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Vermont History

The New England State of Vermont boasts a rich history reflecting the broad American experience. Its stories tell of early colonial settlement, industrial development, the coming of the railroad, a strong agricultural tradition, the migration of peoples searching for land and opportunity, and the development of small self-sufficient communities throughout the State. One of the smallest states, Vermont is a mountainous region with large rivers and valleys. The Green Mountain range, which extends through the center of the State and Washington County, is the largest and most prominent natural feature of Vermont. In fact, the State's name is derived from it: Ver, from the French word for green, vert; and -mont from mountain. Traveling south from Canada, French colonists were the earliest European immigrants to the land. Their role in the area's early development is reflected in many of Vermont's place names, such as Montpelier, Calais, and Lake Champlain.

Native Americans, primarily from the Abenaki tribe, have lived in Vermont for 10,000 years. In 1609, French explorer Samuel de Champlain was the first European to set foot in Vermont. During the 17th century a few French military settlements were establish and abandoned, and the area became primarily a thoroughfare between French and Native American settlements to the north and English settlements to the south. As the English slowly pushed north, the first white settlements was made at Fort St. Anne, on Isle La Motte, in the middle of Lake Champlain near Canada. Fort Dummer, near the present Brattleboro, was established in 1724 by Massachusetts colonists, and became the first permanent European settlement in Vermont. By the time of the American Revolution, many more English colonists had migrated to Vermont's lands. They came from Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire and New York, as those English colonies extended their boundaries into the Vermont territory.

With New Hampshire and New York colonist laying claim to Vermont, there was a period of confusion in the 18th century as their land grants and titles overlapped. In the turbulent years leading to the American Revolution, several acts of rebellion took place in Vermont that were not against the British Crown, but against the province of New York. Vermont's famous "Green Mountain Boys," a group of colonists from New Hampshire organized by Ethan Allen in 1770-71, were among those harassing and attacking Vermont settlers with land titles issued from New York. These skirmishes ceased when news of the Revolution reached the territory. In 1775, Allen and other Vermonters captured important British forts in the north, including Forts Ticonderoga and Crown Point on Lake Champlain. The spreading news of their victories was significant, as it indicated to other colonists that the Revolution truly was a united American cause.

Amidst the battles, debates and congresses of the Revolution, Vermont organized itself as an independent republic and was admitted to the Union as the 14th State in 1791. As the State's population nearly doubled in the following decade, small self-sufficient communities developed slowly, populated primarily by people from New York and other New England States. The connection of rail lines to Vermont in the mid-19th century vastly expanded the possibilities for export and import of goods, information, and people. With this economic expansion came major, rapid growth for many of Vermont's small towns. While a majority of Vermont's immigrants during this period were of English descent, for the first time, a large influx of non-English speaking peoples arrived as well. The immigration of thousands of skilled stone workers from Italy, seeking chances to utilize their skill, made the growth of Barre's granite industry possible. The impact of their presence in the town can be seen at the Socialist Hall and Italian Baptist Church.

The prosperity fostered by the railroad lasted well into the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The State's industries, businesses, agriculture, and population thrived. Two Vermont natives, Chester A. Arthur and Calvin Coolidge, served as President during this period. But changes in the 20th-century economy, that began early in the century, affected the viability of Vermont within an increasingly competitive and global market. Vermont has seen many changes during the last half of the 20th century. Tourists have discovered the State's natural beauty, ski slopes, and small town character. While tourism in Vermont has soared, other aspects of Vermont's economy, such as farming, milling and quarrying have experienced a decline.

The historic sites of Washington County tell specific stories of Vermont history. Geographically, Washington County is located in the center of the State, home to the Capital City of Montpelier, the more industrial community of Barre, and many small towns and villages dispersed along the valleys of the Green Mountains. This region has moderate average temperatures, summer highs reach the mid 80's, autumn and spring months have highs in the mid 50s, and lows in the 20s and 30s. Washington County receives 40 inches of rain annually and has the heaviest snow fall of the State, averaging ten feet every year. This amount of precipitation has always been a challenge for Vermonters. Although it has the shortest growing season in Vermont, less than four months, Washington County was historically an agriculturally based economy, augemented by numerous small industries throughout the counties villages. Many of the sites on our tour reflect this aspect of the area's history, as well as the changes brought by the railroad, the varied industries that developed there, and the built environment that was the backdrop for it all.

Warren Historic District

The Mad River, its tributaries, and the mountains they drain from form the natural boundaries of the Warren Historic District. A lumber and grain milling center throughout the 19th century, not surprisingly most buildings of Warren were built of wood frame construction. While there is a commonality of materials among the buildings in the district, there is a variety of building types and architectural styles. This variety of architectural styles is typical in small Vermont villages, having developed slowly over the course of the 19th century. Like other villages in the valley, Warren was bypassed by the railroad, and did not experience the rapid transformation that characterizes central Vermont railroad towns to the east. The diversity of building types represents the relatively isolated, and therefore independent, small towns that characterize much of Vermont in the 19th century.

Over 75 buildings and sites contribute to the Warren Historic District. The focus of the town is a civic complex comprised of the United Church (1838), Village Cemetery (1826), Town Hall (1872), and the Municipal Building and Library (a schoolhouse from 1867). The Warren House Hotel, built around 1840, is today the town's general store and social hub, but functioned well into the 20th century as a stagecoach inn and boarding house. This building also served at times as the town library and post office, and dances were held intermittently on the second floor. The circa 1850 Pitcher Inn, Warren's historic inn, was recently restored and furnished with elegant accommodations. Remnants of foundations are all that remains of the town's mills which were active from 1820 until 1940 when all had closed, burned, or been carried away by flood waters. Warren mills produced a great variety of objects--pail handles, butter tubs, wooden bowls and hoe handles for the farmers; downspouts, clapboards and shingles for use locally and for export to southern New England; and wagons, ox shoes and mill picks for the lumber trade. An important symbol of the town is the Warren Covered Bridge, the only one in the town and located at it's heart. The quiet economic climate of Warren in the first half of the 20th century resulted in the preservation of the village.

McLauglin/Knoll Farm Historic District

Situated on the east side of Bragg Hill in the Town of Fayston, McLaughlin Farm, or Knoll Farm as it known today, is a well-preserved farmstead comprised of pastures, hay fields, gardens, sugar maples and forest lands. Contributing buildings include a vernacular 1904 farmhouse, a late 1800s bank barn, an 1880 high-drive bank barn that was reconstructed on its present site in 1923, and several sheds and pump houses. The land around the farmstead, fertile and productive, has resulted in continual farming for almost 200 years. Fayston proved to be particularly good for farming because the slope of the land to the south resulted in an early spring melt of the snow, allowing for the planting of three, or sometimes four, crops a year.

The farm was typical of larger farms in Fayston, producing in 1850 large quantities of wool, butter, cheese, and maple sugar, as well as wheat, corn, oats, potatoes and hay for personal use. In 1860 the farm was reputed to have the best sugar woods in the county. The McLaughlins, Irish immigrants, were the sixth owners of the farm. Three generations of the family worked the land from 1874 to 1935. They continued to farm the same products as their predecessors, particularly butter and maple syrup in large quantities, but introduced eggs, apples, wheat, beans and Irish potatoes to the crop variation. In 1923 a barn was bought by the McLaughlins, moved to their farm and reassembled with a high-drive that allowed easy access to all three levels. Until the late 1930s a spring, which continues to flow through a open pipe to the kitchen, was the only water source for the house.

McLaughlin Farmstead has served as a farm/inn since 1937, coinciding with the growth of automobile tourism to the mountain states of New England. The economic viability of the inn was a significant factor in the preservation of the farmstead as an agricultural entity. The farm's current owners, who raise and sell Scottish Highland cattle, have ensured this land will remain in its present condition by granting a conservation easement to the Vermont Land Trust.

The McLaughlin Farm, more commonly known as Knoll Farm, is on Bragg Hill Rd. (Town Hwy. 17) in Fayston less than a mile north west of Irasville.

Waitsfield Historic District

The village of Waitsfield was established early in the 19th century as the commercial center for the rural farming communities of the Mad River Valley. The nucleus of this small village is the intersection of Route 100 and Bridge Street, the later of which is aptly named for the Great Eddy Covered Bridge spanning the Mad River just east of the intersection. Confined by the topography of the land, Waitsfield developed narrowly in the low lying valley bottom along the river. The Great Eddy Bridge is a major landmark of the district. As the oldest operating covered bridge in the State, the Great Eddy reflects the period of mass covered bridge construction in Vermont's transportation history. Unlike other towns in central Vermont, Waitsfield was bypassed by the railroad. As a result, the Waitsfield Historic District is reflective of the type of development experienced by small Vermont villages in the 19th century, without the prosperity, rapid expansion, and population growth of towns along railroad lines. In addition to supporting the local farming industry, Waitsfield was home to prosperous manufacturing, for which the Mad River supplied water power.

Today the Waitsfield Historic District is a combination of a small commercial core and broad tree-lined thoroughfares. Architecturally, Waitsfield contains examples of all the major 19th-century architectural styles and the Bridge Street/Route 100 intersection is bordered by some of the best of these. On the northwest corner stands the best example of an early Greek Revival commercial block in Vermont. The Bridge Street Market Place, the former village hotel and tavern built in 1840, stands on the southeast corner. The owners of this building recently took advantage of federal historic preservation tax credits in its renovation. The Neo-Classical Joslin Memorial Library, built in 1913 and donated by the son of early settler, Joseph Joslin, stands across the street. Today it houses not only the library but the Town Offices as well. Next to the library rises the spire of the Federated Church, the finest example of a Romanesque Revival church in the State. Further away from this core stands the General Wait House, the oldest frame house in the village, portions of which date to 1793. Built by the town's founder, the house was recently moved to its present location and is now used as the Mad River Valley tourist center and Waitsfield municipal offices.

The heart of the Waitsfield Village Historic District is the intersection of Vermont Rt. 100 and Bridge St.

Joslin Round Barn Farm

The fertile lands of the Mad River Valley have historically been home to one of Vermont's most important industries--farming. The Joslin Round Barn Farm and its rural setting, are reminiscent of that period in Vermont's history, and provide a fine example of a dairy farm and the agricultural innovation that contributed to its success. The collection of well-preserved farms buildings includes an 1860 farmhouse, a late 19th-century ice house, a 1910 polygonal barn, and a circa 1930 vegetable stand and field barn.

The oldest building, the farmhouse, was built by Cyrus Joslin, as a vernacular structure, with local interpretations of Greek Revival details. Cyrus purchased the farmland in 1831, and lived there, with his wife and ten children, until his death in 1866. A unique feature of the 84-acre farm is a polygonal barn with 12 sides, commonly referred to as a "round" barn. It is the only survivor of five "round" barns that once stood in Waitsfield, and according to a 1986 survey, one of 15 remaining in the State. The fad for round buildings was largely the result of 1850s literature that reported octagonal structures were an inexpensive, more efficient alternative to traditional forms. The Joslin round barn was built by Clem Joslin, Cyrus's grandson, in 1910 for his Guernsey cows. The middle level of the barn was home to the herd, who were easily lead out of the barn in a circle. Trap doors in that floor enabled farmhands to shovel manure directly into waiting trucks at the lower level, to haul the fertilizer into the fields. Designed by his cousin James Joslin, who had already designed one other local polygonal barn, the exact reasons for the round barn's unusual design are unknown. The period of round barn construction in Vermont during the first quarter of the 20th century was an interesting experiment in agricultural innovation.

The barn was actively used until 1969, after which it fell into disrepair. A major restoration project was undertaken from 1988-90, for which the owners received a federal historic preservationtax credit. The barn now houses the Green Mountain Cultural Center, sponsoring a variety of performances there, the Cross Country Ski Touring Center, and the Sunday Services of the St. Dunstan's Episcopal Church. The farmhouse is now a county inn.

The Joslin Round Barn Farm is located southeast of the Village of Waitsfield, at 1661 East Warren Rd./Bridge St., 2 miles south east of Waitsfield.

Waterbury Village Historic District

Waterbury Village, a community ringed by rivers and streams, illustrates the ways in which 19th-century transportation effected the development of small Vermont towns. In the first half of the century the commercial district was located at the north end of the village, close to residents and the industrial sites where they worked. With the coming of the railroad in 1849, the center of the village was pushed southward, near the railroad depot. Mid-19th century commercial, industrial, and residential areas developed around this new steam powered nucleus. By the end of the century Waterbury's prosperous industries, generated by the improved method of transportation offered by the railroad, resulted in even further expansion of the commercial and residential areas.

Waterbury Village is comprised of more than 200 buildings with the variety of functions required for self-sufficient 19th-century communities. Most architectural styles from that time are represented in the architectural landmarks of the district as well as the vernacular buildings. Many of those landmarks illustrate Waterbury's history. A Federal style building with Queen Anne alterations, the Old Stagecoach Inn, is reminiscent of early forms of transportation, and the type of quarters available for early Vermont travelers, especially those visitors to late 19th-century Vermont ski resorts. The United Church of Christ was first built in 1824, but additions were made in 1860 and 1880 concurrent with Waterbury's periods of prosperity. The Waterbury Public Library and Museum now occupies the Queen Anne home of Henry Janes, a local doctor and Civil War veteran. Waterbury's late 19th-century prosperity attracted the establishment there in 1896 of a division of the Vermont State Hospital, for the treatment of mental disorders. A Victorian Italianate train depot reflects the railroad's influence in Waterbury. The Knights of Columbus block, a large frame commercial building built in 1875, stands on Stowe Street. A focal point of the district, this building was recently renovated for retail and housing space, for which it received a federal historic preservation tax credit .

The Waterbury Village Historic District is roughly bounded by Thatcher Brook to the north, High and Railroad Sts. to the east, and Randall St. to the south and west. Residences are private, and not open to the public, but many of the businesses and institutions welcome visitors.

Mill Village Historic District

The Mill Village Historic District is a small cluster of vernacular houses and one mill representative of the life ways of mill workers and the mill industry in Vermont and beyond. Most buildings within the district date to the late 19th century, when Mill Village was at its peak as an industrial area. Thatcher's Brook, a major water source for Waterbury, is an important natural feature of the historic district. Three damns within the district provided water power for the industrial complexes. Mill workers produced grain, bricks, implement handles, wooden butter boxes and carded wool.

The one mill that remains, the Waterbury Feed Company Mill, was built around 1835. This mill was used for grist and feed from 1835 to 1870. The mill recently underwent major alterations as it was converted into commercial space. Its associated dam and penstock remain behind the mill. The rest of the district is still comprised of well-preserved small, vernacular houses, void of much architectural detail and typical for 19th-century workers' housing. They are most significant when viewed as a collection rather than individually. Their architecture is reflective of the working class residents who lived in them, especially in contrast to the more elaborate examples of domestic architecture seen in the nearby Waterbury Village Historic District.

The Mill Village Historic District is roughly bounded by Rt. 100 to the north, Stowe St. to the east, East St. to the south and Interstate 89 to the west. The store within the adapted mill is open to the public, but all the houses are private residences.

Middlesex-Winooski River Bridge

The Middlesex-Winooski River Bridge has carried U.S. Route 2 across the Winooski River at Middlesex since its construction by the American Bridge Company in 1928. This crossing historically served as a portion of the primary travel route between the Capital city, Montpelier, and Vermont's largest city, Burlington, prior to the construction of Interstate 89. It replaced an earlier structure that was lost in the flood of November 1927, the worst natural disaster in Vermont's history, which damaged approximated 1200 Vermont bridges. The Middlesex-Winooski River Bridge is an example of the remarkable reconstruction efforts undertaken after the disastrous flood, which necessitated the reconstruction or replacement of almost all of the transportation infrastructure in the valleys of the White and Winooski Rivers and their tributaries.

The town of Middlesex, a short distance up-river from the bridge, was a commercial and agricultural center prior to the flood and sustained heavy damages to its buildings and farms. The village was isolated by the ravages of the flood and rapid replacement of all means of through-transport was vital. The bridge was constructed with funds primarily provided by the State, which, as a result of the widespread need for rebuilding, created a wholly new approach to comprehensive infrastructure planning. The American Bridge Company, a subsidiary of U.S. Steel, constructed the bridge. The company was established by steel and railroad financier J.P. Morgan in 1900 to absorb competing steel fabricating companies, several of which were local Vermont manufacturers. American Bridge dominated bridge construction in Vermont, and after the flood erected numerous bridges similar to the Middlesex-Winooski.

The bridge is a Pratt through-truss bridge, patented in 1844, which became a common standard for this type of bridge. It used pre-fabricated parts assembled on-site, which were particularly well-suited for these replacement bridges where it was difficult to manufacture the materials at the site. The bridge has changed little since it was first erected and still retains its original materials, design and is the principal feature of its rural environment.

The Middlesex-Winooski Bridge carries U.S. Route 2 as it crosses the Winooski River northwest of the village of Middlesex.

Central Vermont Rail Depot

At the west end of Northfield's Village Square is the oldest railroad station in Vermont, representative of the first generation of railroad passenger facilities built by the Vermont Central. Constructed in 1852, the current depot was originally the main section of the Vermont Central's first headquarters. The decision to locate the headquarters in Northfield brought with it increased prosperity. Today the Central Vermont Rail Depot (now owned by the Canadian National Railway) is one of the last extant structures of a great railroad complex, comprised of the depot, roundhouses, shops, offices and housing.

An earlier depot was built in 1848, very likely designed by Montpelier resident Ammi B. Young, one of 19th century America's leading architects, and an architect of the Vermont State House. The first train arrived in Northfield in October 1848 amid great ceremony. Three years later that depot burned, and the current depot was built quickly to replace it. Vermont Central president Charles Paine, occupied an office on the second floor, while the first floor provided waiting rooms for passengers and a station agent's office. In 1860, the Vermont Central headquarters were moved to St. Albans, and Northfield's economy suffered until prosperity returned at the end of the century with the growth of the granite industry. Queen Anne and Stick Style details were applied to the depot in 1899, concurrent with this renewed prosperity. It was also at this time that extensive north and south wings, once flanking the depot, were removed.

While at one time the nucleus of a railroad complex, today the lone depot symbolizes the village's former importance as a railroad center. The Central Vermont Railway Depot continues to serve as the visual focus for Northfield's downtown business district. Today, a bank occupies the first floor, the latest in a series of banks that have occupied this space since 1866.

Old Red Mill

South Northfield, during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, was a thriving center of water-powered industry. Remarkably, the Old Red Mill is the only building to remain from that period of Northfield's history. It is an unusually intact example of a metal turbine-powered steel roller grist mill and its machinery. When the building was constructed in 1898, it functioned as a gristmill and feed store. The simple one and a half story clapboard structure featured a cupola-like tower projecting from the south gable end. This tower, necessary to accommodate the milling machinery, is an example of a building's function influencing its design, a characteristic of many industrial buildings.

The mill was advantageously located at the site of the northernmost falls in the village. Able to draw on the power of the Dog River's Sunny Brook branch, the site had been used since the early 1800s for small manufacturing. Before the gristmill, a chair factory occupied the site (which burned in 1896) and an even earlier mill produced wood and slate saws and shingles. In the 1930s a water-powered cider press was added to the mills's operations. The Kempton family purchased the Old Red Mill at auction in 1944. They continued to grind grain and make shingles until the mid 1940s, when the market for these products declined, largely because of changes in agricultural and transportation patterns. However, they did continue to produce their popular Kempton's cider for several years.

Montpelier Historic District

Montpelier was a small isolated village nestled in the valley formed by the Winooski and North Branch rivers until 1805, when the city was chosen as Vermont's capital. Like many capital cities, Montpelier was selected for its central location and accessability to roads and waterways, the only methods of transportation available at the time. By the mid-19th century Montpelier's status as a government center attracted other institutions to the slowly growing town. The most significant of these was the National Life Insurance Company, which located its headquarters in Montpelier in 1848. Transportation methods were much improved when the Vermont Central Railroad connected a spur route to the city in 1849, and again in 1873 when the Montpelier and Well River Railroad connected the town to the Connecticut River Valley. These two institutions, the railroad and National Life Insurance, stimulated the greatest period of growth and construction in Montpelier's history, the last half of the 19th century. Despite this, Montpelier's slow growth over the past two centuries has resulted in the city's distinction as the smallest capital city of all the states.

Today, the 450 buildings that comprise the Montpelier Historic District reflect the town's prosperous past, during which time many high style and vernacular examples of various 19th century architectural styles were constructed. Such variety of styles, and the mix of domestic, commercial, religious, and institutional buildings, speak to the slow but continuous growth of the town. While the Vermont State House is the focus of the district, other significant buildings include the Pavilion Building, State Street's Federal style residences, the Italian Renaissance Revival Kellogg Hubbard Library (a free private library since it opened in 1895), the 1891 headquarters of the National Life Insurance Company (constructed of Vermont brick and now occupied by the Vermont Department of Agriculture) and the 1880 depot for the Montpelier and Wells River Railroad (now a bank, beauty salon and offices). The 1820s Federal style Vogue Shop, at the district's main intersection of State and Main Streets, was damaged by fire, but successfully restored in 1998 with the assistance of a federal historic preservation tax credit. As a whole the historic district is a well preserved collection of the essential buildings comprising any 19th century New England town, as well as a reflection of the major architectural styles of the century.

The Montpelier Historic District, in Montpelier, Vermont is roughly bounded by Memorial Dr., Bailey Ave., Hubbard Park, Vine St., and Hubbard St.

Information provided by:
National Park Service

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