Early Settlement

In the late 1700’s, European settlers from Connecticut and Massachusetts followed in the footsteps of the Abenaki, traveling north along the rivers to plots of land they had been granted in the hills for farms. Hinesburg, which was originally spelled Hinesburgh, was chartered on June 24, 1762, and named for Abel Hine, an original grantee who clerked the meetings held by proprietors in New Milford, Connecticut. Hinesburg grew steadily in the late 1700s and at the end of the Revolutionary War, had 454 residents–more than Burlington at the time!

Upon arriving in town, the early settlers set up farms in the hills, which were first subsistence farms and later supported sheep farming and agriculture. The settlers also constructed mills along the streams to process timber and wool, as well as other products. The unique geology of the Hinesburg Thrust Fault had a hand in the early cultural history of the town, in that it contributed to the formation of Pond Brook, which flows over the thrust fault and drops 300 feet in one mile. The hydraulic gradient along Pond Brook, in combination with some man-made millponds and Lake Iroquois, provided waterpower for 34 mills, which supported the Hinesburg economy during the 215-year industrial history of Mechanicsville, the industrial center of the Town. The agricultural censuses of the 1860s and 1870s show that Hinesburg farmers still had sheep at this time, though the railroad west and a landscape depleted from sheep farming caused many farmers in other parts of the state to leave and sheep farming to move towards dairy farming. The success and size of the mills of Mechanicsville likely kept sheep farming going later in Hinesburg than elsewhere in Vermont.

The first creamery to process the milk of the many hill farms in Hinesburg opened along the canal in the village in the early 1800s. In the 1900s, the rise of mechanization and regulations in the dairy industry, combined with depleted soils from early farming, led the hill farms to eventually be abandoned.