By Julia Purdy
PITTSFORD—On Saturday, Sept. 24, the Pittsford Historical Society and the town of Pittsford dedicated a new historical marker on the town green, in conjunction with the Congregational Church’s annual harvest fair. The marker commemorates the prosperous iron industry of early Pittsford.
On a sunny, gusty day, the green was lined with a double row of canopies and tables offering local products from munchies to maple syrup, apples, preserves and cheeses to craft items, artwork, and hand-made clothing. Gran-Debra Farms of West Haven brought a group of six-month-old La Mancha goat kids, who greeted everyone inquisitively, between snatches of grass.
The highlight of the day occurred at 1 p.m., when the Pittsford Historical Society and friends gathered to dedicate a new historical marker, a pole bearing the standard plaque and text developed by a committee of historical society members.
The observance was opened by Bill Powers, well-known local historian and president of the Pittsford Historical Society. Noting that many historical markers throughout Vermont honor Vermonters who subsequently left, such as John Deere and Stephen A. Douglas, he called the new marker “a tribute to Pittsford pioneers who established an iron industry here in the late 1700s … on the forefront of the industrial age” and to the “sustained industrious nature and community spirit” of Pittsford that still characterizes the town.
He then introduced speakers John Haverstock, Pittsford town manager, and Peggy Armitage, one of the grande dames of Pittsford history. Armitage was the driving force behind the marker, Powers said. “No Peggy—no marker. It’s as simple as that,” he said.
Haverstock cited Pittsford’s leading role in the early iron industry and expressed his appreciation for the work of the historical society, which “did all the heavy lifting,” including fitting “this oversized marker in a somewhat undersized station wagon” to bring it to Pittsford. He also commended the state for “seeing fit” to honor the history of the iron industry.
An indefatigable historian, freelance writer and trustee of the Pittsford Historical Society, Armitage edited an images of America book titled “Around Pittsford” and co-authored “Pittsford’s Second Century, 1872-1977.” She spoke on the day-to-day operations of the Pittsford blast furnace on Furnace Brook as described to her in a 1959 interview with the last living laborer at the furnace, 95-year-old Patrick Mooney.
The marker committee, consisting of Armitage, Stephen Belcher and Ernie Clerihew, also drew material for the text from Dr. A.M. Caverly’s “History of the Town of Pittsford,” written in 1870 when the early history was still fresh in local memory. The text was developed under the eye of the Vermont Division for Historic Preservation, which gave its final approval in spring 2016.
Some of the state markers are stored at the Coolidge site in Plymouth Notch, and fetching it meant traveling there. Haverstock, Belcher and Clerihew made the journey, which turned into something of an adventure, as the four-foot long, heavy metal object would not fit inside Belcher’s Subaru Impreza and made the trip lashed to the roof.
The exact location for the pole had to be approved by the Agency of Transportation. Watching out for underground water lines, Pittsford highway employees Chad Eugair and Josh Towne dug the hole and set the 12-foot pole in place while residents looked on. Standing on the tailgate of the town truck, they slipped the plaque onto the top of the pole and tightened the bolts holding it on.
The new marker replaces a previous one that since 1960 had recognized Samuel Hopkins as the inventor and holder of U.S. Patent No. 1, issued in 1791, for an improved method of processing potash. Challenged by a Philadelphia lawyer, David Maxey, who claimed that Hopkins was not from Pittsford but from Philadelphia, the Division of Historic Preservation ordered the historical society to take down the Hopkins marker and agreed to replace it with another suitable topic in the future. Pittsford historians still doubt Maxey’s claim, but in the absence of irrefutable proof for their position, the Hopkins marker is now housed in the historical society museum in Eaton Hall, along with five cast-iron stoves manufactured at the Pittsford foundry.
To learn more about the Pittsford Historical Society and its museum, visit pittsfordhistorical.com.
Photo by Julia Purdy
Bill Powers, president of Pittsford Historical Society, speaks with author and local historian Peggy Armitage.