SHELDON — Hundreds turned out on Saturday for Sheldon Old Home Days, complete with parade, history exhibits, storytelling, blacksmithing, music and, of course, food.
“Our history helps us to understand who we are and prepare as we look to the future,” said Don McFeeters, the keynote speaker.
History exhibits showed Sheldon’s history as a tourist attraction. During the 19th Century, visitors would come for the restorative power of its springs, along with Highgate’s. Sheldon boasted grand hotels, photos of which were on display.
An advertisement for one of the hotels, the Bellevue House, advised potential visitors on the best routes to take – both rail and boat—from Albany and Troy, N.Y. to Sheldon.
Gerry Dexter, of Highgate, who collects bottles from around the area had a display of bottles that used to contain Missisquoi Spring water. Unlike many other springs, Missisquoi was sulfur-free. “That’s a good reason to sell it,” he said, “aside from the fact it was going to cure everything that was wrong with you.”
Advertisements for the water contained testimonials from “people that claimed to be cured of most everything,” said Dexter.
The bottles themselves were initially embossed, with labels sometimes placed over the embossing. It was possible to get more information onto the labels, but the embossing was permanent. Bottlers wanted customers to remember where the bottle came from so they would return it, explained Dexter.
One pamphlet for Missisquoi Water, which was distributed out of the company’s New York City office, listed the price for a case of 100 pints at $11, but customers could get $1.50 back for returning the bottles.
A 5-gallon bottle, known as a demijohn, was $2.75 with 75 cents for returning the bottle.
The bottles were one of the biggest expenses of bottling water, explained Dexter, so companies wanted them back.
The company also advertised the effervescence of Missisquoi Spring water. To preserve that bubbliness the bottles were corked just like champagne, explained Dexter.
For those interested in learning about trains, Jim Murphy was on hand in a conductor’s outfit to talk about the trains that ran to Sheldon.
Sheldon was also home to mills, a grist mill as well as the paper and pulp mill. It was a company town, said McFeeters, complete with a company store.
There was also a milk strike in the 1930s, which McFeeters said he learned about from his father.
“These pieces of history have influenced who we are and what we are,” said McFeeters.
Old Home Days began in 1991 as a way to remember that history. The event is held every five years.
The family friendly event also engaged children with a chance to try their hand at blacksmithing with Jon Sandville and Lief Engstrom, walk on stilts or get their faces painted.
Younger children could hear stories from Sheldon library trustee Billy Jean Smith or pet donkeys brought by Tina Churchill.
The parade, which barred candidates for office, had 45 units participating, several with a history theme such as Alden Creamery’s display of old-fashioned dairy equipment.