The principal business of the inhabitants of Ferrisburgh has ever been agricultural. The excellent water power in a vicinity so near as Vergennes was inimical to the establishment and development of many large mills or factories in this town at an early day. The following account of the mills, forges, etc.; in the town was collected by R. E. Robinson, and constitutes all that can now be learned on the subject.
There was a forge on Little Otter Creek a little above where the Monkton road crosses the stream. I cannot learn by whom it was built or operated. Just below the bridge was a forge built by Major Richard Barnum, longer ago than Mr. Luther Carpenter–who was born in the neighborhood, and is now in his ninety-first year–can remember. In 1805 Major Barnum sold property here to Caleb Farrer, and he sold in April, 1807, to Perkins Nichols, of Boston. Nichols sold in the same year to Bradbury, Higginson, Wells and others, all of Boston. A coal-house, forge, and saw-mill are mentioned in the deed. The Monkton ore bed was sold to the Bostonians about this time, and I have heard one who worked in the forge then tell how, one by one, thirty silver dollars were slyly thrown into the furnace while the bloom was smelting, which was to prove the quality of the ore. The result was iron so excellent that the bargain was at once closed. Then or a little later there was a wool-carding and cloth-dressing establishment there; a blacksmith shop, a store, and nine dwelling houses near by. The ore was of poor quality and the forge was soon abandoned by the Monkton Iron Company. All the works there soon went down, so long ago that scarcely a trace of any of them remains to-day.
At Walker’s Falls, a mile or so down stream, there was in the first quarter of this century a saw-mill belonging to William Walker. He built a tannery there, but little was ever done in it, and only the foundations of it and the sawmill are to be seen now. About forty rods below was a forge, built by some of the Barnums and worked by them. Also a small nail factory, where nails were cut and headed by hand, and another where axes were made by hand; and Giles hand-fulled and dressed the home-made cloth of the farmers. All traces of these are gone. This place was long known as “Dover.”
A mile above the mouth of the Cronkhite Brook, which empties into Little Otter below where these works were situated, William Palmer had a saw-mill that endured but a little while, and its place is almost unmarked.
Further down the stream of Little Otter, at Birkett’s Falls, Walter Birkett had a little wheelwright shop, making mostly ox-carts. Just above was a “potash,” the owner now unknown. Afterward there was a cider-mill in the building where Walter Birkett made carts, or on the site of it. That, too, long ago passed away.
At the lower falls on Little Otter Creek, long known as Fraser’s Falls, there was a grist-mill early in the century, though I can find no mention of it in any deed. It stood about half way between where now is the railroad bridge and the place where George Campbell built his saw-mill in 1824. The old stones, two of them, are still in existence. It is said to have had two run of stones. The water was brought down in a flume or spout to an overshot wheel. There was a saw-mill on the north side of the stream, opposite J. R. Barnum’s present saw-mill. As nearly as can be ascertained, it was the first saw-mill built on these falls. The Daggetts came into possession of the land where it stood, in 1825. In the description of the bounds a “potash place” is mentioned, and it must have been within forty rods of the falls, north. Daggett sold this mill to John Fraser in 1831. Fraser’s saw-mill was further up stream, above the bridge on the left bank. There is nothing to establish the date of its building. George Campbell built his saw-mill, now owned by J. R. Barnum, probably in or about 1824, as in that year he bought the privilege of John Fraser. Charles Campbell, his son, sold it to J. R. Barnum in 1858. Joseph R. Barnum built a grist-mill adjoining it in 1860, with two run of stones, for grinding meal and provender. This was discontinued five years later. J. R. Barnum is now, February, 1886, repairing his saw-mill. J. R. Barnum owned the upper sawmill when it was burnt in 1875.
About 1850 James B. Fraser, son of John, built a grist-mill on the right bank of the creek, opposite his saw-mill. It had three or more run of stones, and was a well-appointed and expensive mill for a country place. He sold it and the saw-mill to Charles Campbell in 1854. Campbell sold to Asa Hawkins in 1858, and the next year the property was bought by Perry & Hurlburt. C. C. Martin became a partner afterward, and in 1875 it was burnt, taking fire from the railroad bridge, when that, the road bridge (covered), the two mills, and a dwelling house belonging to the mill property were all destroyed.
Sixty or seventy years ago Daniel Nichols had a hemp factory on the flat below J. R. Barnum’s mill. It was destroyed by fire almost as long ago.
These, with the exception of some unimportant transient industries, are all the works that have ever been on Fraser’s Falls, so far as I can learn.
At the upper part of the falls, at Ferrisburgh “Hollow,” there was a forge early in this century, owned by one of the Fullers. This was on the “minister’s lot.” In 1822 Robert B. Hazard leased of the Baptist Church a portion of it thereabout, and built a woolen factory, which afterward came into the possession of his brother, William Hazard, who in 1832 leased it to Theodore D. and Edmund Lyman. Theodore D. Lyman leased the factory to Edward Daniels in 1864. In 1884 it was burnt, while run by John Vanduysen under a lease from Daniels.
The site of the grist-mill and saw-mill, near the bridge, was deeded to Spencer & Hills by Thomas Champlin in 1806. One acre, previously deeded to Peet T. Titus, was excepted. The saw-mill was probably built before this date. Spencer and others deeded the property to Thomas R. Robinson, with the exception of Titus’s acre and William Lamson’s “privilege for a machine,” in 1811. The grist-mill was probably built previous to this date, but is not mentioned in the deed. In 1817 T. R. Robinson leased a privilege below the bridge to Robert B. Hazard for carding wool and dressing cloth. In 1824 T. R. Robinson deeded the mill property and privileges he owned at this place to his son, R. T.
Robinson, who rebuilt the grist-mill in 1828, and sold to John Van Vliet in 1833. Van Vliet sold the grist-mill to Henry Miles in 1838, and H. Miles to Haskell & Wicker in 1842, and in 1843 George Hagan, H. Miles’s brother in law, bought it. After G. Hagan’s death it was sold to Sylvanus Humphrey, and in 1863 Humphrey sold it to C. C. Martin, and in 1866 C. C. Martin sold to Philo D. Percival, and N. J. Allen became a partner with him not long afterward. It is now leased by M. F. Allen and Medad Partch. The mill property at this place was so divided after Van Vliet’s purchase that it is almost impossible to trace the different ownerships.
There was a potashery at one time, many years ago, some rods east of the grist-mill, nearly where John Dakin’s house is.
West of the mills, near the road, and on the bank of the intervale, Robert B. or William Hazard built a distillery. I cannot fix the date of its erection, but it was in full operation about 1830. Carpenter & Lorely were running it at one time, and Rowland T. Robinson was sued by them for refusing to grind grain in his mill for the purpose of distilling. They gained their suit, but he held to his determination and the business was soon given up.
A part of the property at the lower falls of Lewis Creek was bought by Samuel Strong of Daniel Fish in 1790 and in 1815 he bought a part of Heman Barney. “The old grist-mill and saw-mill on said premises” are named in this deed. John Burt appears to have owned here before D. Fish. Heman Barney had a wool-carding and cloth-dressing establishment south of the saw-mill, and the grist-mill was north of the saw-mill, Medad Martin says. Nathaniel Martin’s tannery was just below these mills, and all were on the north side of the stream. Nathaniel Martin’s bark-mill and tannery were there in 1824, and for fifteen years or more after that time. In 1835 E. D. Woodbridge and wife (heirs of S. Strong) leased all the land lying upon Lewis Creek about the bridge on the main road, with use of all irons and machinery on said premises,” to Perly W. Frost and Ezra Wardwell for twelve years. Frost and Wardwell built or ran a pail factory on the south side of the creek, just below the bridge. In 1837 they leased it to Frederick B. Nims. There was never much done at pailmaking, and some years later the building was destroyed by fire. Of these buildings the saw-mill was standing last, about twenty years ago. The others were gone long before, and no vestige of any now remains. The embankment of the old dam, extending out upon the narrow intervale, is all that is left to show that there were ever mills here.
Joseph R. Barnum says the Banyea brick-yard was established by William M. Gage, and was worked at least forty-eight years ago. It may have been worked longer ago.
Heman Barnum had a brick-yard about a mile west of the Center, near the cemetery, in 1838 or thereabouts. It was worked six or eight years, and the brick for the Union Church were made there.
Thomas Dimmick had a brick-yard, at the same time and later, three miles west of the Center.