Bloody Brook’s Old Wright Place is Long Gone

I was on the road around 7:30 a.m. for an hour’s drive up Interstate 91 to Claremont, New Hampshire, a Connecticut River mill town south of Cornish and Windsor, Vermont – Mount Ascutney looming large on the northwestern horizon.

There I would for the first time meet Avis Dodge Rogers, a dignified 92-year-old bundle of historical curiosity and youthful South Deerfield memories, and maybe even a glint of girlish mischief in her light-blue Yankee eyes.

I know them, the eyes of my late father.

A wife, mother, and librarian who dabbled in local history and genealogy in her spare time, Ms. Rogers was born in 1929 to Charles Mason and Dora May (Clark) Dodge. Hers was a youth of cows and horses in the barn, chickens in the coop, and jumping up and down on the hay-wagon to compress loads for transit at her family’s 50-acre farm on the corner of North Main Street and Jackson Road, formerly the road to Whitmore’s Ferry.

When her grandfather lived there during the first half of the 20th century, the farm encompassed about 130 acres split by North Hillside Road, with 80 wooded acres extending all the way to Clapp’s Pond on the upland east side.

I know the acreage on both sides of the road. I often hunted there and knew Ms. Rogers’ father, Charlie Dodge, a well-known South Deerfield character and Oliver Smith Will elector who died in 1980. He was slightly younger than my grandfather, and I can’t imagine they didn’t know each other in passing. It was a small town in their day, and part of mine.

Ms. Rogers graduated Deerfield High School in 1947 and stuck around for a couple of years before marrying Albert H. Rogers, a friend of Deerfield veterinarian Charles Belford, and moving to Claremont, where he and a partner purchased Claremont Paper Mill. The couple remained there long enough to celebrate their 70th wedding anniversary in 2019, two months before Mr. Rogers’ December death. He had been retired for 25 years, having sold his factory to Ashuelot Paper Company in 1994.

Avis weathered the loss and is still going strong, her memory, mobility, and communication skills remarkable.

I learned of Ms. Rogers last summer from a friend who bought her South Deerfield property about 20 years ago. He provided her phone number and encouraged me to contact her, promising I’d tap into a wealth of South Deerfield knowledge. I called promptly and have been picking her brain ever since, trying my best not to be a pest.

Always engaging and enthusiastic during our discussions, she had on many occasions encouraged me to visit. So, with winter fading into joyous spring – notwithstanding three inches of inconvenient snow that had fallen the previous day – the time was finally right.

I arrived at Ms. Rogers’ secluded, tidy ranch on a peaceful hill before 9 a.m. The gracious hostess was neatly yet comfortably dressed and ready to share information, with photos and records stacked on her dining-room table for the visit.

Tracing the Links

For me, the most pressing topic was the 18th-century gambrel-roofed dwelling that came with the farm bought by her family long ago. Not sure who bought it or precisely when, she knew it was either her grandfather or great-grandfather around the dawning of the 20th century.

The circa-1780 homestead that stood there at the time was identified by George Sheldon, author of the History of Deerfield (1895), as “the old Wright place.” By the time the Dodges bought it, the building was getting old and worn. “I don’t think people painted their homes as often back then,” she explained.

Ms. Rogers believes that in about 1905 her grandfather, Edward Mason Dodge, was faced with the decision of either replacing or repairing the deteriorating building and chose the latter. Why not? He was a carpenter, and likely had a hand in disassembling the old structure and building a new home that’s still standing there.

My primary interest was in the 18th-century building that was removed, a dwelling that would, if extant, be one of South Deerfield’s oldest. In fact, it was probably one of the first dozen or so homes built in Bloody Brook village.

My curiosity had been piqued over the winter after examining two circa-1900 photos of the old building – one from the Pioneer Valley Memorial Association’s Howes Brothers collection and another a lithographic, pre-1909 postcard. My interest only intensified after learning that the farmstead’s first occupant had been the Joseph Wright family, literally giving me skin in the game.

Although I knew that cooper Joseph Wright and his daughter Miriam Wright Arms were great-grandparents of mine, I knew little else about them, and had no idea where they lived. I knew much more about my Asahel Wright line through Deerfield’s Wapping village. More than likely, the two men were from the same bolt of early Springfield cloth.

There is good reason for my lack of knowledge about Joseph Wright, considered by Sheldon as a “late comer” to town. The Deerfield historian tells us he had resided in Ware and Hadley before arriving in Bloody Brook around 1779, the patriarch then nearing 60. It doesn’t help that Sheldon chose to introduce the “old Wright place” not in his Joseph Wright profile, but rather in that of a Baldwin family I had no previous impetus to examine. But Avis Dodge led me to the Baldwins, and they led me to Sheldon’s mention of the Wright place, which I was able to pinpoint.

Chasing the Goose

I then had ample reason to probe deeper into the Wrights and their farm, and was soon snagged in vexing complications created by what would turn out to be a misidentification on the aforementioned color postcard depicting an historic South Deerfield house. Chalk it up as a classic example illustrating how a published mistake can wreak havoc on a research mission.

This one set me off on a wild goose chase that was difficult to resolve. I found the vertical postcard of the antique, gambrel-roofed structure on eBay. Identified across the bottom left as the “Old Bartlett House in South Deerfield,” it sure looked like the same building my friend Peter Thomas had shown me on the black-and-white Howes Brothers photo with an elderly woman standing in front. Both photos showed the same front and side doors, same center chimney, same front and gable-side windows, and even what appeared to be the same mature trees standing between the home and the street.

Thomas was of the opinion, but not certain, that the photos depicted the same building – specifically the one removed by the Dodge family at the corner of North Main Street and Jackson Road.

I was immediately interested in the Howes Brothers photo for two reasons. First, maybe someone could identify the elderly woman standing in front. Second, the structure closely resembled a distinctive Deerfield homestead known in National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) records as the Locke/Fuller House at The Bars, now the home of octogenarian widow Mary Arms Marsh. The NRHP profile describes that home’s architectural style as unique among Deerfield structures. Although that may well have been the case when it was accepted as a Register building, it would not have been so before the old Dodge place, just three miles south, was demolished.

Despite having different chimneys – central in South Deerfield, dual at The Bars – the two contemporaneous buildings otherwise displayed remarkably similar, gambrel-roofed architecture styles, suggesting that master builder Jonas Locke, owner of The Bars place, could well have had a hand in both. Locke built his home around 1790 and would have known – and possibly even worked with – Joseph Wright’s oldest son Westwood Cook Wright, a joiner who was hired in 1787 to build a new Old Deerfield schoolhouse where Hall Tavern now stands.

Most confusing about the postcard showing what appeared to be the same decaying building as the Howes Brothers photo was seeing the Bartlett name attached. The 1858 Walling and 1971 Beers maps of South Deerfield both show “F. Bartlett” residing on the east side of North Main Street, about a quarter-mile south of the Wright-Baldwin-Dodge place.

Though my deed research has produced no evidence that the property on the corner of Jackson Road ever belonged to a Bartlett, there was a caveat: Avis Dodge Roger’s great-grandfather and great-uncle, Hawley brothers Mason and Alonzo Dodge, moved to South Deerfield in the mid-19th century and married Franklin Bartlett’s daughters.

Nonetheless, when shown the Howes photo, Ms. Rogers could not identify the elderly standing woman. She was certain the woman was not from her Jackson Road gene pool.

Hmmmm?

Perhaps the mystery could be solved in probate records, because by that point, I had still been unable to document a Dodge purchase of the Jackson Road property. My wheels were spinning. Could there have been two nearly identical homes – one belonging to a Bartlett, the other to a Baldwin – in the same North Main Street neighborhood? Was there a hidden Dodge-Baldwin connection that would appear in probate? Though if so, wouldn’t Ms. Rogers know of it?

One and the Same

Perplexed, I fired off a detailed email explaining my dilemma to Thomas, a sophisticated researcher and friend with whom I often share such snags. Maybe he would offer helpful suggestions.

Well, not quite – but he did take a short trip in cyberspace that ultimately solved my mystery. Using Google Street View, he went to the Dodge place now owned by Robert Decker, viewed it from the same perspective as the postcard, and noticed an identical barn in the background. Bingo! Same site, different homestead.

To illustrate the point, he took a screen shot and emailed it to me overnight while I slept. There to greet me in my inbox early the next morning, I realized that my first impression had been correct: the postcard depicted the old Wright-Baldwin-Dodge place.

In dim morning light, I reached for a notepad within reach on my desk. I remembered jotting down notes for future reference on a list of Franklin County Registry of Deeds plans. Noted was a 1968 plan mapping a couple of Dodge building lots to be sold on Jackson Road; on the face was a list of deeds I hadn’t cross-referenced with others I had reviewed.

The first one of these I opened documented a 1901 transfer of the Baldwin property to Edward Mason Dodge, through court-appointed estate administrator Pharcellus Bridges.

The transaction occurred about two years after the death of Joseph A. Baldwin, and two years before the death of his elderly widow and sole survivor, Mary Porter Baldwin.

Joseph A. was the third-generation Baldwin to own the farm. His grandfather John Baldwin was the first, buying the property and moving to Bloody Brook village from Connecticut in 1804. John’s son and Joseph’s father, Augustus Baldwin, was next, followed by Joseph, whose son James G. Baldwin lived next door and likely helped with the farm.

That elderly standing woman displayed in the Howes Brothers photo was widow Mary. Likely starting to fail in old age, the administration of her estate had been transferred to Bridges. She died in 1903 at 81.

So, there you have it – a splendid outcome to a chaotic, helter-skelter chase. Not only had I unraveled an annoying historical rats’ nest tangled in an unfortunate published transcription error but, in the process, I had uncovered a direct genealogical link to the place.

It had been the home of Joseph Wright, whose daughter Miriam in 1779 married my fourth great-grandfather, Eliphaz Arms. That couple had nine children, and lived on the same Bloody Brook Corner lot my widowed, 92-year-old mother calls home to this day.

Yes, a small world, that that of old Bloody Brook village.

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