Public and Private Utilities: (1850-1940)
Prior to 1850, most Vermonters relied on their own private systems of water, power and lighting, although in some towns public aqueducts were created as early as the late 18th century. By the Civil War, public water systems had become fairly common in many of Vermont's larger towns. Gas lighting became popular around the 1850s, though it was mostly confined to urban or semi-urban areas. In 1848 the first telegraph system in Vermont was put in place, transmitting information from Boston to Burlington. Telegraph stations were often located in railroad depots since the telegraph lines typically followed the rail lines. The telephone made its debut in the Green Mountain State in the late 1870s. Electricity first came into use in Vermont during the 1880s with most towns receiving their electricity from coal-fired, gas or water-powered generators. The first hydro-electric plant was built in 1886 on the Winooski River, generating power for the city of Burlington. Over the course of the next few decades, hydro-plants were constructed throughout the state to serve the growing number of patrons. The flood of 1927 destroyed a number of early hydro stations, whereupon fewer, larger stations were constructed, reflecting the trend towards consolidation in the hydro-power industry. In 1935 the Rural Electrification Act was passed, which brought electricity into many rural homes in Vermont for the first time.
Barre Granite Sheds; Barre, Vermont
Vermont's wealth of granite, slate and marble was discovered early on and small quarries were set up in scattered locations around the state during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Prior to 1850, stone was quarried with hand tools, and transported short distances by huge teams of oxen. The stone was used mostly for building materials, hearths and gravestones. After 1850, the coming of the railroad, together with technological advances in quarrying, allowed the stone industries to develop on a large commercial scale. Marble, slate and granite were the principal stones quarried in Vermont, with whetstone, limestone, soapstone, sandstone and talc produced in lesser quantities. Slate has not been manufactured on a large scale in Vermont since World War II, but marble and granite are still significant industries.
Small Craft and Cottage Industries: (1790-1940)
Small craft and cottage industries were an essential component of most Vermont towns and villages prior to 1850. Since distances between settlements were great and transportation routes generally poor each settlement needed to be largely self-sufficient. Early craft and cottage artisans included blacksmiths, tanners, tailors, hatters, cobblers, coopers, box makers, furniture makers and more. These small-scale industries were often located in an ell in the artisan's home, or in a nearby barn or shop. Industries requiring water power were necessarily located on a river or stream. With the development of mass production technologies, and improved means of transportation these small, localized industries were gradually replaced by larger industries and new technologies.
Small Water-Powered Mill Production: (1790-1930)
Norton's Grist Mill; Vergennes, Vermont
Water power was essential in providing for the needs of the early settlers. Vermont's abundance of rivers and streams provided an ample supply of mill sites and many of Vermont's early settlements developed around these sites. Indeed, some land charters required the establishment of sawmills. Throughout most of the 19th century virtually every settlement had at least one mill and often more. The earliest water-powered mills were saw and grist mills. Other early mills include tanneries, trip hammer shops, forges, paper mills, fulling and carding mills, marble mills, and linseed oil mills. The gradual development of an export/cash economy led to the establishment of starch factories, woodworking shops, woolen and cotton mills, tool shops, iron mills, among others. By the late 1800s small water-powered mills were gradually replaced by larger mills powered by steam, and later electricity. Others were washed away in floods and freshets. As a result, early water-powered mills are very rare in Vermont.
Textile Industry: (1780-1940)
Richmond Underwear Factory; Richmond, Vermont
Cloth manufacture, an article almost exclusively made at home, began to move out of Vermont farm homes around 1800. Fulling and carding mills, where wool was sized and carded for home manufacture, were built on many a fast-flowing stream or river after 1800. Cotton mills did well in the years of the War of 1812, but decreased when prices fell in peacetime. Occasionally the two processes occurred under the same roof, or in buildings shared by other small industries. Linen manufacture was limited in Vermont, with some early production in Scotch-Irish areas in the northeastern part of the state (i.e. Ryegate). The opening of the Champlain Canal and the 1824 Tariff on Woolens (a tax on woolens imported from England) prompted the rapid growth of the woolen industry in Vermont, and woolen factories were established throughout the state wherever sufficient waterpower existed, and especially in places near the wool source (i.e. sheep farms). Starch factories, which processed potato starch for textile mills, also began to appear in many towns around the state at this time. Large-scale textile manufacturing increased in the 1830s when sheep raising in Vermont was at its height. Around the mid-1800s the number of textile concerns in Vermont began to drop as the industry consolidated into fewer, larger firms. The Civil War prompted a greater demand for wool during the 1860s. Finally, the late 19th century was marked by the emergence of the so-called "giant" firms in towns such as Bennington, Winooski, Rutland, Johnson, Fair Haven, and Bridgewater, among others. While Vermont enjoyed a position of prominence in the manufacture of woolen and knit goods during the 1880s, the state's woolen industry experienced a steady decline during the first half of the 20th century.
Commercial Development in Rural Areas: (1790-1940)
Communities of traders and Native Americans located around early military forts were the initial centers of commerce in Vermont. After permanent settlement began around 1760, commercial transactions took place in private homes, taverns, churchyards, mills, and eventually stores. Early on, stores often consisted of a room or ell in the storekeeper's home. As Vermont's economy began to strengthen after the Revolution, special store buildings became more common, often serving a variety of local functions, including post office, bank, stagecoach stop, town clerk's office, and more. Rural villages also had craft and cottage artisans such as cobblers, blacksmiths, coopers, and harness makers, among others. Itinerant peddlers traveled from town to town, bringing merchandise to isolated rural homes. After 1850 the railroad brought the traveling salesmen and manufactured goods from more distant sources. The development of pre-packaged, mass-produced goods, mail order goods, and chain stores during the late 19th and early 20th centuries lessened the demand for locally produced goods, forcing many local merchants and artisans out of business. The automobile furthered this trend as it allowed customers to travel to urban shopping centers. By World War II, these combined factors depressed local commerce; however, the rise of tourism during the 20th century has brought new business to many general stores around the state.
Commercial Development in Urban Areas: (1790-1940)
White River Junction, Vermont
Urban development tended to occur at key transportation and industrial points. Early on these key points were located along the waterways, or at important crossroads. County seats were also a focal point for commercial development since they were centrally located and were places where people from surrounding areas tended to conduct their court and governmental business. Unlike rural villages, where most commercial transactions took place in one or two stores, larger commercial centers encouraged a variety of specialty shops such as hatters, tailors, dry goods, apothecary shops, etc. In 1806 the Legislature set up Vermont's first state banks in Middlebury and Woodstock. After 1850 the railroad brought with it a wider variety of merchandise, and downtown shopping districts developed. As fewer and fewer goods were made locally, the traditional system of barter was replaced with a cash economy, and banks multiplied in response, locating themselves in the heart of downtown. The railroad also shifted commercial centers away from the waterways, and towns lucky enough to be bisected by steel rails prospered, while many waterfront towns went into decline. The advent of the electric trolley in the 1890s brought throngs of shoppers into downtowns each day. Imposing, multi-story commercial blocks, both wood-frame and brick, replaced the free-standing shops of earlier times. With the arrival of the automobile during the early 1900s, commercial arteries shifted once again from the railways to the highways, and commercial establishments began to develop in strips along well-traveled roads on the outskirts of large towns.
Logging and Lumber Production: (1760-1940)
Wood was Vermont's earliest commercial and industrial resource. Vermont was a forested wilderness when the first permanent settlers came in the 1760s. The extensive land clearance that occurred over the course of the next half century not only supplied the early settlers with an ample source of lumber for building, but it also provided them with their first cash crop, potash. Charcoal was another early by-product of Vermont's forests, and was used to fuel the various iron furnaces scattered about the western half of the state in the early 1800s. Next to grist mills, sawmills were one of the earliest buildings constructed in a community. Early sawmills served local needs almost exclusively, though some lumber was sold for export. With the opening of the Bellows Falls and Champlain Canals during the first quarter of the 19th century, the commercial export of lumber became more widespread. The coming of the railroad around 1850 gave the greatest boost yet to the logging and lumber industries as it allowed for easier, cheaper, and faster transport of logs and lumber, and also permitted loggers to push further into the mountains for their raw material. Log drives became an increasingly common sight on the Connecticut River. Lumber companies often built their own railroads and company towns, many of which have disappeared with hardly a trace. In the 20th century, the use of logging trucks did away with the need for portable sawmills. Today logging is still the principal industry in Essex County.
Asbestos Mine; Lowell, Vermont
Copper was mined in the late 18th century, but it was not until the mid-1800s that sub-surface mining got underway to any significant extent. Vershire, Strafford and Corinth were the leading copper mining regions in the state. The Elizabeth Mine in Strafford was used periodically up through the early 1950s. In 1880, Vermont ranked as the second largest copper producer in the United States. Gold was discovered in Bridgewater and Plymouth during the 1850s, and a brief gold rush ensued. Various gold mining companies were established; they erected small mills, boarding houses, dams, etc. Silver and lead were mined to a degree. Iron was the predominant material mined in Vermont. (see Iron Industry)
Manufacturing of Water Transport: (1800-1900)
In the days before the railroad, the waterways served as the chief commerce routes for Vermont goods. Throughout the first half of the 19th century, boat-building occurred at numerous points along the shores of Lake Champlain, the Connecticut River, and even Lake Memphremagog. Lake Champlain boatyards were significantly larger than those along the Connecticut since lake commerce supported larger commercial vessels. The War of 1812 created a need for ships to fight battles on Lake Champlain, and McDonough's shipyard was established to meet that need. The opening of the Champlain Canal in 1823 gave considerable stimulus to boat building, and Vergennes, Charlotte, Burlington and St. Albans Bay boasted some of the busiest boatyards along the lake. Connecticut River boatyards mostly built flat-bottomed boats, the typical cargo boat used on the river. After the coming of the railroad, as lake and river commerce diminished, boatyards were gradually abandoned.
The Manufacture of Land Transport: (1790-1940)
Since the transport of both people and goods was crucial to the economic development of Vermont, the manufacture of land transport accompanied early settlement. The establishment of saw mills, iron furnaces, foundries, etc. facilitated such manufacturing. Wagon, sleigh and/or carriage shops were located in most towns. With the introduction of the railroad, associated manufactories were established to produce railroad ties, rails, cars, etc. As small railroad companies developed lines, each had its own machine shop and round house at some location. Major rail lines had shops located at important railway centers such as Northfield, St. Albans, Rutland. With the advent of the automobile, a few experimental automobiles were built in Vermont, but the industry never fully developed.
There were many raw materials available in Vermont early on for building. Sawmills were among the earliest mills established in towns following settlement; indeed, they sometimes preceded, and became the nucleus of, early settlement. Bricks were typically made on site, often from the very clay where the foundation pit was excavated, and limestone was ground into powder to make mortar. Improved methods of transportation, and a growing demand for granite and marble and slate for building materials and monuments stimulated a boom in stone quarrying and manufacture in Vermont in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Glass production developed on a factory scale in 1813 when the glass factory in Vermont opened in Salisbury. Other short-lived factories were established during the 1820s and '1830s in Manchester, Vergennes, Burlington and Pittsford. Shingle mills, clapboard mills, sash, blind and door factories were very common during the second half of the 19th century, both in urban centers and at scattered rural locations. Paper Making Paper making was an early industry in Vermont. The first paper mill was built in Bennington in 1784 on the falls of the Walloomsac River in a place formerly known as "Paper Mill Village". The second paper mill was built in Fair Haven by Matthew Lyon. It was at this mill that the method of making paper from a combination of bark and rags was believed to be developed for the first time, although rags remained the dominant raw material for paper until the mid 1800s. By 1809 there were reportedly seven paper mills in the state: Bennington (1784), Castleton (1794), Middlebury Falls (1800), Bellows Falls (1802), Sharon (1801) and Montpelier (1806). Until around 1850 rags were the dominant raw material for paper. Paper mills were relatively common by the mid-1800s ranging from one-room operations, to entire buildings, with the vats and rollers on the first floor, and possibly a bindery on the second. Printing shops were often located nearby. In 1869, a mill in Bellows Falls became one of the earliest paper mills to use wood pulp and it later became a leader in the manufacture of paper.
Iron Industry: (1785-1890)
Furnace Grove; Bennington, Vermont
Vermont's iron-making industry developed in association with other pioneer works such as grist and saw mills, blacksmith shops, etc. in response to the needs of early settlers. Pre-1800 ironworks were distributed near developing population areas that created the demand for raw iron. As transportation networks improved somewhat, industrial demand grew (1800-1850) and iron works began to locate closer to necessary fuel (charcoal- see context brief on Vermont's charcoal-making industry), ore, and more reliable water power. Better than 90% of the ironworks operated to the west of the Green Mountain range, concentrated in Addison and Rutland Counties. After 1823, the opening of the Champlain Canal changed the character of Vermont iron works from a larger number of small speculative operations in pre-canal days to costly high-production works after the canal. The railroad eventually brought in better iron made cheaper than local works could produce and ended iron-making in Vermont. Iron-working, in the form of machine shops and foundries expanded to reach peak production about 1880-1890, dwindling in numbers and production thereafter. Ultimately, Vermont ironworks were limited by the quantity and quality of its ore, the length of the winters, which froze streams that powered the works, and the ironworks' remoteness from major industrial centers and seaports nearer to the ocean.
All information and photographs from the Vermont Division for Historic Preservation
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