by Evan Spring
From the late 1940s into the 1980s, drivers passing through South Worthington on Rte. 112 would see a small, eccentric store on the west side of the road. Depending on the season, you might stop and pick up plants, flowers, vegetables, berries, apples, cider, maple syrup, honey, or perhaps a soda, candy bar, cigarettes, or a bowl of soup. Early in the year you might see sap boiling in the sugar house next door, and in fall the pelts of mink, muskrat or beaver might be hung up to dry. The proprietor lived in a room in back of the store, and might initiate a friendly conversation. He might be curious to know if you lived in Worthington, and if so, whether you were a year-rounder. His prices might even adjust accordingly. This man was Guy Thrasher (1900-1985), a one-of-a-kind Worthington icon who lived off the land.
Except for his service in the military police during World War II, Guy Thrasher lived his entire life in Worthington. As Marion Sweeney wrote in Papers on the History of Worthington, “Guy Thrasher was a gentleman unlike any other you have ever known…Until early in the 1980s, in the late winters, Guy still tapped the tall maple trees and gathered and processed the syrup and, in the proper season, set his traps and occasionally went into the nearby woods to hunt. Many were the local young people who in years past when assisting Guy in his labors learned not only woodland skills but also, from his example, the traits of honesty and decency that make for fine citizenship.”
On October 21, 2018, at the historical society’s annual meeting, townspeople and family members gathered to share memories of Guy Thrasher. The chief witness at the gathering was Guy’s longtime employee Carol Myrick, who was 55 years younger. “The job was handed down from my brothers,” said Myrick. “I guess he liked me. He called me ‘the girl.'”
Myrick remembered, “People used to say, ‘Well what do you do for work?’ And I’d say, ‘Well, hmm.’ So I started to call myself a ‘sap and trapper.’ It was sugaring in the spring, and flowers, apples and trapping in the fall. And fishing. During the summer he’d say, ‘Look, Carol, why don’t you go across the street and catch me a fish for lunch?’ Or he’d say, ‘We’re gonna take the day off tomorrow, we’re gonna go fishing up the Deerfield River.'”
“You know, he kind of lived the hard life,” she said. “He cooked on a wood stove. Didn’t have all the special things.”
Guy Thrasher’s grandfather, Isaac D. Thrasher, owned a great deal of real estate in South Worthington, including a grist mill. Isaac was also a farmer and retailer of assorted merchandise. His various holdings can be seen in the 1873 map below.
Isaac Thrasher died in 1892, and his home was inherited by his son George. George and his wife, Hattie (Lyman) Thrasher, ran a grocery store from this residence. Guy Ransom Thrasher, born August 13, 1900, was the youngest of seven children. Guy was probably the infant in the photo below. His older brothers Herbert and Arthur became photographers, producing many postcards and other invaluable images of Worthington in the early 20th century.
The 2018 gathering was attended by Guy Thrasher’s grand-nieces Barbara Batura and Marjorie Candiano. Candiano informed us that Guy’s middle name, Ransom, came from his maternal grandfather, Ransom Bailey, who was captured during the Civil War and died at the notorious Andersonville prison. After the war, Guy’s mother, Hattie, was adopted.
In 1918 Hattie became South Worthington’s postmaster. Guy’s father, George, provided home delivery for groceries, and his logo was printed on his wagon and grocery bags.
By the mid-19th century South Worthington was a distinct “mill hamlet,” with at least a dozen homes and various industries clustered around a rapid elevation drop in the Little River. Guy remembered weekly dances during his boyhood with just a fiddle and piano at the former Conwell Academy, which now hosts the Sevenars concert series.
By around 1916, when Guy was a teenager, the last mill in South Worthington had closed. While his siblings pursued opportunities elsewhere, Guy honed his skills in farming, sugaring and trapping. Around 1923 he began operating his own retail stand in South Worthington, on the east side of the Little River. In the 1940 census, Guy and his 84-year-old father, George, were the only remaining household members.
In September 1942, at the age of 42, Guy enlisted with the U. S. Army. He was stationed at a POW camp in Hereford, Texas, guarding Italian prisoners. “Home never looked better after that,” he told a reporter.1 In the enlistment record, his education level was “1 year of high school,” his occupation was “unskilled construction occupations,” and his marital status was “single, without dependents.” He remained a lifelong bachelor.
After flood damage from a 1938 hurricane, Rte. 112 heading north from South Worthington was re-routed to the west side of the Little River. Around 1948 Guy Thrasher established his store at the base of the new road to catch the traffic.
Over the years, fur trapping and maple sugaring were Thrasher’s most consistent sources of income. His trapping operations extended to neighboring towns, and at various times included otter, mink, beaver, muskrat, raccoon, fox, and bobcat.
Carol Myrick remembered, “When we were trapping, he was always saying, ‘You know, these people that go in and they take everything, you never want to do that. If you don’t keep taking some, and cutting down population, they get all diseased and they die. So it’s kind of a balancing. You always leave something.”
Myrick also described combing the wooded hillsides for ginseng root, which they gathered for export to the Chinese market. “It was very special, because Guy would say, ‘You gotta wait for the berries to turn red. If you dig it up before, it’s not going to grow again.’ But there were a lot of people that would just dig it up.”
In the late 1970s, Guy and his store began to attract local media attention. Not only was he a unique character and a veritable repository of local history, but he also seemed to embody a self-sufficient, natural way of life that was rapidly disappearing.
In a 1976 profile of Thrasher for the Hilltown journal Stone Walls, Damaris Fernandez-Sierra wrote, “His place is not very much to look at, a roadside vegetable stand with its companion sugar house, the latter largely supported by three living saplings, but don’t let that fool you because a visit to Guy’s is far more rewarding than one to any fancy emporium. It is not only because you get good value for your money, which you certainly do, but because you stay awhile and visit with Guy…He has proved to all men what fools they are with their fusses and fancies about worldly goods. He has a roof over his head and a good warm stove in winter. Although generally very busy he always has time for a helpful word, to pass the time of day.”2
In 1977 Guy shared his firsthand knowledge of local history with the Daily Hampshire Gazette. “Between 1910 and 1920 there were a lot of tramps that came through in the summertime,” he told the reporter. “Evidently they knew that our place was a good place to get a feed. They’d sleep in the barn, maybe stay a day or two and chop some wood or spread some manure. Sometimes the same ones would come around year after year.”
He also described how Worthingtonians would apply pine pitch to cuts, or rub skunk’s grease on their chests for colds, or catch bees that would fly back and forth from their nests to produce honey. Townspeople would also use the moon to guide planting. “When I was a boy,” explained Guy, “the old-timers would wait until after the full moon in the first part of June to plant. A cold spell always comes at full moon, you know, and it seldom rains. As soon as the full moon’s over, it’s almost always safe to plant.”3
In 1981, the satellite-cable network WTBS filmed a segment on Thrasher for the Massachusetts episode of its 50-state series, An American Portrait. In 1984 he moved into The Maples, Worthington’s newly built housing complex for seniors. That year, a pen-and-ink drawing of his store by Lynda Gunn was used for the cover of Worthington’s annual town report.
Guy Thrasher died on March 23, 1985 at the age of 84. The death certificate listed pneumonia as the cause, with cardiovascular disease as the underlying condition. He is buried at Worthington’s Ringville cemetery, less than three miles from his store, which was demolished in 1989.
As Marion Sweeney wrote of Guy Thrasher, “It has been said of him that he was a ‘gentle man’ and indeed he was. He was known and cherished as a friend by many who remember him in the best way of all, by stopping by for a visit whenever in the area…In any season you would surely find Guy there, sitting by his small stove, almost as if he were waiting for you. And if you were to ask, you would find that his well-spoken, carefully expressed and thoughtful opinions on modern mores and current events were deserving of the respectful attention they received.”
ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTOR
Evan Spring, a jazz historian and freelance editor, moved to Worthington in 1998 and currently serves as WHS president.
Posted October 11, 2022. Please comment below if you have stories to add.
1. “Town Party Marks Birthday,” Berkshire Eagle, August 15, 1980, 21.
2. Damaris Fernandez-Sierra, “Guy Thrasher,” Stone Walls vol. 2, no. 2 (1976): 19-21.
3. Ellie Lazarus, “Guy Thrasher of Worthington: He Knows of Gypsies, The Underground Railroad, Catching Wildcats,” Daily Hampshire Gazette, June 22, 1977, 19.