Fayston has a unique and diversified topography. Its history seems to have been molded more by rugged terrain than any other single factor. Said to have the highest average elevation of any town in Vermont, the high lateral ridge along the west border of Town is a barrier that directed the business of the north to Moretown and the business of the south to Waitsfield.
Fayston was charted in 1788 and was among the many towns sold to proprietors, most of whom were speculators. At the time, these speculators were heralded as "patriots" helping to defend the independent republic which had to raise money to support its government, pay its soldiers and defend its frontiers, in particular Lake Champlain, which was threatened by invasion from the British. Within twenty years, large acreage, through tax sales, swapping and some purchasing, became vested in a few landowners.
The Town was organized in 1805. Its first schoolhouse costing $159.75 opened in 1812 with 25 scholars. The population gradually increased from ten families in 1800 to a peak of 800 in 1860. In 1844, the Town had ten school districts and educated 262 pupils. One hundred and fifty years later, when the present elementary school opened, the school population was 24.
The soil was thin, the hillsides steep and completely unsuitable for anything more than subsistence farming. Sheep raising further ravaged the land. Industry was limited to lumbering and a negligible amount of talc mining. Then the west opened up. Had it not been for the unrest and privations in Ireland, it is likely that the Town's economic deterioration would have arrived at an earlier date.
By 1860, about one-third of Fayston's "heads of household" were people born in Ireland. Farms were relatively cheap and those hardworking people, born in privation, were happy to subsist for the privilege of freedom and opportunity. Eventually, many of them were forced to abandon their farms or were lured away by brighter prospects.
The economy and the population continued to decline until shortly after World War II, when Roland Palmedo, one of the founders of Mt. Mansfield Ski Area, determined that Fayston's Stark Mountain was ideally suited for a second major Vermont ski resort. The land that had long since ceased to sustain an agricultural economy seemed ideally suited for recreation.
With two major ski areas in the Town, Mad River Glen and Mt. Ellen, land speculation continues to be a major business. Now, the ability of the land to sustain a booming recreational economy will be the major factor influencing the future of the Town.
This is a condensed version of the article appearing in Central Vermont Magazine Winter 1978-79 issue. For information on where to locate these magazines contact the chamber at 229-5711.
Thanks are extended to Earline Marsh, Alan Noyes, Elizabeth Ralph, Sally Finn and Jack Belding for their time selecting and editing Central Vermont Magazine articles for publication on the web.
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