Group of stone workers at the Jones Brothers Granite Quarry in Barre
Photograph courtesy of Miranda Burwell
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.

Spaulding School and Robert Burns Memorial Statue, carved by Italian immigrant Elia Corti, in Barre. Statue erected by Barre's Scotish immigrants to memorialize Scotish poet Burns.
Photograph courtesy of the Vermont Division for Historic Preservation
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.

Vermont native, President Chester A. Arthur, 1881
Photograph courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, NPG.67.62
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.

Vermont History EssayAgriculture and Industry EssayVermont Landscapes EssayTransportation Essay


Itinerary Home | List of Sites | Main Map | Learn More


Comments or Questions