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Brandon Village

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Brandon village is the product of industrial prosperity, religious competition, and aesthetic sensitivity to the challenges and opportunities of topography. The village began in the 1780s around a mill site on the Neshobe River and a single bridge that served the road from Lake Champlain (VT 73) and the Rutland to Burlington stagecoach road (U.S. 7). Because of denominational rivalry, it evolved with a distinct form, neither typically linear nor centered on a village green. Efforts by Congregationalists to utilize town taxes to build their meetinghouse so embittered Brandon's numerous Baptists that in 1790 each denomination built its own church (each replaced 1798–1800 and again in 1831–1832) facing its own green at opposite ends of the village. The Baptists faced Crescent Park north of the river and the Congregationalists faced Central Square to the south. Each side of town laid out their own wide parade area (Pearl and Park streets) so that militia days could alternate between the competing greens. The commercial and industrial area formed between the two greens, while residential areas radiated out from them along roads fanning into the township. Wide and lined with trees, the militia parade streets attracted prominent families and became two of the handsomest residential streets in the state, rich in architecture representative of the entire nineteenth century.

Quality construction was fed by a sequence of Brandon industries, many of which produced building materials. These included iron (beginning in 1788) from local deposits, and red and ochre paints, bricks, lime, and marble. Industrialist and builder John A. Conant, who arrived in 1796 from Connecticut to develop the ironworks (and in 1820 produced some of the nation's earliest cookstoves), brought with him a taste for Federal brickwork with arched recessed wall panels rivaling the masonry of Windsor County. It is evident in his projects—his house (1802) at 19 Conant Square and the Baptist church (1832)—as well as in houses and commercial buildings from the early nineteenth century. A succession of ventures in mechanized marble production, railroad car wheels, scale manufacture, and stock breeding, followed by late-nineteenth-and early-twentieth-century tourism and seasonal residences, produced a sequence of buildings in all the fashionable styles.

As significant as the buildings is the townscape that was shaped through their placement, embellishing the irregular path of the village's roads by terminating each vista. Winding through Brandon is a progression from monument to monument. Franklin Street heads toward the Queen Anne Brandon Inn (1892) and is joined at the soldiers' monument (1886) by Park Street, which focuses axially on the Congregational Church (1831). Center Street runs between the Congregational Church and the town hall (RU7), and Conant Square extends from the Conant offices (c. 1828, now town offices) to the Baptist church. This conscious pattern of building placement, less evident to motorists than to those traveling by horse and carriage, is found in many Vermont villages, such as Middlebury, St. Johnsbury, and Woodstock, but it is perhaps most evident in Brandon's visually rich fabric.

Writing Credits

Glenn M. Andres and Curtis B. Johnson

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