Woodstock Village in the 1850s
What was Woodstock like in the 1850s? One group of students at Woodstock Elementary School tackled that question as a project for the 2019 Fourth-Grade History Fair. As part of their investigation, they used a variety of primary sources, including the above 1859 print, which shows the village of Woodstock from the vantage point of Mount Tom.
While the print is a charming picture, it is also an artifact that provides valuable information on mid-century life in Woodstock. For instance, the two figures in the foreground, cloaked in 19th-century attire, are modeling the fashions of the period. The deforested mountains provide evidence of farming and the use of natural resources, while the bustling village — with its streets, houses, churches, and factories — offers a snapshot of village life in the mid 1800s. In addition, the print shows fascinating details, such as rooflines, fences, and outbuildings, that are often not captured in photographs.
Case in point, on the righthand side, where the Woodstock Rec Center now stands, the print depicts a multi-storied factory, replete with towering smoke stack, as seen in the detail below..
Another primary source — a close-up from an 1856 map — reveals even more details because of its finer resolution. It is shown below.
To further augment their understanding of the old mill, the students who were studying Woodstock in the 1850s went on a field trip to the Woodstock Rec Center (which is part of the original woolen mill). There they talked to the director of the Rec Center, toured the facility, and then reviewed information taken from secondary sources to help fill in the gaps in their knowledge. One of the many interesting things that they discovered is that most of the workers at this mill were women and girls. They also learned that the mill was undoubtedly cold in the winter and hot and stuffy in the summer. While there is no documentation on the temperatures in the Woodward Woolen Mill, other textile mills of the period sometimes had temperatures in the summer that ranged from 90 to 115 degrees.
One can surmise that the mill workers at Solomon Woodward’s mill worked long hours and under unpleasant conditions. One secondary source cited a 14-hour work day, while an article published in 1866 relates how a group of women from the mill decided to go on strike, demanding shorter working hours and better conditions. According to the newspaper, after walking out, the women went over to the Eagle Hotel (located on the site of the present-day Woodstock Inn's parking lot), ordered a meal, and asked that the bill be charged to the mill’s owner, Solomon Woodward. Three weeks later, the strike ended and the women returned to work; however, unfortunately, the newspaper never reported whether the women's demands were met.
The Fourth-Grade History Fair provides a wonderful opportunity to learn about history using some of the many primary sources available at the Woodstock History Center and to share that history with the community.
“Life in Woodstock in the 1850s” is just one of 5 topics that the 4th graders explored. Other topics included African-American soldiers in the Union Army, the gaslights in Woodstock, schools, and the Williams family. The Fourth-Grade History Fair will be held on Thursday, May 9, from 6-7:30 pm at the Woodstock History Center.