Prehistory to 1860
The well-preserved buildings and covered bridges of Bennington County are among the oldest and finest collections of historic resources in the State of Vermont, show-casing its proud Revolutionary War legacy. Bennington, chartered in 1749, was the first town established west of the Connecticut River by New Hampshire.
The Bennington area also contains important prehistory archaeological information revealed by two digs prior to the creation of the Bennington Bypass road system. The Silk Road Site was located on two river terraces adjacent to the Walloomsac River. The many discovered artifacts documented how the Walloomsac River was used by prehistoric Native Americans in seasonal annual encampments sporadically for 7,000 years between 5,000 B.C. and 1,500 A.D. The nearby Cloverleaf Site represented a relatively large archaeological site that preserved the remains of a prehistoric Native American village dating almost exclusively to a brief span in time during the Late Archaic period called the River Phase (ca. 1,000-1,800 B.C.).
Local arrowheads. Collection of Bennington Museum.
Thousands of years later, the Bennington Battle Monument now presides over the river valley, commemorating the famous battle between General John Stark's troops of Vermont, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire soldier farmers, who, armed with weapons from home, defeated British and hired Hessian troops in what proved to be a pivotal battle in the Revolutionary War. It was prior to this battle that, according to popular legend, General Stark uttered stirring words to the effect of "There are the Red Coats and the enemy are ours or this night Molly Stark sleeps a widow." The blue-grey limestone monument to these spirited American patriots was dedicated in 1891.
Much of Vermont's early history took place in and around the original Meeting House of the Old First Church, at the base of Monument Avenue in Old Bennngton. Organized in 1762, it is the oldest church in Vermont. The present church, built in 1805, is one of the finest examples of post-colonial church architecture in New England.
Its cemetery contains the graves of Robert Frost and approximately 75 Revolutionary War patriots, as well as the British and Hessian soldiers killed in the Battle of Bennington.
East of the cemetery is the Bennington Museum which houses many historical artifacts, including the Bennington Battle Flag, one of the oldest stars and stripes in existence. On the grand Monument Avenue, which leads to the Bennington Battle Monument, lined by historic houses, the site of the former Catamount Tavern is marked by a statue of the elusive catamount set on a granite pedestal. Known originally as Fay's House or the Green Mountain Tavern, it was the meeting place of Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys where they planned their assaults on New York and the British. The Tavern burned down in 1871.
Catamount Tavern, 1869. Collection of Bennington Museum.
A historic covered bridge. Collection of Bennington Museum.
Did You Know?
... that Vermont was originally known as the "Wilderness?" Benning Wentworth, Governor of New Hampshire, was commanded by His Majesty, King George Second, to make grants of unimproved lands within his government. The town of Bennington, named in his honor, was the first township granted in what is now known as the State of Vermont.
... that covered bridges were generally built "a load of hay wide, a load of hay high?" There are 5 historic covered bridges in Bennington County alone. High winds could blow some unsecured covered bridges off their stone foundations. The covered bridge in West Arlington once had to be fished out of the Battenkill and winched back into place. In the devastating flood of 1927, Vermont lost 200 covered bridges and 84 citizens. The Museum of the Covered Bridge, located at the Bennington Center for the Arts, documents and exhibits the history of covered bridges.
... that the actual Battle of Bennington took place approximately 5 miles northwest of Bennington, near Walloomsac Heights, at a site now located within New York State boundaries? The historic fighting with British and Hessian troops began at 3 o'clock on the afternoon of August 16, 1777, an engagement described by General Stark as "one continuous clap of thunder."
Leroy Williams, Meeting at Fay's Tavern, 1938. Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Isaac Tichenor, Captain Elijah Dewey, and Governor Moses Robinson meet at Fay's Green Mountain Tavern, better known as the Catamount Tavern, in June 1791. Collection of Bennington Museum.
Bennington Battle Monument under construction, 1888. Collection of Bennington Museum.