Vermont has been called a piece of America’s past. In no other state has natural beauty been so untouched by modern development. In no other state has the small-town atmosphere of more than a century ago been so well preserved. Often chosen as a comfortable second home by city dwellers, Vermont seemingly has escaped the ugly urban sprawl that pollutes so many parts of the nation.
The state has long been noted for its hardy, independent people. Their rugged New England character was probably ordained by the inhospitable terrain?the granite spine of the dense Green Mountains. Except for Lake Champlain, Vermont’s many rivers and lakes lack harbors for commerce. Nonetheless, its scenic splendor provides both resort and refuge for visitors and, more importantly, sustains the people who live there year-round. The mountains, a skier’s paradise, provide a foundation for the foremost marble and granite quarries in the United States.
Tapping maple trees for syrup in Vermont
Although the rocky terrain and thin soil made large-scale farming difficult for the Yankee pioneers who settled Vermont, they were able to build small farms and villages on the forested land. The state is one of the nation’s leading producers of maple sugar and syrup. In the lush river valleys, the Vermont dairy industry developed into one of the most significant in the Northeast.
Vermont was first explored by Samuel de Champlain in 1609, when he sailed from the colony he founded in Quebec into the vast lake that was named for him. After permanent white settlers came in 1724, the Native Americans, the French and British colonial powers, and the early American colonists fought one another over the land. For years the Green Mountains region was claimed by both New Hampshire and New York. In 1777, however, Vermont declared itself an independent state and adopted a constitution? the first to prohibit slavery. In 1791, after the American Revolution, it was admitted to the Union as the 14th state. Vermont was thus the first state to be added to the original 13 colonies that formed the United States.
One of the smallest states in the Union, Vermont ranks only 43rd in area and 48th in population. Despite its small size, the state has made vital contributions to the growth of the nation. Among the famous people born in Vermont were two presidents of the United States?Chester A. Arthur and Calvin Coolidge. An unsuccessful presidential candidate was Stephen A. Douglas of Brandon. In the Spanish- American War, Admiral George Dewey of Montpelier won fame at Manila Bay. John Dewey of Burlington, a noted educator, changed many of the nation’s school practices. Thaddeus Stevens of Danville was an influential legislator during the Reconstruction era.
A notorious Vermonter who was forced to leave the state was John Humphrey Noyes of Brattleboro. In 1836 he formed a Bible group known as “Bible communists” at his home in Putney. After they proclaimed a doctrine of free love, Noyes and his followers were arrested for adultery but fled to New York to found the Oneida Community (see Communal Living). Putney was also the home of the Experiment in International Living, founded in 1932 as a worldwide educational exchange organization.
Vermont inventors include John Deere of Rutland, who made the first steel plowshare, and Thomas Davenport of Williamstown, who devised the first electric motor. Although Thaddeus Fairbanks was born in Massachusetts, he developed all his inventions?such as the platform scale?in his foundry in St. Johnsbury.
The early name of the region was New Hampshire Grants. In 1777 it was named New Connecticut. This was later changed at the suggestion of Dr. Thomas Young of Philadelphia. He wanted to perpetuate the nickname of Ethan Allen’s militia, the Green Mountain Boys, who were heroes of the American Revolution. The name Vermont originates in two French words that mean “green” and “mountain.” On the map of Champlain’s discoveries, the explorer had labeled the dense evergreen slopes Verd Mont. The range is also the source of the nickname Green Mountain State.
Survey of the Green Mountain State
Vermont lies in the New England region of the United States. It is bordered on the north by the Canadian province of Quebec. To the east the Connecticut River forms the boundary with New Hampshire. On the south is Massachusetts and on the west is New York, separated from Vermont for about 100 miles (160 kilometers) by Lake Champlain.
The state’s greatest length from north to south is 159 miles (256 kilometers). Its greatest width is 89 miles (143 kilometers) from east to west. Its narrowest width is 37 miles (60 kilometers). Vermont’s total area is 9,614 square miles (24,900 square kilometers), including 341 square miles (883 square kilometers) of inland water surface.
The crest of the Green Mountains runs through the center of the state from the Massachusetts boundary northward into Canada. This highland is sometimes said to divide the state into eastern and western sections. There are five distinct natural regions, however.
The Champlain Valley covers all the northwestern part of the state as far south as the Poultney River and Lake Bomoseen. It is a narrow lowland wedged between Lake Champlain on the west and the Green Mountains on the east. Along Lake Champlain is the state’s lowest point?95 feet (29 meters). Draining into the lake are Vermont’s three longest streams?the Lamoille and Winooski rivers and Otter Creek.
The Taconic Mountains rise south of Brandon and extend southward along the New York border into Massachusetts. The highest peak in this narrow range is Mount Equinox at 3,816 feet (1,163 meters). It is located a few miles west of Manchester. At the eastern edge of the Taconics is the Valley of Vermont, which separates this region from the Green Mountains.
The Green Mountains, part of the Appalachian Highlands, form the backbone of Vermont. These heavily forested highlands extend the length of the state and vary in width from about 21 miles (34 kilometers) in the north to some 36 miles (58 kilometers) in the south. Near Underhill is Mount Mansfield, the highest point in the state at 4,393 feet (1,339 meters).
The New England Upland borders the Green Mountains on the east for the entire length of the state. This plateaulike region, sharply cut by streams, is sometimes called the Vermont Piedmont. The Upland is the lake region of the state.
Vermont’s climate is characterized by wide temperature ranges, even distribution of precipitation, short summers, and long winters. Variations throughout the state in temperature and precipitation are due mainly to elevation.
Average January temperatures range from 16? F (-8.9? C) in the northeast to 20? F (-6.7? C) in the Champlain Valley. Average July temperatures range from 67? F (19? C) in the northeast and southeast to 70? F (21? C) in the Champlain Valley. Precipitation, heaviest in summer, ranges from an annual average of 52 inches (132 centimeters) in the south to 32 inches (81 centimeters) in the northwest. Snowfall varies from 55 inches (140 centimeters) yearly in the west and in the Connecticut Valley to 125 inches (318 centimeters) elsewhere. The growing season is 130 to 150 days in the Lake Champlain and Connecticut Valley areas and 100 to 130 days in the rest of the state.
Much of the soil in Vermont is too thin and rocky for general farming. The most valuable agricultural resource is extensive pasturage for the state’s dairy industry. There are about 4,400,000 acres (1,780,680 hectares) of commercial forestland. The most valuable tree is the sugar maple, which is used for lumber. Groves of sugar maples supply sap for maple sugar and syrup (see Maple). The white pine is valuable in the Connecticut River valley.
Stone, particularly marble and granite, is the most valuable mineral. The chief commercial resources are the state’s lakes, mountains, and climate, which attract many tourists. Some mountain rivers are dammed and used for hydroelectric power. The highest dam (275 feet; 84 meters) is Ball Mountain Dam, completed in 1961, on the West River.
Conservation of the state’s resources is overseen by the Agency of Natural Resources through its departments of Fish and Wildlife; Forests, Parks, and Recreation; and Environmental Conservation. The Economic Development Department of the Agency of Development and Community Affairs works to promote the interests of the state.
People of Vermont
Before the arrival of Europeans, the Native Americans entered what is now Vermont mainly to hunt and fish. The first colonists in the area came from New Hampshire, in the east, and New York, in the west. Because it had little manufacturing, few immigrants from abroad settled in the area. The largest foreign group has been French Canadian farmers.
Burlington, the largest city in Vermont, is a port on Lake Champlain and the chief manufacturing center of the state. The second largest city is Rutland in the south-central part of the state. It is noted for its marble quarries. Barre in central Vermont is a great granite center. Brattleboro in the southeast is noted for printing and publishing.
The state capital is Montpelier (see Montpelier). The chief regional trading centers are St. Albans in the northwest, Bennington in the southwest, and St. Johnsbury in the northeast.
In comparison with other states Vermont has little manufacturing. After the services and retail trade industries, however, manufacturing employs more workers than does any other occupation in the state.
The chief manufacturing industry is the making of electrical and electronic equipment. The second most valuable industry is fabricated metal products. The printing and publishing industry is third in value. Industrial machinery ranks fourth. Paper and allied products are also significant. Food products, transportation equipment, and lumber and wood products are also made.
Agriculture and Mining
Vermont has approximately 7,000 farms, of which about 40 percent are full-time dairy farms. The state’s most valuable agricultural product is milk, which is sold in markets as far away as Boston and New York City. Hay, the most valuable field crop, is cut and stored to feed dairy herds during the winter.
The major farming areas are in the Champlain Basin and the Connecticut River valley. These regions produce corn, potatoes, oats, and truck crops. Apples, the most valuable cash crop, are grown chiefly along the shores of Lake Champlain. Franklin County in northwestern Vermont is the largest producer in the state-wide maple-sugar industry, an enterprise in which Vermont is the national leader. Other agricultural products are beef and veal, eggs, chickens, turkeys, sheep, and wool.
The state’s most valuable mineral product is dimension stone. Marble is quarried west of the Green Mountains, in Rutland County. A valuable product since the first quarry was opened in Dorset in 1785, Vermont marble has been used in many buildings, including the United States Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C. Granite is taken from the Barre region and from other quarries on the east slopes of the Green Mountains. The slate industry is also centered in Rutland County. Vermont is one of the top four states in talc production. Sand and gravel are also valuable mineral products. The state was once a leader in asbestos production, but health concerns related to the effects of asbestos fibers in the lungs have caused severe cutbacks in the industry.
Because of the Green Mountain barrier through the center of the state, most transportation routes run in a generally north-south direction. The first main road extended northwestward from Springfield to Chimney Point on Lake Champlain. This was the Crown Point Military Road, constructed in 1759-60.
Today Vermont has more than 15,000 miles (24,000 kilometers) of federal, state, and local highways. The main north-south highways are US 7 in the Vermont Valley west of the mountains and US 5 in the Connecticut Valley east of the mountains. The chief east-west highways are US 2 in the north and US 4 across central Vermont. Two interstate highways pass through Vermont. Interstate 91 parallels the Connecticut River and US 5. Interstate 89 runs across Vermont from White River Junction to the Highgate area.
In 1848 the Vermont Central became the first railroad to operate in the state when a passenger train ran between White River Junction and Bethel. A second railroad, the Lake Champlain and Connecticut River, was the first to reach Burlington. Today Vermont is served by a dozen railroad companies. Several airlines provide regularly scheduled service.
Vermont’s cool climate, mountain lakes, and fine scenery have made the state a tourist attraction of growing popularity. Lake Champlain lures thousands every summer for boating and other water sports. Lake Memphremagog stretches into Canada for 37 miles (60 kilometers), from Newport to Magog, Que. The most popular hiking route is the Long Trail, which follows the crest of the Green Mountains for more than 260 miles (418 kilometers).
Many winter visitors come for skiing. There are more than 15 major downhill ski resorts, including those at Killington, Stowe, Stratton Mountain, West Dover, Warren, and Burlington. Vermont’s world-class cross-country ski areas include the Craftsbury Nordic Center, which is also used as a training ground for the United States Olympic cross-country team.
Vermont maintains about 100 covered bridges, most of which were constructed before 1912 and are protected by state law. Among the state’s historic sites is the Bennington Battle Monument, marking a 1777 defeat of the British. The Old Constitution House at Windsor is called the birthplace of Vermont. The Shelburne Museum, near Burlington, is known as the Museum of the American Spirit because its 45-acre (18-hectare) site holds so many artifacts of early New England homelife, including barns, shops, and houses.
Vermont’s pioneers put up log schoolhouses almost as soon as they built their cabins. The constitution of 1777 called for state-supported schools, including one grammar school in each county and one state university to be established by the General Assembly. A town school-district system of education developed. In the 1840s the public high school began to compete with the state’s many private academies.
Today the public school system is managed by the Department of Education. It is directed by a board of education appointed by the governor. A commissioner of education administers its policies.
The largest institution of higher learning is the University of Vermont and State Agricultural College. This land-grant university, located at Burlington, was chartered in 1791 and opened to students in 1800. Other state-supported schools are Vermont Technical College, at Randolph Center, and colleges at Castleton, Johnson, and Lyndonville.
Other schools of higher education are Middlebury College, at Middlebury; Norwich University, at Northfield; St. Michael’s College, at Winooski; Goddard College, at Plainfield; Trinity College, at Burlington; Bennington College, at Bennington; Marlboro College, at Marlboro; and Green Mountain College, at Poultney. There is also a junior college located in Montpelier.
Government and Politics
Montpelier has been Vermont’s capital since 1805. Before that time the capital was at various places?including Windsor and Rutland. The state is governed under its third constitution, adopted in 1793.
The chief executive officer is the governor, who is elected every two years. The General Assembly consists of the Senate and the House of Representatives. The judiciary is headed by the Supreme Court. The major element in local government is the town meeting. All voters must take the Freeman’s Oath, a holdover from colonial America: “I solemnly swear (or affirm) . . . that whenever I am called to give my vote or suffrage, touching any matter that concerns the State of Vermont, I will do it so, as in my conscience, I shall judge will most conduce to the best good of the same, as established by the Constitution, without fear or favor of any person.”
In national and local politics Vermont has been strongly Republican. Except in 1964, the state’s electoral votes have been cast for the Republican presidential candidate in every election since 1856. During the same time period Democratic governors served only five terms?1963-69 and 1973-77. In 1984 Madeleine M. Kunin, also a Democrat, was elected the state’s first woman governor. (Criticized for an environmentally tough land-use law that she initiated, she did not run for a fourth term in 1990.)
In 1990 Bernard Sanders, a socialist who had served as mayor of Burlington for nine years, became Vermont’s sole United States representative?the first third-party candidate to be elected to Congress since 1952 and its first socialist member in more than 60 years. George Aiken, a former Vermont governor who served as senator from 1941 to 1975, was noted as a champion of liberal legislation, often opposing his own Republican party. Warren R. Austin, another senator from Vermont (1931-46), was the first United States ambassador to the United Nations.
What is now Vermont was included in several different grants of land made by British monarchs. The charter of Massachusetts Bay of 1629 laid claim to most of the land west of the Connecticut River. New York claimed the region on the basis of grants first made to the duke of York in 1664. A third claim, by New Hampshire, was based on a 1741 decree of King George II. After Vermont declared itself an independent state in 1777, while the war for independence was going on, the other states finally agreed to recognize its boundary claims. Massachusetts adjusted its differences in 1781, New Hampshire in 1782, and New York in 1790. This paved the way for the admission of Vermont to the Union in 1791.
Exploration and Settlement
The first Europeans to enter the Green Mountain state were Samuel de Champlain and his party of French explorers. In 1609 they paddled up the lake later named for Champlain (see Champlain). For more than 100 years after that, however, the area remained unsettled.
In 1666 the French built Fort St. Anne on Isle La Motte as part of their Lake Champlain fortifications, but the settlement was short-lived. The British established the first permanent settlement, at Fort Dummer in 1724. It was built by Massachusetts Colony to protect its people in the Connecticut Valley. The town of Brattleboro later grew up near the fort.
The close of the French and Indian War in 1763 gave the British possession of the Lake Champlain area. Lord Jeffrey Amherst had built a strong fort at Crown Point, N.Y., and a military road through the wilderness to the Connecticut River. After the war many settlers entered the region.
Beginning in 1749 the governor of New Hampshire had issued grants of land for new towns in the Vermont region. Settlers on these New Hampshire grants cleared forests, built cabins, and planted crops.
After 1764 the New York governor granted charters to land that was already occupied under the New Hampshire Grants. Many settlers could not afford the additional fees needed to repurchase their hard-won acres from New York. Fear of losing their land caused the settlers to revolt against New York authority in several violent incidents, including the seizure of the courthouse in Westminster, during which two of the rebels were killed, in March 1775.
In 1770 Ethan Allen recruited the Green Mountain Boys to protect the interests of New Hampshire settlers in the western part of the territory. Others in this daring band included his brother Ira Allen and Seth Warner. When the American Revolution broke out, hostile actions against New York ceased as both sides concentrated on defending the colonies against the British.
On May 10, 1775, Ethan Allen led his band in the capture of Fort Ticonderoga in New York?one of the first important American victories of the war. Seth Warner helped take Crown Point two days later. Many Green Mountain Boys later followed Allen in a futile attack on Montreal. (See also Allen, Ethan; Revolution, American; Ticonderoga.)
In January 1777 a convention of Vermonters met at Westminster and set up a state independent of both New Hampshire and New York. Another convention met at Windsor in July and adopted a state constitution. It was the first American constitution to give suffrage to all men and to forbid slavery.
In July 1777 the British general John Burgoyne sent a force to capture military supplies stored at Bennington. On August 16 this force was routed west of Bennington by patriots under Gen. John Stark. This victory started the series of defeats that led to the vital surrender of Burgoyne at Saratoga in October.
Vermont asked the Continental Congress for recognition but failed to get it, largely because of the disputed boundaries with neighboring states. The state then existed as an independent republic for 14 years. Finally, after all the boundary arguments were settled, Vermont was admitted to the Union on March 4, 1791.
The first president from Vermont was Chester A. Arthur, born in Fairfield. He became the nation’s 21st president when James A. Garfield was assassinated in 1881. In 1923 the death of Warren G. Harding made Calvin Coolidge of Plymouth president of the United States. The new president was sworn in at the family home by his father, a notary public.
Vermont’s rural population and its number of farms have declined drastically. Family farms have been combined into larger units, and many farmers have sold their lands, unwilling to modernize equipment and unable to expand their herds. The textile and lumber industries have also lost ground. The building of the first ski lodges in the 1930s, during the Depression, laid the foundation for a winter tourist industry. Although the state has succeeded in attracting new industries, the supply of skilled labor and housing has not been sufficient to meet their needs.
From 1970 to 1980 the population of Vermont increased by 66,724, or 15 percent?above the national average of 11.4 percent.