Although there are many rural villages remaining in Vermont whose buildings are defined by Greek Revival, Northfield village is one of the best preserved. It contains what is, perhaps, the most complete collection of modest dwellings typical of the era's larger industrial villages, due to its mill village origins and rapid development as the headquarters of the Vermont Central Railroad in 1849.
Just after 1800, Elijah Paine began clearing land between Northfield Center and Northfield Falls along the banks of Dog River, which he dammed c. 1812 to establish a woolen mill that had more than 200 employees by the 1830s. When Elijah's charismatic son Charles Paine took over management of the mill and his father's extensive property, he built the Greek Revival United Church of Northfield (58 S. Main Street) in 1836 for his mill workers and added a large hotel and a wood-frame commercial block south of the mill. He was elected governor in 1841. Subsequently, Charles organized the Vermont Central Railroad, raising $2 million to complete a railroad from Windsor to White River Junction to Burlington in 1849. After acquiring numerous additional adjacent properties, Paine established the railroad headquarters in Northfield village and hired architect Ammi B. Young to design the rail yard buildings, including a grand railroad depot with symmetrical wings (1852; 2 Depot Square), truncated and remodeled into its present form in 1899. In front of the depot, he set aside the present Depot Square green between his church, his hotel, and his commercial block. All these expansions cost some $4.1 million to build, and when Charles's books were opened in 1851, he was ousted as the railroad's president. The following year his first mortgage holders assumed ownership. In 1858, John Gregory Smith moved the reorganized Vermont Central headquarters to his hometown of St. Albans. Although later mills and a twentieth-century slate industry continued to sustain Northfield village, its layout and much of its housing did not develop past the mid-nineteenth century.
Within the village is a veritable catalogue of modest wood-frame workers' housing, from Classic Cottages to side-hall dwellings, two-family Capes, and Vermont Central Railroad housing that consists of a row of two-family houses on Central Street. The modest one-and-a-half-story side-hall houses constructed by local builder Christopher Dole at 37, 42, and 46 Water Street, with their recessed and trabeated entrances, corner pilasters, and eaves entablatures, are typical of the local Greek Revival that reached its peak during the railroad boom and remains the predominant residential style throughout the village.
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