Once a railroad town, Brighton now rests peacefully on the western shores of the 600 acre lake called Island Pond, so named because of the lake's 22 acre island in its midst. In Essex County in the Northeast Kingdom at 44° 47' latitude and 71°52' longitude, sixteen miles south of Quebec, Canada, sits this town whose people have worked in the forests, mills, and on the railroad. Surrounding Brighton are towns and unorganized townships of similar shape and size: Morgan, Warren Grant, Warren Gore, and Avery Gore to the north; Lewis and Ferdinand to the east; to the south, East Haven and Newark and to the west, Westmore, Charleston, and Morgan.
The village of Island Pond has been the community center and population nucleus of Brighton, since the 1850s when it housed the halfway station between Montreal and Boston on the Grand Trunk Railroad line (See "Railroads" below). Before the 1850s, Brighton relied on its forests for money through the Fitzgerald Land and Lumber Company that in 1899 had been a leading private industry for over a quarter of a century.
With the arrival of the railroad, however, business quickly sprang up around the station. Island Pond's population swelled from 105 in 1830 to 2,000 in 1870 (Time and Change..., p.185). Many of the 600 Irish laborers who worked on the railroads stayed to work in the mills or on farms (Ruth Harvey Kaufman). Brighton's population peaked at 2,500 during World War II. However, with the decline of the railroads and the advent of the Great Depression, the population dwindled steadily to a low of 1,365 residents in 1960.
With the arrival of the Northeast Kingdom Community Church in the 1970s, the population increased as the religious commune settled and gathered members (See "Northeast Kingdom Community Church" below). The population of Brighton today (according to the 1990 Census) remains at 1,562 residents. Island Pond maintains 1,222 or 78.2% of the resident population [Someone should check density figures, in the village and in the surrounding town.] Brighton led Essex County in births with 32, and with 20 deaths in 1992 according to the Health Department. These measures were influenced, no doubt, by the immigration of Church members.
The 1989 median income for residents of Brighton was $22,358 and for Island Pond, $25,227. The majority of families (183) above poverty-level were couples married from six to seventeen years. Those who fell below poverty-level (38 families) were comprised of single females with no husband present. Out of 530 households in Brighton, more than half worked for a wage or salary income; the remainder (220) received no wage or salary. More than half of households are self-employed in non-farming enterprise; those households that do receive a self-employed farming income total at 18. Households receiving public assistance income are 72; those who don't are 458.
The town known as "Gilead", later to become Brighton, was chartered on August 13, 1780 by a group of pioneering men from Connecticut. However, the town went up for sale again because of the group's failure to pay and it sat officially unclaimed. A little over a year later on August 30, 1781, a group of Rhode Island investors lead by Colonel Joseph Nightingale of the Continental Army, bought the town and in 1820, Enos Bishop became the area's first white settler. The population grew slowly to 193 people by the end of the 1800s.
Town structures from a century ago included the Green Mountain House ("Up to their doors rolled the four-horse stage coaches then in vogue," wrote GREY BOOK - SPECIAL COLLECTIONS), three hotels, the Island Pond House that served as a hostelry, and the Opera House Block, still in existence, but back then housed a bank, power company, lawyers, a library, stores, offices and the fire department between both. Farms were plentiful with farmers such as S.D. Hobson, William E. Rosebrooke, Elias Bemis, A.J. Lang, M.C. David, and Hiram B. Farmer. (See below under "Built Resources Capital" for more information about Brighton's current physical infrastructures)
Housing units in Brighton total at 883, with 514 of those occupied and 369 unoccupied, according to 1989 Census data. Those units that are farms are 13 and those that are not total at 870. Of the occupied housing units, the majority (177) are owner occupied and are not mortgaged. The average rent for these dwellings is $187 per month. The majority of owners (71) are from 35 to 44 years old; the minority (2) are 15 to 25 years old. Most of these occupied homes have five rooms (208) and the least amount have 1 room (13). The median year in which these structures were built was 1957; in 1939 or earlier, 106 of these units were built.
Before the English gave it a name, Brighton and Island Pond were known only in the tribal tongue of the Nulheganock Indians. Part of the Algonquin family that flourished in the eastern region of the state and New England, the Nulheganock Indians hunted and grew their food. The physical traces they left behind have yet to be uncovered. (Harold Meeks, Time and Change in Vermont, p.7)
The area then became "Gilead" in 1780, with a title that captured the Biblical nature of the hills and lookouts. Gilead was a city in ancient Palestine, though in more recent times the name refers to the 4,000 foot Gilead Mountain east of the Jordan River.
While the town waited for a buyer, local dwellers called it simply "Number 31". It was only one of several Northeast Kingdom towns that Vermont was selling to support itself. When Colonel Nightingale bought the town, he named it "Random" after the manner in which they selected "Number 31" for purchase.
Before the turn of the century, the town received its last and final name. The 1832 State Legislature acting upon the advice of the settlers who considered "Random" an unattractive name, renamed the town Brighton. The name had previously been used for several Massachusetts and New York communities that were named after the English resort.