A couple of weeks ago a friend and town historian told me she had the diaries of Charles Brown and I might be interested in reading them. Charles Brown was the father of Percy Brown who had written the first history of Rowe as well as being a large benefactor to the town. She had transcribed each passage that referred to the time they spent in town from the years 1887 to 1929.
She dropped them off at the house and this began my breakfast and lunch routine of reading through the diaries. I was immediately struck by the dedication to doing this. He wrote every day. He and his wife usually spent the month of August in town and he wrote about the weather and how they spent their days and evenings.
Well, either their thermometers were different or this is a testament to how much warmer it is now than in that forty-year span of time. There were many days and nights when it was downright chilly. He would often write about how many blankets he slept under to give you an idea of the cold.
When they began coming to Rowe they would stay at the “Wright house”, which is my house now. There is something about reading about what was happening 130 years ago and having it take place right where you live. He wrote about finding a horse and buggy to rent while they were here and the trips they would take daily around the area and into Vermont.
He wrote of the people around him, names so familiar but some too distant in the past for me have known. He hired people to do jobs for him, had many visitors, read on the piazza, played hundreds of games of croquet recording the scores daily. There was mention of murders, lightning strikes and fires. He and Percy came to help when the barn here was struck by lightning and burned to the ground.
He wrote of his visitors. He shared Percy’s friendships in Rowe, the places they all “tramped”, picnics on Pulpit Rock. I learned of Percy’s engagement and marriage to Corinne. Expected their visits year after year, then suddenly one line about her dying in Cincinnati. At this point I was pretty invested in these characters and it felt like a gut punch with no explanation. Thank goodness for public records and other info found with the diaries.
As the years went by the horse-drawn carriages and train rides to Zoar gave way to drives in new automobiles and how painful that could be. Honestly, with the number of flats they changed it was a wonder they drove anywhere. Of course there were always reports on how bad the roads were.
Friday morning I finished reading the remaining pages of the diaries. I had been immersed in this wonderful little world of people, games and vacationing in a bygone time but a very familiar place. Charles was 79 years old. His routine in Rowe had changed gradually over the years but in being able to read it in a few days time was compressed. What really happened is I got to the end and went “Nooooooo”. The story wasn’t over, it just stopped, ugh. Think of it as Downton Abbey without season 6 – none of the ends were really tied up.
Social history is one of my favorite things and I have rarely, if ever, read anything so simply done give such a vivid picture of life in a bygone time. I’m sad the story ended but think I will read it over again. Like every good story you read to see where it goes, this time I’ll read it again to pay more attention to what it says.