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Winooski

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The City of Winooski, with 7,267 residents, lies on the north shore of the Winooski River where the river takes its last fall before meandering five more miles to Lake Champlain. Originally within the town of Colchester, Winooski developed quickly at the end of the eighteenth century as the closest mill site to Burlington, which is two miles from the waterfront. By 1810 Winooski was a busy village with several hundred residents at the bridge between Burlington and Colchester and saw-and gristmills, stores, and taverns on both sides of the river. In 1837, the Burlington Woolen Mill built a large stone mill on the north side for making broadcloth.

Increased demand during the Civil War and the discovery of a special cleaning process (later patented) led to the mill's expansion and also to construction of the Colchester Merino mill nearby, which remains among the large mill buildings along the river north of the Winooski Bridge. The mill jobs, and those at the cotton factory on the Burlington side of the river, began attracting French Canadian and Irish immigrants to the area. By 1870 they accounted for more than half of the village's population. St. Francis Xavier Church (CH41) is a monument to their arrival, but the neighborhood that evolved between the church and the woolen mill also gives evidence of their presence. With expansion at the mills, the village population tripled between 1850 and 1880, and the village's commercial district blossomed with new brick commercial blocks to serve the more than 2,800 residents.

The textile mills continued to employ hundreds of workers through the end of the nineteenth century, and when the American Woolen Company purchased the Winooski mill complex in 1902, it initiated another expansion that culminated in construction of the massive Champlain Mill (CH43). The village grew north and east as the population rose to 4,500 in 1910. In the new century, Italians, Armenians, and Polish immigrants mixed into the local population. In 1922 the mills, downtown, and neighborhoods north of the river incorporated as the City of Winooski.

In 1927 floodwaters washed out dams and caused extensive damage and losses at the mills, and production only really revived during World War II when military demand led to employment of more than 3,000 people. Between 1954 and 1964, the textile mills closed, victims of the southward migration of manufacturing. Federal urban renewal funds paid for the demolition of nearly two blocks of downtown to make way for a parking lot, and schemes to rejuvenate the city became increasingly desperate and unrealistic. A proposal to cover the area with a geodesic dome was even publicly discussed. Rehabilitation of the Champlain Mill in 1979 and general in-migration to the Burlington region in the late 1970s and 1980s sparked a fair amount of redevelopment. A long-planned, largely government-funded redesign and redevelopment of the old urban renewal area has been completed. But even as Winooski turns to local commerce and housing demands from Burlington to lead it to prosperity in the twenty-first century, with the 1909 Champlain Mill on one side and the 1867 Winooski Block on the other, and the nineteenth-century woolen mill buildings and residences to the west, it will remain Vermont's best-preserved historic textile mill village.

Writing Credits

Author: 
Glenn M. Andres and Curtis B. Johnson

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