Harlow H Mower

Harlow Henry Mower August 27, 1873 to March 4, 1960

Harlow Henry Mower, son of Henry E. and Martha Smith Mower, resided in Sheldon, VT for all but two brief periods of his life while he was learning the “store” business in Orange, MA and while he moved his family to Brattleboro in the early 1900s.  While he is most recently fondly remembered as the grocer on Bridge St. where children like Edith Fiske could purchase penny candy, his legacy grows out of the family background established by Henry Elmer Mower during Harlow’s growing years.

Henry E. Mower born September 10, 1843 married Martha Smith who gave birth to Harlow H. on August 27, 1873.  A 1959 newspaper article mentions a “brother” and a 1947 article mentions a “sister” Mrs. William Machia of Springfield, Ma. Neither article mentions first names and a search of town records produced no birth records.  One Arthur R Mower died at the age of 34 in 1910 and may have been Harlow’s brother born 3 years after him in 1876.

In 1868 Henry E Mower of Stowe, VT and others sold property consisting of 250 acres of land in Sheldon Springs to one Samuel Fitch of New York City.  Dr. Samuel Fitch of New York and S.S.F Carlisle erected the Congress Hotel at the current location of St. Anthony Catholic Church. .  Henry apparently possessed some monetary funds since in 1867 he made a mortgage loan to Samuel B Sheldon for $4,100.  He purchased land in 1879 from Mary Olmstead of the original Olmstead family who settled Sheldon Springs and called it Olmstead Falls in the late 1700s.

The original store owned by Henry likely stood on what is currently the NW corner of Mill Street and Shawville Road.  Using a team of oxen he moved it to the north side of the road to the site that would eventually be Joe’s Country Store near the current location of the Sheldon Volunteer Fire Department.  Harlow mentions a brother who rode with him on the timbers sticking out from the store during the moving.  He also remarks that an “earthquake” hit Sheldon that day disturbing the contents of the store.  Our search of records indicated a quake about that time occurring out of Vermont but having an impact on NY, VT, and Que.

Within two years from the day the store was moved it unfortunately burned and Henry was forced to rebuild.  Henry became ill shortly after that. Harlow returned from Orange to his father and his brother also came back to Sheldon to help the family.  Henry Mower died at the age of 55 on August 12, 1898

The Bible of Abbie E Fairbanks
Presented to her on Christmas of 1894

During this same period of time on June 25, 1896 Harlow married Abbie E Fairbanks of Sheldon.  “The wedding took place in the home of B H Fairbanks a little before 3 O’clock with some 35 friends in attendance.”

Undoubtedly he and Abbie began a relationship while attending the Methodist church after he returned from Orange to assist his father in the store. On March 1, 1896, at age 23, Harlow Mower joined the Sheldon Methodist Church where he continued in membership until his death.  In 1959 he held the distinction during the Centennial of holding the oldest membership title in the church.  During his tenure he served as the youngest trustee of the church and spent endless hours meeting the needs of the congregation.  Reportedly he built the front concrete steps in his “old age” without assistance.

Harlow Mower at Methodist Church 1959

Grace Aura Mower became the couple’s first child on January 2, 1899 just months after the passing of Henry Mower who may or may not have lived long enough to see grandchildren from any of his children.  Within two years on September 24, 1900 a second daughter Laura Ellen came into the world.  As fate might repeat itself neither of the daughters produced offspring.  Laura remained single her entire life and Grace did not marry until 1955. Comments from current older adults specifically refer to “Mr. Mower” as a “very nice gentleman” from who we bought penny candy at his store and who children loved.

Another passion of Harlow Mower was the Masons.  He joined the Haskell Lodge 39 of the F & AM in 1905.  He quickly moved through the organization achieving the 32nd degree of Masonry in 1947.  He is said to have never missed a district meeting and attended 40 of the 42 Grand Lodges in Burlington.  He served as master of the Haswell Lodge F&AM as well as high priest of Royal Arch Masons and was deputy master of the Columbia Council at St. Albans. In 1955 he looked forward to receiving his 50th year membership pin.” Interestingly at age 24, in 1897, he negotiated the purchase of property from Lester Royce located on Bridge Street in the Creek which was in fact the Haskell Lodge 39 building.

Harlow also played baseball for the St. Albans team for many years and did not retire from that sport until he turned 55 but continued to attend games as an enthusiastic fan.

A report in the St. Albans Messenger on 11/24/1897states that:
“Harlow Mower, who has been a merchant in Sheldon Springs for a few years, has gone into partnership with Charles Dixon our hardware man at Sheldon.”
This proved to be the first of many enterprises he would undertake in the Sheldon Creek village.   Approximately 3 years later Mr. Dixon sold his half interest to Harlow.  Shortly thereafter the building on Bridge Street reportedly burned and put Harlow out of the plumbing and tin smith business.  Here there exist some discrepancies.  Land records show that on 11/13/1897 Harold Mower purchased property on Bridge Street from Lester Royce being the “Tin Smith” shop and that concurs with the Messenger date.  Three years later on September 6, 1900 Harlow Mower and Charles H. Dixon sell ½ acre of land and the Potter Tin Smith shop on Bridge Street to A F Durkee.  However, land records also indicate that Harlow and Abbie Mower purchased 50 acres of land from Mary Olmstead on 4/20/1899.  That land became home to Harlow and Abbie and was situation directly opposite his father’s former store and extended south from Main Street across the present Rte. 105 and was a dairy farm.  A St. Albans Messenger report of October 3, 1899 states that “Harlow Mower is repairing a barn on his farm.”  He is reported to have remained in this business for two years and selling it at a profit.  By this time frame he lived in Sheldon Springs until 1901. This is consistent with other findings.

Other writers indicate that the only time Harlow left Sheldon was when he went to Orange. Our research indicates that he and his family lived in Brattleboro, VT during 1902 and 1903.  One report in the St. Albans Messenger of June 2, 1902 states that “Harlow Mower and family, of Brattleboro, are visiting at the home of R H Fairbanks”. A second social posting in the same paper on April 28, 1903 states “Mrs. B H Fairbanks went to Brattleboro Monday where she was called by the illness of her daughter Mrs. Harlow Mower.”  During the same interim of time Sheldon land records show no transactions for Harlow or Abbie so it is likely that they did move temporarily.

A report on March 23, 1904 states that Harlow H. Mower of Sheldon opened a hardware store.

Consistent with the written findings, this photo shows the H H Mower store which was a hardware store on Bridge Street next to Black Creek.  Next to it on the left is the Post Office tended by Mamie Marsh and in the window of the building are books consistent with the library housed there at that time.  He built this business up consistently through displays at the Sheldon Fair and by providing area farmers with consistently good workmanship on plumbing.  In 1927 the “Great Flood” inundated his shop with some 11 inches of water destroying much of his inventory.   He remained in business at this location until 1932.

Sheldon Town records reveal an enterprising businessman who purchased and sold a number of properties primarily in the “Creek” and on “Bridge St.”  His property dealings included his “in-laws”, Alden Brothers, James Bryce, and A(ndrew). F. Durkee the town clerk at that time..

Tax receipt to H H Mower and wife

In “The Standard” – a weekly insurance newspaper dated 1919; we find an indication that Harlow Mower was listed as a Vermont Life Agency member and likely sold subscription type insurance from his store.

Undoubtedly possessing adequate funds allowed him the opportunity to own one of the first automobiles in Sheldon.  The 1922 Year Book of the Automobile Club of VT lists his vehicle as a 22HP Ford.  A search of the book revealed a total of 89 cars in Sheldon of which 10 were owned by the Missisquoi Pulp and Paper Corp, one by the Episcopal Church, and 3 by women one of whom was a “Miss” and the other two were wives of prominent businessmen.

On August 30, 1928 Harlow Mower bought and sold what was clearly known as “The Irving Chase Store” to W.C. Marsh. In the photo above H H Mower Hardware is to the right in what is known as Post Office Square.  A driveway exists to the right of the Marsh store that goes to the river flat behind the stores where there was also a blacksmith shop and a tin smith shop.

This photo taken after 1918 and before 1932 shows the then “Marsh Store” with a building to the rear which was likely the “Old Tin Shop” and further to the rear was the “Alden Brothers Creamery”  Various retail stores stood on this site including the Hapgood & Wead Store and the Chase Store.  At some point in time Harlow Mower became the owner of this block.  He sold the rear property to Alden Brothers in 1918. In 1919 he sold property on the corner of “Grab Street” which was the original name for Depot Street immediately to the left of the Marsh Store.

After over 30 years of business deals following in the footsteps of his father’s business and land enterprises, Harlow suffered a loss far greater than the flood of 1927 when the entire Bridge Street block on both sides of the bridge along with the bridge shown  burned.

Various accounts exist as to the origin and extent of the fire.  With certainty we know it began on the south side of the street in the Post Office Square section and spread rapidly up the railing and the wooden walkway to the two lane covered bridge.  The fire also spread to the then Marsh Store and destroyed it and likely the Tin Smith shop. The Alden Brothers Creamery supposedly stayed intact but on the north side of the road various buildings burned.  One account states that some 14 businesses burned in that one night of April 4, 1932 wiping out a major business section of the village and altering the history of Sheldon since only one business rebuilt.

In spite of his substantial loss totaling of over $11,000 in 1932 dollars, Harlow Mower gathered together his life savings and returned to business after constructing a new store.  The building, in addition to his business contained the post office on the first floor, an open second floor and the Sheldon Town Clerk office at the basement level.

The Sheldon Historical Society currently is renovating this building which stands in the original location. Below one of the window trim boards removed for renovation shows clearly that it belonged to Harlow H. Mower.

Among the many items found while searching through older Sheldon Town Meeting books was this advertisement for the Mower store.  Without knowing exactly which book we could not identify the year or whether it was one he used to mark a page in the book for town meeting.

On June 25, 1936 Harlow and Abbie celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary among friends from various places.  In attendance were Mr. & Mrs. Pearlie Winchester.  On June 4, 1955 Grace Mower would marry Pearlie Winchester when she was 55 years old.

The 1940 census shows him living in Sheldon on Bridge Street with his wife and two daughters.  In 1941 Abbie Fairbanks Mower passed away after which Harlow began to sell off property and slow down.

His first attempt to retire from the store business was in April 1947 when he leased the business to Mr. and Mrs. Charles Viens of Burlington.  The name changed to the Sheldon Market and gas pumps were added.  The business apparently did not prosper for the Viens couple and they returned the property to Harlow before 1950.

On Jan 25, 1950 Harlow Mower sold the store and property to Clarence and Helen Mercure who ran it as the Sheldon Market. In the 1960 photo below, Jim Mercure their son stands in front of the store.  Clarence skillfully partitioned the second floor as housing for his family.

The pumps for gasoline first appear in this photo.  They provided two grades of gasoline and kerosene to local residents.  They leased from the SONY Oil Company and likely were buried when Harlow rebuilt.  Being one of the first car owners in Sheldon he undoubtedly understood the market for petroleum products.  In later years the window on the north east corner nearest the pumps became known as the “Clarence” window where Clarence Mercure would sit and watch motorists fill their cars.  The existing window sill continues to be covered with oil.

The loss of two buildings on the site by fires along with the presence of old petroleum tanks prompted to Sheldon Historical Society to approach the Northwest Regional Planning Commission to investigate and evaluate the property for hazards.  As a result of two planning grants and implementation by the NW Regional Planning these tanks were removed in November 2018by way of “Brownfield” program funding through the endeavors of the Northwest Regional Planning Commission ending an era of business at this location and assuring a safe environment for the visitors to the museum.

On January 20, 1956 Harlow engaged in business with Hartland and Lorraine King.  He purchased a 150 acre farm property located along Rte. 78 in the Rice Hill section. This became his retirement farm.

On March 4, 1960 Harlow Henry Mower passed away at the age of 87. His remains as well as those of his wife and two daughters rest in the Sheldon Cemetery.  There are no known living relatives thus ending the Mower era in Sheldon.