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Article Title: Pasture Owner Sabin: Slate Miner, EngineerEdition: April 2002
Category: General Interest
Author: Walter Carpenter
Author's note: This story is Part One of a two-part history of Sabin's Pasture Part Two will appear in the May issue of The Bridge. The history of Sabin's Pasture is sketchy because details and maps all but impossible to find. The author would like to thank those who helped with the research: The people at the Montpelier city clerk's office; the staff at the state library; the staff at the state archives and Paul Guare, president of the Montpelier Historical Society. here is a link to the Part Two article: As War Rages, Sabin's Pasture Changes Hands
Most Montpelier residents know of Sabin's Pasture. They may have hiked it, gone sledding on it, even partied on it. But precious few really know who Sabin was.
Charles T. Sabin, born in Montpelier April 11, 1832, was one of the early owners of what is now known as Sabin's Pasture. Sabin lived for 57 years, and he packed an active lifetime into those years. Just how Sabin came to acquire the pasture is unclear, but one can see, through documents, that he owned it and that one of his heirs sold it to the family that currently owns the pasture. (For the sale to the Aja family, see Part Two in the May issue of The Bridge).
According to at least one record of the time, Sabin had an independent spirit and a good sense of humor.
"A vein of merry humor ran through his whole nature," the Gazeteer said, "and he had a bright wit, the shining point of whose sallies was never tipped with malice or bitterness." (Gazetteer of Washington County, Vermont 1783-1889, edited by William Adams, published by Hamilton Childs, Syracuse, New York April, 1889.)
The Machine Trade in FitchburgSabin was educated in schools in Montpelier and Cambridge and Saint Albans, Vermont and after basic schooling, he went to Fitchburg, Mass. and entered the machinist trade at the Putnam Machine Company. In 1853, with his apprenticeship finished, the Putnam Machine Company sent Sabin all over the country to set up their engines, which he did for five years before joining a carriage company in New Haven, Connecticut.
Then, at the outbreak of the Civil War, Sabin went to Colorado and took a job as the superintendent of a mining company. In 1859 he married Emily McFarland of Cambridge, Vermont, and she lived him in Colorado. Together they had three children, all daughters: Fanny T., Jessie, and Laura.
The Sabins spent six years in Colorado. Then, he and Emily returned to Montpelier where Sabin's various talents found a home.
Sabin served both in business and politics in Montpelier. He was elected to the legislature in 1876 to represent Montpelier. In October of 1878 he became a director of the Vermont Mutual Fire Insurance Company and in 1887 he rose to vice-president. Sabin was chosen in 1879 to be a director of the National Life Insurance Company and served in this capacity until he died.
During his years in Montpelier, Sabin's previous work in mining naturally led him into ventures of his own here. One was the Sabin Slate Company, of which he served as president.
The old quarry in Sabin's Pasture furnished the slate for the Sabin Slate Company. An August 19, 1882 warranty deed shows that Charles and Emily Sabin leased some of their land to the Sabin Slate Company -- the Sabin Quarry in Sabin's Pasture -- along with the equipment necessary to whack the slate out of the hillsides and send it to market.
In the late 1800's and early 1900's Vermont was enjoying a slate boom. Slate is highly durable and versatile, used on everything from electrical switchboards, to pool tables, gravestones and roofs.
Vermont's slate extravaganza began in 1839; by 1929, according to the 1929 edition of The Vermont of Today (Lewis Historical Publishing Company, 1929) there were more than thirty-two slate mining companies in Vermont. The state's natural geology made it second only to Pennsylvania in the United States in slate production.
The QuarryToday, up in Sabin's Pasture, little remains of that mining company, except deep chasms cut into the earth.
A rather inadequate fence surrounds the place where men once labored in sweat and dust, or in the bone-chilling cold, drilling and hauling rock. The remains of all this are a little eerie and mysterious; thick weeds and dense underbrush grow around the piles of rock chunks left behind.
It has been a great place of adventure for generations of Montpelier children, especially around the college street area.
"A lot of the slate that you see around Montpelier probably came from that slate quarry," Guare, the historian, said. "Years ago," he said, "there would be a guy that would drive around, offering to repair slate roofs. If a roof needed repair he would stop and repair it. This was back in the 1930's."
Sabin slate likely was shipped outside Montpelier as well, and an old photo of tracks at the quarry suggest the slate was hauled out on trains, probably at the bottom of the hill along Barre Street. No trace of the connecting tracks exists today.
Enough slate was apparently shipped out that the company managed to pay stockholders at least once. In 1884 the company filed with the state of Vermont a certificate of paid up capital to its stockholders for $18,195.00. The certificate was signed by the company's president, Charles T. Sabin. That same year they also filed with the state for an increase in capital. Besides the cavern in the pasture, there is precious little of the Sabin Slate Company left behind.
Charles Sabin died on December 24, 1888, and the slate company did not live long after him. It is not known (at least in official records) exactly when or why Sabin's Slate Quarry closed down. Guare said that the slate "was pretty much used up by the twentieth century." In September of 1903, however, there was a foreclosure auction of all the tools, equipment, permits, rights-of-way, and all other assets of the slate company.
See the May issue of The Bridge for part two of the Sabin's Pasture history, including the purchase of the land by Montpelier meat cutter Antonio Aja.
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