BY ROGER DONEGAN | FEBRUARY 27, 2020
The annual town report that hit mailboxes in mid-February is a bellwether of better things to come. It is a sure reminder that Town Meeting Day is just around the corner, that the great arc of the seasons is slowly turning in the right direction, and that the mailbox is still standing and is likely to survive the last knocks of winter. The annual report epitomizes the town’s best efforts up to the end of the completed fiscal year, and is the town’s best foot forward with a new budget and an official warning of the articles. The annual report is the optimum communication, not in theory, but on paper in black and white, offline at least.
Article 15 of the 2012 Annual Town Meeting proposed the town give 30-day(s) notice that the annual report would be available for voters to obtain, one way or another, instead of the town distributing the report by bulk mailing it to residents of Hinesburg. Not surprisingly perhaps, that article, according to the minutes, was defeated on a voice vote. Each Hinesburg Annual Report, 2007 through 2018, are linked on the town’s website. In contrast, the latest annual report inclusive of the 2020 Town Meeting warning with new articles, isn’t available three weeks before Town Meeting Day. It stands to reason then, that receipt of the latest annual report via postal delivery best satisfies the purpose and the letter of the law.
Snail mailing the annual report meets my needs.
Besides warning of town meeting and articles does appear in the classifieds of local newspapers 30 days before. Once it is received at my house, and until the conclusion of Town Meeting Day, the new town report becomes my go-to publication on top of the kitchen table. As a resident, I also have an appetite for the unofficial items sometimes added to the report that reflect local interests, which enhance the format, or that simply fill a page that would otherwise be half empty page. These additions have taken the form of thank you’s to employees for long-term town service, as memorials, as iconic photos of Hinesburg places, and as copy of paintings of local subjects by local artists, to describe a few. I recall some annual reports as favorites.
The 2002 Annual Report cover featured an 1855 photo of the Dow Woolen Mill building formerly located by the Old Mill Stream Bed and Breakfast off Mechanicsville Road. Consistent with the cover, other content included a short history “The Mills of Mechanicsville.” A duplicate article of this appeared years later in the Hinesburg Record under the auspices of the Hinesburg Historical Society on March 22, 2012. Other vintage photos in the 2002 report included a Mechanicsville grist mill, followed by one of a creamery taken in 1818 located at the same roadside high spot and intersection the Hinesburgh Public House now occupies. An enlarged version of this photo covers a prominent wall inside the restaurant. Patrick’s Saw Mill on the site of today’s Iroquois Manufacturing facility; the Murray Excelsior Mill; and a sensationally fire-engulfed creamery, circa 1909, bookends the handful of mill photos. The 2002 Annual Report was a keeper.
The 2011 annual reports cover debuted the celebrated three gear symbol for the town’s 250th anniversary (1762-2012), and designed by the HHS. This report was distributed by mail on time for Town Meeting Day in 2012 as is current practice, and served as the kick-off for the yearlong 250th anniversary. This report is a favorite of mine as well.
One can interpret the symbolism of the three meshed gears in the present tense too, as the wheels of local government in motion, for instance. My first inclination was to view the three gear symbol as representing the history of Hinesburg. Evidence of former mill sites surrounds us. In the words of Jean Minor of the HHS: “The first record of industry in town was a small dam built around 1790, at the outlet of Lake Iroquois to provide water power for a saw mill” (Hinesburg Record, Dec. 12, 1988). Often a sawmill was the first building erected by early settlers of a new town. The need for additional mills in town meant prospecting for other places to impound water. The “reservoir dam” that forms upper and lower Lake Sunset was installed in 1867.
Other everyday reminders of the mills that once dotted the Vermont landscape abound. If you drive in one direction, you will see the historic marker by the falls where Irish Hill Road becomes Falls Road just over the town line in Shelburne. The marker reads: “The Falls on the LaPlatte River … site of the first industries in Shelburne, circa 1765.” An interpretive trail sign at the nearby handicap parking space speaks to the former carding and cloth making mills. Driving around the corner and turning on LaPlatte Circle brings one to additional parking and the trail head. And if you happen to return via Route 7 passing by the Shelburne Museum’s fence line, one can see an overshot waterwheel integral to the Trescott/Shepard “up & down” sawmill.
The variety of real-life mechanical gear arrangements is infinite, from simple rack and pinion to hopelessly complicated configurations of multiple gears and shafts, even those that drove the works of Hinesburg’s historic mills. Hinesburg’s 250th anniversary three gear symbol is a simple work of art craft. And sometimes, as it is said, life does imitate art.