Old offices have faded from view
LYNDEBOROUGH – The ballot for town offices includes a list of unpaid positions such as trustees of cemeteries, libraries and trust funds, and volunteer members of various boards and commissions needed to run the town.
A hundred or fewer years ago, there were a lot more of them – offices that reflected a rural, agricultural society.
In 2014, while compiling a history of the town of Bennington, Dr. Stephanie Roper researched the list of archaic offices that she came across. These included hog reeve; viewer; field drivers; surpound keeper; fence veyor of lumber; corder of wood; surveyor of masonry, bricks and stone; and sexton.
Most of these offices have been dropped as the purpose became obsolete.
A hog reeve, for instance, was needed during the Colonial period because roving pigs could cause a lot of damage to gardens. Pigs were supposed to be confined from April 1-Oct. 1. The hog reeve (also hogreave, hog greave or hogreve) was obligated to catch and confine the wandering animals at the expense of the owners.
The field driver was the cattle equivalent of the hog reeve. In order to corral these wandering animals, many towns built a pound, or enclosure, in which to keep them until the owner was located and a fine was paid, usually to compensate for damages. With animals penned up in a pound, the town needed a pound keeper.
With the advent of better fences, animals were confined and such positions were no longer needed.
Lyndeborough’s sturdy pound was constructed in 1774. Only the stone walls remain – the timber-framed top has long ago disappeared. The Heritage Commission recently had the gate replaced, and a horse stayed there a few elections ago while its rider voted.
Fence viewers were the arbitrators of boundary lines – was the fence on the property of the erector or, as the neighbor complained, encroaching a few feet onto his property? They also made sure that fences were in good repair.
The corder of wood inspected complaints that a person did not receive the full cord of firewood that he had paid for – a pile 8 feet by 4 feet by 4 feet. The surveyor of lumber did what a town forester now does.
Wilton discontinued these two offices in 2004. The last person to hold them was Mark Gibbons, who said he had "inherited" them from longtime residents Frank Burube and Phil Heald. He said he didn’t know why they had been dropped, although it was probably at the instigation of the state to remove obsolete offices.
"They didn’t cost the town anything," Gibbons said, noting it was an honorary position. At the end, he didn’t do anything because the functions had been taken over by other offices.
"It was sad to see the things ended," he said.
However, "with all the lumbering going on," he added, "everything needs some looking over."
The last surveyor of masonry, brick and stone was Leroy Tuttle.
As some town officials have observed, it’s hard these days to find people willing to fill the current offices. How would we find someone willing to corral pigs and cows?