Crossroads Vermont Village
Wilmington celebrants, 1890. Collection of Wilmington Historical Society.
Wilmington is a true crossroads town. The heart of this old village (chartered in 1751) is centered along the historic intersection of Route 9 and Route 100, long-vital roads linking remote Vermont towns and villages north and south, east and west.
Prior to 1833, the village of Wilmington was located on "Old Hill" or Lisle Hill, just north from Main Street's four corners. After the Great Road from Brattleboro to Bennington was built in 1828, the village was moved downhill (circa 1833) to its present location, where residents could be closer to the water power of Deerfield River and the commerce generated by the new Windham County "turn pike."
Before the first mills were built about 1784, settlers were compelled to carry grain on their backs and on horseback twenty miles over the hills or even further down the Deerfield River for milling. Prior to the Civil War, Wilmington became a great cattle center, noted especially for the excellence of its short-horn Durham cattle. Farmers came from miles around to area fairs to see and buy good stock.
In the mid-1800s, the hillsides were denuded by sheep farming and lumbering operations. The creation of Harriman and Somerset reservoirs submerged several small lumbering communities, flooding 2,200 acres of prime agricultural land.
Popular 19th-Century Resorts
Lake Raponda Hotel, an elegant hotel originally opened to summer visitors in 1889, burned in 1896 and re-opened in 1900. Distinguished visitors included Rudyard Kipling, President Rutherford B. Hayes, and Theodore Roosevelt. Situated on "a beautiful sheet of water about 1-1/4 miles long," advertisements for the resort boasted of its accommodations for "75-100 people with the best hair mattresses" and a restaurant that included "the best of New York City killed beef and Vermont luxuries. Alderney milk and cream a specialty." Day rates in 1901 were $2 to $2.50 and "strangers are especially welcome." Inside there were "many excellent roads fit for the wheel" although "Vermont is noted for its good horses."
The Forest & Stream Club, a private hunting and fishing club with an exclusive membership of non-residential prominent businessmen and elite sportsmen, opened in 1891. It featured clubhouses and over 700 acres of trout streams, woodlands, and golf links.
Crafts Inn, undated photograph. Collection of Wilmington Historical Society.
Tightly arranged along the narrow Deerfield River Valley, Wilmington is a relatively intact example of a 19th-century Vermont village. A history-lover's dream, Wilmington features more than 60 historic buildings, and examples of 8 styles and periods of architecture ranging from Late Colonial to Queen Anne.
Typical of the village's architectural gems are the Crafts Inn, the massive wood-frame hotel on West Main Street, and the adjacent Memorial Hall. These Late Shingle-Style structures, built in 1902, are the work of America's foremost architect of the time, Stanford White. Some of the guests who registered at the Crafts Inn (formerly Child's Tavern) were President Taft and Admiral Perry.
Wilmington's red brick Pettee Library building on South Main Street was built in the Classical Revival style. Its front entrance, a classic portal with Ionic columns and a heavy oak-paneled door topped by a fanned window, is guarded by a sculpted Union soldier on the front lawn.
The Molly Stark statue standing on the lawn of the Crafts Inn in the center of town was sculpted by artist Robert Shure and dedicated on June 26, 2004.
Boating on Lake Raponda, circa 1900. Collection of Wilmington Historical Society.
Wilmington became a summer tourist destination in the late 19th century because of its proximity to lakes, rivers, and mountains, and because of its cool weather, especially attractive to city dwellers in the days before air conditioning. Many of the old village houses are now restaurants, galleries, and shops that attract visitors throughout the year for their historic character and charm.
Collection of Wilmington Historical Society.
- Blacksmith Shop
Joseph Courtemanche was a wagon and carriage maker, and an entrepreneur who developed the first generator (called a 'steam dynamo') to supply electricity to 24 streetlights and 12 houses in Wilmington. He also installed and maintained Wilmington's first telephone lines. The Courtemanche's electric plant sold to Green Mountain Power in 1930.
- First Meeting House
The first meeting house of Wilmington was built of logs around 1780 on Lisle Hill. Those villagers pledging work and material for building the church included:
Silas Hamilton, six days work and one thousand boards
James Roberts, two days work
Jasper Hunt, four days work with a team and three thousand shingles
John Wood, one gallon Rum
Did You Know?
... that rubber boots first appeared in Wilmington in 1890? Mr. Hardy Barber purchased a case of them and placed them beside his workbench in his shoemaking shop. By 1894, H. F. Barber & Sons became the largest wholesale distributors of boots and shoes in the United States.
... that the production of maple syrup became a serious and lucrative business in the early 1900s? The Deerfield Valley Maple Syrup Producers Association was formed in 1921. During the late 1930s and early 1940s, over 10,000 gallons of syrup were put up or sugared off for more than 1,000 customers.
... that Mt. Haystack is the highest peak in southern Vermont? It lies 3,265 feet above sea level and is located about 4 miles from the village center.