HISTORY OF HARVEY VARNUM, ORIGINAL OWNER OF THE VARNUM HOUSE
The below was an speech addressed at the 2014 Memorial Day services in Jeffersonville, VT by Todd Paton, Director of Visitor Services at The Rock of Ages Quarry (Barre, VT)
We meet here together today to honor those who have given their lives in service to this great Nation. This year marks the 90th anniversary of the creation of this veterans’ memorial, which was brought to fruition through the generosity of Mr. Harvey Varnum, one of the principal founders of the company that is today known as Rock of Ages. I am pleased to stand before you on behalf of Rock of Ages today.
Harvey Varnum’s life typifies the American Dream of humble beginnings, hard work and eventual success. Born in Danville, VT, in 1851, early in his youth he demonstrated an innate aptitude for engineering. Although he was not college-educated, he possessed natural talent and a strong work ethic. He took a job as a laborer with the railroad in the early 1870s, laying rails for the St. Johnsbury & Lake Champlain and later served on a crew with the Bangor & Aroostock railway in Maine, where he exercised his natural aptitude for engineering.
He carefully saved his money and eventually entered into a partnership to form the contracting company of Varnum & Gilfillan. After marrying, he and his wife settled in Jeffersonville. Mr. Varnum’s contracting company was utilized to engineer the roadway that now traverses Smuggler’s Notch. Varnum and Gilfillan was also hired by the City of Barre to divert a portion of the Steven’s Branch of the Winooski River to open up more land for commercial development in Barre’s downtown.
Possessing fine business acumen, Mr. Varnum was financially very successful. Being very community minded, he used his time, talents and money to help his fellow citizens, serving in the Vermont Legislature as a Senator from Lamoille County and holding numerous town offices during his lifetime.
He gave liberally to many worthwhile causes. And being especially appreciative of those who served this county in the military, he generously supported the creation of this veteran’s memorial, which was dedicated 90 years ago. In fact, his son Guy, is one of the men listed on this memorial.
So it is fitting on this Memorial Day to pause a moment to reflect on the sacrifice made by those who have served in every branch of this nation’s military and also to reflect on the generosity shown by community-minded people like Harvey Varnum. May their dedication and sacrifice to the United States, its principles and to their fellowman constrain us to do our part to give of our time, talents and resources to leave the world a better place than we found it.