Town meeting is mere weeks away. Soon we’ll be scrutinizing our town reports, getting geared up to discuss the important issues of our towns. Over the last few years, I’ve fallen in love with town reports. (I can practically hear the eyes rolling)
It’s true. The history of how our towns have evolved is in those town reports.
The earliest town reports featured a narrative of the school meeting, but not a narrative of town meeting.
1891 was the first year there was advertising in the town report.
In 1895 a report came from the Board of Health, primarily on the issue of sanitation. They decried the school outhouses as “unsightly and unclean.” There was also concern about town sewerage issues, since Gorham was becoming an summer resort.
“The sewerage from the railway station, Alpine House, and Park St. is first class, emptying into the river.” Simon Stahl, and Henry Marble MD.
Emptying into the river. Oh, boy.
In 1896, a report from the Library Trustees included a complete list of all 476 books that the library owned. This went on for several years, along with an admonition each year that the young readers needed to use more care when handling books. In the 1901 report, the town has 1700 library books.
What would a town report be without births and deaths? Some gems from the causes of death:
1897: exema rubrance, spasms, general decline, gun shot wound
1899 – 2 people run over by cars
1901 -”natural decline” - she was 91
1904 – the tailor died of a bullet wound. (The customer is always right)
Also, Alphia Richardson died of “congestion of the brain.”
In 1902 – 17 people died, 3 from premature birth. $119.50 spent on vaccinations. New books included volumes by: Darwin, Kant, Hegel, and Adam Smith. (ponder that for a moment)
1903 – first year there’s an official notice of town meeting, and first year the town report is indexed.
1904 – 32 pages from the road agent – every ditch dug, every man who plowed, or shoveled snow, or fixed a bridge – many more roads, requiring many more man hours. 20 men paid varying amounts for fighting forest fires.
1905 – first year with a police report
70 people arrested for “drunk.”
1908 – there are 48 completed water closets in town.
The early reports are full of lists; every snow shovel and roller, every piece of equipment owned by the town. As the years go on, those lists change to trucks, snowplows, and increasingly sophisticated machinery.
In a 13 year period, Gorham went from having a sewerage problem (and applauding those who dumped it in the river) to having 48 water closets. Progress, measured by plumbing.
It’s all there, simply written, by people who didn’t know they were writing history – they were just documenting the doings of their town.