chapter 5)
It was the pre-automobile age, Kipling also recalled, when "horses were n integral part of our lives"—as they were of everybody else' The first automobiles were seen in the streets of Brattleboro only in 1901, about the same time that the Kiplings, who had by then returned to England, acquired their first motor-car, a steam locomobile. Their trials and tribulations with "Coughing Jane" inspired his story "Steam Tactics" (1902), while the earlier "A Walking Delegate" (1894) had dealt, at least ostensibly, with horse-life in a Vermont Pasture. Railroads, too, were an integral part of Brattleboro people's lives in the 1890s. It was a six-hour journey by rail to New York, only three or four to Boston, according to the route taken. Kipling often rode these trains during his Vermont years and, in a letter written from Naulakha to a brother author, Stanley J. Weyman (whose historical novel, The Red Cockade, had recently appeared), has left this snapshot of himself:
December 30 1895Brattleboro served as the market town for a considerable rural hinterland; redolent of fresh-cut timber and boiling maple sap, and thanks to the railroad connections, as an entrepot for imported goods. Numerous small factories had grown up as a result of local ingenuity and inventiveness, but Brattleboro was not a 'mill town," like others in New England where a single industry (textiles, for instance) dominated the economy and eventually ruined it. The most notable of Brattleboro's industries was the Estey Organ Company which, by Kipling's time, was exporting "cottage organs" as far away as British India. An advertisement in The Pioneer, the Allahabad newspaper that published many of Kipling's early stories and verses, informed readers that S. Rose & Co. of Bombay always had in stock a selection of American organs, including those of Estey and Co:- 'all instruments specially selected to meet the requirements of the Indian climate."
The Brattleboro of the 1890s can also be viewed through the eyes of poets and novelists, whose imaginative syntheses often convey the feel of a time and place better than do the historian's more usual sources. We might suggest, for example, to those who appreciate the literary approach, that the Brattleboro of Kipling's day was a bit like the "Northampton" of Henry James's novel Roderick Hudson (1875) or the "Wollett" that stands in the background of The Ambassadors (1903) to represent the archetypical New England town. James's contemporary, William Dean Howells, is however, a still better guide, and characteristic features of life in Brattleboro can be discovered in his fictional New England world. It was during the Civil War, when the young man from Ohio was serving as United States consul in Austrian-occupied Venice, that he married Elinor Meade, of a notable Brattleboro village family, and it was in Venice during the first year of their marriage that she told him all about everyone and everything in Brattleboro. "It was this intensive view of New England that made Howells able to understand it so clearly when he went there to live," said his daughter and biographer, "and it was his wife's vivid powers of observation and her gift for criticism that made her such a great help to him in his work." After their return to America in 1865, while Howells was feeling his way in New York, his wife and child stayed in her hometown. The following year Howells found work on the staff of the Atlantic Monthly and the family settled in Cambridge, with Brattleboro still on their near horizon. Publication of the many books which earned for Howells his important place in American literature began at this time.
It is appropriate to mention Howells here, not only for the connection with Brattleboro, but also because he played a role, as did Henry James, in the lives of both Wolcott Balestier and Rudyard Kipling. The latter was familiar with Howells's writings even before he came to the United States and made the personal acquaintance of "the dean of American letters." In a tribute to Howells written in 1921 Kipling recalled how, as a very young man, he had found a broken copy of some studies of Venice in a rest-house on the edge, of the Indian desert:
"A wandering traveller must have left it behind m that wilderness, and I remember I spent most of a hot night reading it by the light of an unsteady oil lamp. A short time after I came across the Venetian Letters [Venetian Life, 1866], and while I was still in India, A Modern Instance  and The Rise of Silas Lapham  were read aloud in a family that took a keen interest in books and was fairly conversant with American literature. Here, to us, was a new world altogether—a large undoctored view into lives which did not concern or refer themselves for judgment to any foreign canon or comparison, but moved in their proper, national orbit, beneath their own skies and among their own surroundings."Silas Lapham, it will be recalled, was a "Solid Man of Boston," who found it no disgrace to admit that he "was born in the State of Vermont, pretty well up under the Canada line." Howells's later novel, The Landlord at Lion's Head (1896) traces the rise of an impoverished rural Vermont family to the business of hotel-keeping for summer visitors. Jeff Durgin, the central figure, is "a true rustic New England type in contact with urban life under entirely modern conditions." "What I most prize in him," Howells said of his hero, "is the realization of that anti-puritan quality which was always vexing the heart of Puritanism, and which had constantly felt one of the most interesting facts in my observation of New England."
More pertinent to our theme and closer to Brattleboro is the less-known novel, Annie Kilburn (1889), in which Howells perceptively delineates the social structure of the New England town of "Hatboro'." Here we find the old village families of the local gentry, their farm-bred housekeepers and hired help, the shopkeepers and rising young business men, the earnest young clergymen troubled by doubts, as well as the summer people of "South Hatboro'," all devoted to good causes and cultural uplift. After a long sojourn in Rome (where she had buried her aged father in the Protestant Cemetery and arranged for the carving of a statue to top the Soldiers' Monument of Hatboro'), Annie Kilburn returns to the old family mansion, drawn there by a feeling of duty "to come home and do something for it, be something in it.“ Miss Kilburn is re-introduced to Hatboro' life by a round of calls from girlhood friends, now matronly married women, followed by a call from an eager youth named Brandreth, describing himself as "the factotum, or teetotum, of the South Hatboro' ladies' book club." Brandreth describes in glowing terms the great changes that have taken place in Hatboro' during Miss Kilburn's absence--"the social growth has been even greater than the business growth"--and then asks her to "lend her countenance" to an evening of amateur theatricals on the grounds of Mrs. Munger's estate, the proceeds to go to the establishment of a Social Union for the work-people. "We know how much influence your name has--one of the old Hatboro' names--in the community, and we do want to interest the whole community in our scheme."
Annie dutifully lent her countenance, but one evening as she was walking slowly homeward, "She was tired, and she was now aware of having been extremely bored by the South Hatboro' people.... Annie asked herself how her own life was in any wise different from that of these people. It had received a little more light into it, but as yet it had not conformed itself to any ideal of duty. She too was idle and vapid, like the society of which her whole past had made her a part, and she owned to herself, groaning in spirit, that it was no easier to escape from her tradition at Hatboro than it was at Rome." It is easy to recognize something of Brattleboro in Howells's Hatboro', and tempting to read a bit of Molly Cabot into his fictional Annie Kilburn.
The real Miss Cabot's story--her memoir of Wolcott Balestier--begins on Brattleboro's Common in the 1870s, when the Cabot children of Terrace Street had their first glimpse of the "little Balestiers" being driven down from Beechwood to Miss Amelia Tyler's school.
See also Brattleboro History for a remarkable collection of historical photographs of the town.