1889 Drawing of Bristol Vermont

Organization of the Town of Bristol, Vermont

In the issue of the Vermont Gazette for February 14, 1789, the following notification, or warning for the first town meeting in Pocock, or Bristol, was published:

“These are to warn the inhabitants of Pocock to meet at the dwelling house of Justin Allen, in said Pocock, on the first Monday of March next, at 10 o’clock A. M., to act as follows: 1st, to choose a moderator to govern said meeting; 2d, to choose a town clerk; 3d, to choose selectmen; 4th, to choose a town treasurer; 5th, to choose a constable; 6th, to do any other business thought proper to do on said day. ELIJAH FOOT, J. P.

New Haven, February 14, 1789.”

Allen‘s house was located about a third of the way up the steep hill, on the old Thomas Sumner place. Here the freemen of the town assembled at the appointed hour, and the legal organization of the town was effected by choosing Henry McLaughlin moderator, and then proceeding to elect the following town officers: Henry McLaughlin, clerk; Cyprian Eastman, Samuel Stewart and Robert Dunshee, selectmen; Amos Scott, treasurer; and Justin Allen, Constable. From this time down to 1854 the town meetings were held on the first Monday in March, annually, and since then upon the first Tuesday of that month. The second meeting, according to the records, was held at the house of Benjamin Griswold, and then for two years in a log house in the “Center District.” At a meeting held at the latter place on March 1, 1792, it was “Voted, that two bushels of wheat be taken out of the town treasury to pay town expenses.” Also, “Voted, that Jerusha D???? shall be carried off by the selectmen, firstly to her parents, and if she return from them, then carry her to the last place where they have gained a residence, and if there is no place where they have gained a residence, then carry her to the place of her nativity.”

From the school-house the place of holding meetings was removed to the dwelling of Henry McLaughlin, which was the meeting place till 1797. After this meetings were held as follows: The house of John Ketcham till 1804; Noble Munson‘s till 1808; Oliver Eastman‘s till 1810; Robert Holley’s till 1831; Methodist chapel till 1834; at the public house till 1848; school-house in Bristol village till September 3l,1857; and then the meeting was adjourned to meet in a room in the academy building in the village, the town having paid $600 towards the erection of the building for the “privilege of holding town and freemen’s meetings therein.” Here the meetings were held until “Holley Hall” was built, in 1884, at a cost of $11,300. The site for this fine structure was donated by Winter Holley and his daughter, Cornelia Smith, widow of Oliver A., a son of Charles L. Smith.

Early Manufactures of Bristol

The first grist-mill built in the town was put up by James, William and John O’Brian about the year 1792. It was located west of South Mountain, upon the brook which still bears the builders’ name. This mill was a small affair, and was in use but a short time, though it was very valuable to the early settlers, until a more pretentious structure was built at New Haven Mills. Subsequently, in 1805, a grist-mill was built at Bristol village by Enos Soper, and which did service until September, 1849, when it was destroyed by fire. Henry and Enos Soper and Uriah Arnold next erected a stone mill in the eastern part of the village. Soon after the first gristmill was built, Amos Scott put up a saw-mill in the western part of the town, on New Haven River.

At an early day the attention of the inhabitants was directed towards the practicability of manufacturing their own iron, from the ore afforded in the township. This idea was carried out, and in 1791 Amos Scott, Captain Gurdon Munsill and Cyprian and Amos Eastman built a forge near where Scott erected the first saw-mill. This enterprise, though continued but a comparatively short time, proved of great importance, not only to Bristol but to neighboring towns.

Subsequently there were six other forges erected, as follows: The second, by Amos and Ebenezer Scott, near where the old John Dunshee trip-hammer shop stood. The iron made here soon began to find its way to Troy, N. Y., in payment for goods. The third, built by Joshua Franklin, Jr., Henry Franklin, John Arnold and Nehemiah Hobert, in 1802, was located on the north side of the river, in what is now Bristol village. This forge did a good business for many years, manufacturing bar iron. In June, 1809, it was burned, rebuilt, and again burned in 1816, rebuilt, and destroyed by fire again in 1823, when it was rebuilt, to be finally destroyed by the great freshet of 1830. The fourth forge was built in 1832 by Thurston and James Chase, Nathaniel Drake and George C. Dayfoot, on Baldwin Creek. It was allowed to go to ruin many years since. The fifth was located on the north side of the river, just east of the village, and as late as about 1855 was operated by Winter H. Holley. The sixth, located on the north side of Baldwin Creek, was built by Oliver W. Burnham, and had a brief existence. The seventh and last was built by Luman Munson, Bennet B. Dean and D. R. Gaige, near the old John Dunshee trip hammer shop. The business was discontinued between 1850 and 1860.

Soon after the year 1800 Elisha Fuller purchased of James Hair a site in Bristol village and erected thereon buildings for carrying on the business of cloth dressing. Subsequently machinery for carding wool was added, and the business was conducted by different parties down to 1830, when the great freshet swept everything off, and the mill was not rebuilt.

1880 Town Officers of Bristol, Vermont

The present board of officers for the town is as follows: E. M. Kent, clerk; H. C. Munsill, treasurer; H. S. Sumner, W. R. Peake, and P. W. Chase, selectmen; E. S. Farr, constable; A. D. Searls, superintendent of schools; W. W. Needham, N. J. Hill, and C. W. Norton, listers; R. A. Young, overseer of the poor; and W. W. Rider, town agent.

Population Statistics

The following figures from the tables of the United States census reports show the population of the town to have fluctuated little, but rather to have been steadily increasing since the taking of the first census in 1791: 1791, 211; 1800, 665; 1810, 1,179; 1820, 1,051; 1830, 1,274; 1840, 1,233; 1850, 1,344; 1860, 1,355; 1870, 1,365; 1880, 1,579.

Bristol Village Vermont

Bristol village occupies a commanding site upon an elevated plain- about one hundred and twenty feet above the bed of New Haven River, just after that stream leaves the wild ravine known as “The Notch.” Lying thus at the very base of Hogback Mountain, with South Mountain on the southeast, fine examples of the picturesque wildness of nature, nearly approaching grandeur, are ever present to the beholder, and in rare contrast to the fertile plains north and south, and the broad view sweeping westward to the Adirondacks of Northern New York.

The village itself lies principally upon four streets, North, South, East, and West streets, respectively, extending in the direction their names would suggest. Near the center of the village they intersect, at which point is enclosed a fine park. The good water power afforded by the river here is utilized by several manufacturing interests, so that the village is equally renowned for its business capacity, beauty, and the fine view it commands. It has about twenty stores, four churches (Methodist Episcopal, Baptist, Adventist, and Roman Catholic), one hotel, a printing-office, coffin and casket manufactory, a photograph gallery, two harness shops, grist-mill, etc., an elegant town hall graded school, six physicians, two dentists, and about eight hundred inhabitants.

In 1800 this site was almost an unbroken wilderness, there not being a framed house here and scarcely a barn. A few rude log houses were all that were to be found. But here manufacturing establishments began to spring up, as we have detailed on a previous page, bringing workmen to the scene, and in their wake came shops, stores, etc., which, with the central location to give them permanency, made the village, as it now is, the metropolis of the township

The following sketch of the village as it was in 1840 will give some idea of its growth: W. H. Hawley kept a store where the town hall now stands. Henry Spaulding had a store in the old brick building now occupied by Emerson W. Smith, which was built three years previous. Hezekiah Foster was located as a merchant where the O’Neil block now stands. Henry Gale was located where W. H. Miller now is. Abram B. Huntley, now living in Whiting, had a store where Willis Peak‘s house stands, which he built in 1836. About the same time, also, Pier & Chilson built a store on the north side of East street, which they conducted several years, and which was finally destroyed by fire. Philo S. Warner and Loyal Downing were shoemakers, the former having located here as early as 1825, and the latter occupying the building now used by Mr. Eastman for his harness shop. Deacon Amasa Grinnell, a Mr. Dexter, and Andrew Santee (colored) were blacksmiths. John Dunshee and William Perry had wagon shops here. Albert, son of the former, is now a resident on the flats. The hotel, “Bristol House,” was kept by Samuel Eddy. Aside from these were the forge, grist-mill, saw-mill and cloth dressing works we have previously mentioned.

Post Office

A post-office was first established in Bristol in 1803, with Thaddeus McLaughlin postmaster. The office was located in the first brick building erected in the town, by the father of Thaddeus, Henry McLaughlin, in 1800, and located about a mile west of the present village. Previous to this the mail matter for Bristol, consisting of a few letters and the Middlebury Mercury, was brought from Middlebury each week by the settlers themselves, who alternately shared in the task. In 1804 Jacob Cadwell was appointed postmaster, and the following year was succeeded by Isaac Cadwell, who retained the office until 1815, when he in turn was succeeded by Joseph Otis. Both Jacob and Isaac Cadwell kept the office in their house, a log structure used as a hotel, about four miles northeast from the village, on the Starksboro road. When Joseph Otis took the office in 1815, however, he removed it to the village, where it has been retained since. Fred Landon is the present postmaster.

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