Mike Hoey asked, “Steve, what brings us this close to the Canadian border?”
“You know, Mike, I found out a really interesting fact a few days ago that Richford was (once) one of the busiest border crossings in the northern United States, and certainly for New England,” Vermont Historical Society executive director Steve Perkins replied. “So, we decided to come up here, head to the Richford Historical Society and investigate this.”
“We had what originally was (the) Southeastern Railroad — later became Canadian Pacific and since has been a dozen other things — but it came through here,” Evan Mercy of the Richford Historical Society said. “And then, CV Rail built a short line from St. Albans to here — so it was one of the few small towns where you had two railroads, which gave you access to all of Canada and all of the United States. A lot of industry came here. There was no interstate highway system, very few good roads or cars or whatever; everything went by rail.”
“In the short time we’ve been here, we’ve mentioned the Sweat-Comings Manufacturing Company (several times),” Perkins noted.
“It started out as a small wood-framed building right on this site, where this building is now,” Mercy continued. “In (August of) 1907, there was a major fire — burned the factory, burned buildings across the street, burned the old wooden fire station that was on the corner.
“When they rebuilt in 1908, H.C. Comings offered to build the town this building — a new fire station — if they would trade lots with him. He rebuilt a building for them for nothing, and he ran steam pipes from the (factory) boiler room to heat it.”
Hoey asked, “And about how long was this fire hall used for that original purpose?”
“Until (1995),” Mercy answered.
“I’m looking at some of these maps, but I’m noticing a name that I think a lot of our viewers may recognize,” Perkins said. “Quaker Oats Company. How was the Quaker Oats Company involved with Richford?”
“It’s where the Blue Seal Feeds (mill) is now,” Mercy continued. “The Quaker Oats — the original mill was built by Southeastern Railroad. (They) built it right on the railroad; it gave access to Canadian grains.
“There was a lot of smuggling during Prohibition through Richford. My dad was born in 1923. I’ve heard him talk about these big cars coming down from Canada, turning the corner, heading up Main Street, possibly with some sort of law enforcement behind them.”
Hoey asked, “For about how long did Richford remain as vital and as high-volume a crossing location as it was?”
“Growing up here in the ’60s, it was still a busy border crossing then,” Mercy said. “Mid-1980s, early ’90s, is when it really started to go the other way. It became quicker, cheaper, to use trucks.”
Perkins asked, “But how can people come and learn more about Richford?”
“The museum’s open in the summer every Saturday,” Mercy noted. “And there’s several of us around town that would open it (at other times) if somebody called.”
Perkins also asked, “Is there a website?”
“It’s just ‘Richford Vermont Historical Society‘,” Mercy said. “It’s not a website; it’s a Facebook page and if anybody posts questions, somebody tries to answer them.”