East Haven, Victory, Kirby, Lyndon, Sutton, and Newark border Burke that is in Caledonia County. The town is located at 71E55' W, 44E35' N and approximately 900 feet altitude. The Town contains 34 square miles and 20,200 acres. The population is 1,423 and the Town has 759 year round housing units and 193 seasonal units (U.S. Census of Population & Housing Estimates 1995). Burke's most striking feature is Burke Mountain, called a Amonadnock@ mountain due to its solitary existence from other tall mountains and its resistance to erosion around it. This mountain is located in the southeastern part of Burke and is shared by the town of Victory, Vermont. The mountain towers approximately 3,000 feet above sea level and is presently the site of Burke Mountain Ski Area and Burke Mountain Recreation Touring Center. The town is characterized by three main ridges, which run north to south. Burke also enjoys the benefits of the East and West branches of the Passumpsic River and several of its tributaries flowing through the town.
Burke is located in the northern portion of Caledonia County with Route 5 looping through the southwestern corner of the town. West Burke is located where Route 5a breaks off northwest from Route 5. West Burke Municipal Forest lies adjacent to the village of West Burke. Route 114 runs approximately north-south through the eastern third of the town and the Portland Pipe Line runs though the northern part of the town, demarking about a quarter of the town to the north with its southeasterly to northwesterly course.
Burke Town contains the following neighborhoods: Burke Hollow, Burke Mountain, which is 3,267 feet high on the eastern edge of town, Burke Mountain Ski Area and Burke Mt. Recreation Touring Center, Darling State Park, Darion Inn Ski Touring Center, East Burke (which includes the Old School Museum and hosts the annual Sheep and Wool Festival), Burke Green, and West Burke.
Burke was chartered in 1782 and was first settled one decade later. Over the years there have been several settlement centers, some of which have not survived. Burke Green, atop one of the ridges, was the first location to be designated as a center of town activity. A Town House, a burial ground and a green were built there in 1802. Shortly after, a potash producing business was started. However, Burke Hollow (located at a lower elevation in the central part of the town) replaced this location because of the burdensome climb to the top of the ridge. Still marking the original settlement center are gravesites and cellar holes.
The first sawmill and gristmill in town were erected, establishing the Hollow as the new town center. Consequently, several dwellings, a starch factory, a tavern, and the potash business were relocated to this spot. A carding mill, a tannery, other taverns and businesses began to appear in the mid-1800's. Ironically, Burke Hollow became known as a "sleepy village", even though a blacksmith shop, a creamery, several sawmills, a poultry business, a Union church, a harness shop, a townhouse, and at least twenty five dwellings were included in the town center, (Burbank, 1989). In this neighborhood one can still find the Old House, which is said to be the first tavern in Burke. A second historic structure dating from 1825 is the Old Union Meeting House, which seats 300 people.
During the first half of the 19th century, trade from the Lyndon area was quickly establishing the southern part of Burke Town. In South Burke there had been a stagecoach stop, a tavern, and even a post office. In 1857 the railroad was built through another settlement in West Burke, shifting the focus of development from South Burke to West Burke. With the coming of the railroad through West Burke, the lumber industry exploded and the years of greatest growth resulted (from 1870-1872). An article in the Vermont Union Journal of 1879 describes the village of West Burke as having approximately 70 dwellings, six stores, two blacksmiths, one tin shop, two gristmills, one furniture establishment, one carriage repair shop, two churches, one schoolhouse, one broom factory, one hotel, four doctors, and one lawyer. Even with the exhaustion of lumber from the land, the village remained a Aconvenient manufacturing center", (Burbank, 1989).
Between Burke Hollow and South Burke grew another bustling area known as East Burke. Land had been cleared in this area since 1802; however, it was not until the 1820's that people remained there permanently. By 1827 there was a sawmill and gristmill, a store, and a tavern. By 1830, water-powered looms were providing energy for a woolen factory. Later, the factory was used to make umbrella sticks, then became a repair shop, and finally became a finishing mill. In the wake of this economic boom, other businesses such as a starch factory and a brick-making factory opened, creating an altogether very prosperous time period between 1852 and 1860. By 1896 there were two country stores, two blacksmiths, a gristmill, two repair shops, two undertakers, a milliner, a barber, singing schools, two churches, and about 175 inhabitants, (Burbank, 1989). The White School House, named so for early settlers in Burke, was built two miles north of East Burke, but, in 1895, it was moved to its present site where it is merged with the Burke Mountain Club in East Burke. It houses local antiquities.
Before the turn of the 19th century there also existed a place called Burke Tongue, a triangular area encompassing 3,400 acres, (Burbank). On October 28, 1807 it was annexed to Hopkinsville and the two (Burke Tongue and Hopkinsville) were incorporated into the town of Kirby. The remaining land, four-sided and approximately six miles square, constitutes Burke today.
The 1930's were a time to take pride in the past. A Civilian Conservation Corps group was formed and helped rebuild a fallen lookout tower at the top of Burke Mountain in 1934. It was also a time foreshadowing the future of Burke=s ski industry. Land in Burke was donated to the state by the Darling family. On this land a park was built, including a paved road to the top of Burke Mountain, two miles of ski trails, a picnic area, running water, sanitation facilities, and a shelter, (Burbank, 1989). During this same period, from about the end of World War One until the 1960's, agriculture was the main economic industry. Previous to World War I, the economy depended upon the lumber industry in Burke.
After World War II, with the increased use of cars and television, activity declined in Burke. People brought their business to larger centers such as Lyndonville. Many of the old stores, theatres, etc. were either torn down or remodeled into apartments. Students attending Lyndon State College created a demand for apartments and off-site landlords became more prevalent. In 1953, thirteen men bought the park on Burke Mountain and formed Ski Burke Mountain Inc. In 1954, a Tucker Sno Cat carried people to the top so they could ski down. In 1955, a Poma Lift was installed. By 1965, when the group sold it to Burke Mountain Recreation Inc., the lands consisted of about 80 acres. Burke Mountain Recreation Inc. resold the land to Burke Mountain Enterprises in 1987. A European investor bought the Burke Mountain resort out of bankruptcy in 1996 and renamed it Northern Star-Burke Mountain. A majority of the jobs in Burke are related to the ski recreation business and many of the houses are used as vacation homes or are rented to college students, (Burbank, 1989). On another note, the number of farms in Burke decreased from 30 in 1960 to five in 1989, (Burbank, 1989).
Burke was originally spelled "Burk" in the charter, but officials added the "e" early on in town records. The name probably came from Edmund Burke (1729-1797), the British statesman and orator who strongly favored liberal treatment for the American colonies.