The Elm Tree Press, 1906-1942

Ned and Joe Dana at the Elm Tree Press in 1925.

Ned and Joe Dana at the Elm Tree Press in 1925.

 
 

By Marjorie Dana Barlow

"The Elm Tree Press was founded in 1906 by Edward Cushing Dana, who took his brother Joseph Loomis Dana in partnership the following year, and moved the business office into the old Dana family store at 24 Elm Street.

They were born into a generation of gifted children, the offspring of Charles and Charitie Scott Loomis Dana, five sons and a daughter who died young.

Their grandfather, also named Charles Dana, was born in Ashburnham, Massachusetts, learned the mercantile trade in Walpole, New Hampshire, and opened a store in Woodstock in 1802 selling dry goods and provisions. The times were prosperous and within five years in 1807 the elder Charles Dana built a large dwelling at 26 Elm Street, which today houses the Woodstock Historical Society.

Continued prosperity enabled him in 1820 to build his own store, across a driveway, adjacent to the family residence.

His son, Charles Dana, Jr., then took over the business for his entire life, finally passing it on to his son, Joseph, who ended a span of 104 years, or three generations of single-family ownership, up to the time when the building became the home of The Elm Tree Press in 1907.

With the encouragement of family members, the younger Dana brothers entered into the business of printing. Edward as a master printer and Joseph with a talent for design and illustration. This new printing establishment was another truly family enterprise with four Dana brothers intimately involved in the fortunes of the Press, two as owners and printers, and the older two as editorial participants as well as backers of the undertaking.

Edward had learned his craft as a printer at the Vermont Standard office across the street. In 1894 he purchased and published the Spirit of the Age, a weekly newspaper founded in 1840 by poet and historian Charles G. Eastman, dedicated to "Representative Democracy," and esteemed as "the best and cheapest paper of its kind in the state."  He continued publication of the Spirit of the Age until the summer of 1913. Thereafter, in its place, the two Danas published a monthly magazine called The Elm Tree Monthly until the year 1918.

 
Photo of the Spirit of the Age. Elm Street. c. 1900.

Photo of the Spirit of the Age. Elm Street. c. 1900.

In 1906, the first book to appear with the imprint of the Elm Tree Press was Edward Fitzgerald's translation of Aeschylus' Agamemnon, edited by Dr. Charles Dana and John Cotton Dana, with three illustrations in an edition of 300 copies, all of which were sold.


Clearly, this was to be no run-of-the-ordinary, job-printing establishment, but something the two local owners plainly expressed as the loftier aims of their new venture:

"This press does printing of the highest grade...It is not difficult to print; it is very difficult to print well: To print with good taste, that is, to bring properly together the purpose of the thing printed, the type, the page and the paper--this may well be called an art. The Elm Tree Press tried to treat printing as an art, and, in the opinion of its friends, it usually succeeds."

One such friend of the Dana brothers, and an influential one, was Henry Watson Kent, Secretary of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, where he earned the title of Dean of American museum officials. He was a frequent visitor to Woodstock, where he spent most of his time at the Press talking to his friends, the Danas, and setting type as recreation. He esteemed them as men of "wit, wisdom, learning and taste."

In 1912, he wrote of the Press:

"There are many little presses scattered throughout the country that are doing good work, printing books, pamphlets, circulars and other small things needed in local, commercial and social life; and they should be better known. In this class would be included The Elm Tree Press were it not that there are certain characteristics to be found in its work and in its ideals that make it so individual as to merit a description all its own... It is intimately identified with the welfare and all the best activities of the place where it is located."

Mr. Kent was alluding to the fact that Woodstock, the Shire Town (Seat) of Windsor County was regarded as one of Vermont's centers oflegal practice, education, and thriving trade, as well as a leading influence in culture and social refinement. The Elm Tree Press reflected all these qualities of the community and responded to its needs. He concluded that this small country press, with a wineglass elm as its emblem, set standards that entitled it "to be enrolled in the brotherhood of FINE PRINTING... which has been carried on in Paris by the celebrated Didot; at Birmingham by Baskerville, and still earlier in London by Dryden Leach."

Heady praise, but well-deserved. During the 36 years of its existence, the Press under the Danas produced not only tasteful local job printing, but inspired among themselves collaboration in writing, editing, designing, handsetting and printing a remarkable series of scholarly books and pamphlets. It was a record of accomplishment in the field of fine printing of the old school which may never be matched or seen again.

Early in 1942, the year before his death, Edward, the last of the Dana brothers, sold the Elm Tree Press building, the printing business and all its equipment to Paul A. Bourdon, a lawyer and tenant, who had no intention or interest in operating the business.

But the Press was not to die. On the contrary, it was to continue a revived and vigorous life under a succession of new owners."
William Rudge, 1942-1950
Robert Dothard, 1951-1957
Frank and Rhoda Teagle, 1957-1971
Jerome Anderson, 1971-1974
Roland and Paul Gagnon 1974-?