News

PAST TIMES

Sepia toned photograph of Sylvia Warren at age 24

This picture of Sylvia Warren at 24 years old hangs in the Dorothy Alling Memorial Library’s Vermont History room. She was a prominent person in Williston of the early 1900s. OBSERVER COURTESY PHOTO

Sylvia Warren, Williston’s one-time ‘Queen Mother’

BY CAMERON CLARK

Special to the Observer

Sylvia Warren was my great-great-aunt. She was born in 1886 to parents Charles D. Warren and Josephine Patterson. She had a younger sister, Mildred, born in 1890. Charles’ grandfather, Stephen Warren, was among some of the earliest settlers in Williston, arriving around 1786.

Charles was a prominent member of Williston during the late 1800s and early 1900s. He served as town clerk, town treasurer and postmaster from 1886 until the early 1900s and was a representative in the Legislature from 1886-88. In 1886, he purchased the general store that used to sit at the southeast corner of Williston Road and Oak Hill Road, and the stately house two doors down where Sylvia grew up and resided for most of her life.

Perhaps one of the most memorable women in Williston’s history, Sylvia Warren was educated in Williston schools and went on to study at UVM in 1905-1906. She was a member of the sorority Pi Beta Phi and, according to her letters written home to her parents, attended many social events during that time. She continued to support the sorority throughout her adulthood and went on annual trips with other ladies, visiting places across the country including Washington D.C., New Orleans and Yellowstone National Park, among many others. She was well traveled and well educated and was equally devoted to the Town of Williston.

In 1905, at just 19 years old, Sylvia was employed as the town’s first librarian, overseeing a collection of 225 books, a role she took seriously. She would buy additional books for the library every year out of her own earnings as librarian. The library was first located at the building that is now the Town Hall Annex, and was later moved in 1929 to the Warren general store. 

This is a picture of the Warren Store, which also housed the post office, on Main Street in Williston in the early 1900s. OBSERVER COURTESY PHOTO

In addition to her role as librarian, Sylvia was appointed as the town’s first female postmaster in 1906, a role formerly held by her father Charles. Sylvia served as town librarian and postmistress for 50 years, finally retiring in 1955. The post office was also located in the Warren Store. She took over all the day-to-day operations from her father as he aged. 

Sylvia was a fixture in the village of Williston; everybody knew her. Former Williston resident Mark Hutchins fondly recalls her persona: “She was well known and well respected … If there was a form of Williston royalty, she was our Queen Mother.”

A story in our family handed down through the generations is that Sylvia was betrothed to my great-grandfather Wright Clark, but somehow her younger sister Mildred managed to woo him away, and they married in April of 1911. Sylvia was a beautiful woman, but she never married. One could imagine that she caught the attention of quite a few men as is evident by the famous picture of her at 24 years old that also hangs in the Dorothy Alling Memorial Library’s Vermont History room.

Alas, every good story must have a bit of drama. While digging through our family archives in the attic sorting my family history, I came across an article from the Burlington Daily News (now the Free Press) from August 1949 titled “Mrs. Warren’s Egging Heard.” 

The article describes how a woman attacked Sylvia one evening as she left the Warren store for the night. The woman smothered her with a bag of eggs and feathers and accused her of improper dalliance with her husband. The woman was charged with breach of the peace and assault, but released on bail. Sylvia was described during the hearing as “sitting some distance away with other women, her companions later seen comforting her as court recessed.” 

Whether or not the woman’s accusations were true we will never know, but one late resident of town said about the incident, “there were a few men in town who took a lot longer to get their mail than it should have.” 

The Warren house, in Williston, was home to the family of one of the earliest settlers of Williston, Stephen Warren, who arrived around 1786. OBSERVER COURTESY PHOTO

As I research and catalogue my family history for future generations, I will be sure to include juicy details such as this. It is as much a part of a life story as all the accomplishments. 

I have found Sylvia to be one of the most interesting of my ancestors, and I admire her lifetime of hard work and commitment, like so many of the women in my lineage.

Cameron Clark is an eighth-generation Williston resident and farmer.

Comment here