Bird's Eye view of Barre Vermont 1891

History of Barre Vermont

Barre is situated in the S. E. part of Washington Co., lat, 44° 11′, long. 4° 31′, bounded N. by East Montpelier and Plainfield, E. by Orange, S. by Williamstown and Washington, W. by Berlin, contains 19,900 acres, and was chartered Nov. 6, 1780, to William Williams and 66 others by the name of Wildersburgh, and organized under that name Mar. 11, 1793: Joseph Dwight, first town clerk; Joseph Sherman, Joseph Dwight, Nathan Harrington, selectmen; Jonas Nichols, treasurer; Job Adams, constable; Isaac S. Thompson, Apollos Hale, Elias Cheney listers. The name of the town was soon after changed. At a town meeting holden Sept. 3, 1793,

Voted, that the man that will give the most towards building a meeting-house in said town, shall name the town, and the town will petition the Legislature for that name. The name of the town vendued and bid off by Ezekiel Dodge Wheeler, for 62£ lawful money, he being the highest bidder, and said Wheeler named the town Barre.

At the same meeting,

Voted, to recommend Lt. Benj. Walker to serve as justice of peace.

At the March meeting in 1794, the town

Voted, to vendue the collectorship to the person who will collect the taxes for the least premium, and the collectorship was vendued to Joel Shurtliff, and he is to give the town three pence, three farthings on the pound for the privilege of collecting all the town taxes.

At a town meeting holden June 23, 1794, the town

Voted, to choose a committee of three to procure a preacher of the Gospel. By vote, chose Benj. Walker, Esq., Apollos Hale and Samuel D. Cooke, committee.

A cutout from Coffin's 1891 Map of Vermont Rail-Roads featuring the area of Barre, Vermont.
A cutout from Coffin’s 1891 Map of Vermont Rail-Roads featuring the area of Barre, Vermont.

The town at an early day evinced a desire to look after the moral, social and religious interests of the people that should come among them to settle on the lands, and clear them up to make a thriving community.

The settlement was commenced about 1788, by Samuel Rogers and John Goldsbury, who came into town with their families. Soon after, a number of families came in, and from 1790, the town became rapidly settled by emigrants from Massachusetts and New Hampshire. It was first represented in the General Assembly in 1793, by Nathan Harrington. The town lies 6 miles easterly from Montpelier.

The Vermont Central Rail Road extended its line to Barre in 1875. The first passenger train carried students and those attending Goddard Seminary Commencement exercises, July 1, 1875, since which passenger and freight trains have run regularly. L. F. Aldrich, first station agent, appointed in August, 1875, served till June 1, 1878; E. K. Williams, from June 1 to July 8, 1878; and M. C. Kinson, appointed July 20, 1878, is present station agent.

Thos. W. Bailey has been passenger conductor since the road was opened, and Dexter Moody baggage-master; engineers, James Bowers, Robert Gregg, David Daniels, and present engineer, Albert Caswell. The cars have never but once been off the irons, it is said, on this line, and no serious accident has yet occurred. The freight business at Barre depot is ranked about the fourth on the Vt. Central lines. Barre is the present terminus of this line [1881] but it is expected it will soon be extended to Royalton. Windsor Co.

Old Roads of Barre Vermont

For a while after the first settlers came in there was no grist-mill in town, and they had to go 20 miles or more to Randolph with their grists. There then was no road through the gulf as at present; they had to go by way of the route since known as the old Paine Turnpike. The first roads built in town were over the hills instead of around them. The object sought was to go as much on dry ground as possible. At an early day there was a turn pike road chartered and built, commencing at the checkered store in Barre and ending at Chelsea. The gate to this pike was in the town of Washington. This pike was the main thoroughfare south-east, leading from town towards Massachusetts, and an outlet for traffic to and from Boston. At a later date, Ira Day, then the principal merchant in town, obtained a charter for a turnpike through the celebrated gulf in Williamstown. This was found to be a feasible and easily built road—was owned and built principally by Mr. Day—and found to be a source of profit, taking away a large part of the travel from the Chelsea route. The gulf road subsequently became the stage route, traversed by six and eight horse coaches, taking the travel from Montpelier and towns north, from Canada, even, and at one time carrying the British mail, which came then by the way of Boston, a British soldier accompanying each mail having his musket always in readiness for depredators.

Stage Coaches and Old-Time Teams

Stage coaches and old-time teams, before the advent of railroads, were a prominent feature in the business of Barre, and were owned principally by Ira Day and Mahlon Cottrill, of Montpelier. When the stage horn was heard, there was always a rush for news, and the few moments the stage stopped, spectators were abundant.

Barre was also celebrated for its six and eight horse teams which carried freight to and from Boston, for Montpelier merchants as well as for those in Barre. Six or eight such teams were always on the road, and the regular trips were made once in each three weeks. Among the foremost of these teamsters was Capt. Wm. Bradford. He had one horse who went 100 trips without missing a single trip, going, of course, each journey for 6 years without a rest. A large per cent. of the heavy freight drawn consisted of hogsheads of new rum, to supply Montpelier and Barre. Some say as much as one-half, but perhaps one third would be nearer correct.

Stock and Farming

Barre has always held a good rank in raising good horses, some spans selling as high as $1,000, and some stock horses selling for several thousand. As a farming town, Barre ranks among the best in the State.

Formerly sheep and wool-raising was the leading interest, but of late years dairying has taken the lead. Although there are no large dairies in town, those of from 10 to 25 cows are numerous. We have one creamery where excellent butter is made, and the milk is used after skimming to make skim cheese. A large amount of Western grain is being used by dairymen; whether to profit or not, is a question to be settled by longer experience.

Grain and potatoes, in the early days of the settlers, were much used in the manufacture of whisky, but of late years it has entirely ceased. Potato starch was formerly made in large quantities, potatoes selling at the first introduction of the business from 10 to 14 cents per bushel, delivered at the factory.

Wool-carding and cloth-dressing was formerly quite an extensive business. The first carding works were built by John Baker, and were situated on the site now occupied by the Fork Co. It was also early introduced by Ira Day, near South Barre.

Once on a time Mr. Day and his foreman were in his mill in time of a freshet. The mill was in much danger of going down stream. It soon started, Mr. Day and his man in the meantime rushing for the door, too late to reach dry land, sprang upon some timbers floating within reach. The timbers were sometimes uppermost, and then the men, but after a cool and dangerous ride, both were happy to regain solid ground, wetter, if not better, men than before.

Early Postmasters

John Baker was at a very early day appointed postmaster, and held the office many years. Afterwards it was located at South Barre, and Walter Chaffee appointed P. M. Mr. Chaffee was a large, fleshy man, a tailor with a wooden leg. Each Sunday he would come to church at the north part of the town, with the week’s mail in the top of his hat, and deliver the same at noon upon the meeting-house steps, to the various claimants. Postage was then 25 cents for each letter that came over 400 miles; 6 cents and one-fourth was for the shortest distance, each one paying when he got his letter.

Alvan Carter was the successor of Mr. Chaffee, and held the office a long time. After his time was ended, there was a loud call for a P. O at the lower village, and warm discussions were held which should be Barre, and which North or South Barre. But the people in the north part of the town carried their point, and since have largely outstripped their southern rival. It is now the main business centre. Since the office has been at the north village, the respective postmasters have been, James Hale, Frances Hale, E. E. French, G. B. Putnam, Stillman Wood, and Wm. A. Perry, the present occupant.

The First Merchants

The First Merchants in town were Silas Willard, who built the checked store in the lower village. IRA DAY was located at South Barre, and for many years the leading merchant in town. Each year he bought large droves of beef cattle in this and the surrounding towns, for the Boston market, which gave him an extensive and lucrative business, no one knew how to manage better than himself. At the time Gen Lafayette made the tour of New England, he was the guest of Mr. Day, who furnished a splendid coach and six beautiful white horses for transportation of the General and his suite.

Jack Pollard was also a merchant in those early days, of considerable notoriety. He was famous for collecting large droves of mules which were raised at that time, and sent south. Of late years the business has been entirely abandoned.

Other merchants of a more recent date were Harry Tracy, Daniel Spring, Center Lamb, George W. Collamer, John & Charles French, I. A. Phillips, H. W. French, and several others since. The present merchants are Perry & Camp, H. Z. Mills, John Morrison, L. J. Bolster, dry goods; men’s furnishing goods, G. P. Boyce; drugs and medicines, Wm. H. Gladding, Chas. A. Smith; flour and feed, H. Webster, R. L. Clark, L. M. Averill, L. J. Bolster; hardware and tin, J. M. Jackman, G. I. Reynolds.

Until the advent of railroads, the town was well supplied with hotels, or taverns, as the older folks called them. The three principal in an early day were, one at South Barre, owned and run by James Paddock, one at the Lower village, owned by Apollos Hale, and afterwards by James, his son; also one at Gospel village, so called, ½ mile east of Lower village. Judge Keith, the proprietor, was one of the noted men in town, and high sheriff of the County for several years. He used to relate that from the profits of his office of high sheriff he built, and paid for building, his tavern stand in one year.

Judge Keith was a man of much influence, and held many and important offices. His family of boys were intelligent and influential, and also became leading men. The late Judge Keith, of Montpelier, was his oldest son.

Subsequently there were at least 6 taverns in town at one time, all doing an extensive business, owing to the large amount of travel which went through town, but since the advent of the railroad, hotels are at a great discount.

When the first settlers commenced to clear their land and raise wheat, the wild pigeons came in great abundance, so much so as to be quite a drawback, and it required great care and skill to protect the crops from their depredations. They might be seen at all hours of the day flying from point to point in different directions all about town. Thousands were caught by nets, but for the want of proper markets, were of little value, except what could be used by the inhabitants, and at some seasons of the year they were lean and scarce fit for the table.

Uncle Brown Dodge, who was famous for his large stories, and told them so often he supposed them to be true, used to relate that once when he had sown a piece of wheat, he saw it covered with pigeons, and went for his old fusee, and fired just as the pigeons were rising, and was aware of making an undershot — “Never killed a pigeon, not a pigeon—but mind you,” said he, “I went into the field afterwards and picked up two bushels of legs.”

Mr. Dodge had three sons. Two of them settled on excellent farms, and became influential and wealthy, and the younger one went with his family as Missionary to the Cherokee Indians. He had two sons, who when grown to man’s estate were in need of some one for soothing the rough passage of life. Mr. Dodge, the father, started East, came to Vermont, and when he returned was accompanied by two handsome young ladies, and very soon after his arrival home, had the satisfaction of seeing his sons both married to Vermont girls. Leonard, the oldest son, became a teacher; the younger son built and run a sawmill. He was a brave young man, to whom the Indians took an offence, and one day, while standing in his mill, a bullet from an Indian’s rifle came rushing through his heart.

Early Doctors

Dr. Robert Paddock settled in town about 1806, and spent a long life in the practice of his profession He was a well-educated and energetic man, successful in practice, and not easily turned from his own way. To illustrate: He was troubled with an in-growing nail on the great toe of his right foot. One morning he came into his office, where his son and another student were studying, bringing in a chisel and mallet. Having suitably placed his chisel, he told a student to take the
mallet and strike. He at first refused, but he said he should be obeyed—I tell you to strike. The toe went flying across the room, and the remedy was successful.

Dr. Lyman Paddock, son of Dr. Robert, who succeeded him in practice, spent a long number of years in the profession. He is now with his sister in Illinois, is 97 or 98 years old, with a fair prospect of living to be a hundred.

Dr. Vansicklin was another of our early and noted physicians. He was a man of decided talents, and had a large number of students, some of whom became men of talents. The celebrated Dr. Socrates Sherman, of Ogdensburg, N. Y., was one of his students, and a Barre boy, the son of Capt. Asaph Sherman. Time does not permit us to mention particularly all who have practiced in town, but we will not neglect to speak of

Dr. Walter Burnham, who removed to Lowell, Mass., and became celebrated as a successful surgeon.

Later came Dr. A. B. Carpenter and Dr. A. E. Bigelow, now our oldest practicing physician. Dr. H. O. Worthen, Dr. J. H. Jackson, Dr. A. E. Field and Dr. B. W. Braley are our present physicians in the allopathy practice. Dr. H. E. Packer succeeds the late Dr. C. H. Chamberlin as a homoeopathist.

Early Lawyers

One of the first was Judge James Fisk; another, the Hon. Dennison Smith, of both of whom, see notice by Mr. Carpenter.

Hon. Lucius B. Peck, a partner of Judge Smith, was a man of note and a representative in Congress.

Newell Kinsman was in practice for a long time, associated in business a part of the time with E. E. French, Esq. C. W. Upton, D. K. Smith, L. C. Wheelock, have all successfully practiced in town.

Our present [1881] lawyers are: Wm. A. & O. B. Boyce, E. W. Bisbee and G. W. Bassett.

Soil and Game

There is no land in town so broken but what each lot is capable of becoming a passable farm if well cultivated. No broken land except the granite hills, which are still more valuable than the land in general. The streams were formerly well stocked with the speckled trout, but of late years they have become exceeding scarce. The first settlers found wild game quite plenty, but bears and other large game found too many sharp hunters to make their haunts safe places to dwell in.

Dr. Robert Paddock kept a small pack of hounds, and no music was sweeter to his ear than the baying of his dogs. General Blanchard was not much behind the Doctor in his love of the same kind of music. Occasionally a bear was captured; generally by a regular hunt, when every man had a chance to show skill, as well as the more practiced huntsman. There was one killed in 1844 or ‘5, and but one since to the writer’s knowledge.

Our most successful hunter was Lemuel Richardson, who is now living in our midst, and is 81 years old. His record is as follows: Between the years of 1821 and 1847, he killed with hound and gun 714 foxes; since then he has taken in traps 675, making in all 1,389 foxes. He has during the same time killed of other game three deer, 12 fishers, five otter and sable, coons, muskrats and mink too numerous to mention. Mr. R. is a man to be relied on, and the above statement may be taken as correct.

Barre Boys in the West

Barre has furnished its full share of young men who have gone West to earn a living, and build up the land of their adoption. Among the more successful we might mention Henry Wood, son of Stillman Wood, Esq., a merchant. He has traveled in Europe a year; is the owner of real estate in Chicago which yields a goodly income, and of a handsome cottage on Scituate Beach, in Massachusetts, a summer residence. The firm of Keith Brothers, sons of Martin Keith, in Chicago, are also Barre boys, carry on a wholesale trade in the millinery line, are among wealthy and leading firms in Chicago. Clark Upton, late Mayor of Waukegan, Ill., was a Barre boy, and a lawyer of more than common ability. Five sons of Micah French are in the West, working to lay up a fortune. It is said to be much easier to get up a large party of intelligent Barre boys in Chicago than in Barre itself at the present time.


Article is based largely on the The Vermont historical gazetteer : a magazine embracing a history of each town, civil, ecclesiastical, biographical and military.
Additions, corrections, changes, and design have been made to the original source to produce this article. Those additions and changes are © 2020 by Vermont Genealogy.

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