History in the Making
Governor Benning Wentworth of New Hampshire decides to grant townships in the area. He places his first grant, which he names "Bennington" after himself, at the far limit of New Hampshire's claim, 20 miles east of the Hudson.
As French settlers in northern "Vermont" retreat to Canada, "the Wilderness" becomes attractive to colonization.
Captain Samuel Robinson of Massachusetts sees an opportunity and buys up many "land rights" of the town of Bennington, organizing a group of settlers from Massachusetts and Connecticut.
Bennington grows as more families recruited by Robinson arrive. Capt. Robinson and Deacon Joseph Safford build a grist (flour) mill and a sawmill a mile east of the settlement (in what is now downtown Bennington).
First school is built, work on a church and public building begun, a minister is recruited, roads are laid out. Other settlers follow.
After years of attempted evictions, confiscations, and legal wranglings by New Yorkers over land grants, which are met with armed resistance by Benningtonians, the Green Mountain Boys organize to resist the Yorkers' demands by force, choosing Seth Warner as commander.
Warner and others are indicted in New York courts but evade capture. Dr. Samuel Adams, a British sympathizer from Arlington, is punished in Bennington by hanging in a chair for two hours from the signpost at the Green Mountain Tavern (later called the Catamount Tavern).
After independence of the "Grants" from New York and New Hampshire in 1776, the
name "New Connecticut" is bestowed upon the new state, which is soon changed to "Vermont." In August, a detached force from General Burgoyne's army is defeated in the Battle of Bennington, a prelude to Burgoyne's total defeat at Saratoga soon afterwards.
Bennington establishes its first newspaper (the second in the state) and its editor, Anthony Haswell, is made the first postmaster of Vermont.
Captain John Norton establishes a pottery producing redware.
Vermont is admitted to the Union as the 14th state, with Kentucky. Two future presidents, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, visit Bennington on horseback and stay at the tavern now known as the Walloomsac Inn in Old Bennington.
Ralph Earl, A View of Old Benningon, 1798. Collection of Bennington Museum.
A toll road from Bennington to Brattleboro is chartered, but not finished until 1800.
First iron furnace is built on Furnace Grove, expanded further in 1806.
- c. 1810
Waters of Roaring Branch are directed through a canal joining the Walloomsac River, making possible later industrial growth.
First cotton mill in Vermont established in North Bennington. First iron foundry in Vermont established on North Street. The next year a fulling mill is built and in 1814 it begins to manufacture cloth.
- c. 1830
East Bennington ("Algiers") has grown to same population as original Bennington and a rivalry between the two villages develops.
Height of sheep-raising era in Vermont; six sheep to each person. But by 1840s, tariff is removed, dooming profitability of sheep, so farmers switch to dairying.
Vermont Legislature calls slavery "a crime against humanity." Village of Bennington is organized and takes name away from elder community on the hill, amid considerable bad feeling.
Bennington Fire Department organized and first fire-fighting machines are purchased.
Railroads come to Bennington and North Bennington.
Civil war ends. Largest mill in town, on what is now Benmont Avenue, is built to make paisley shawls, demand for which declines as soon as production begins. Two area foundries are consolidated to make gunpowder machinery for world consumption.
Green Mountain Tavern (now known as Catamount Tavern) burns. Its place is taken by a house.
Cornerstone of Bennington Battle monument is laid. Gigantic centennial of battle is attended by President Hayes and wife who give reception at the Walloomsac Inn. First electricity is available in Bennington with 15 street lamps. Telephone service is established. Home delivery of mail begins. Post offices become centrally located.
Battle monument is dedicated as Vermont marks its state centennial. President Benjamin Harrison addresses 5,000 people.
Bennington Center becomes "Old Bennington."
Former President Theodore Roosevelt visits Bennington during his unsuccessful Bull Moose campaign for re-election.
Cornerstone laid for Putnam Hospital (now Southwestern Vermont Medical Center).
Bennington Museum opens in former St. Francis de Sales Church building.
Bennington College opens at F. B. Jennings estate in North Bennington.
Holden-Leonard "Big Mill" folds, with a loss of 800 jobs, a fourth of Bennington's work force. It re-opens as a knitting mill, but never regains its local economic importance, closing permanently in 1949.
Bicentennial of settlement of Bennington is held.
First annual Bennington Battle Day parade held by the Bennington Fire Department.
Passage of no-billboard law in Vermont.
Act 250 passed to protect Vermont landscapes.
First of three segments of Rt. 7 from Manchester to East Dorset opens, creating major highway for north-south traffic in southwestern Vermont.
Southern Vermont College is established in Everett Mansion, formerly known as St. Joseph Business College.
First Mayfest, a downtown festival, celebrates Bennington's rite of spring.
First summer music series held, now called Summer in the Park.
First Great Pumpkin Challenge held.
Mount Anthony House, circa 1862. Collection of Bennington Museum.
- The Tale of the Wandering Post Office
In the 1820s, the Post Office was still located near the current site of the Bennington Monument. The larger population of central Bennington (the "Algerines") were required to climb not one but two hills to retrieve their mail and objected strenuously. After several decades of wandering back and forth to various branch sites in "Algiers" and back up to "The Hill," the post office was finally and officially ordered to stay put in central Bennington, not far from its current location on Elm Street.
Near Woodford Lake, 1921. Collection of Bennington Museum.
- The Underground Railroad in Bennington
Between 1830 and 1860, some Vermonters sheltered and aided fugitive slaves who were escaping from bondage. Bennington activists were close to the Hudson River Valley, a main eastern conduit for escape and pursuit.
Two Bennington residents are officially documented to have sheltered fugitive slaves but their buildings either have not been located or are no longer standing, including that of Charles Hicks, who received fugitives from Albany and Hoosick Falls, New York, in the 1840s, and moved them, sometimes by wagon, to Simon Bottum's sheep farm in Shaftsbury.
A letter of introduction to Benningtonian Charles Hicks from an Abel Brown in Albany still exists:
Please receive the bearer as a friend who needs your aid and direct him on his way if you cannot give him work. He came to us well recommended, was a slave a few weeks since.
Albany 9th June 1842
Cor. Sec'y of Eastern New York Slavery Soc'y
Nineteenth-century cotton mill workers at the Holden-Leonard Mill in Bennington. Collection of Bennington Museum.
Did You Know?
... the early Bennington cotton factories reported almost entirely female employees, with only a handful of men, whereas the woolen mills employed almost as many men as women and children? One of the major products of the Bennington mills was woolen underwear, which the American public grew reluctant to wear after 1900 as cotton became known as a more comfortable material.
... that downtown Bennington was once called "Algiers" or the "East Village?" It was named Algiers by John Richmond, a cabinet maker and overseas sailor, much to the amusement of the residents of Old Bennington, which was referred to as "The Hill."