Updated: Aug 10, 2020
By Harry Cooley
Harry Cooley was my maternal grandfather. His son Charles transcribed the handwritten version of an autobiography that runs to 45 handwritten pages. The first six pages of the original have gone missing, and I cannot explain the discrepancy between the mention of Luke and Olive's "eight" children and the six names that follow. Patrick and I are preparing the autobiography for publication. Part I recalls the series of events that brought the family to Randolph Center, Vermont. You can help us proof it! —Sara Tucker
I was born on November 13,1893, in Georgia, Vermont. My parents were William Augustus Cooley and Annie Rogene (Hale) Cooley. We lived on a small farm near the Milton town line on the north and south road parallel and westerly of Route 7. My Grandfather Cooley was always careful to identify that road as “the main road between Burlington and Montreal,” and it was during stagecoach days when roads were laid out “as the crow flies“ without much regard for hills, or “vertical curves“ as the present day Highway Department calls them.
My great-grandfather, Luke Cooley, was the first member of the family born in Vermont. He was the the oldest son of Solomon and Lucy Cooley, who came from Springfield, Massachusetts and settled in Milton about 1780 on a farm east of The Cobble now owned by John Duffy.
My grandfather was Henry Boardman Cooley, oldest son of Luke, born in Milton in 1816. Luke and his wife, Olive Knight, moved to the Georgia farm when he was twelve years old. Luke and Olive had eight children: Henry, Heman, and Reuben, Samantha, Sally, Mary. Luke died at an early age, and Henry and Olive brought up the family and paid for the farm.
Heman moved to Minnesota before the Civil War. Reuben married and lived on a farm on Route 7 in what is now known as the Conger district. Samantha married James and lived in Georgia all her life. Sally married Dighton Kempton and also lived in Georgia her life long. Mr. Kempton was a blacksmith, wheelwright and small farmer and lived in Georgia Center. Mary married [?] Dewey and moved to Wisconsin.
I am the oldest of five sons born to William and Annie Cooley. Sumner was born July 21, 1896. Hollis was born March 9, 1899. Oscar was born November 13, 1901. He and I have the same birthday eight years apart. Emerson was born in Essex Junction in 1909.
I started school in September 1899 and walked a mile and a half to the schoolhouse located at the junction of Route 7 and the road to East Georgia and Fairfax. It was known as the East Plain School District No. 14. At that time there were only two houses on the cross road between our road and Route 7, and the road was lined on both sides with trees and a back growth of thick woods. My route to school made a U turn, going south about a quarter of a mile then east a mile and north a quarter of a mile. I could go across lots straight east and save a half mile but usually preferred the long way since I had company on the easterly part of the trip. There was no trouble in good weather, but occasionally a winter storm made walking hard. My parents seldom thought it necessary to “hitch up” a horse to take us unless the weather was very bad.
My grandfather died in 1903, when I was ten years old. He was eighty-seven years old and hoed a half acre of beans on a hot morning in July. He sat on the front porch resting and waiting for the morning mail. As the mail team approached, he started across the yard, where there was a small pile of new mown grass. He stumbled, fell on the hay, and died immediately. It was called apoplexy, now days “a stroke.”
I was riding the horse for my father to cultivate corn. We heard Grandma wailing. She was quite excitable. Father unhitched the horse from the cultivator and told me to ride to the neighbors and call the doctor on the telephone. We did not have a telephone. The first neighbor on the west road was Bart French. I trotted the old mare a quarter of a mile with the harness jingling and myself sobbing. I found no one home at French’s except “Semer” Willey, a close friend of Grandpa and about his age. Semer was deaf, and I could not make him understand what I wanted. He thought I had come to borrow a piece of farm equipment as I had come with a harnessed horse.
After several unsuccessful attempts to make him understand, I gave up and set out for the next house, Boyden’s, another half mile west. There I was more successful in stating my errand to Mrs. Boyden, who put through the call for the doctor. He came to our house that afternoon and pronounced Grandpa dead, which was all he could have done if he had been on the spot when the old man collapsed. The funeral was at the house, with a good number of friends and neighbors, and Grandpa was laid away in the East Plain cemetery, where his friend Semer dug the grave as per previous arrangement between the two old men.
As long as Grandpa lived, there was no talk of moving. He was sure that farm was just as good as any other. He liked the location. I expect a great deal of him had gone into those few rather barren acres. Grandma was willing to consider moving, and my parents, with four boys growing and nearly ready for school, thought it advisable to make a change.
For the next two years there was much talk of moving. About half that time there was much perusing of prospectus of Western land [in] Washington, Oregon and California. They even went so far as to select certain unimproved forty acres, I think in Modesto County, California. We boys thought it would be fun to pick up and travel. I have often wondered what the result would have been. I am sure neither Father nor Mother had much idea of what a change it would be. All the literature made out that everything was perfectly easy and practical. Of course it was not like starting on the Oregon Trail in 1848, but with four young children and very limited resources it would not have been easy. Father was no pioneer. His chief asset was Mother and even she could not perform miracles.
I never knew what caused the Western fever to abate, but it did, and after many weeks of consideration and several extended horse and buggy tours to Fairfax, St. Albans, and finally Essex Junction, Father bought the farm on the road out of the Junction toward Essex Center, where we lived for three years. The farm land adjoined the Drury Brickyard and extended eastward in a rather long narrow strip to and across the railway tracks of the now long defunct Burlington and Lamoille Railroad, which extended to Cambridge Junction, where it connected with the St. Johnsbury and Lake Champlain railroad. This new home was a small dairy farm with a retail milk route in the village of Essex Junction.