Maple Sugaring in Cabot, Past and Present

Maple sugaring has been an important endeavor in Vermont's north even before Mrs. Benjamin Webster came with her husband, hauling their possessions on a hand sled through the snow to the Plain and  "tapped some trees and made 40 pounds of sugar," while her husband returned to Peacham.  This story by John Fisher, who wrote about the history of Cabot for the Vermont Historical Gazetteer, was echoed by other historians for northern Vermont towns.
  Nowhere in these accounts is there a description of the tools these women used, or how they managed this fairly daunting undertaking.  Consider that it takes at least 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of maple syrup. The sap was boiled in an open kettle, a long, labor-intensive process, past the syrup stage to the crystallization stage for sugar. We must salute these pioneer women for their strength and determination. With only a short window of opportunity until the trees began to bud and the sap stopped flowing, it was now or never;  maple sugar was an important commodity for wilderness families.

American Indians, some of them undoubtedly in this same area, tapped maple trees long before the settlers came from Europe. It was the Indians who taught the newcomers how to make maple syrup and sugar. The settlers would have had more efficient equipment, such as wooden buckets and iron kettles, but the process is essentially the same today.

Early sap spouts
and bucket

We don't know for sure what equipment Mrs. Webster used, but it's likely she had a big iron kettle, similar to the mess kettle pictured here. This kettle was part of a demonstration set up each year in Montpelier, Vt., to illustrate early sugaring practices.

Mrs. Webster may have h
ad wooden spouts (right), and probably wooden buckets (below right), although perhaps not very many, since they brought their belongings on a hand sled.  She would have gathered sap on snowshoes,
probably collecting it in a large wooden pail.  If it was cold enough at night to freeze, she may have discarded the ice on top of the heavier, sweet sap.  The ice would be mostly water and removing it would reduce the boiling time.

Later on, settlers banded together in "sugaring parties," going into the woods for days at a time to harvest the sap and boil it down to maple syrup and sugar
in the open, usually at a central location within a stand of maples.
They gathered sap in buckets, on foot, sometimes using a yoke across their shoulders (photo on left) to carry buckets more easily. They built crude shelters at first; in the 1850s, "sugar shacks" began to appear.  Later, sugar makers used horses or oxen with a large gathering tank on a sled to pick up the sap.

In 1858, the first crude evaporator was invented. Evaporator designs continued to improve and by 1872 a two-pan evaporator was available. By 1900, evaporators were manufactured with flues to circulate hot sap and provide more heated area to reduce water content faster. Since then, the industry has seen many advances. While boiling in the open is still done in some backyard operations, modern sugar houses have stainless steel equipment and most are on well-maintained roads.
This lets them invite the public to watch the sugar making and buy finished products.

Cabot has several
modern maple sugar making operations.  The Goodrich Farm, in East Cabot, has produced maple products for seven generations, beginning in 1840.  The picture on the left is of Inez Abbott gathering sap for her parents about 1910.  She later married Wendell Goodrich, who continued the maple syrup producing business, as do his sons and grandchildren today. One of Wendell's sons, Glen, not only has a large sugar-making operation, but also invented a very efficient evaporator system.

The Hill family were also Cabot sugar makers. They used oxen to gather sap
(picture at left), and for many other tasks on their West Hill farm.  In the picture at right, George E. Hill's mother, Lucia, is  watching over the evaporator.  These photos were taken around 1910, when George was in his early 20s.  His father, George F. Hill, died at age 49, in 1911, so young George and his mother carried on the farm. George E., having had a good education, taught school at the nearby West Hill School. 

A more m
rn sugaring operation, in the same area on West Hill, is operated by the Bothfeld family at Dunstable Farms. They, too used oxen for many years for farm work.  The picture at left is of two of the Bothfeld sons and some neighbors taking a lunch break during sugaring in 1950. Third from the left is Maurice Wheeler, whose family also sugared. 

Below, two Wheeler children, one of them possibly Maurice, in the sugar woods.  One drinks sap from the big wooden bucket while the other is probably catching drips directly from the spout. These youngsters look too young to be actually helping, but o
lder children were expected to help. School was closed for "spring break" around the prime sugaring season so the farm youngsters could help by
distributing buckets and, later, gathering sap. There was wood to be brought in to keep the evaporator steaming, housekeeping chores in the sugar house, oxen or horses had to be fed and watered, and messages or equipment carried in and out of the woods to the sugar house or home.  When the sap was running exceptionally well, someone had to man the evaporator constantly to keep up, sometimes boiling through the night.

The Boltons on Cabot Plain owned the sugar woods where we believe Benjamin Webster's brother, Nathaniel lived, on the Bayley-Hazen military road.  Known as the "Webster Lot," when the Boltons owned it, it was sold in the 1950s to Bob and Barbara Davis who continued maple syrup production.

The picture at left is of the Bolton sugar house in about 1930.  The sugar house was located in an open pasture, part of the Petit farm that bordered the large stand of maple trees that were on the original Webster farm.

Down the road from the Webster's sugar woods, Maple Glen
Farm was well known for it's maple syrup.  The farm was owned by Alonzo Foster, who invented an improved sap spout (see picture at left) that would accommodate not only a bucket but had a hook to secure a cover over the bucket to keep debris and animals from getting into the sap.  Alonzo's  daughter Linnie married E. Payson Walbridge, who continued the farm and sugaring operation for many years.   The farm is now owned by Keith Burtt who built a new sugar house and taps not only his own sugar woods, but acquired other lots in the area to enlarge his sugaring operation.

Another commercial maple sugaring operation is owned by Marcia Maynard and Ken Denton at Cabot Hills Maple, on Thistle Hill Road in Cabot.  This maple operation was started in 2000, with a new sugar house and modern equipment.

Syrup prices in the 1930s ranged from $1.50 t
o $2.50 a gallon. During World War II, the government put a ceiling of $3.39 per gallon on syrup.  Today, in 2010, a gallon of syrup retails for about $51.  Vermont has strict regulations for the production of maple products.

Here are some pictures from our collection. Maple Sugaring in Cabot, the Early Days