(Figure 1) Norwich, Vermont. Vermont Gazetteer.
Norwich, Vermont is located in Windsor County, in the eastern portion of the state. It is situated along the Connecticut River with Ompampanoosuc River in the northeastern part of the town flowing into the Connecticut River (see Figure 1). Norwich is relatively hilly and open (see Figure 2); however, there are forested areas on the boundaries of the town that proved to be beneficial to the agricultural revenue in relation to sugar production, maple syrup and molasses, as seen in multiple resources. Families started moving to this area in the late 18th century.
(Figure 2) “View of Norwich.” Norwich Historical Society
During the windshield survey performed on September 24, 2009 for the Vermont Barn Census, an old English barn located at 708 Goodrich Four Corners, Norwich Vermont was documented (see Figure 3). According to the resident of this farm, the barn was erected in 1798 during the first period of settlement in the town. The resident noted that this barn was used to house the animals, feed, and hay during the cold winter months
(Figure 3) Barn. 708 Goodrich Four Corners, Norwich, Vermont
In Zadock Thompson’s History of Vermont: Natural, Civil and Statistical, he refers to statistics of 1840 discussing the population of the town in relation to the agricultural activity. At this time in Norwich, there were 2,218 residents. However, there were only 481 horses and 2,348 cattle suggesting that each family or farm did not have more than one horse and a few cattle and most likely were used for subsistent farming purposes. [i] There were 13,305 sheep recorded in Norwich during this time with nearly 10,000 more sheep than cattle.[ii] This population of sheep produced nearly 27,630 pounds of wool.[iii] This substantial number of pounds of wool coupled with the 15,730 pounds of sugar represents the main agricultural productions in this town from the beginning of settlement.[iv] There were also various grains documented but were in low numbers and were primarily wheat, barley, oats, buckwheat and Indian corn which was used for personal use as well as feed for the animals.
This early census, although rather brief, does allow for recognition of the major agricultural resources in Norwich at this time, as well as the acknowledgment that farming was the livelihood for many in this region. Wool and sugar, according to this excerpt of statistics, were major products during this time. Maple sugar is an important resource in this area, providing thousands of pounds of sugar and molasses. Along with the large sugar production, sheep and wool production contributed greatly to the agriculture in Norwich.
Sheep population was nearly four fold over cattle with wool production as a dominant trade. Thompson’s book provides an in-depth look as to how sheep arrived in this region. Although sheep were not found in every area of Vermont, the New England region in general provides an environment suitable for sheep given the climate and hilly landscape[v] (see Figure 4). Norwich in particular offers the hills for sheep to graze as well as a source of water, the Connecticut River.
(Figure 4) Barn on Hill. 128 Main Street, Norwich, Vermont.
In 1826, Merino, a breed of sheep arrived in New England and thrived in climate.[vi] However, it would take nearly 30 years for this breed to be recognized in Norwich. According to Thompson’s record on the population of sheep and the Agricultural Census of 1860, there were high numbers of sheep, yet, the Agricultural Census of 1880 shows a significant decline in the number of sheep while the production of wool increased.[vii] At this time in Norwich, the breed emerged. Farmers were able to yield more wool and fleece from a lesser number of sheep, saving time and money. This is because Merino sheep have a higher quality fleece and a lower maintenance of cleaning for a finished product. The wool is much softer and has a higher retail value.[viii]
The arrival of this breed of sheep to Norwich significantly impacted the agricultural production. According to Merritt Elton Goddard in History of Norwich, “while the number of animals kept is more than one fourth than in 1840 the weight of wool shorn has increased over one and averages about five and one fourth pounds to each fleece.”[ix] The Agricultural Census Data from 1860 and 1880 demonstrates the sheep population and wool production trends. The numbers of farms in Norwich during these years are recorded with information on each specific farm documenting various grain crops, livestock and other agricultural production. This data helps illustrate the importance of agricultural resources in the town.
The Agricultural Census of 1860 records two hundred and four farms, all of which were recorded as having milking cows, oxen and other cattle in the single digits. However, nearly one hundred and fifty seven farms had sheep either in the double or triple digits, according to A.J. Davis, the Assistant Marshall who conducted this census. This accounted for 7,075 sheep compared to the 1,529 of total cattle.[x] Only one hundred twenty six farms were recorded on the census for maple sugar, yet, the 40,000 pounds of maple sugar was substantial. Some farms produced nearly 800 pounds or as little as 50 pounds, with most farms producing averaging between 300 to 500 pounds annually.[xi]
There were several other crops used for subsistent farming in Norwich. Bushels of wheat, oats and buckwheat were prevalent on the farms documented. These crops, along with the potatoes, which were grown consistently, had many uses and could be stored through the winter months. Rye, rice and tobacco were very infrequent in this area with only a few farms recording yielding these crops and in very small numbers. Butter was also listed with every farm, in moderate numbers in relation to the low number of milking cows in the region. The various grain crops documented in 1840 by Zadock Thompson as well as the Agricultural Census Data of 1860 and 1880 have consistent numbers and were never used more than for subsistent farming.
The Agricultural Census of 1880 recorded two hundred and twenty nine farms in Norwich.[xii] This census shows that hay production was still gradually increasing, maple sugar and molasses production was on the rise, however, sheep population declined, and cattle remained constant. One hundred and twenty three farms were recorded for maple sugar and molasses production with a 15, 000 pound increase over the 1860 Agricultural Census.
Hamilton Child’s Gazetteer recorded a number of people in the town that owned farms, mentioning their primary crops. It is interesting to note that while farmers in the Gazetteer gave a detailed account to the number of sheep and maple trees they had on their farm, they also made note of the fruit grown, with strawberries being the primary crop. Upon analyzing this research it becomes visible that Norwich’s agricultural focus was on sugar and wool, being consistently documented as an agricultural resource[xiii], directly relating to the 1860 and 1880 Agricultural Censuses data.
During the turn of the century, agriculture in Norwich began to decline for two main reasons.[xiv] First, in the early 1900’s, young men were leaving the Town of Norwich and moving north in the state. Family farms diminished as the older generation could no longer keep up with the responsibility and many barns fell into disrepair.
This disrepair was replaced by total destruction on November 3rd and 4th, 1927 when a flood swept through Vermont. The Connecticut River, which runs through Norwich, overflowed and destroyed all towns bordering the river. Norwich was greatly affected by this flood and “when the rivers subsided, they left behind them a changed landscape and changed people.”[xv]
Certain parts of the railroad were demolished limiting transportation of agricultural goods. Farms, homes, crops, livestock and lives were destroyed through the state (see Figure 5). This flood has a tremendous affect on the agriculture and with limited resources; some farmers were never able to regain their cattle and sheep head. This event further led to the decline of agriculture in Norwich.
(Figure 5) “After the Flood of Record, 1927”. University of Vermont.
A 1940 “Agricultural Trends In Norwich, Vermont” article illustrates the decline of agriculture after this horrific 1927 flood. Agriculture in this region changed dramatically starting with only one hundred and sixty seven farms documented in 1935.[xvi] This is a significant decline from the two hundred and twenty eight documented in 1880. Sheep declined and the milking cow population increased. However, in 1934 no butter or cheese was reported because “practically all of the milk was sold as fluid milk.”[xvii] This 1940 report highlights the changes in agriculture in Norwich. In comparison to the rest of Windsor County, Norwich averages for number of cattle and percent of crop for hay. This is very different from the 1860 and 1880 Agricultural Census and the population decline and flood of 1927 played an important role in the agricultural decline of sheep and sugar, there primary crops of the 19th century.
Through the 20th century, agriculture in Norwich has seen a steady decline. Agricultural structures have fallen into disrepair and been destroyed. Given the economy, many farmers have been unable to meet the growing needs for production. According to the 1992 Census of Agriculture for Vermont, Windsor County has seen farms decline and existing farms market value decrease. In the 1997 Census of Agriculture for Vermont has further shown that farms have decreased. In the beginning of the early 18th century, there were thousands of sheep in Windsor County, specifically Norwich. This census shows that only 56 sheep were recorded in Windsor County for 1992 and 1997.[xviii] At one time, sheep and sugar dominated the agricultural industry in Norwich; however, existing farms in Norwich now primarily focus on hay production with limited crops for individual use (see Figure 6).
(Figure 6) Hay Barn. 288 Upper Turnpike Road, Norwich, Vermont
Despite the decline of Norwich’s agricultural production, early in the 18th Century, people came to this area for the fertile farming land for crops, the hilly landscape that provided an ideal environment to raise sheep, and the thick forests to harvest maple sugar. They proved to play an important role in agriculture practices in Vermont and represented not only these major crops, but also subsistent farming techniques.
[i] Thompson, Zadock. History of Vermont: Natural, Civil and Statistical. Vermont: Stacy and Jameson, Printers. 1853. Pg. 131.
[vii] U.S. Census Office. State of Vermont. Agricultural Census 1880.
[viii] Goddard, M.E. and Henry V. Partridge. A History of Norwich, Vermont. Hanover, NH: The Dartmouth Press. 1905. Pg. 154.
[ix] Goddard, M.E. and Henry V. Partridge. A History of Norwich, Vermont. Hanover, NH: The Dartmouth Press. 1905. Pg. 154.
[x] U.S. Census Office. State of Vermont. Agricultural Census 1860.
[xii] U.S. Census Office. State of Vermont. Agricultural Census 1880.
[xiii] Child, Hamilton. Gazetteer and Business Directory of Windsor County, VT for 1883-1884. Vol. 1. Syracuse, NY. 1884. Pgs 409-424.
[xiv] The Agricultural Extension Service, University of Vermont, and State Agricultural College. “Agricultural Trends In Norwich, Vermont.” March 1940. Pg. 3.
[xv] Clifford, Deborah Pickman and Nicholas R. The Troubled Roar of the Waters: Vermont in Flood Recovery, 1927-1931. Lebanon, NH: University Press of New England. 2007. Pg. 6.
[xvi] The Agricultural Extension Service, University of Vermont, and State Agricultural College. “Agricultural Trends In Norwich, Vermont.” March 1940. Pg. 5.
[xvii] Ibid., 6.
[xviii] Census of Agriculture. Center for Rural Studies: University of Vermont. http://crs.uvm.edu/agriculture/censusofagriculture. 2009