Gill Riverside Historic District Awaits State Decision

gill riverside historic district

After about two years of work by local residents and the Gill Historical Commission, the fate of a possible National Historic District in the Riverside area of town is in the hands of the state. The commission, with support from town government and area residents, recently submitted its nomination to the state Historical Commission. If the state panel approves, the nomination advances to the National Park Service in Washington, D.C., for final approval.

Town officials held a public hearing about a historic district in conjunction with the state Historical Society on Tuesday night at the Riverside Municipal Building.

The district encompass much of the Riverside neighborhood, with Riverview Drive, Oak Street, Walnut Street, Myrtle Street, Pine Street and Grove Street included within the boundaries as well as some properties on the other side of French King Highway.

See the full article by Miranda Davis in the Greenfield Recorder.

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This area at the southern edge of Sokwakik is highly significant for Native heritage and among other things is a subject of the ongoing Falls Fight Battlefield Study Grant. This incredibly productive fishing location drew indigenous people from many different communities for thousands of years. Here and nearby, they would harvest and process the anadromous fish that paused to surmount the falls of Peskeompskut, traded and celebrated, met and married, and shared the Kwanitekw’s gifts in peace. This place still has great power and strong spirit, despite the ravages of industrial exploitation and the ongoing genocidal mindset of settler colonialism. Any action to recognize and support this reality is a welcome beginning.

French and Indian War Ends: February 10, 1763

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On February 10, 1763, the “French and Indian War” officially ended with the Treaty of Paris, giving the British victors license to continue their mission to destroy Native culture and displace the People from their homelands.

In 1754, before the creation of the United States of America, the British declared war against the French, pitting the countries against each other in a battle that began with the Ohio Valley, which the French had already claimed.

Tribes allied with the French hoped to keep British expansion at bay. The French had caused less strife than the British, who were bringing their wives and families to settle while the French were intermarrying with Native women (editor’s note: oversimplified, but a telling difference).

With 1.5 million British settlers along the eastern coast from Nova Scotia to Georgia and only about 75,000 French in North America, it was critical for the French to rely on their strong alliances with Natives across Canada, who were willing to support the efforts against further British colonization.

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The full onslaught of colonialism in Vermont started right here in Windham (Cumberland) County, immediately following the cessation of hostilities. Fort Dummer, within the borders of what is now known as Brattleboro, was the northern frontier outpost protecting the British settlements southward down the Kwanitekw. Once the perceived danger of the allied French/Native forces was over, the floodgates were opened to settlers who swarmed in by the hundreds to usurp the fertile river bottoms and surge up into the hills. This is ground zero. Brattleboro, Guilford, and other southeasternmost county towns were among the most populous settlements in the territory (then contested by New York and New Hampshire) for several decades.

Read an overview article in Indian Country Today.

 

VCNAA Support for Standing Rock Brings It Home

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The Vermont Commission on Native American Affairs approved a proclamation in support of North Dakota tribes, 14 days before the new president announced he would resume two controversial pipeline projects.

“We approve everything unanimously because that’s the native way,” said Rich Holschuh, a Brattleboro resident on the commission. “As a commission, we work with the native people within what is now the state of Vermont. We also recognize that borders are political constructs, so we try to support similar people with similar interests and this is one way we can do that.”

The commission “proclaims support for those protectors at Standing Rock, N.D., who are resisting destruction of sites sacred to Dakota, Lakota and Nakota people, disruption of traditional ways and potential environmental contamination from crude oil pipeline construction and use.” The entire document can be found here.

Commissioner Joelen Mulvaney drafted the document, which was discussed and approved during the commission’s Jan. 11 meeting.

Read the full article by Chris Mays in the Brattleboro Reformer. Photo by Kristopher Radder of the Brattleboro Reformer.

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East To Monadnock

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From the peak of Bedegwajo/Round Mountain in West Brattleboro, VT, a line of sight running 27 miles due east to Menonadenak/Menadenak/Monadnock in New Hampshire crosses directly over the ridge of Wantastegok Wajo/Mt. Wantastiquet, on the east bank of the Kwanitekw/Connecticut River.

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In the Name of Enlightenment and Progress: Dark Days in Sokwakik

The latest podcast from Brattleboro Historical Society, with Joe Rivers and his BAMS history students. It gives some good background to the subsuming of critical areas in Sokwakik, and the mid-Kwanitekw valley in general, by the construction of the Vernon, Vermont hydroelectric dam early in the last century. Many acres of riverside land were condemned to be flooded in the name of progress, the first project of its kind in the region, with many more to follow. This was a for-profit venture by a group of both local and regional businessmen, to generate power for distant markets at the expense of everything else. Sokoki Abenaki heritage and interests, being a riverine-centric culture, were ignored and ravaged, a situation which remains ongoing and challenging. The resulting impoundment was later accessed and the land further degraded by the construction of the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant immediately upstream of the dam itself.

No Evidences of Indian Settlements in This Town

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The strangest statements may be found in the local newspapers, reflecting the absolute conviction of the times – in the face of self-stated evidence – that there was, and is, no notable indigenous presence.

From The Vermont Phoenix, Brattleboro, VT July 7, 1876.

A Long Time Ago in Brattleboro

Worth sharing in its entirety: this post by Lise LePage appeared on iBrattleboro.com last month, amidst the effort to make a change from Columbus day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day here in Brattleboro. She used the occasion to give a synopsis of her personal research over the years into the pre-contact and early contact history between the Sokwakiak and the first British settlers. For those unfamiliar with the details of that first clash of cultures in what we now call Vermont, it’s a good look at a quintessential example of colonialism at work right here. Original link here.

Brattleboro Celebrates First Indigenous Peoples Day

By Lise | Sun, October 09 2016

It’s not often that something happens that cries out to be corrected and then, in a matter of days, it is.  I’m not talking about Vermont’s GMO law either (which Congress mooted within the month) – no, I’m talking about Indigenous Peoples Day which has been proposed, here and elsewhere, as a less racist and more fair alternative to traditional Columbus Day.  Unfortunately, honoring native American people was not something the Selectboard could get its collective mind around and Indigenous Peoples Day lost here in Brattleboro by a vote of 2-3.  But just when you thought all was lost, along comes Governor Shumlin with a state-wide proclamation of Indigenous Peoples Day, signed, sealed, and delivered.  What do you know, we get to celebrate Indigenous People’s Day after all.

This is a good thing.  We should celebrate the native people of our country – for starters, we’re sitting on their land. In fact, the first beachhead established by the British settlers in the Brattleboro area was on the site of a Squakeag village situated on the Hinsdale side of the Connecticut just above the Vernon Dam.  Ironically, Fort Dummer was established to control the Indians moving up and down the river, especially those raiding the English villages further south.

Before the English got here, the Squakeag  (southernmost branch of the Abenaki) were the inhabitants of the land from Brattleboro down to Northfield, Massachusetts.  It was a good place to live – abundant beaver and salmon along the waterways, decent land for cultivation, and best of all, maple sugar in the spring.  The Squakeag apparently loved to sugar – it was the one activity that brought the whole family of men, women, and children, young and old together.  Then as now, people like a sweet treat.

There’s an anecdote published in Thomas St. John’s Brattleboro History Scrapbook that suggests that the area around the Retreat Meadows might once have been a regular gathering place for native people.  According to Rev. Jedidiah L. Stark of West Brattleboro (writing in the 1830s), unspecified native people used to come here and dance in the meadow above where the Retreat Farm used to be.  According to Mr. Stark, the circle was so compacted from the weight of those many dancing feet that it remained visible and free of vegetation years after the Indians stopped coming.

Another indicator that Brattleboro’s Retreat Meadows was at the least a notable location for native people are the pictograms found carved in the rocks around the Meadows.  Surely there was a reason to mark this spot so strategically located at the confluence of two rivers.  Perhaps (I surmise) people came through here often on their way to other places and stopped to camp (and perhaps dance) here.  It would make sense.  The first lasting  settlement in Brattleboro by an English person* was Arms Tavern, an inn and stagecoach stop, located where the Retreat Farm buildings are now.   One marvels at the coincidence.

Native people made one of their last visits to our area in the 1850s when an elderly chieftain made his final visit to Bellows Falls.  He and his people had made summer visits for generations, and the old chief wanted to be buried with his ancestors.  As autumn turned to winter, he passed away and was buried by his sons, who then traveled back to Canada never to return.  The Indians who visited Bellows Falls had long since ceased to be scary and local residents looked forward to their arrival each spring.  It was a sad year when Bellows Falls realized that their Indian visitors would not be coming back.

Today, many descendants of the Squakeag band live in the St. Francis area of Canada where they were driven in the aftermath of King Philip’s War.  Others still live here in Vermont, assimilated under English names, partly in self defense.  We can’t alter the past, but here in the present we can take one small step toward owning that past.  Happy Indigenous People’s Day, everyone!

*The first less lasting settlement was located in the exact same location, a homestead built by Captain Fairbanks Moore for himself and his family.  Unfortunately, he and his son were both killed in an Indian raid soon after taking up residence there, and the remaining Moores, after being redeemed from captivity, moved away.