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Morrisville

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Morrisville village coalesced around a sixty-foot drop in the Lamoille River where John Safford built the first sawmill in 1798 on a steep bluff above the falls on the river's south bank. In 1812 Safford also built the first gristmill in the village and, the following year, David P. Noyes built a clothing mill and opened a general store in the evolving hamlet. By 1850, Morrisville had some thirty buildings and was clearly the center of Morristown, even though Hyde Park and Stowe villages were each more than twice its size.

In their 1867 charter, the Portland and Ogdensburg and related railroads proposed to pass through St. Johnsbury and Morrisville to Swanton. This caused sufficient local optimism to extend a road perpendicular to Main Street west to the location of the planned depot and name it Portland Street. The railroad reached Morrisville in 1872, was completed to Swanton in 1877, went into receivership, and in 1880 was reorganized as the St. Johnsbury and Lake Champlain Railroad. Nonetheless, it turned Morrisville into the commercial and industrial center of Lamoille County. Agricultural supply and wood-products manufactories located near the tracks. By the 1880s Portland Street was lined with two-story wood-frame commercial buildings, many with false fronts, while Main Street was built up with more substantial brick commercial blocks. With more than 1,200 residents, the Village of Morrisville incorporated in 1895.

During the twentieth century, Morrisville remained the center of county commerce and grew by almost 200 residents each decade while the rest of the county was losing population. With abundant hydroelectric resources managed by the municipal Morrisville Light and Power Company, the village offered cheap power to its industries and other businesses. Beginning in the late 1920s, Alexander H. Copley of Boston donated to his home village a high school (1928, Peoples Academy) designed by William H. McLean, a hospital (now Copley Medical Center), and an airport (now Morrisville State Airport). Among new buildings downtown, several featured the up-to-date urban stylings of Art Deco and Moderne, seen rarely in Vermont and only in the larger villages of the 1930s. As the timber harvest declined and then the Great Depression and World War II decreased demand, wood manufacturers closed down, and eventually the railroad stopped running. Soon downtown was suffering vacancy and neglect, compounded when an auto-oriented shopping center developed in the 1970s at the junction of VT 100 and VT 15 on the north edge of the village. But over the next two decades the gentrification of Stowe by “out-of-staters” made Morristown a destination for less expensive shopping and affordable housing, especially for those working in the ski town. The Copley hospital has grown into the regional medical center and schools have become major employers. Small businesses have recolonized Morrisville's diverse collection of historic commercial buildings.

Writing Credits

Author: 
Glenn M. Andres and Curtis B. Johnson

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