The history of the Incorporated Village of Essex Junction dates back as far as the days of Ethan Allen and his younger brother Ira Allen.
On June 7, 1763, George the Third, King of England, through Benning Wentworth, Governor of the British Province, known as the New Hampshire Grants, issued a charter to the town of Essex. The original charter which ears that date is now in the Brownell Library. A true record thereof appears in the Proprietors’ Record Book, the first book of records made in the town. In the charter there is a map which is very simple, it contains three straight lines indicating the northerly, easterly and westerly sides and the Onion River on the southerly side, enclosing land six miles square. At that time as far as can be ascertained from history no white men had every stepped foot on, or seen any of this land. Many of the townships of the state of Vermont were chartered before any white man saw any of the land. In the charter, reservation is made of all the pine lumber for the British navy and five hundred acres for Governor Benning Wentworth, when the United States declared its independence from Great Britain these reservations were eliminated.
Soon after the granting of this charter the New York Province, another British Province, which had issued no charter for any of the Vermont lands, attempted to clear the land on the shores of Lake Champlain and up the Onion River, and settled several families, and brought up from New York a surveyor by the name of Cockburn to survey and divide the land. Ethan Allen, who then claimed a large amount of land along the Otto Creek River, heard of these activities and came with a party from Bennington to drive out the New Yorkers. Cockburn had then done quite extensive surveying along the Onion River. Ethan and his party followed up the river, through Essex Junction, and found Cockburn surveying in what is now the town of Bolton. Ethan broke his compass and chains, appropriated his supplies, took Cockburn to Castleton where he imprisioned him, and sent the New York settlers to their homes in New York, and as they went he suggested to them if they returned he would burn them to death in their cabins. They did not return. Cockburn was a little later let loose and sent on his way to New York.
While Ethan and his party were performing this duty they discovered what they thought were some rich lands for farming, after it was cleared of its tall timber, and he reported it to his brother, Ira, who was a shrewd business man and trader down in Connecticut. Ira and his uncle by the name of Remember Baker and three other men, who were probably relatives, came to look over these lands, and while doing so found another surveyor from the New York Province by the name of Benjamin Stevens and a party who had surveying instruments, a large amount of supplies, including five gallons of Jamaica rum. This man Stevens was a husky boy, he was tough and ready and was not supposed to accept any threatening language. Because of these qualifications the Governor of New York Province sent him to complete Cockburn’s job who had enough of surveying in the wilderness along Onion River. Stevens in addition to his party had a few Indians engaged as body-guards. A fight started, Ira, Remember Baker and the other three members of Ira’s party drove off the redskins and took Stevens and his party into camp, where one either fell or was thrown into the fire and injured. During this fight no guns were fired, although they had been pointed. Ira and his party appropriated Steven’s supplies, tied their captives to trees and sat around drinking the surveyor’s rum and debated, in the hearing of the captives, the efficiency of slow roasting as a way to discourage surveyors from foreign parts. Finally the surveyor and his party were turned loose and sent on their way to New York with blood curdling threats in their ears.
Now, Ira was so charmed with this land he organized a company by the name of the Onion River Company. That was later changed to Ethan Allen and Company. Ethan was not a business man and he first refused to join the company, but he soon came in. This company built a grist-mill, saw-mill, store and forts near what is now the City of Winooski. It built roads and proceeded to get settlers located, and continued to do a large business in clearing the land of the tall pine trees, that stood monarchs in the forest, along Onion River, including part of the Village of Essex Junction, especially on the farm now owned by Edward M. Whitcomb, and up the river as far as the falls. This company extended their claims from the shores of Lake Champlain easterly through what is now the City of Montpelier to the Connecticut River. This company in their advertisements in the Connecticut Courant, which is now the Hartford Courant, stated that they owned 45,000 acres.
Things went on with frequent fights until Colonel Ethan Allen and the party known as the Green Mountain Boys eliminated the New Yorkers from what is now the State of Vermont.
The first white man to settle in the township of Essex was a man by the name of Samuel Smith, who in 1783, twenty years after the charter was granted, settled on the farm known in the old days as the Erastus Whitcomb farm on Onion River. Erastus Whitcomb was an uncle to Edward M. Whitcomb. This farm is now owned by Hector Lareau and his brother Victor Lareau.
Although the charter was granted in 1763 no attempt was made to organize the town until Nathan Castle, a justice of the peace, on the 6th day of March, 1804, by virtue of a special act of the General Assembly at its adjourned session held at Windsor on the last Tuesday of January in that year, warned a meeting of the proprietors and supposedly landowners of Essex to be held at the dwelling house of Samuel Farrar, at 9 o’clock in the afternoon, on the second Monday in the following October, to appoint a committee to survey the town and divide the lots among the proprietors.
By virtue of this warning the proprietors met and voted to survey and divide the lots among the various claimants and to raise a tax to pay for the same, and appointed a committee for that purpose, consisting of William Stevens, John Johnson, Ezra Slater and Sam Hitchcock. John Johnson was a surveyor. The committee performed their duties and their certificate dated January 6, 18107 appears in said proprietors’ record book. The committee divided the town of six miles in two hundred fifty-four original lots, and constituted a set of seventy-two grantees, not including one of the original grantees named in the charter. Some of the grantees were given several lots. Said Johnson did the surveying and prepared the original map thereof, which I assume he completed on January 5, 1807, being the date which the map bears.
Joshua Stanton and a man by the name of Hubbel, whose given name I have not been able to determine, were the first two white men to settle in this part of town, now Essex Junction. Stanton built his log cabin on the farm known in the old days as the Loren Whitcomb farm on Onion River, which farm is now owned by Edward M. Whitcomb. Hubbel built his log-cabin near the Falls. The first activities were at the Falls. I have been unable to determine from history which one of these two men settled first, but I think it is fair to assume that Hubbel was first, for the reason this community was first named Hubbel’s Falls. Later Hubbel moved up-town and located on the property known as Lincoln Hall Square, now owned by the village, where he built the first frame house in this community. There is no record that Hubbel ever had any legal title to this property, but he probably lived here until the organization of the town in 1804, when Abram Stevens, a grantee, by virtue of the organization of the town obtained legal title.
Soon after the organization of the town, if not before, Albert Stevens, son of Abram Stevens, maintained a tavern in this house, who continued for a while, then he tore it down and built the present brick building facing Pearl Street, with a one-story ell on the north side. This ell was used for mercantile purposes. William Fletcher, grandfather of Anna Fletcher Plummer, once had a meat market there. It is fair to assume that the frame barn now standing on the property was built when Hubbel built the frame house and is now the oldest building in the village. It is fair to assume that the brick barn which has been eliminated was built at the same time the brick building was constructed. I have not been able to ascertain from history when the frame building attached to the west side of the main brick building was constructed, but from its timber and workmanship we know it was not long after the brick building was constructed.
Albert continued to occupy the property as a tavern until about 1830 when it came to be sold on execution. Albert managed to redeem and continued until it was again sold on execution. Probably his activities in building landed him in debt. Abram did not give him a deed until 1823.
Later the property was deeded to Henry Stanton who continued the tavern business until he sold it in 1858 to David Tyler and Samuel Tyler. After Which David Tyler continued the tavern business. In 1893 the property was deeded to William Fulsom, and in 1897 to Zeph Hapgood, who continued it as a hotel until he sold it to Henry Root in 1902. Henry Root sold it to the village of Essex Junction on September 22, 1911 at a cost of $6000.00, and it has since been owned by the village.
It was after 1857 when the two-story brick wing facing Lincoln Street now occupied by the Teachout Brothers for a store and by Fred King for dwelling purposes was built. In 1913 this property was repaired and rearranged by the village trustees at a cost of $1774.50, so it could be used for municipal purposes and also to rent. The frame shed was built on the west side of the frame barn in 1914. Since that time practically no repairs or improvements have been made to the property until this year of 1942, when the president and two trustees of the village have repaired it for service and in appearance, as you now see it, a credit to them, an honor to the village, and which is bound to be appreciated by the public, but there is an opportunity for further development making it still more useful which perhaps might warrant future consideration, and when that is done the village will have a building that will offer service to the public, architecture and beauty such as no other village in the state now has.
In 1913 the Park was constructed and the streets around it were re-constructed. In that year the village trustees officially named the Park, Lincoln Park, the village property Lincoln Hall Square, and the hall in which these exercises are being held Lincoln Hall.
In 1850 the Federal Government established a post-office here, called Painesville post-office, in the frame part of this property and appointed Henry Stanton postmaster. When Stanton sold the property the post-office was moved to a frame building where the Brownell Block now stands and remained there until the building burned. After the Brownell Block was built the post-office was moved into the store then managed by the late James A. Donahue, father of Dr. Harry A. Donahue, where Archie B. Rugg now has his ten cent store. In the late fall of 1898 Mr. Samuel A. Brownell and Mr. Warner B. Nichols, who as then postmaster, constructed the brick building next to the Brownell Block for the purpose of having it as a post-office. The post-office remained there until it was moved in 1941 into the Fletcher Block now owned by Mr.. and Mrs. William H. Yandow.
The second house built in the community to which history refers, the one built by Hubbel of which I have already spoken being the first, was probably built before the year 1800. It is the brick house known as the Tarbox house. It is the one in which Claude E Johnson now lives.
The town was divided into twelve school districts. District No. 1 is now the incorporated village of Essex Junction. The first school house in District No. 1 was a log-cabin located in the elevation southwest of the Tarbox house, probably before the year 1800. The seats were green pine slabs and were bound to be somewhat sticky with pitch. This kind of school house made statesmen. The next school house was built about the year 1810, and was located on the westerly side of the now Park Street, near the present residence Annie Early, the first teacher therein was Nathan Castle. This school house served this community until the present Park Street school house was built in 1873. This Park Street school house took care of all the pupils until the construction of the one on Prospect Street in 1912.
The first dam on Onion River was made by Abram Stevens at a point known as Rock Island, now in the pond a little east of the present power dam. At this time travel was made across the river by means of a floating bridge near this locality.
The first saw-mill was built a little farther downstream by John Johnson and Daniel Hurlbut. A little later William Ward built a carding machine, adjoining the saw-mill which was afterwards occupied by Joshua Haynes.
Later another dam was built above the one which I have first mentioned by Henry Tichout, father of the late Stephen Decatur Tichout, which served mills built at about the same time by John Bradley and Michael Sinclair, which was occupied by a grist-mill and for carding hemp. These enterprises were quite lucrative in those days.
A flood came in 1830 which washed away both dams and all of the mills, including the floating bridge and a drove of cattle being driven Across the bridge. The bridge, cattle and man driving them all went downstream with the dams and mills. The bridge was replaced by the covered bridge that spanned the river where the iron bridge now is.
Soon after this calamity a Mr. Cutler made a dam in this locality and built a paper-mill which he continued for a while, and which was afterwards continued by David J Hunter and William Shiland, under the firm name of Hunter and Shiland. I remember well these men and no doubt a few of you remember them.
A few years later Samuel A. Brownell built and managed a saw-mill, a little below where the present iron bridge now stands, and also a grist and flouring-mill above, which was later owned and managed by William B. Johnson, father of the late Dan M. Johnson. Mr. Johnson also established a creamery in connection with his grist and flouring-mill. All of the manufacturing plants were eliminated when the jpower company purchased the same soon after 1906. Mr. Johnson built the present plant of the William B. Johnson and Son on Park Street and moved his business there. Mr. Brownell established his business where Mr. Henry O. Whitney now operates his saw-mill on Park Street.
During a few years previous to the sale of the water power to the power company, C.D. Ordway managed a bobbin shop on top of the hill above the present power station, employing about ten men, and at the same time Charles T. Frary managed a novelty shop on the side of the hill also employing about ten men. Mr. Ordway moved his business to Burlington and Mr. Frary moved his business to Bristol. The only manufacturing left in the village was that of making brick.
The brick business was established in 1868 by Jacob K. Drury, who moved here from Westford. Mr. Drury first advertised his business by taking a market basket with a few brick in it and exhibiting them in towns that had commenced to grow, such as Burlington, St.Albans, Montpelier and Barre. Later Mr. Drury took into partnership his sons, George B. Drury and Homer D. Drury, and added to the manufacturing of brick that of tile. This business was incorporated under the name of Drury Brick and Tile Company in 1897, the name being changed to Drury Brick Company, Inc. in 1937. This business is still going under the management of Harris K. Drury, now president of the village, and his brother Max W. Drury.
At one time shoes were manufactured by Charles Hibbard. His plant burned, he moved his business to Burlington, and the burned plant was replaced by the newspaper block now occupied by the Essex Publishing Company.
In 1804 Samuel A. Brownell and M. L. Snyder under the name of Snyder and Brownell established a granite business, in which William Fletcher and his sons, Curtis, William and Ernest were later interested, located on Maple Street, a little north from the present canning factory. John W. Bailey, father of the Late Guy W. Bailey, also for many years managed a granite business on Lincoln Place. This plant burned and the business was discontinued.
The greatest ambition of the late Samuel A. Brownell was to establish a bank in Essex Junction. He procured a charter for that purpose at the 1872 session of the General Assembly, but he was unable to satisfy his ambition until 1913, when the Essex Trust Company was organized and dedicated for business. The Essex Trust Company building replaced a store that was at one time in the early days managed by said Samuel A Brownell. It had stood for nearly one hundred years when it was removed to make place for the bank.
The Brownell Block was constructed in 1894 and replaced several frame buildings, all of which had burned.
The Fletcher Block, now owned by Mr. and Mrs. William H. Yandow was built in 1899 and replaced another frame building that had burned.
The building now occupied by Frank L. Sylvester as a Public Market was constructed nearly one hundred years ago and was first managed as a store by the late Daniel H. Macomber.
The block now owned by James E. Kennedey in which Bernice L. Still’s store and the Grand Union are now situated, and the Arthur D. Douglas block now occupied by Archie B. Rugg for a furniture store, replaces a livery stable and hog-yard that existed about forty years ago.
The block in which Raymond M. Huntley now has his store was built by Charles G. Williams, grandfather of Henry M Baldwin, in 1902.
The canning factory was built in the years 1901 and 1902 and has since been operated by H.C. Baxter & Bro. of the State of Maine. The sugar factory was built in 1916.
The Champlain Valley Exposition, Inc., was organized and commenced operating in 1922.
The first church was built in 1861. It was a Union Church where all protestants attended. Later the Baptists withdrew and erected a church of their own in 1875, now the Masonic Temple. Later the Methodists withdrew and erected the present Methodist Church in 1897. The present Congregational Church is the original Union Church somewhat remodeled. The Roman Catholic Church was built in 1893.
The Vermont Central Railroad Company was chartered by the General Assembly in 1835, but it did not extend its railroad to Essex Junction until about 1850. It came as far as where Henry O. Whitney’s saw-mill now is where it built its station. In 1845 the General Assembly chartered the Vermont and Canada railroad Company. In about 1862 it extended its road from the north to meet the road of the Vermont Central Railroad and it also constructed the road too Burlington. It was about that time the station was constructed where it is now, and the name of the village was changed from Hubbel’s Falls to Painesville after Governor Paine, who was the principal railroad man in Vermont at that time. The Burlington and Lamoille Railroad Company was chartered in 1874 and was constructed ready for operation in 1877, it ran from Burlington up through the farm now owned by Edward M. Whitcomb, through the Tarbox farm, passing over Park Street near where Annie Early lives, passing a few feet north of the Vermont Maple Cooperative, Inc., building and on through Essex Center to Cambridge Junction. The town of Essex contributed $20.000.00 to get this railroad. That part of the road between Burlington and a point near the canning factory was later discontinued. This road continued to benefit this village until it was kicked out in 1938 by gasoline. In 1890 and 1891 these three railroad companies, under authority of the General Assembly, were consolidate with ten other companies, including the Ogdensburg and Lake Champlain, Ogdensburg transit, Ogdensburg Terminal, and the Saratoga and St. Lawrence. This was probably the background for E. J. Phelps’ so-called poem. I am not going to read it, it has been quoted until it is thread-bare. I was never enthusiastic over that piece of literature. It was written by a man who did not know how to travel. It is not classical, it is not verse, it has no humor, it has no music, it cannot even be followed on the piano.
The electric railroad came into Essex Junction in 1895 and continued to materially benefit this village until 1929 when it was kicked out by gasoline.
I am not able to say when the name of this village was changed from Painesville to Essex Junction, but it was probably soon after the village became a railroad center.
On November 15, 1892 the General Assembly made this village, then school district No. 1, into an incorporated village and gave it the corporate name of the village of Essex Junction. The first annual meeting of the village was held in the Park Street school house on April 29, 1893. The first officers elected were as follows: president William Fletcher, Anna Fletcher Plummer’s grandfather, trustees, M. A. Bingham, D.J. Hunter, T. W. Sibley and Edward M Whitcomb, clerk F. P. Ssawyer who conducted an undertaker’s parlor and furniture store in the building that now stands west of the Masonic Temple, treasurer A. H. Beach a merchant, collector of taxes S. D. Teachout, chief engineer N. D.Stanley, first assistant engineer G. B. Drury, second assistant engineer F. A. Lunt. The trustees appointed S. D. Teachout the first superintendent of streets and Frank F. Gomo the first policeman. All of these officials are now deceased, except Edward M. Whitcomb. During the first year the trustees drew orders to the total amount of $46.63 and the total amount of orders drawn by the superintendent of streets was $1026.61. The charter provided for four trustees, the president could not act as a trustee. It provided that the annual meetings must be held on the last Saturday in April at the Park Street school house.
In 1917 an entirely new charter was drafted and passed by the General Assembly. This charter provided for the president to act as trustee ex-officio and for two other trustees, and for the meetings to be held at Lincoln Hall, and for the annual meetings to be held on the last Saturday of January.
The first activity of note after the first annual meeting was the construction of a tar, then called concrete , sidewalk from pearl Street down the westerly side of Park Street to South Street. The cost of this sidewalk was $284.10.
The next thing of importance was the purchase of a two horse chemical engine and long heavy ladders in 1895 with which to fight fires. The cost being $750.00. The whistles of the engines in the railroad yard composed the fire alarm. In those days there was always one to three engines in the yard. This fire fighting apparatus was never successful. To illustrate, I well remember one instance when there were at least three engines sounding their whistles, and a man came upPark Street waving his hands and yelling at the top of his voice that the novelty shop was on fire. Soon, Moses C. Fisher, a liveryman, was driving down Park Street with a pair of horses on the gallop while hauling this chemical engine. I followed down to the place where the fire was, it was in a small dry house. Mr. Gomo, the policeman, was on one side of the chemical engine, E. R. Russell, then village clerk, was on the other side, and they were debating how to start the chemical and they were using profane language with emphasis. While they were debating Mr. Samuel A. Brownell came up the hill from the river with two pails of water and a broom and put out the fire. It was not discovered how to start the chemical. At that time there were three livery stables in the village and the trustees arranged to pay the liveryman who first got the chemical to a fire $5.00.
After the water system was constructed in 1900, the trustees purchased two heavy hose reels with a line of hose on each, which were usually hauled by man power, to take the place of the chemical engine. In 1920 the trustees expanded by purchasing a second hand Foud touring car at the expense of $345.00, they took off the body and used the chassis for hauling the fire hose. At that time we had a small number of volunteer firemen. It was soon demonstrated that this Ford was not in sufficient condition to do good service, resulting in the purchase of our present fire engine in 1927 at the expense of $6762.00. Since the purchase of this equipment we have had a very efficient fire department. The present fire alarm system was installed in 1916 at the expense of $2384.00.
In 1899 the village library was established and was maintained in the westerly room upstairs in the newspaper block. This room was also used by the trustees and village clerk, the chemical engine was housed in the room below. The library and fire department were moved to Lincoln Hall Square in 1913. The library was maintained there until the Brownell Library, a gift to the village from the late Samuel A. Brownell, was dedicated to the public on July 20, 1926, with appropriated exercises. The late Guy W. Bailey delivered the address.
In 1900 the village constructed its water system, nearly all of which has since been re-constructed. Previous to the construction of the water system the community was served by pumps. There was one between the railroad track and the building now occupied by Frank L. Sylvester for a store which served the business section. There was a pump on Grove Street, a little north of the residence of Lyman H. Leach that served that section of the community. There was a wooden tub at the corner of Park Street and South Street in which water continuously flowed from a spring on the Tarbox farm that served that section of the village.
After the construction of the water system it became necessary to have public sewers and the same were constructed in 1925. Since this time the village has been much improved with cement sidewalks and with cement and black-top streets. At the time the water system was constructed the population of the village was about 800, now it is over 1900.
The official name of the river which drains six counties and which borders the village on the south is Onion River. It was called such on a French map published in 1732 and in letters published in London in 1797. It appears as such on the original map of the town of Essex published in 1807. The name has never been officially changed, but through custom it has for a long time been known as the Winooski River.
We also have another river, the official name of which is Indian River, it has its source in that part of the town known as Lost Nation, where at the time of the organization of the town the beavers had constructed a large pond. This river flows through the Drury Brick Company, Inc. plant and then on through the town of Colchester, and empties into Malletts Bay at a point known as Thompson’s Point, near the Joseph W. Curtis farm. When it received its official name it was a large stream, its waters covered the space between the banks that form the easterly boundary of the property owner on North Street. The Indians paddled their canoes from Malletts Bay up this river, carrying by the falls below Colchester village, as far as Essex Junction. At that time the trees and timber covering its water shed had not been removed. The name has never been officially changed, but for many years through custom it has been known as the Drury Brook.
We have another stream, the official name of which is Sunderland Brook. The source is on the fair grounds of the Champlain Valley Exposition, Inc. It flows a little north of Fort Ethan Allen, through Sunderland Hollow in Colchester, and empties into the Winooski River, a little north of the Heineberg Bridge. It was named after Peleg Sunderland, who, while hunting in 1761 for beaver on this stream lost his way and while nearly exhausted with fatigue and hunger was rescued by a party of Indians who saved him from perishing. Sunderland Hollow was also named after him. The official names of the Hollow and stream have never been changed through custom.
Essex Junction is the only place in the world that bears that name. There is no other municipality, city, village, town or precinct that bears that name. You can send a cable from London with the name of Essex Junction as its only address and it will reach its proper destination. I have received letters in due time addresses to me at Essex Junction, Canada.
There are many other matters that could be referred to but it would take another night. I have not touched upon personal matters nor given any one any glory. I have confined myself strictly to history which I have assembled partly from books and writings, partly from my own observation during the last forty four years, and partly from my recollections of what was told me in conversing in my early days with elderly men, especially with Samuel A. Brownell and Stephen Decatur Tichout who was born in 1831, who lived here all his life, who deceased at the age of eighty-four years, and who could remember back for over sixty years and who could relate facts told to him in his younger days by men who could remember back another sixty years, thus covering a period of over one hundred fifty years, which probably would never have been written if it had not been for this occasion.
Mr. President, I thank you and the trustees for asking me to perform this duty.
Citizens, I thank you for the demonstration of your patience. God has blessed us in the past. May he bless us in the future and all future generations.
( Signed )
By Allen Martin
Essex Junction Vermont, 1942