ON THE RECORD/The end of a dynasty in Norton, Vt.
When Norton, Vt., was founded in 1885 on the Canadian border, Albert McLean began serving as the town clerk. For the next 118 years, the clerk’s office was held by the McLean family. McLean’s nephew-in-law was the first to succeed him, and then his great niece, Miriam Nelson, took over the position. The family’s role in the town’s business, however, ended recently when Nelson, 81, retired in March after 53 years on the job.
Q: Did you want to follow the family legacy and become town clerk?
Nelson: No. My father died suddenly, and they elected me to the job. It took a while to get used to it, and then I still had to grow into it. But I always wanted to be a secretary, and that was like being a secretary.
Q: The town clerk’s office was, and still is, in your father’s old general store; did that make you more comfortable in the job?
A: Yes, my father was a merchant store keeper, and my sister Ruth and brother Wilmot worked in the store while I worked with my father on town clerk business. So I got to see them a lot.
Q: Since you had been working for your father for about ten years before he died, did you feel prepared when you were elected town clerk?
A: I thought I knew a lot, but I found out that I didn’t because my father had always been right there. [For instance,] I didn’t like indexing property owners so I just always had my father do that.
Q: What were your responsibilities as town clerk?
A: I kept all the town records, vital statistics and land records. I served as town treasurer and handed out tax bills. I enjoyed bookkeeping and visiting with all the people who came in. The Canadian border runs through the office, though, so people often were surprised to find out that they needed to report [that they had left the country] before leaving the office. That added a lot to paperwork.
Q: You recorded all of the births, deaths, marriages and divorces in Norton for fifty years. Did you know all the good town gossip?
A: Yes, yes I did come across gossip. But I always kept that to myself.
Q: The town has a population of 214 residents. How did it evolve when you were in office, and how did your job change over the years?
A: Norton was larger years ago. It used to be a mill town before I was town clerk. They had a lot of fires and never really rebuilt. With my job, there were more rules and government regulations than there used to be. It was hard using a computer, and people these days change property a lot more than they used to.
Q: Is that why you decided to retire this year?
A: Yes. It was getting complicated, and I keep telling people it’s a fast world, and I was slowing down. The town celebrated my 50th anniversary as town clerk with a surprise party. Maybe they were hinting I should retire.