WILLISTON’S 250TH: Looking back at Williston’s 150th anniversary

A photo from the Williston Historical Society shows a car decorated with flowers that took part in the 1913 parade celebrating Williston’s 150th anniversary.
A photo from the Williston Historical Society shows a car decorated with flowers that took part in the 1913 parade celebrating Williston’s 150th anniversary.

By Richard H. Allen

Special to the Observer

As Williston nears the 250th anniversary of its 1763 town charter, let’s look back and see how the community observed the 150th anniversary. The daylong celebration had a parade, races, a catered dinner at midday at 35 cents per plate, a baseball game, music, speeches and an evening pageant. The Williston Selectboard displayed a tremendous amount of faith in the voters by warning a special town meeting for June 24, 1913, only five weeks before the proposed celebration. At the meeting, approval was given for an expenditure of four hundred dollars to meet the anticipated expenses.

The festivities would display “a pride of community and reverence for the past deeds of its citizenship…(and) everyone was interested in making the celebration a grand affair, eventful in every respect,” predicted the Burlington Free Press on July 31.

Aimee E. Angus described the commemorative activities in “A Trio of Historical Anniversaries, an article that appeared in the September 1913 issue of The Vermonter, excerpted below.

“The weather for this anniversary occasion was ideal and the large crowd of people that gathered to witness the day’s program was orderly and good-natured. A large part of the morning was given to a street parade. A large float, representing ‘Vermont,’ with the state seal, won the prize of a silver loving-cup for the best historical feature. Other interesting sights included the Chittenden family on horseback; an ox-cart, driven by a bride and groom of ‘ye olden tyme,’ and containing their household goods; and an old fashioned stage-coach with passengers. Civil War veterans, a King’s Daughters float, tastefully decorated in purple and white, ornamental and business floats and decorated automobiles and bicycles completed this part of the program.

“The afternoon was given up to speeches and addresses by prominent men, including Governor Fletcher, and music was furnished by a Burlington band. During the day many took occasion to visit the exhibit of antiques, held in the old Williston Academy building. This building was full of memories for many, who had attended it during the days when J. S. Cilley was principal. A banquet and reunion of his former pupils with their friends was attended by about two hundred and was the occasion of many reminiscences, both amusing and sad.

“The crowning feature of the anniversary was the historical pageant in the evening. Held out-of-doors, in a spot naturally designed for dramatic uses, with stage of level greensward, back-ground of wooded hill, and with a stream large enough to float a canoe, running at the side, the setting of the pageant was ideal. There were seven episodes, ranging in date from 1764 to the present time. Governor Chittenden’s first visit to Williston and rescue of a party of captives from the Indians, the signing of the charter, home scene at Governor Chittenden’s, including the dancing of the minuet, a Civil war scene, old-time industries and old-fashioned singing-school, husking-bee, and Virginia reel, brought the large audience to the final episode, in which all who had taken part, appeared with ‘America’ in the back-ground and sang the national anthem.”

The article then described the Aug. 3 happenings in Jericho, also celebrating the 150th anniversary of its charter. That one lasted five days divided between Jericho Center and Jericho Corners. The third historical anniversary was in Richmond, where the community observed the building of the Old Round Church 100 years previous.

Angus, the article’s author, later became a Williston resident. She was originally from Hartford, Conn., born in 1885. On Nov. 10, 1914 Aimee married William M. Barber of Williston, the son of the Reverend Alanson D. Barber and Lucretia Miller Barber.

Julia Fifield, in several of her writings, recalled her family’s participation in the July 31, 1913 events. Julia, age 7, and her mother and father, Gertrude and Charles Mentzer, were not yet residents of Williston, but were visiting the Wright family living in the Giles Chittenden house. Mrs. Mentzer played the role of the Goddess of Liberty (symbolizing America) on a parade float, with Julia seated at her feet. She reprised the role for the evening pageant. Mr. Mentzer was in charge of the lighting for the pageant, a series of acetylene automobile lights hooked to a battery. The program was held in Belle Clark’s amphitheater on the banks of Allen Brook, behind what is now the Immaculate Heart of Mary church.

One outcome of the 1913 celebration was the publication of “A History of the Town of Williston, 1763-1913” by the Historical Committee, made up of Odella Fay Wright, Sylvia Warren, John Forbes, and Seth Johnson. The Williston Historical Society has reprinted copies of this 65 page booklet that can be purchased at the Dorothy Alling Memorial Library.

The Aug. 7, 1913 edition of the Burlington Free Press said the pageant “was quite the most brilliant feature of the celebration [with] the parts all taken by Williston people.” The Free Press estimated attendance throughout the day at 3,000. The paper added, “The celebration was financed and carried through entirely by the present inhabitants, and represented prolonged labor and quite general co-operation on the part of the townsmen.”

This last word ignored the five women out of the 10 citizens listed on the general organizing committee, and the many others who served on the nine subcommittees. Fifty-three people helped put on the celebration.

Williston had successfully organized a grand series of events reflecting the times and commemorating the founding of the town.

Richard Allen will present a free slide show, “Stories from Williston’s Past,” on Saturday, May 11 at 11 a.m. in the Dorothy Alling Memorial Library as part of the town’s 250th anniversary celebration of it 1763 charter.