Early 20th Century Business In East Montpelier

by Ellen Hill & Marilyn Blackwell

Until recent years agriculture was the major business in East Montpelier. Water power in the Winooski River Valley continued, as it had since the town's early settlement, to be conducive to small business and industry during the first half of the twentieth century. The Montpelier and Wells River Railroad station located on the present Route 14 south of East Montpelier Village facilitated the transportation of dairy, lumber, granite, and other products. Blacksmith and wheelwright shops in the village operated until the early 1920s. Shoemakers and other early artisans were no longer in town, but agriculture related businesses thrived until the 1950s.

Two creameries served the local farmers for processing milk into butter and cream. The North Montpelier Cooperative Creamery, organized in 1896, operated until the 1920s, and during the company's peak years handled more than 250 clients from Calais, Marshfield, and Plainfield, as well as East Montpelier.

The East Montpelier Creamery Association, established in 1897, was located in the old creamery building, the brick building at the south end of East Village. In 1981, the creamery ceased to exist.

In 1904 a sawmill and gristmill business was located on the present U.S. Route 2 near the bridge in East Montpelier Village and remained in business until 1920. The loss of the village mills was the end of mill operations in East Montpelier. Retail sales of both grain and lumber, however, continued in the village.

On the west side of town in the area called Horn of the Moon, C. H. Stafford of Morrisville ran a sawmill briefly around 1910.

There were a number of granite related businesses in East Montpelier shortly after the turn of the century. A small granite shed in East Village across the river from the sawmill had been built by Julius Wheelock in the early 1890s. It operated under a number of managers who processed granite from Adamant. Employees at the shed boarded across the road in the "Wheelock House." The village also spawned a monuments works and granite tool manufactury that existed for a few years during the first decade of the century.

Teams hauling granite from Adamant to East Village, Montpelier, or Barre were a familiar sight during this period. After the Hughes Granite Company purchased the stone shed in 1921, Hughes planned to ease the transportation problem by installing a railway route from Adamant to the Montpelier and Wells River Railroad station near East Village. Surveys had been made for the 6.84 mile railway through East Montpelier when Hughes suddenly died, causing an end to the elaborate plan.

The stone shed continued operation under the management of C. S. Whittier, who, with Harry and Ralph Daniels, bought the quarry business and renamed it Adamant Quarry Company, Inc.

The woolen mill in North Montpelier played a vital role in the economy of the region. In 1904, the mill was renamed the Little Woolen Company by its owners, Walter, Fred, and Charles Little. The Littles were plagued by a number of calamities that included a fire in the main mill building in 1912, a washout of the upper and lower dams in April, 1914, and another fire later in 1914.

The Littles reconstructed the mill in 1916 and built a new concrete dam with steel penstock and water wheels. Harry Daniels, who financed the project, built a new building across the road for carding, spinning, and dying. The main building, housing the weaving and finishing rooms, was connected by a walkway over the highway. On the site of the former gristmill in the village, Daniels built a bobbin mill that operated until 1930 when the building burned.

During the next forty years the mill changed ownership and management many times. During world War II reprocessed wool from Maine was made into army blankets at North Montpelier. From 1951 to 1957, the mill, known as Vermont Textile, Inc., produced men's suiting. Wallisford Mills of Vermont, Inc., headquartered in Keene, New Hampshire, was the next owner and employed 150 people while operating three shifts. The company used reprocessed wool to make coating.

By 1970, after the Barre Area Development had taken over the property and leased it to several managers, the mill, with its obsolete machinery, was no longer profitable and the building was closed.

For a number of years business in North Montpelier was brisk enough to support two general merchandise stores.

George Pray operated the other emporium at North Montpelier. Several years later Walter Coates purchased the building, ran the store briefly, and then used it as the location of his Driftwood Press. After his death in 1948, Helen Sparrow and Burton Parker bought the building and, once again, it housed a store. Five years later they combined the two stores. The present store in the village, owned by David Rogers, is located across the road from Pray's store in the old Martin Van Buren Hollister house.

The store in East Montpelier Village was built by John Matthew Willard Jr. in 1888. Frank Carr took over the operation of his business in 1906 and subsequently hired Clarence P. Dudley to work in the store. Dudley became manager, purchased the business in 1920, and continued to sell groceries with his son Charles Francis Dudley until the late 1960s. The store was sold to Ernest Biron in 1971 and Jeff and Robin Biron are the present owners.

This is a condensed version of the article appearing in Central Vermont Magazine Winter 1984 issue. For information on where to locate these magazines contact the chamber at 229-5711.

Thanks are extended to Earline Marsh, Alan Noyes, Elizabeth Ralph, Sally Finn and Jack Belding for their time selecting and editing Central Vermont Magazine articles for publication on the Web.

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