December 16, 2018

Old timer looks back on life in Williston

Observer file photo
Herb Goodrich at an annual Williston Fourth of July parade.

Publisher’s note: The following story was published in the Williston Observer on July 11, 2013. We are re-running it in this issue in honor of Herb Goodrich, who passed away this month. Through the years, Herb was a valuable source of information – both current and historical – for the Observer and for the community as a whole. He was also a great storyteller and jokester, and everyone at the Observer wishes all his family and friends our deepest sympathies during this difficult time.

By Stephanie Choate

Observer staff

As crowds of red, white and blue-clad revelers celebrated both Williston’s and America’s birthdays last week, longtime resident Herb Goodrich took a moment to look back on a lifetime of work, play and love in Williston.

His nearly seven decades in Williston reflect the changes of the town itself. A farmer, former Selectboard member and firefighter, Goodrich has been a part of the town’s shift from rural agrarian community to a growing center of business.

“Farm life was something else,” he said, sitting in his home on Route 2, surrounded by plaques commemorating his years of service to the town, trophies from Williston’s storied tractor pulling contest and photos of his trip to Florida to play with former Red Sox greats at Baseball Fantasy Camp.

“It was slow, but yet it was fast.”

Goodrich, 84, spent his childhood in Richmond. He first started regularly crossing the town line as a teenager—though he’d visited his Williston relatives and passed through town to take in 10-cent movies in Burlington.

Goodrich and his cousins—like young people across the region—flocked to John and Kate Harte’s Route 2 barn on weekends for square dances.

“That was the hot spot in the county,” he said.

He joined Williston’s Grange—Richmond didn’t have one at the time—and in 1947 took part in its minstrel shows.

“We’d tell jokes, sing songs, some of the girls would dance,” he said.

Soon after Goodrich graduated high school, his uncle asked him to help run his horse farm at Taft Corners—which was then open fields without a single box store in sight.

“Here you are just out of high school, it looked like quite a task, but I said ‘yes,’” he said.

While working on the farm, he saw a fetching young French Canadian girl visiting her sister and brother-in-law on the adjoining property.

“One day, I happened to be looking over and, ‘boy, look at that young lady over there, I got to meet her,’” he said. “I went over and started talking. She only talked French and I didn’t talk French, but we made out all right.”

Goodrich and Rita Germain married in 1954, settling on a rented farm on Shunpike Road. After a weeklong honeymoon in Niagara Falls, the couple returned to find that a storm had flattened a silo, which came crashing down right in their (luckily unoccupied) bedroom.

“That didn’t discourage us at all,” Goodrich said. “We just said, ‘hey, we’re going to make it alright, don’t you worry.’”

After a few years, though, the Goodriches wanted a farm of their own. Herb Goodrich knew of just the place. The Harte Farm, where he had attended all those dances as a young man, was for sale.

“I signed one piece of paper and I owned the farm,” he said.

After buying the farm in 1957, Goodrich reluctantly put a stop to the dances.

“A lot of people were mad at me, but the insurance was going up higher,” he said. “Then I got a thank you card from the people who used to live on top of the hill here (where the Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church is now), the nuns. They wanted to thank me for stopping the dances because it was ruining a lot of young girls.”

Beyond the farming community, Goodrich was deeply involved in town life. In 1957, he joined the fire station. Then, in 1969, he joined the Selectboard—where he served on and off until 2003. He was also a fire warden, charter member of the Lion’s Club and a fixture in the town’s popular tractor pulling contest—held in the field where Maple Tree Place now stands. They also ran Pine Ridge Campground for nearly 20 years.

The Goodriches farmed the land for 30 years, until they had to sell it in 1989 to developers, who built what is now Southridge.

“I hated seeing the cows go, but there was nothing I could do,” he said. “I was just going deeper in debt.”

Goodrich also had a hand in transforming the land where he once farmed and pulled tractors—Maple Tree Place—both in his capacity on the Selectboard and in a more concrete way. In 2000, he decided he was getting bored, he said. He told his wife he was going to go get a job on the Maple Tree Place construction site.

“She said, ‘Are you nuts? They won’t hire you,’” Goodrich said. “I went down and talked to owner… I came home, she said, ‘Now are you satisfied?’ I said, ‘Yup, I go to work 7 o’clock tomorrow morning.’”

Looking back, Goodrich said he thinks the town “moved too fast, built too fast,” admitting that he had a hand in the development.

“I guess it just mushroomed too fast,” he said. “Things that we didn’t plan on happened.”

But Goodrich said if town officials can keep some green space and keep the village “the way it is now,” they’ll be doing OK.

While he misses many of the mom and pop stores he used to visit, Williston has retained its character, he said.

“It’s a great town,” he said. “It is.”

Herb Goodrich published a memoir, “As I Recall,” available at the Dorothy Alling Memorial Library.

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