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Waterbury History

by Frances P. Spaulding

Since it was chartered in 1763, Waterbury has been through many phases, from rural, to manufacturing, to residential.

It's name was chosen by the original proprietors who were mostly from Waterbury, Connecticut. (Incidentally, Waterbury, Nebraska is the only other town in the nation bearing that name.)

Of the original proprietors, only Colonel Partridge Thatcher ever visited the new town. He lead a surveying party that laid out the area using a log cabin, at the point where the Thatcher Brook enters the Winooski, as a center of operations. He died shortly after returning to Connecticut.

James Marsh, seeking a new home for his family in 1783, was the first permanent settler. He chose land near the present Hope Cemetery and the following year he brought his wife and eight children to the new home. Unfortunately, he lost his life in 1787, while attempting to cross the Winooski River on ice as he was traveling to Richmond to meet Caleb Munson who was to be the third settler.

The second settler, Ezra Butler, came in 1785 and staked out a site. When he returned the following year with his bride he found the site in question and chose another north of Thatcher Brook. Their log cabin home was to be replaced with the first frame house in town which is still standing. It is now the home of Mr. and Mrs. Richard Lemery. A very capable leader, the Ezra Butler name is found on many papers that shaped the new town's government and enterprises.

The first successful merchant in town was Amasa Pride. He came in 1802 and built a store on the east corner of Stowe and Main Streets and later a tavern on the west corner of those streets.

Judge Dan Carpenter, the first lawyer in town, arrived in 1804. Despite his busy law practice, he became a partner with Charles Cleaves in a mercantile establishment. Later he bought out his partner and took his son, William, into the business. In 1834 they erected the brick building facing the Stowe Road where it met Main Street, east of the White Meeting House. The Carpenter family home, built in 1815, in which his descendants lived until the 1990s.

Two sons, William and Paul, of the Dillingham family who settled in Waterbury Center in 1804, became governors of Vermont.

Roswell Wells, who arrived in 1805, had an interest in many businesses in town. One of his sons, Brevet Major General William Wells, of Civil War fame, is honored with a statue in Battery Park in Burlington.

The first postmaster was Henry R. Janes who was appointed shortly after his arrival in 1817. His home on North Main Street was bequeathed to the Library Association, and it became the Waterbury Public Library.

The growth of the town can be attributed to the leadership and foresight of many of the early residents. It would be impossible to name each and every one of them but their names appear repeatedly in town records.

The call to establish a form of government for the new town was issued by Ezra Butler. At the first town meeting on March 31st, 1790, the first selectmen named were Ezra Butler, Caleb Munson, and Richard Holden.

Attesting to the continuing public spirit of the town is the fact that it has produced three governors, Ezra Butler, Paul Dillingham and William Dillingham. Paul also served as Lieutenant Governor. Representing the state in the U.S. Senate. members of the Constitutional Convention were Richard Holden in 1793, Dan Carpenter and Ezra Butler in 1822, Luther Cleaves in 1828, Paul Dillingham, Jr. in 1836, William Carpenter in 1843, Eliakim Allen in 1850 and Paul Dillingham, Sr. in 1857.

That religion has played a strong part in the shaping of the town will be noted by the age of churches. While early church services were held in homes, there was no church until Amasa Pride and Roswell Wells organized an association with thirty-eight members and had the White Meeting House erected in 1824. Though principally for the Congregational Society it was available for all religions.

The Methodists in Waterbury Center built their church in 1832. Originally it was only one floor with box pews and a gallery running on three sides. Later renovations added the second floor. Eventually the Little River Baptist Society merged with the Methodists and became the Waterbury Center Federated Church. The same pastor served both parishes. Their 150th anniversary was celebrated in 1982.

The Methodists built a church in the Village on Stowe Street in 1842 and, in 1892, built still another on South Main Street between "bank hill" and the Waterbury Inn.

The first Catholic Church was dedicated to St. Vincent Ferrier in 1857 and was originally located on a hill near the railroad station. After it burned, and while Rev. John Gallighan was the first resident pastor, they purchased the Advent Society's Church on South Main Street, which had been built in 1856. The church was renovated for Catholic use and dedicated to St. Andrew in 1876.

The Advent Society, having flourished and waned, built the present church in Colbyville in 1894. Presently it is known as the Christian Alliance Church.

Also strong believers in a good education, the townspeople voted in 1803 to build a school. The tax would be two cents on a dollar and payable in wheat, rye, or corn. An earlier private school had been taught by the daughters of Reuben Wells. The new school was located where the railroad crosses Stowe Street. Later a school was built near the White Meeting House. In 1898 a larger school was built, which is the present middle building. In 1912 and 1936 two other buildings were added to the school.

In 1967 a Union School District with neighboring towns was formed, and Waterbury's 7th - 12th grade students attended Harwood Union High School on Route 100 in Moretown. Thirty years later another union with Duxbury resulted in building a school for the middle grades of Waterbury and Duxbury. Seventh and eighth graders joined fifth and sixth graders in a new building in Duxbury, while both towns sent their K-4 students to the original school complex on Stowe Street in Waterbury, and 9-12 students to Harwood.

In the 1880's there were sixteen common school districts in town plus the graded school. Higher education was provided from 1862 to 1913 by the Green Mountain Seminary in Waterbury Center. The advent of high schools brought about its demise. The building was then used for a graded school for the Center students. Eventually all the old district schools were closed and children transported to the bigger schools.

The Waterbury Public library Association was formed in 1856 and before that books were housed in rooms in various places in the Village. Large bequests were given by Mrs. Henrietta Fales in memory of her husband, Dr. Horace Fales, and by Mark C. Canerday. When the home of Dr. Henry Janes was left in memory of his wife, Frances Hall Janes, the library had a permanent home.

In 1905 it was voted to also have a Town Library. Books were placed in the Public library and eventually in permanent rooms at the Seminary in Waterbury Center.

The state's first Reform School was located here in 1865. After it burned in 1875 the citizens lost their fight to prevent it from being relocated to Vergennes. Waterbury citizens protested with equal vigor not to build a juvenile facility in town. This time they won the battle with the Juvenile Detention Center to be located in Essex Junction.

In 1891 the Vermont State Hospital for the Insane was opened on South Main Street. It was expanded until it housed almost 1,400 patients. With new drugs and therapy methods to speed the recovery of patients there were only about 200 being treated there in the early 1980s, and the number of patients treated on the premises declined further thereafter. To use the building space no longer needed, the state officials decided to convert it into state offices and moved many departments from Montpelier to what is now called the Waterbury State Complex.

Among the variety of early businesses located in Waterbury was the first willow plant operated by George and Edwin Colby. Using a willow peeling machine, invented by George, the firm made baskets and children's carriages. Later George invented a clothes wringer. The business failed only after the Colbys lost a patent law suit to a Michigan firm. It was noted that afterward the lawyer representing the Colbys joined the Michigan firm at a much more lucrative salary. Thriving tanneries, distilleries, and starch making, were also among the early businesses.

The first canning factory, built off South Main Street, and operated by native Vermonters, was started in 1910 by the Demeritt Company. Later they made clothes pins and ran a lumber mill. Also on South Main Street was the scythe handle factory of Edwards and Edwards. Later, as Derby, Ball & Edwards, they made baseball bats, that sold nationwide, skis, and chairs. The Cooley Wright Foundry, was established in 1882 and operated into the 1960's. Shorter lived was the Pilgrim Plywood Company that made veneer and shoe heels.

At one time there were three granite sheds in town, Rock of Ages, Union Company and O' Clair Granite Works. They finally merged with larger firms out of town or simply closed down.

The Waterbury Record, a weekly newspaper, was started in 1895 with Harry C. Whitehill as editor and manager. Later, he became owner. The paper changed hands several times following Mr. Whitehill's death and finally the presses stopped about 1950. Mr. Whitehill was also the founder of radio station WDEV which continues to provide wide coverage of news and entertainment for Vermont, New Hampshire, and New York.

Of the many retail businesses in town, only four have remained in the same family for nearly a hundred years. The clothing store of F.C. Luce Company, founded in 1891, was operated by grandson, Robert Luce, until 1985. Smith's Store, a grocery business, purchased in 1916 by Harold Hanley was operated by his daughter Hazel, her husband Harold Smith and their daughter Nancy until it was sold and the building torn down to make way for a new bridge at the south end of Waterbury Village. The V.L. Perkins Company, a furniture store and undertaking business was started in 1907. The furniture operation closed, after which the undertaking business of great grandson, Chris Palermo, continued in the same building. The drug store of Brisbin and Brisbin began in 1911. Mrs. Ernest Brisbin's nephew John Vincent eventually moved "Vincent's" store from the Brisbin site to the Waterbury shopping center at Main and Park Row.

Eldredge's Mill which turned out bobbins for spinning wheels became a lumber mill operated by James Eldredge, the grandson of the founder.

Designated as a Century Farm is the farm of Keith Wallace on Blush Hill. His grandfather, Sidney Wallace, purchased it in 1866. Keith's daughter Rosina managed it after his death in 1995.

Over the years, vacation homes and residences for commuters working in the surrounding cities replaced many farms that had dotted the hillsides of the town. Facilities for recreation and tourism developed based on Waterbury's location at the center of four ski areas; Stowe, Sugarbush, Mad River Glen, and Bolton Valley, its "crossroads" linking I-89 and Route 100, and its proximity to the State Capital.

The 1927 Flood was Waterbury's greatest disaster. Twenty people lost their lives. The losses to homes and businesses were monumental. The cleaning up and starting over again was met with unbelievable courage.

The memory of the flood had not dimmed when fifty years later, in 1977, the Waterbury Historical Society presented a program to note the date. Over 1,000 people crowded into the school auditorium to hear survivors tell their stories. The program was televised on national C.B.S. News.

Of interest is the fact that during The 1927 Flood the statue of the Blessed Mother was swept from its pedestal and left standing directly facing the center of the altar. Many, feeling it had miraculous powers, came to pray at the church; of the many favors granted, the most significant was that of George Carty of Burlington whose legs were severely burned in a fire. After doctors told his parents he would never walk again, they brought him to the church frequently to pray. Two years later he walked to the statue and left his crutches there.

The Waterbury Historical Society, which started in 1958, is always collecting artifacts and items of special interest. Displays are on view at the library and the public is cordially invited. Guests and new members are always welcome at the Society's meetings held four times a year.

Though the town has changed over the years, one will still find a blend of old and new ideas working together to make it the town our forefathers struggled to build and improve.

In spite of the occasional rough spots gone by, or to come, Waterbury will continue to be a very special place.


This is a condensed version of the article appearing in Central Vermont Views Winter 1982-83 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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