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Rutland County

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Rutland is the second-largest county in Vermont, and its twenty-seven towns encompass some of the highest peaks of the Green Mountains and the Taconic Range. The Mill, Cold, Neshobe, and other streams drain the west slope of the Green Mountains to create Otter Creek, which flows north through Addison County. Farther west, the Taconic summits drain via the Mettowee, Poultney, and Castleton rivers to the south end of Lake Champlain. Rutland City on Otter Creek is the county seat and second-largest population center in the state with 17,500 residents in the city and 10,000 in surrounding towns. The county also has a number of large villages, including Brandon, Poultney, and Fair Haven with 2,000 to 3,000 residents each.

Between 1761 and 1763 the English built the Crown Point Military Road through the county at the same time that New Hampshire began granting town charters in what would become the county. Most early settlers fled after the Battle of Hubbardton in 1777, with settlement resuming as the Revolution ended. By 1791 the county had more than 15,000 residents but its population increased substantially as the Bennington to Burlington stagecoach ran north through Rutland and Brandon and south to Fair Haven, Castleton, and Poultney. By 1810 county residents had nearly doubled, and turnpikes traced the routes over Sherburne Pass and up what are now VT 22A and VT 30.

The basic pattern of most villages in the county was established in these years and, where stagecoach and turnpike routes added commerce to existing milling centers, many fine Federal houses and public buildings were erected. Successful farmers replaced their first frame dwellings with spacious and stylish two-story dwellings, especially prominent today along the old stagecoach routes in the Otter Creek and Mettowee valleys. The architectural flowering of this period is perhaps most visible in the elegant buildings designed by Thomas R. Dake in Castleton village (RU47) and Elisha Scott in East Poultney village (RU63).

By 1820 county farmers were specializing in sheep raising, and in 1824 after U.S. representative Rollin Mallary of Castleton successfully introduced a protective tariff on imported woolens, a “wool-growing” craze spread throughout Vermont. By 1840 there were 224,713 sheep in a county with 30,699 residents. In 1850 Rutland was a state leader in sheep and wool, dairy cows, horses, and the value of farms. In the 1820s and 1830s Rutland builders continued mainly in a late Federal mode until 1838 when the Vermont State House (WA20) established Greek Revival as the new classical fashion. In the next decades the number of new and remodeled Greek Revival churches rapidly eclipsed the older meetinghouses, which also reflected the religious fervor and proliferation of Protestant sects during this period. Some of these congregations chose Gothic Revival instead and a fair number of these churches remain in the county today. The linear village of Benson, with the work of local builder William Cowee, and the industrial village of Brandon, with its separate Baptist and Congregational greens and an ironworks and stove manufactory, offer some of the best buildings from this period.

The railroads had a more positive economic impact on Rutland County than anywhere else in Vermont. In 1849 the Rutland and Burlington Railroad was completed, soon followed by lines connecting to Bennington, Fair Haven, and Poultney. By providing access to new markets the railroads maintained county farms as state leaders in most agricultural products. But they also made possible the development of the marble industry in western Rutland and of the slate industry in Castleton, Fair Haven, Poultney, Wells, and Pawlet. For the next century, these industries pumped millions of dollars a year into the county economy.

Rutland, the county shire village on a hill above Otter Creek, moved down to the floodplain to surround the rail yards, creating a downtown Merchants Row, manufacturing district, and distinct neighborhoods. Hundreds of new buildings were constructed, most in Italianate and Second Empire styles. Marble quarries in West Rutland expanded tenfold, attracting a large Irish immigrant community. In 1880 Governor Redfield Proctor formed the Vermont Marble Company from several smaller companies and later that decade built the Clarendon and Pittsford Railroad to connect all the quarries. He began recruiting successive waves of French Canadians, Italians, and Scandinavians to work for his company. In 1886 under the leadership of the Knights of Labor, Rutland's labor interests swept local elections, an event so shocking for the industrial and landowning community that they partitioned the town into Rutland City, Rutland Town, and Proctor to insulate themselves from what they considered urban radicalism.

In the western portion of the county, Fair Haven village became the center of the slate industry and of a Welsh community that managed and worked in the quarries. The brick, multistory commercial row and ebullient Eastlake/ Queen Anne housing that resulted, along with two marble mansions on the green, make Fair Haven the most distinctive Victorian village in Vermont. West Poultney on the railroad line rapidly eclipsed East Poultney, and after the Civil War, it too became a slate center, as did West Pawlet in the 1890s, though on a smaller scale.

Rutland village incorporated as a city in 1892 and in 1900 had more than 11,000 residents. Horse streetcars, linking four neighborhoods with downtown, were electrified in 1896 and extended to Center Rutland and West Rutland. They reached Fair Haven and Lake Bomoseen and eventually Poultney, creating the most extensive streetcar network in the state. Rutland's marble and slate quarries and its diverse manufacturers that produced, among other things, scales, stone-working machines, and farm implements provided steady employment, as did the railroads. The volume of public, commercial, civic, and residential building in the county from c. 1890 to 1926 is unsurpassed in the state, with the exception of development in Chittenden County in the last half of the twentieth century. This prosperity is also reflected in the extensive development of summer camps on lakes in the Taconic Mountains of Vermont.

The Great Depression, a bitter, nationally publicized strike at Vermont Marble Company, and changing economics led to a steep decline in the stone industries after World War II. Rutland City remained the county's commercial center, adding many automobile-oriented businesses to its periphery and recruiting some new industry, but the smaller urban villages stopped growing or started to decline as stone-working employment evaporated. In the most rural areas, especially the mountain towns, population declined by half as many farms went bankrupt. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), encamped in the Green Mountains, pioneered development of the ski industry here and after World War II, Pico and Killington ski areas and related commerce became an important source of local employment.

In the late twentieth century the popularity of skiing brought second-home and condominium development in the mountains and lured many new immigrants to the county. Across the county, from Rutland City to almost every village, there is an impressive array of historic architecture, ranging from delicate Federal landmarks to an Art Deco skyscraper. The farm landscapes of the Mettowee and Otter creek valleys also rank among the finest in the state.

Writing Credits

Author: 
Glenn M. Andres and Curtis B. Johnson

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