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Lamoille County

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In north-central Vermont, Lamoille County encompasses the upper Lamoille River Valley and some of the highest peaks in the Green Mountains. Its 24,400 residents are dispersed across ten towns. Morristown with 5,139 residents, which includes Morrisville with 2,100, is the most populous place. Neighboring Hyde Park with 2,847 residents is the county shire. The mountain resort town of Stowe has a population of 4,314 residents, and Cambridge and Johnson on the Lamoille River, each with about 3,000 residents, are the other sizeable towns.

Lamoille was the last county organized in Vermont, in October 1835. Only Essex County lagged behind it in settlement and population through the first half of the nineteenth century. Beginning in the late eighteenth century, agricultural settlement slowly moved up the fertile floodplain and intervales of the Lamoille River, and by 1790 Cambridge counted 354 residents, Johnson had 90, and Morristown had 10. Over the next half century, while farmers in the southern counties wrestled with the effects of oversettlement and the sheep-raising boom and bust, Lamoille farmers labored through land clearing, subsistence farming, and some of the shortest growing seasons in the state. Cambridge farms prospered first, and its center set on both sides of a long green still retains the scale, and several buildings, of the early nineteenth century. By 1840 when the county counted 10,475 residents, the mill villages along the Lamoille River in Wolcott, Morrisville, Hyde Park, and Johnson, as well as those on the Waterbury River in Stowe, were all well established. Bypassed by the railroads of the 1850s, Lamoille farmers and millers nonetheless caught up with their Vermont neighbors in relative wealth by the 1870s. The successes of farms and villages are reflected in the area's distinct Greek Revival buildings, with robust trim and Italianate or other details, showcased in the many farmhouses, village houses, and churches built throughout the county during these years.

After the Civil War, logging in the Green Mountains and wood-products manufacturing boomed with more than forty-five sawmills operating in 1870. Finally, between 1872 and 1877, the Vermont section of the Portland and Ogdensburg Railroad connected the Lamoille River towns with St. Johnsbury and Swanton, and the same year the Burlington and Lamoille Railroad met it in Cambridge. Lamoille Valley farmers benefited from the rail connection to sell their hay and dairy products. Many built large bank barns, some preferring the gable-entrance design popular east of the mountains, others choosing the Champlain Valley eaves-entrance variety. Logging, wood products, and related commerce fueled the growth of Jeffersonville and especially Morrisville, which soon outpaced all other mill villages as the center of county commerce. Although eclipsed in population and trade by its neighbor, Hyde Park gained several landmarks befitting the county shire. Today it remains largely unchanged and is one of the quietest shire villages in the state. Lake Elmore began attracting fishermen, then families, and, finally, small lakeside camps to its shores. Stowe went its own way in terms of development, with its mills in Moscow, its visitors to Mount Mansfield (Vermont's highest peak at 4,393 feet), and, beginning in 1904, a street-railway that connected its village with Waterbury.

Most towns reached their peak populations in 1890, as logging cleared the mountains of hardwood and sawlogs. By 1930 the smaller mountain towns had half their former populations, and all except Morristown lost another 10 percent in population. Although the county maintained about 1,600 farms from 1870 to 1920, that number dropped to 950 in 1950 and 586 in 1960. As the state acquired the logged-over mountains for state forests, it also leased land on Mount Mansfield. Beginning in 1947, the area was developed into the Stowe ski resort, the success of which attracted neighboring ski areas. Since the 1960s skiing has fostered substantial migration and second-home development in the area. Morrisville now has a county medical center, shopping center sprawl at the junction of VT 100 and VT 15, and is also home to many who work in Stowe. It also retains a small working downtown with an eclectic mix of buildings from the early nineteenth to the early twentieth centuries. Although the number of farms in the county has declined to fewer than 300, the Lamoille Valley from Cambridge to Morristown offers some of Vermont's most dramatic landscapes, with farms set against a mountainous backdrop.

Writing Credits

Author: 
Glenn M. Andres and Curtis B. Johnson

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