When you read history it is easy to forget that the people you are eavesdropping on didn’t, for the most part, think of themselves as actors in a historical drama. They were just people going about their daily lives, trying to make their way in the world. They didn’t know that a major technological innovation was just a few years off, or a big war, or an economic depression, or a change in social mores.
That’s one reason I like reading history — that tension between knowing what is going to happen but being powerless to warn the character before they make a foolhardy choice.
But history isn’t all the Vikings conquering Greenland, George Washington winning the American Revolution and Louis Pasteur defeating bacteria. We all live through history; individual decisions, public events and widespread trends change our lives in little ways and big. The past sticks with us, often without our even thinking about it much.
With history in mind, I recently read through the Middlebury Town Report for 1983, and I found a wealth of information — some of it incidental, some of it incredibly important to how we live today. I hope the following passages from the report will, in part, paint a sort of pointillist portrait of Middlebury 31 years ago. And I hope that those readers who lived through that year in Middlebury will see their place in history in a new light.
There were four “Major” selectmen’s committees in 1983. One was the Cable TV Review Committee, headed up by Theodore Otis.
The town spent $5,000 for a computer, and it spent $8,584 for a police cruiser.
The Friends of the Ilsley Library that year bought for the institution a new microfilm reader and an “electronic typewriter.”
Sarah Partridge Library in East Middlebury celebrated passing the century mark as it started the year with 99 registered borrowers, and ended the year with 140.
Ilsley Library saw a drop in borrower registrations — by eight, from 3,755 to 3,747. It saw its holdings increase, though, as the number of “phonographs, records and tapes” rose from 827 to 870, and the count of microfilm rolls inched up from 86 to 88. The number of art prints was stagnant at 21.
The Addison County Humane Society sheltered 530 canines and 449 felines. It also cared for a number of “wild or exotic” animals in 1983, including a white duck, two great horned owls, a seagull, domestic and wild rabbits, a crow, mourning doves, gerbils, a parakeet and a parrot.
The annual salaries of town employees were reported as a range based on position. They went from town manager at the top ($20,280-$30,524) to the police chief and the public works superintendent (both $18,638-$23,963) all the way down to maintenance person, where the top end of the pay scale was $9,360 a year.
On the delinquent tax rolls, 87 individuals and companies and the amounts they owed at the end of the year are listed, including those who had paid the debt during the first month of 1984. Those with the largest outstanding tax bill were also the ones with pending appeals: Otter Valley Equipment Inc. ($16,368.24), Joseph P. Carrara ($6,981.77) and Vermont Industrial Parks ($5,580.60). And there is unfortunate William Randall, who got his name in the town report for owing $2.03 in back taxes.
Municipal Building repairs in 1983 amounted to $12,404, and $83,500 was budgeted for repairs over the ensuing five years. The five-year plan for capital improvements also budgeted $158,000 for repairs to High Street and $112,000 for reconstruction of 950 feet of Washington Street Extension.
The actual town tax receipts in 1983 were $927,054. The total town General Budget receipts were $1,746,673. Total town General Budget expenditures were $1,628,281. So there was a surplus that year.
A nifty pie chart shows that of the taxes collected in 1983, 32 percent went to the town, 27 percent to the elementary school and 41 percent went to the high school (UD-3).
The grand list (total value of all property in town) was $166,904,620 in 1983. Albert Stiles, chairman of the Board of Listers, reports that the average value of a Middlebury home sale in 1983 was $57,770.
The official fence viewers in 1983 were Howard Foster, L.P. Moore and Wayne Peters.
Police officer Art Ploof resigned after 14 and a half years of service. Town Manager David A. Crawford resigned after 16 years of service, with Rick McGuire taking over as manager.
There is a mention of an organization called the “Demoley Boys”; anyone remember what that is? There must be a few former members who could write in and let us know.
Ranger Robert W. Andrews reported that the Green Mountain National Forest got a new source of labor “through a cooperative agreement with the Rutland Correctional Center. Supervised inmate crews worked on numerous projects including tree planting, trail repairs, wildlife habitat improvement and other labor intensive field work.”
The trustees of the Means Memorial Woods and the Battell Park Trust said they planned to meet in the coming year to develop and expand a series of interlocking nature trails. The Trail Around Middlebury was still a few years off.
The report includes photos of a few young people who you will still see on the job today, including police department dispatcher Bonnie Murray, State Rep. Betty Nuovo, Counseling Service staffer Bob Thorn, Louise Fitzsimmons in the Recreation Department (now she’s in the Water Department) and town office administrative assistant Beth Dow.
There is also a photo of a town grader in operation during the April snowstorm.
The Middlebury Fire Chief was Ralph Hayes Sr. East Middlebury had its own fire chief then: Winston Leno. Albert L. Watson led the police department.
The East Middlebury Fire Department responded to 34 alarms in 1983, including four house fires and a barn fire. The bigger Middlebury FD answered 76 calls, including to six structure fires. The fire department replaced its 85-foot ladder truck with one with a 100-foot reach. Middlebury College kicked in $10,000 toward purchase of the vehicle.
1983 was apparently a safe year to be living in Middlebury. The police department reported no fatal accidents and no suicides and only two untimely deaths, which was three fewer than in each of the previous two years. The total amount of police fines dropped 33 percent from 1982 to $7,937 and the value of property stolen dropped 66 percent to $77,013. But, then again, the value of property recovered in 1983 dropped 74 percent from the previous year. Statistics can be funny that way.
Police did look into one attempted murder in 1983, two kidnappings and an armed robbery. The number of criminal court cases involving possession of regulated drugs more than doubled that year — to seven; there were no prosecutions for selling drugs. Those were the days.
The police statistics don’t even show a category for domestic violence.
The police department started a program called Operation Identification in which 487 school age and preschool children were fingerprinted.
About 200 people attended the 1983 town meeting, which ran about an hour and a half. Chet Ketcham was the moderator. At the meeting, Jean Rosenberg urged residents not to agree to participate in something called “Crisis Relocation” because this program gives the false impression that people could survive nuclear war. The town voted overwhelmingly against it.
In Australian ballot voting, Tim Buskey, George Foster and Ken Caul Sr. all won election to the selectboard.
There were 513 births, 87 deaths and 79 marriages recorded in Town Clerk Richard Goodro’s office in 1983.
The town Recreation Department in 1983 offered 163 programs. What stood out to me was a youth track and field program that attracted 61 young people; three separate youth baseball programs, Pony League, Little League and Babe Ruth; a “Mini Chefs” program; and something called “Little People,” which drew 76 participants, presumably all diminutive in size. Sixty-five adults attended a stenciling class. The rec department held its first annual New Year’s Eve fireworks display.
There was an Easter egg hunt in 1983, water skiing, and an activity called “North Pole Calling” (that’s another one we’d like to hear from folks who know what that was).
According to Recreation Director Douglas MacDougall, 300 people enjoyed the Firemen’s Foam event that year, and 425 people really enjoyed the 300-foot ice cream sundae (yes, 300-foot; there’s even a photo in the report).