History of Chester, Vermont
around the confluences of three branches of the Williams River, the area
that is now Chester, Vermont offered Native American and later English
settlers an oasis of fertile farmland in the midst of the rugged terrain
of Northern New England. Archeological
evidence shows that Native Americans have occupied northern New England
for at least 10,000 years.
||The native Americans at the time of
European settlement of new England called themselves the Sokoki, an Abenaki
term meaning "those who were separated." The Abenaki were a
loosly associated, linguistically similar group of Native Americans who dwelt across what
is now Northern new England. Unlike the Iroquois to the west of them the
Abenaki had very little political structure between communities.
|The Sokoki were separated by the Connecticut
river and New Hampshire's rugged White Mountains. There is no evidence
either way whether the Abenaki were descendants of the original settlers
of the area ten millennia ago. They relied on agriculture, growing
mostly beans, corn and squash. For this reason Abenaki villages
tended to be located on the fertile floodplains of rivers. Chester is one
such floodplain, therefore a likely Abenaki settlement area. Like other
woodland native Americans, the Abenaki
supplemented their agriculture by hunting, fishing, and the gathering of
wild fruits and grains.
||For most of the year, the Abenaki
lived in scattered bands of extended families, each of which used separate
hunting territories inherited through the father. Unlike the Iroquois, the
Abenaki (and most New England Algonquin) were patrilineal.
|In spring and summer, related bands
would gather near rivers or the seacoast, for planting and fishing. These
summer villages were fortified as necessitated by any warfare in the area.
Compared with Iroquois settlements, most Abenaki villages were fairly
small, averaging about 100 persons, but there were exceptions. The western
Abenaki in what is now called Vermont tended to have larger settlements.
||The most popular Abenaki dwelling was
the dome-shaped, bark-covered wigwam during the warmer months. In winter the
Abenaki separated into smaller groups and lived in sturdier, more energy
efficient, but crowded conical, bark-covered wigwams reminiscent of the
buffalo-hide tepee of the plains.
|European settlers brought with them new diseases,
such as smallpox for which
the Abenaki, like other native Americans had little or no natural
immunity. Within a century of the voyage of Sebastian Cabot in 1497, the
Abenaki had lost over half of their population to small pox, influenza,
measles, diptheria and several unidentified epidemics that may or may not
be European imports. in the next century they would lose a further half of
the surviving population.
||Disease was only the beginning of the toll European
settlement would have on the Abenaki's. French exploration led to tthe discovery not of the fabled rich and powerful native
kingdom of Norumbega, but of the abundance of furs, coveted by Europe's
aristocracy and growing middle class.
|The fur trade with the French in the
sixteent, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries
led to bloody conflicts between various Ananaki groups and their
neighbors, both Native and European. The discover of even more abundant , and easily accessed
furs in the St. Laurence Valley, and the outcome of several armend
conflictws with the English caused the French to abandon their settlements
in New England.
||By the 1750's the Sokoki had either
died of disease or war or were displaced by European settlers and hostile
Native American groups allied with Europeans. For an in-depth retelling of
the fate of the Abanaki please click
we now call Chester was chartered in 1761 by the Governor of New
Hampshire, under the name "New Flamstead." The first wave of
farmers arrived in 1764 and chartered the settlement. In 1766 the town's name was changed to
Chester. The town of Chester and the rest of Vermont was forward thinking and adopted its own
Declaration of Independence in November 1774 -- twenty months before the
Continental Congress in Philadelphia.
fought unexpectedly well during the American Revolution. The Green
Mountain Boys caused General Johhny Burgoynne's Hessian expedition under
Lt. Col. Baum, sent to collect stored arms, pacify the area, and recruit
Tories, to virtually disappear from the face of the earth during the
battle of Bennington. At Bennington, the British lost 200 dead and 700
captured in the battle compared to only 70 total American casualties.
thereafter, at Saratoga, the British were forced to surrender to the
Colonials. Bennington was the first indication that Burgoyne was in deep trouble, and
his surrender two months later made American independence possible. Thus a
small group of Vermonters set the stage for one of the major turning
points in human history.
caught the spirit of independence, Vermonters demanded statehood of
their own. At the time the area was a territorial dispute between
New Hampshire or New York. Vermonter's settled the dispute by declaring
and then maintaining an independent republic until 1789. That republic's
constitution is still in effect and is the oldest such constitution in the
thing that sets Chester apart from other places is its "Stone
Village", consisting of 10 buildings, including
a church, former schoolhouse, and several private residences. Built in the
1830's and 1840's by itinerant masons with stone from the nearby hills,
these buildings are beautiful example of 'snecked ashlar' or glimmer stone
veneer sheathed rubblestone masonry. Ten out of the original ten stone buildings
originally built on North Street are still occupied and in beautiful
condition. There are dozens of additional examples of
these stone houses in and around Chester.
the middle of the nineteenth century the railroad linking Boston and
Burlington came to town, and Chester became a transportation hub for
surrounding area. As in other areas the railroad brought with it a
new prosperity, which is still evident. All you have to do is walk or
drive through town and you will see many fine examples of various styles
of elegantly adorned Victorian homes. These late-19th century homes and buildings on Main
Street are now part of a historic district in the National Register of
Historic Places, while the older stone houses along North Street comprise
the unique "Stone Village."
the middle of the 1800's the town set up the Town
Farm on what is now Vt. Rte. 10 on the edge of the township, midway
between Chester, Ludlow, and Springfield. In the nineteenth and well into
the twentieth century, the Town Farm served many different functions. It
was a working farm that offered property owners in economic hard times an
alternative way to pay their air share of the town's tax burden. Itinerant
or migrant people could always find work, bed and board at the farm. And
the farm served as an alternative to incarceration for petty offenders.
Today, the Town Farm is sadly no longer a working farm, like so many other
Vermont farms the bulk
of the land having been sold off by short sighted former owners.
the middle of the twentieth century, the industrial revolution had
taken over most of the north eastern United States. As the the twentieth
century opened, turmoil in Europe plunged the world into war, local factories and shops worked around the clock and night to
meet wartime demands. Yet even through wartime economic booms and economic
depressions, Chester managed to retained the elegance and charm of
Victorian village and rural countryside. This ambiance today draws
visitors from around the world.
what separates Vermont in general, and Chester in particular from the rest
of the country is a sense of community. Chester is more
than where people reside, it is where they live, in a community of truly
human proportions. With little intrusion by the influences of corporate
America. Our schools are excellent with
tremendous community involvement and support. Missing in town are
the strip malls and general sprawl that afflict most of the country.
People know one another, talk to one another and friendships in Chester