We are happy to bring you the Annual Report for Montpelier, Vermont 1908!
Annual reports of towns (and cities) are a frequently overlooked historical resource. While they seem still to be regularly produced in New England, they are less common elsewhere in the United States, but in New England they are a very useful snapshot of a locality at a specific point in time.
Unfortunately, they are a bit difficult to locate unless you happen to be in the town you are researching and can stop by town hall and see a copy. The local library will likely have a collection of them as well, but they will not have the annual reports for other area towns, and there is always the risk that someone seeking to “freshen up” the library’s collection will have disposed of the historical reports, keeping, perhaps, the most recent few.
One tends not to find them very often in the used book arena, perhaps because few people perceive much value in them. When we see one available we tend to grab it and, in time publish it. But we’ve also noticed that, because they are under-appreciated, they tend not to sell very well for us.
This particular annual report is one of the better ones. It – like most – includes a report from all governmental agencies and from agencies that are quasi-governmental, like libraries and cemeteries. We were fascinated by the report of the Health Officer. Topics of note in 1907 included epidemic diseases, getting decent plumbing in residences, and cleaning up the milk supply. A table provides analysis, both chemical and bacteriological, of the various water supplies and springs. Most notable is a breakout of mortality from diseases, and that analysis is five pages long (sorry – it does not name names; however, it does provide gender and age of each deceased person for each disease, so if you are trying to figure out what an ancestor might have died from, and you know they died in Montpelier in 1907 you can make an educated guess.)
Less hidden or disguised are the names of recipients and dollar amounts of support provided to the poor who were not housed on the city farm.
Another tidbit from this report. In what appears to be the public works department report, it shows regular expenditures for prison labor, evidently to work on the roads. For those who associate prison labor with chain gangs in the Deep South, this appearance in Vermont comes as a bit of a surprise.
We also noted with interest that back in the day of unpaved streets, Montpelier seems to have provided wooden crossings and maintained them at some expense. Of course those were the days before gasoline or diesel-powered construction equipment, so one finds abundant references to renting teams to power the public works projects. However, not all streets were unpaved! Main Street, South Main Street, and State Street all had macadam roadways laid in 1907, and concrete sidewalks were laid on Summer Street, Elm Street, North Street, Liberty Street, Winooski Avenue, and Northfield Street. Possibly Main Street, South Main, and State already had them – or perhaps not. That is one of the frustrations of dealing with annual reports. One gets a view of a specific year with little in the way of reference points to what had already been done or what was to be done in the next year.
However, we do appreciate what they can tell us!