In 1777, when Vermont became an independent state and decided that all territory not granted by New Hampshire should be "vacant" land, Plainfield was one such piece of land between Montpelier and Marshfield. This gore, (one of the bits and pieces of land left over after a regular township had been surveyed), was granted to James Whitelaw, James Savage and William Coit in 1788 and called St. Andrew's Gore.
In the fall of 1791, two former New Hampshire residents, Seth Freeman of Weldon and Isaac Washburn of the adjoining town of Croydon, settled on a section of the Newbury Trail, which was the great thoroughfare linking Boston with Canada. They came by way of East Hill in Montpelier and chose the area, now the Barre Country Club property, to build their homes. A year later, they returned to make their pitches. Before the town was surveyed in 1793 there were three more pitches made by Joseph Batchelder, Theodore Perkins, and Joshua Lawrence.
When these first settlers came into the area they had to abide by the charter granted to the town, which clearly stated that each grantee was to plant five acres of land, erect one house at least eighteen feet square on the ground floor, and have one family on each respective share of land. The first houses were log cabins scattered here and there.
By 1797 there were thirty families in this new settlement, and by 1800 double that number. Since the earliest settlement was in the southwestern part of the town, the first church services and the first town meetings were held there. A blacksmith shop and a tavern were also built to accommodate the settlers and travelers.
As more people moved into St. Andrew's Gore, some of them began thinking about community projects such as building roads and laying out a common. When they decided to elect officers to take care of the business, they studied the town charter and discovered that St. Andrew's had never been legally named or incorporated as a town.
The residents had not been happy with the name St. Andrew's, so one of them, John Chapman, suggested the name be changed to Plainfield, after his home town in New Hampshire. The townspeople drew up a petition asking the legislature to incorporate the town as Plainfield. Although the petition was granted November, 1797, the village was not incorporated until 1867.
Good pastures, an ample supply of sugar maples, and excellent tillage land combined to make farming the major industry of early Plainfield. An 1888 town history noted that there were thriving industries in town: a tavern, a tannery, grist and saw mills, potteries, potash works, and blacksmith shops.
J. M. Batchelder & Son built extensive mills along the Winooski River to saw lumber, manufacture chair and cab stock, and shingles. He also built a grist mill, which did a thriving business in wholesale flour, meat, feed, grain, and grass seed. H. E. Cutler bought this mill in 1888.
In 1884, Nelson J. Sanborn built a successful carriage factory and during the same year C. F. Tillotson organized a butter tub manufacturing plant along the river. A large creamery was built on the corner of Brook Road and Creamery Street.
The success of these later companies and the prosperity of the residents could be very much attributed to the building of the Montpelier and Wells River Railroad through the town. Near the railroad station at the top of Main Street there was a tennis racquet factory and stone shed which manufactured granite from two quarries in town.
In the latter part of the 19th century, Plainfield, like many other towns in Vermont, took advantage of the growing popularity of the remarkable healing powers of mineral spring water. One such spring was discovered about three miles and nine bridges up on the Brook Road. In 1850, the Spring House was built to accommodate 20 or more guests. Many guests would also stay at the Plainfield House, which made the town one of the better known summer resorts in Vermont. On September 17, 1884, the Spring House burned, ending this successful venture.
Plainfield is noted for its many brick houses, all fashioned on the same architectural design. They were probably built between 1825 and 1850, using brick manufactured in town. There are 16 brick houses in the confines of the village while many more are scattered throughout town.
Records show that in 1880 Plainfield had a population of 728. In 1887, there were six schools accommodating 20 pupils. There were eleven female teachers earning an average of $5.50 per week and two male teachers earning an average of $9.75 per week. schools were combined through the years until 1960 when the Plainfield and Marshfield school districts united to make the Twinfield complex. By 1970, grades kindergarten through five were housed in the Marshfield Elementary School, and six through twelve occupied the newly erected Twinfield High School. The Twinfield Complex now includes K - 12.
Goddard College was established on the Greatwood Farms in 1938 and, in spite of financial and other problems, is in operation as of 1996.
The first church in town was organized in 1799, and was named "The Church of Christ in Plainfield." In 1802, dissatisfied members withdrew, and in 1819 they built a Methodist church in the village. Baptists, Congregationalists, Universalists, members of the Church of God Prophecy, and the Society of Friends have all conducted services in Plainfield through the years.
All business declined; trucking took over for the Montpelier-Wells River Railroad, which came to town in 1873 and was abandoned in 1954. Since only a few stores and jobs remained, residents were obliged to seek work elsewhere.
This is a condensed version of the article appearing in Central Vermont Magazine Winter 1983 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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