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Using Old Maps to Find A House Site

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By David Allen     November 2006

Vermont’s old road maps are filled with interesting information, most notably the names and locations of house sites. Over the last two years I have been scanning and reproducing many old Vermont maps onto CDROMs. People often ask me "what can we do with these old maps?" Here I’ll describe an example. I am currently using maps to locate homesites of some of my Vermont ancestors in the Morrisville area.

The 1859 Map shows that "I. Darling" (Ira) lived in Morrisville (inside the large "N" on the left). This was the childhood home of Paulina Darling. "A.M. Woodbury" lived about 3 miles east in the town of Wolcott (north of Elmore Village). Albert was the father of Urban Woodbury, the future Governor (Urban was at the University of Vermont in 1859). (Map of Orleans, Lamoille and Essex Counties by H.F. Walling)

One of my forebears was a Governor - my great-great-grandfather Urban A. Woodbury - who served in that post 1894-1896. We know quite a bit about his adult life – Civil War veteran, successful businessman, Mayor of Burlington etc – and that he had a very large house in Burlington where he entertained Presidents. But we know almost nothing about his humbler beginnings. And we know little about his wife Paulina Darling’s background. They both went to school in Morrisville and they were married in nearby Elmore. But where were their homes? Where did they play as kids?

So, to the maps! The 1859 and 1878 maps (Walling and Beers) are both filled with homeowners names. I started with the 1859 map since it captures the time just before Urban and Paulina were married in 1861. Since Paulina was born in Morristown, I looked for the "Darling" name in that town. Almost immediately I noted an "I. Darling" just east of Morrisville village on a road leading toward Lake Elmore. Paulina’s dad was Ira Darling. That same site was labeled "E. Darling" on the 1878 "Beers" atlas map. This clue helped, as she had two "E" brothers - Edward and Elial. Ira was almost 80 years old in 1878, and the two brothers would have been in their 30s – one of them could have been the homeowner "E. Darling". There are several other Darlings on the 1859 map in Morristown, but none with an "I" first name. At this point I had never seen the land or the site. I was guessing – but with some confidence – that I had found the mapped location of Paulina Darling’s childhood home. Some time later I had some correspondence with another Darling descendant who bought one of my 1859 map CDs. Rachel Laflin of Jericho said that this was probably the site, and that the house was still standing. When I visited the area this fall I was told by a recent owner that this house was indeed the old Darling Farm. In fact, the road is known today as Darling Road.

Now, what about Urban’s boyhood home? Where was it, and is it standing today like Paulina’s house?

This puzzle has proven more difficult. The future Governor was born in New Hampshire to Lucy W. and Albert M. Woodbury and moved to Vermont circa 1840 as a toddler. His dad was supposedly a "master builder" who lived on a farm in Elmore later in his life. Urban enlisted in the Civil War service "from Elmore" in 1861. I looked over the entire Elmore 1859 map and found no Woodburys at all. Could family lore be wrong? I checked again and then noticed – across the town line in the Town of Wolcott – the entry "A.M. Woodbury". The location is very close to Elmore village, less than a mile north, and quite far from the village center of Wolcott. "A.M. Woodbury" is too unusual a name for that site to be anyone’s home but that of my ancestor Albert. A different owner is shown by 1878 (Beers atlas), so Albert must have moved on by then.

But where to?

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Revised: 01/30/14
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