Richford Historical Society

RichfordHistSocietyDescription: The Richford Historical Society has pictures and other memorabilia related to several well known women from Richford, including Mary Rogers Miller, Orpha Smith, Pruella Gibson, Arwin Fletcher and the “infamous” Lillian Minor Shipley, known as Queen Lil. .

Directions: From Enosburg Falls, take 105 to Richford (10 miles). Historical Society is in the Old Richford Fire House on Lower Main Street.

Hours and Contact Info: Saturdays 10:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m., Memorial Day – October or by appt. Mae Kittell933-6622 or Carolyn Coons 848-7656

Women of Note in Richford

Carolyn Coons, Marcia Perry, and Pamela Parsons
These women have been the driving force behind the success of the Richford Health Center, which includes medical and dental facilities, a 5 week summer camp for area children, management of the ambulance service, Richford Pharmacy and medical clinics in Enosburg Falls, Swanton and Alburg.

At present, they are working on a proposed renovation to the surviving building of the former Sweat-Comings Furniture Company. When completed, it will house the Northern Tier Community Health Center, as well as businesses and apartments.

Marcia Perry and Carolyn Coons are on the Richford Renaissance Board, which has completed the renovation of the 1903 Primary School into several elderly housing units - a fine example of a century old structure being put to a new use. Other buildings were renovated at the same time, providing the town with safe, affordable housing.

Marcia Perry was on the Richford School Board. She and other Board members worked many hours on the renovation and addition to the 1916 high school.

Arwin Fletcher Bashaw
Poet, musician, and world famous shell collector, Arwin was born in Richford and grew up on the Fletcher Farm on the South Richford Road. For many years, she served as a librarian at the Aldrich Library in Barre. She spent her final days in a little bungalow on Dewey Street in Richford. She was on the Richford Bicentennial Committee (1975-76). In 1990, Arwin was chosen to write the words and music for the Vermont State Bicentennial song. She spent her winters on Sanibel Island, Florida where she worked on a fabulous shell collection.

Pruella Gibson
Pruella Gibson was a beloved educator in the Richford area for 40 years. Pruella graduated from Richford High School and then went to Milwaukee, Wisconsin with her friend, Marion Boright, to train to become a teacher . In 1934, she returned home to live with her parents and began her career, eventually teaching in Richford, Enosburg, and Wisconsin and becoming principal of the primary school in Richford until it closed in 1968. She was instrumental in organizing the Richford Historical Society and also staged the Hometown Follies for many years. After she retired from teaching in 1976, Pruella became meal site manager for the Champlain Area Agency on Aging. Pruella has been quoted as saying "If I had one wish for children it is that their parents could make home a place where children could play and bring their friends."

Mary Rogers Miller
Mary Rogers Miller, and her husband Hugh, were among Richford's earliest settlers, arriving in 1795 from Bradford, Vermont. Other members of their family soon arrived and started farming on the fertile land near the Missisquoi River. Hugh served many years in the colonial wars and, during his long absences from home, Mary grew accustomed to her role as head of their large family. A pioneer woman of great moral and physical strength, she was used to meeting the harsh demands of life on the frontiers of civilization.

In Richford's early years, Mary's family quickly grew to include all the families of the early settlers in the area. Her skills, compassion, and courage served the people well in their times of sickness and privation. She would respond without hesitation to every call for a nurse or a midwife, summer and winter, night or day, often snowshoeing long distances through the trackless forest. She was known to cross raging streams at night to nurse and console families in times of need.

During the first decade of Richford's frontier life, it was in the Miller cabin that the affairs of the fledgling town were debated and acted upon.

Lillian Miner
Lillian Miner was born on the family farm in Stevens Mills, Richford in 1866. Little is known about her childhood except it was a time when Prohibition and the Women's Christian Temperance Union were pointing out the evil influences of liquor.

She met and married a man named A. G. Shipley and they traveled the country staging medicine shows. Shipley had a reputation for grave-robbing, horse stealing and worse. Lil was an enterprising woman and ended up in Boston working as a madam in a Boston brothel. When the law was about to close in on her, she escaped in the night and made her way back to Richford.

In 1911, Lillian purchased land which sat on both the U.S. and Canadian sides of the border in East Richford. The lot had once held a hotel, which burned to the ground. Lil constructed a building on this site which stood three stories high. The federal government passed a law making it unlawful to build on an international boundary, but "Queen Lil" contested the case, arguing that she had not built a new structure but had repaired an old one.

The three story building housed a bar on the first floor and girls, mostly from Boston and Montreal, entertained privately on the next two floors. The building just happened to be conveniently located along a railroad line and attracted many visitors, among them railroad men, woodsmen and local gents. The train made as many if not more stops at Queen Lil's than it did at the railroad station. The place became particularly popular during Prohibition. Lil demanded respect and ran her place with a sharp eye for business so that she and her workers fared well during this time.

Queen Lil had many friends and, when the threat of a raid from either the Canadian or American law seemed imminent, she would move the "evidence" to the opposite side. If a customer threatened to expose her, she would equally threaten to expose him.

A combination of competition from hotels in Abercorn, Quebec, the Great Depression, and her advancing age convinced Queen Lil to retire. She joined her husband at the time, Levi Fleury, in the management of their three adjoining mountain farms at the Stevens Mills slide area. Lillian then became known as the "Queen of the Hills".

Orpha Coons Smith
Known as the Maple Sugar Lady (and related to Queen Lil), Orpha Smith was born and raised in the Stevens Mills area of town. She graduated from Richford High School. With her husband Huestus, she manufactured maple syrup that became known nationwide for its unique flavor.