Vermont History

Summer 2005


Class four: the Gilded Age (1865-1890)


Vermont’s utopian goal, and obligation to the rest of the world, is to reconcile the fundamental contradictions of the human condition (the desire to be free yet have community, the desire to have progress but preserve is good, etc…). Does that reconciliation take place between people or within individuals?


The Bennington Battle Monument: “A monument to the millions”


Key Words and phrases:

Charles M. Bliss

Hiland Hall

Bennington Historical Society (1875)

Bennington Battle Monument Association (1876)

The Centennial Celebration (1877)


Boston Advertiser, 1877: “It is useless to disguise the fact that the effort to crowd a quart celebration into a pint town has been followed by the inevitable consequences. The local committees exerted themselves to the utmost, but were unequal to their task.”


Part I: The “winter period”


The main question about rural Vermont in the Gilded Age: “decline” or “stability”?


Key Words and phrases:

Justin Smith Morrill

Vermont State Agricultural College

George Grenville Benedict

The Reunion Society of Vermont Officers

The Ethan Allen Fire Company

The Vermont Association for the Preservation of Fish and Game


Vermont is becoming increasingly uphill! Is the state renouncing or embracing the legacies of its founders?

Will it make it easier or harder to achieve Vermont’s ultimate goal of balance between the needs of the individual and those of the collective? Does it make it easier or harder for a person to be both uphill and downhill?


Part II: “Small farms, well tilled”


Key Words and phrases:

Zuar Jameson

Peter Collier

Collamer Abbott

Alpha Messer

The “Vershire War” (1883)


The Vermont Dairymen’s Association (1869): for VT’s most downhill, progressive, scientific farmers.


The Grange (1870): for relatively progressive farmers and even some overlap with VDA membership (the most downhill uphillers?), but much closer to uphill.


The Board of Agriculture (1870): a state agency originally with a five-member board appointed by the governor, designed to stimulate VT’s economy. First name was “The Vermont Board of Agriculture, Manufacturing and Mining,” but within a few years was concerned with farming alone.


The Burlington Free Press, 1883: “The forefathers of our commonwealth, if they could return to us, would say: ‘the world has moved since we were here. Our example ought not to stand in the way of improvement.’”


By the 1880s in uphill villages there was a decisive temperance consensus in uphill communities. Temperance had become the most visible social boundary between those who were good and those who weren’t.


Is Vermont stronger as an ideal and concept when its imagined community’s boundaries are broad or narrow?

Will Vermont be a stronger idea when there is or isn’t agreement about our three questions?


Alpha Messer:  “the Agricultural College fight is a struggle between the people on the one side, and aristocratic corporate power on the other.”


UVM President Matthew Buckham to Professor H.A.P. Torrey, November 25, 1890: “Separate College Bill killed in Senate 18 to 12. Better not celebrate.”