Vermont farmer, 1937
Photograph courtesy of Library of Congress, LC-USF33-T01-002435-M3 DLC
Agriculture in Vermont has played a dominant role in the State's development. The region's first New England/European settlers were primarily farmers, cultivating only that which they and their immediate community required. Sparse settlements were established in the southern half of the state in the mid 1700s, but more permanent settlements and cultivation of the land for export were not measurable until after the Revolutionary War. By 1790, the establishment of good shipping routes to Canada and southern New England cities expanded the possibilities for trade. The earliest exports were potash and pearl ash, two forest-clearing by-products. These were replaced by crops from large diversified farms. Major exports included potatoes, grains, and livestock, especially beef cattle. Their importance within Vermont agriculture was established in the early 19th century, when large herds of cattle were driven overland to Boston, New York and other east coast markets.

Agriculture in Washington County did not differ from the whole of Vermont, and in many ways exemplifies statewide patterns. Small scale agriculture dominated the countryside in the early 19th century, with grains and meats as the staple export products. The creation of additional trade routes, while opening new markets, caused an increase in the supply of these staples, and their plummeting prices. Especially significant was the opening of the Champlain Canal of 1823 and to a lesser degree the Erie Canal in 1825. Struggling with the larger regional economy these canals created, Vermont replaced these varied staples with product specialization, and merino sheep farming soon dominated Vermont agriculture. The prosperous sheep market was bolstered by a wool-import tariff in 1828 and the expansion of the textile industry of southern New England. When the tariff was eliminated in 1846, wool prices fell. While some sheep were subsequently raised for mutton, many farmers continued raised their merino sheep to be sold all over the world for high quality breeding. After the Civil War, the expansion of the railroad to the American west successfully eroded Vermont's advantage of proximity to East Coast grain, meat and wool markets. Farmers slowly shifted their emphasis away from sheep to more profitable dairy cattle and small scale diversified farming. As refrigerated rail cars were not perfected until the 20th century, proximity was still a vital factor in the dairy market of North Eastern cities, and Vermont's chief products soon became butter and cheese, supplemented by maple sugar, livestock and local market gardening.
Hauling logs for sale to a mill from a farm near Waterbury, 1939
Photograph courtesy of the Library of Congress, LC-USF33-030859-M1 DLC

Vermont's heavily wooded hills, primarily maple and spruce trees, provided wood for the lumber industry as well as firewood and sap for maple syrup, another well known Vermont product. The McLaughlin Farm is typical of large diversified farms in Washington County, producing in 1850 large quantities of wool, butter, cheese, and maple sugar, as well as smaller quantities of wheat, corn, oats, potatoes and hay for personal use. The variety of farms that still operate can be seen throughout the Mad River Valley Historic District, ranging from small to large, from diversified to huge dairy farms. The dairy industry still dominates Vermont and Washington County agriculture today. Two nationally known dairy companies, Ben and Jerry's and Cabot Creamery, are located in Washington County.

Similar to its agriculture, Vermont's industries also started as small operations to support the local population. Lumbering was the first major industry established in the State. As settlers cleared land for emerging towns and farms, entrepreneurs established numerous lumber mills along the rivers in Washington County, harnessing the power of the water. Grist mills, such as the Old Red Mill and Twing Gristmill were also plentiful, producing feed for Vermont's livestock. Taking advantage of the plentiful lumber supply, paper and woolen mills also developed as early Vermont industries. Warm wool clothing and blankets produced in Vermont woolen mills especially afforded protection against the State's cold climate. Other small mills manufactured wooden furniture, tools and household items.

The Jones Brothers Granite Quarry in Barre
Photograph courtesy of Miranda Burwell

Vermont is especially well known for its stone quarries, and the quality of their products. In the early 20th century, the State was the second largest producer of marble, granite and slate. Around 100 varieties of Vermont marble, from white to jet black, have been used in major American monuments and government buildings, such as the Jefferson Memorial and Supreme Court. Vermont railroad lines facilitated the expansion of Vermont's stone market, more so than any other export as the heavy loads were nearly impossible to transport any great distance before this time. In Washington County, granite was particularly plentiful. In the last half of the 19th century, granite quarries were the most important industrial feature of this region's landscape and collectively the county's quarries produced half the nation's granite supply. In fact, tons of white granite were transported by rail to Washington, D.C. for the construction of one of the most monumental railroad station's ever built, Union Station. The boom in this industry fostered the greatest period of growth for many Washington County towns, specifically Barre, Northfield and Woodbury.

Vermont History EssayAgriculture and Industry EssayVermont Landscapes EssayTransportation Essay


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