Town Analyses > Dummerston > Cultural Landscape
With the arrival of European colonists, the demographic landscape of Dummerston - and eventually all of the Americas - was fated to change drastically. Seeing the Abenaki territory as a vast unclaimed wilderness with limitless resources, colonial powers began laying claim to indigenous lands and trade routes, which eventually resulted in the decimation and mass migration of native populations.
In 1753, Governor Benning Wentworth of New Hampshire issued a charter allowing the township of Fulham (which would later become Dummerston) to be laid out in an area known as the 'equivalent lands.' Colonial proprietors, eager to buy property and turn a profit, purchased great tracts of land to sell to willing homesteaders, who set to work taming the woodlands with axes and harnessing the river ways with mills. At first the colonists were few, and their lifestyle was one based on subsistence; the valley lowlands were cleared for cattle pastureland and crops, and forests provided wood for heating and cooking, and masts for English ships. The difficulty of transport tended to encourage a relatively locally self-sufficient culture, with early town centers placed in the geographic center of town, so as to make the central gathering place accessible to everyone.
Within a few decades, however, America's industrial potential was burgeoning, and the abundant forest resources became the raw materials necessary for a healthy logging industry. As mills proliferated, village centers begin to form away from the original town center. For a time in Dummerston, Slab Hollow was the industrial heart of town, with several mills powered by the water running in Salmon Brook. With this economic boom, the population also skyrocketed. Between 1770 and 1810, Dummerston's population grew from 200 to 1700 residents! The prosperity of the era is reflected in several of the Federal Style houses in town that were built around that time. Slab Hollow remained a major hub of activity in town throughout the 19th century, until the advent of electricity made water-powered mills obsolete. Today the Hollow is quiet and heavily forested once again. By looking carefully along Salmon Brook you can uncover subtle remnants of one the old mill structures.
Away from the mill sites, agriculture persisted as the foundation of life in Dummerston. In the early 19th century, sheep were introduced to Vermont, which kicked off a wool producing boom that would endure for a few short decades. In order to accommodate the sheep, great tracts of land were denuded of their trees; by the mid-late 1800s the majority of Dummerston was cleared for crops or pasture. Yet this resource-intensive progress could not carry on forever. Overtaxing of the land and loss of vegetation lead to erosion of valuable topsoil and wildlife habitats, and many of the rocky upland hills became inhabitable.
Furthermore, market advantages changed as the railroad was developed and cheaper, more fertile lands opened up out west. With the collapse of the sheep industry in the mid 19th century, Dummerston farmers turned to raising dairy cattle, which allowed many of the cleared uplands to return to forest. In the early days of Vermont dairy, transportation was rugged in rural areas, and the focus was on butter and cheese. As more efficient transportation and refrigeration became pervasive, production shifted toward liquid products. Mechanization and new sanitation regulations eventually led to the demise of many small hill farms. By the mid-1900s Dummerston's dairy industry had been consolidated into larger farms along the fertile river valleys - the same rich post-glacial sediments that had been farmed by native people's centuries earlier.
Still other economic endeavors prospered in Dummerston as well. In particular, with the advent of the railroad and the ability to transport large, heavy objects long distances, rock quarrying became a major industry. For several decades from the late 1800s on into the 20th century three granite quarries operated at different times in West Dummerston, mining the slopes around Black Mountain.
Several buildings in town, including the West Dummerston Grange, were built from these local landscape materials. It was this quarrying industry that spawned the construction of the modest, late 19th century houses in West Dummerston, which largely belonged to quarry workers. Slate, too, was quarried from bedrock outcroppings exposed along where Route 5 is today, just south of Dutton Pines.
35-mile-an-hour Guide to Barns
Mill Falls at Slab Hollow
Northern Hardwood Sugar Maples
Prospect Hill Rock Wall
Lyons Granite Quarry
West River Railroad
West Dummerston Grange Granite Foundation
Federal Style House
Dummerston Prime Agricultural Soils
Dummerston Slate Quarry
Lyons Granite Quarry Workers
Old Apple Tree
1893 House in West Dummerston
1869 F.W. Beers Map of Dummerston
Cape Style House
30 x 40 English Style Barn