Dorset Vermont Historical Society Bley House Museum
Welcome to Historic Dorset, Vermont
Bley House
Welcome to Bley House Museum
The Dorset Historical Society was incorporated as a non-profit organization in 1963. The Society's purposes are: to discover and collect materials that will help establish or illustrate the history of Dorset, Vermont; to provide for the preservation of relevant collections; to exhibit archival materials and disseminate historical information; and to educate members of the Society and the public. Toward these ends, DHS collects and maintains artifacts, art, photographs, documents, books, manuscripts, and genealogical records pertinent to Dorset and its environs from the time the town was chartered in 1761 to the present.
The Society's home is the Bley House Museum, located on Route 30 at Kent Hill Road. Among the museum's featured exhibits are Fenton stoneware, paintings by Dorset artists, and in the Marble Gallery, a large display that showcases 130 years of quarrying, hauling, and finishing marble in Dorset and East Dorset—all part of the town's most historically significant industry. Two historic buildings using marble from Dorset quarries are the Old Customs House in Erie, Pennsylvania—the first major building in the U.S. to use marble (1839)—and the New York Public Library (1910).
Dorset Quarry
Norcross-West Marble Quarry, earliest (1785) commercial marble quarry

Curators Corner

October is Archives Month, and the theme this year is ...

Spirits in the Archive

 

 

The Dorset Historical Society preserves thousands of documents, ledgers, diaries, letters, handbills, broadsides, which illuminate different aspects of local history.  Our role as historians is to place these documents in context of their time and place.

 

One letter in our Archives is from Charles Field, Sr. to his sister.  Field was a marble dealer who lived on Church Street (just east of the entrance to the Field Club).  He was born in 1824, died in 1886.  The letter is dated September, 1891.

 

 

This letter is one in a file folder which includes several “Spirit Letters” written between 1890-1893.  These include the written descriptions of what the dead who materialized at séances had to say to the living.  One letter is from a father admonishing his son for not appreciating spiritualism.

Urial Kent, who died in 1872, in a letter to his son Charles B. Kent in 1892, chastises, “This is for you, my bigoted and unenlightened son, to commence to use your reasoning powers in another direction.”  That direction?  “Of course this planet earth’s inhabitants have now commenced an unprejudiced investigation of this the most important of spiritual scientific truths, viz. the science of an eternal spirit life.”

Spiritualism, the belief and practice of speaking with the dead,  often quoting the New Testament and espousing pseudo-scientific concepts,  was enormously popular around the United States in the second half of the nineteenth century, and was practiced in Dorset at least beginning in the early 1860s.

These letters provide a small glimpse into the spiritual world views of many people in this area.  They also display social connections and norms, and even shed light on linguistics.  For instance, the term Summerland is used throughout the letters, which means it was a word, not in use now, but once much used.  It was a spiritualist term for the pleasant place spiritual bodies go after death.  To me, it could be an amusement park.  And, as it turns out, there is a Summerland Fun Park in St. Cloud, Minnesota.

One nine page letter is especially interesting.  The Spirit Writer, Isaac Smith, was asked about a sensitive marital problem.  The retired local minister, Prentiss Pratt had recommended divorce, and the Spirit Guide agreed, and went as far as to recommend a replacement husband.  A little deeper research shows the advice was not heeded, and the couple remained married until the husband’s death 26 years later.

Lastly, a undated letter asks, “My Superior Spirit Controller, can the people be truthfully informed as to the manner of Dr. Phelp’s Spirit inspired discovery?”

Dr. Edward Elisha Phelps, Sr. (1803-1880), a Dartmouth professor, invented what would become known as Paine’s Celery Compound, an enormously popular elixir made in Burlington, VT., from a mixture of herbs, roots and bark, but its most active ingredients were cocaine and alcohol.

After a lengthy reply, the Superior Spirit Controller says, “This life strengthening remedy. The Celery Compound.”

Revelations from beyond the great veil, or advertisement?

Only the dead can truly say ...

 



Dorset Historical Society
Member of Vermont Historical Society and
The New England Museum Association


PO Box 52 · Route 30 at Kent Hill Road
Dorset, VT 05251 USA · 802-867-0331
E-mail: info@dorsetvthistory.org

— Open Hours —
Wednesday, Thursday & Friday, 10-4 p.m.
Saturday, 10-2 p.m.

Other days and times by appointment

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