Business and Labor

Barre Stonecutters Fight the Spanish Civil War

Barre, Vt., was a hotbed of anti-fascism during the Spanish Civil War, as Barre stonecutters raised money to help the suffering Spanish people.

Granite Quarry, Barre, Vt. - 1902

The Barre Stonecutters, 1902

Barre had a significant population of working-class Spaniards in the 1930s, many of whom left their home of Santander during the first few decades of the 20th century. They came to work in the granite quarries and stone sheds of Vermont.

Mary Tomasi from the Federal Writers’ Project visited Barre’s El Club Espanol. She recorded her impressions of the Barre stonecutters in an undated report, now at the Library of Congress.

El Club Espanol

The second-story club, founded in 1926, overlooked Main Street and had simple furnishings. Benches lined the walls next to sturdy card tables, and limp red and yellow streamers hung from the ceiling.

Loyalist posters hid the east wall, wrote Tomasi, and a long handwritten list of subscribers hung from the Spanish Red Cross Certificate. “The Spanish Club room breathes Old Spain," she wrote.

It was one of 176 such clubs in the United States. Members raised money for the Spanish Confederated Society in New York and to the Medical Bureau to Save Spanish Democracy.

barre-stonecutters-franco-poster

A Loyalist poster the Barre stonecutters might have liked.

The Barre stonecutters used the club to socialize, as well. As many as 50 men filled the room in the winter, talking about politics, gossiping, playing card games like briscola, trisette, tutti. One night a month the men cleared out and let the women use the space.

Barre Stonecutters Speak

John Bavine, born Juan Bavine 65 years ago in Santander, told Tomasi the club had taken in $15,000.  “Just here in Barre.  Oh there are many ways we raise money.  Festivals, dances, picnics, Now we even have little stamps…”

Manuel Teral chimed in. “You’ve heard about that ship that arrived in Vera Cruz, Mexico, two weeks ago? With 1,900 refugees aboard. Well it was money from our Spanish-American clubs that got them here-”

All the Spanish stonecutters in Barre belonged to the Stonecutter’s Union. They were disgusted with the men who did not join the union – all French, they said. They knew that belonging to a trade union would get you killed in Franco’s Spain.

Tomasi described how Manuel Teral stepped across the room and took from the wall a photograph of a group of a dozen young men. He pointed out two in the front row. “These are two of our Barre Loyalists who went over to fight for a just cause. This older one was born in Spain but he’d lived here for a good ten years. This younger fellow was born here in Barre. [...] What does my friend do? He’s never seen Spain, but he packs up right away, and goes over to fight. He didn’t come back. He was killed…”

Loyalist poster

Loyalist poster

Money for the Poor Spanish

“We had an ambulance drive a while back,” Manuel said. “Made $656.00 in one night. Last week we had a Spanish fiesta in the Armory Hall. We took up no collections, only straight admission fees. Eighty cents and fifty-five cents. A professional from New York came to dance for us. Mariquita Flores. A small girl, no more than four feet eleven, but could she dance! She’s touring the country, too, for the victims of Fascism. She gets no pay. Her heart is with the Loyalists. All we did was pay her fare to Barre, and her living expenses while she stayed here. There was a crowd there that night. And not only Spanish people. How much did we make, Bavine?”

“I cannot say for sure,” Bavine said. “All the expenses, they have not yet been figure. But I guess there will be a $350.00 more for our poor Spanish.”

Bavine’s wife and children were among the poor Spanish, stuck in Spain. She had taken the children there before the war to see their grandmother.

“It makes me sick and afraid to have them over there," Bavine said. They send letters back and forth, but they can’t open their hearts or tell the truth about their feelings because all of their letters are opened.

This story about Barre stonecutters was updated in 2019. A previous version incorrectly identified an anti-Loyalist poster as a Loyalist poster. We replaced it with the poster of el Generalisimo. Thanks to Liz Castro for the correction. 

 

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