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Mont Vernon businesses explored

MONT VERNON – This small hilltop town has never had much in the way of businesses. Now there is only a general store, two farms, a sprinkling of home businesses, one nice Airb&b and a small environmental engineering firm.

People complain that the town has no tax base, but “it’s always been that way,” said Tim Berry, the newly elected selectman, during an historical society program Saturday called, “A Short History of Mont Vernon Businesses.”

David Brooks was the program’s main presenter, and he gave a quick history of the town and its commercial life.

The earliest businesses provided things townspeople needed. There were blacksmiths, wheelwrights, a tannery, and even an ice-cutting business.

Since no river ran through it, no large mills grew up here as they did in Milford, but there were small sawmills in the 1800s that provided lumber for cabinet-makers. The historical society’s museum, upstairs in town hall, has a writing desk made by the Conant Box Company and a clock cabinet made by Dutton Clocks.

The cabinet businesses brought “out-of-town money into town,” Brooks said.

But with the coming of the railroad in the mid-1800s, the town’s population plummeted as farmers woke up to the fact that there was much more fertile land in the Midwest.

The largest employers in the mid to late 1800s were the enormous hotels, when trains to Milford would bring people who wanted to escape the cities’ summer heat. The museum has a booklet from the Grand Hotel that says “clientele of the Hebrew faith are not welcome.” That African-American “clientele” were not welcome was a given, said Brooks.

The advent of the automobile gave people many more travel options and the hotel business died and many burned down.

Over the years there were a few private schools in the McCollom Building, which now houses the police department and town clerk offices.

The Mont Vernon General Store’s most well-known owners were Arthur Temple and Harry Blood. They had photos of the store and its “Temple& Blood” sign made into postcards at the Cabinet Press in Milford, postcards that can still be found at flea markets and and antique shops.

When the general store had an office of the Milford Co-op Bank, people called it, tongue in cheek, the “Mont Vernon Mall.”

The town’s “modern era” started in 1969, Brooks said, when the town enacted its first zoning laws after a farmer turned his land into a mobile home park.

In the early 1970s, the population bottomed out, with only 300 people, until the Spring Hill subdivision was built and the the population started to grow.

For many years, “farming was the economic lifeblood of Mont Vernon,” Brooks said, and there were at least five dairy farms at various times. In the 1950s, eggs and poultry were big, and now eggs are big again, thanks to Julie’s Happy Hens. which has thousands of hens, plus ducks, geese, cows and sheep on the old Trow farm.

Julie Whitcomb and Matt Gelbwaks owned the town’s 150-year-old convenience store from 2006-2010, when they supplied the store with eggs from their free-range backyard chickens.

“I never had enough eggs,” said Whitcomb, so she decided to become a producer. Now their farm is the largest pasture-raised egg producer in the state and the only commercial sheep dairy.

Kathy Cleveland may be reached at 673-3100 or kcleveland@cabinet.com.