History of Hardwick, Vermont

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Picture of Municipal and Police Building on Church Street in Hardwick, Vermont

Here is the fascinating history of Hardwick, Vermont (follow link for picture gallery):

The Village of Hardwick and specifically the designated historic district was the home of what was from 1905 to 1915 the largest granite quarrying and finishing business in the world. Highlights in the historical development of the Downtown Hardwick Village Historic District correspond to eras when settlers or inhabitants took advantage of Hardwick’s geography, natural resources, or transportation links.

Buildings in the district represent all phases of Hardwick’s development, and taken together, provide a good architectural example of the evolutionary history of a regional center in northern Vermont.

Hardwick’s initial settlement began after the completion of the nearby Bayley-Hazen Military Road in 1780, and settlers were drawn to Hardwick from 1780 to 1860 to farm the rolling hills, harvest timberland and harness the water power of the Lamoille River. A stone quarrying and finishing industry began in the mid-1850’s, and its growth attracted artisans, laborers, and their families from 1860 to 1915.

The construction of two railroads in Hardwick (the Lamoille Valley Railroad was built in 1869-77 and the Hardwick and Woodbury Railroad was built in 1896-97) created and unprecedented boom in the local granite trade which peaked in 1911. The advent of the railroads made the Downtown Hardwick Village Historic District a regional trading and shipping center during the last quarter of the nineteenth century, and this rail link with the rest of the United States created conditions whereby Hardwick became the largest producer of finished granite for the building trade in the world.

In 1776, General Jacob Bayley was ordered to cut a road from Newbury, Vermont, on the Connecticut River, through to Montreal, Quebec, to facilitate the movement of American troops and military supplies northward to Canada. The road extended to approximately 12 miles southeast of Hardwick when the American army retreated from Canada and the project was suspended. In 1779 General Moses Hazen and his regiment were given the job of completing the supply route. The Bayley-Hazen Road continued to Walden and Hardwick and northward to Westfield, where construction was halted in 1781. The route increased the ease with which settlers from Southern New England could gain access to Vermont’s northern hinterland.

The town of Hardwick was chartered on August 19, 1781, having been granted to a half-dozen or so Vermonters from Bennington. These grantees of Hardwick originated from Worcester County, Mass. Land in Hardwick, Vermont was sold to people unfamiliar with this part of the state, and hence unaware that it was untamed wilderness. The first permanent settler, Mark Norris, arrived near what is now East Hardwick, not far from the Bayley-Hazen road. Other, before him, had settled then left, and when Norris reached his parcel he was dismayed to find no grist mill, no neighbors and little cleared land. He persevered and three years later, brought his bride and cousins to Hardwick. The following year, three more families arrived. In 1794, the first town meeting was held and eight additional families settled in the village.

Hardwick village, as it is known today, was first settled by Captain John Bridgmen in March of 1795. Located on the Lamoille River, it was appropriately named Lamoilleville (Lamoilville) being the only village settlement in the town of Hardwick on this waterway. In the early 1800’s, Willard Bergbee built both a sawmill and a grist mill. By 1827, it had its own post office, but postal officials contended that it was too confusing to have a village named Lamoilleville in Caledonia County, especially since the town of Hardwick is bordered by Lamoille County to the west. It’s name was therefore changed to South Hardwick.

Town of Hardwick Population

  • 1790 – 3
  • 1800 – 260
  • 1810 – 735
  • 1820 – 867
  • 1830 – 1,216

Within the Town of Hardwick, there were several village centers: South Hardwick, East Hardwick (also known as Stephensville), Hardwick Center, Hardwick Street, North Hardwick and Mackville. Very early on in the town’s history, South Hardwick became the commercial and social nucleus of the town, the place where the majority of the townspeople would shop and trade. In addition, industries located there in order to utilize the water power potential of the Lamoille River. By 1855, the village boasted a saw mill, a combination planning and saw mill, a starch factory, a tannery, a grist mill and three stone finishing sheds.

Up until 1850, Hardwick’s economy was dominated by commerce based upon logging and agriculture. Timber from local woodlands was brought to the village’s sawmills for conversion and planning and was sold locally. Sheep farming for wool production was the chief source of agricultural income form the early to mid nineteenth century, with dairy farming next in commercial importance. Hardwick’s agricultural lands yielded only little more than subsistence crops of fodder, or grain and vegetables for human consumption, being best suited for livestock grazing.

1816 was a hard year for Vermont farmers, and was known as the year when there was no summer. Hardwick, with its marginal farmland suffered badly. Frost was recorded during every month of that year, and a heavy snow storm began on June 7 and continued to fall through the ninth of that month. Sheep which had been recently shorn had to be covered with their fleeces to stay warm. There was little hay for the livestock, and many head of cattle died. The frost killed the leaves on the trees, and the forests were denuded all summer.

The hills ringing South Hardwick contained large formations of marble and granite. Stone was quarried from sites in the towns of Hardwick and Woodbury as early as 1845 and was hauled by eighteen horse wagon teams into South Hardwick for cutting, carving, finishing, and polishing. The stone was processed for monumental and construction use, and finishing sheds sprung up to support the independent quarry operations. The stone industry expanded rapidly in the 1860’s, as did local services and commerce. Since the village’s population growth and industrial and commercial development far outstripped those of the town’s other villages in 1867, the village and post office names were changed to simply “Hardwick.”

Many buildings still exist which were erected during this period of population growth, between 1820 and 1860. The best remaining examples from this era are dwellings concentrated on Church Street and Maple Street. The buildings cited are vernacular interpretations of the Greek Revival style, encompassing a broad range of detailing. Of not specifically is a temple-end house, with an exquisite arcaded porch supported by columns and pilasters.

The Lamoille Valley Railroad division of the Portland and Ogdensburg Railroad began construction of its road in the flats alongside the Lamoille River to the village of Hardwick in 1869. The first passenger train arrived in January, 1872, and the rail service was officially opened on July 2, 1877. The new transporation link boosted Hardwick’s importance and the village became a shipping center for the region.

This growth in commercial activity brought on by the railroad is reflected in the number of French Second Empire commercial structures to be found on Main Street which were built during this boom period from 1860 to the turn of the century. Most notable is the Centennial House located at the center of the downtown district.

Residences for bankers, quarry owners, and the like were built during this era in the Italianate and Queen Anne styles on Church Street and Mill Street. A fine example of the early transitional period of Italianate is located here with Greek Revival proportions, but excellent Italianate detailing. The Shingle style offshoot of the Queen Anne style is displayed here as well, with its clapboard sided first floor and shingled second floor. It also has typical two-story octagonal tower with an octagonal roof on its street façade.

In addition, this era fostered the Jeudevine Memorial Library an architectural gem built of red sandstone n the style of the Richardsonian Romanesque in 1896. This diminutive adaptation of this urban high style is the most outstanding building in Hardwick.

The stone industry continued to grow but the agricultural production of the area peaked during the decade following the Civil War. The opening of the fertile Great Plains was impetus for Hardwick farmers to leave their rocky fields for the frontier, where the land and climate was better suited to dairy and beef farming and sheep grazing, and therefore Hardwick’s population declined.

Town of Hardwick Population

  • 1840 – 1,354
  • 1850 – 1,402
  • 1860 – 1,369
  • 1870 – 1,519
  • 1880 – 1,484

Prior to the advent of the railroad, most stone for the building trade was cut from deposits located near water so that waterborne transportation could be used between the quarry and the building site. Economical and efficient rail service created a boom in the use of granite in construction and allowed the Hardwick stone industry to sell to distant markets.

More sources for quality granite around Hardwick were sought and found. Quarries in a line from the village to Robeson Mountain in Woodbury, 8 miles to the south, opened. More finishing sheds were constructed. Scotch and English stonecutters moved to the village and available jobs brought families to Hardwick. Stores and services expanded; houses were built.

Several local businessmen obtained a legislative charter, to form the Hardwick and Woodbury Railroad to transport granite from the Woodbury quarries to Hardwick’s finishing sheds. The sixteen miles of track was in operation by October 1897.

While these new rails were being laid, new finishing sheds were being erected near the tracks. The Woodbury Granite Company, whose offices and production facilities were in Hardwick had merged with other local firms, expanded and was experiencing unprecedented growth. The original work force of eleven in 1874 had increased to over 500 by 1906 and this trend was evident in other local companies too.

The village of Hardwick was a bustling center of activity. Italian craftsmen came to town to work in the finishing sheds. Main Street was jammed with people on Saturday nights, and farmers and their families came to the village to join the fun and excitement. On summer afternoons, people would often ride the train to Woodbury to watch baseball games.

In 1904, Hardwick had experienced the largest percentage of growth of any Vermont municipality during the decade. Its future was being built upon rock, and a long and successful life was expected. Social clubs were organized and a community hospital and fifty new houses were built in that year.

In 1905, the Woodbury Granite Company successfully bid to supply and lay 400,000 cubic feet of granite for the Pennsylvania State House under construction in Harrisburg, Pa. They produced and erected stonework for fifty major buildings in 1910, employing 1,200 men in cutting and finishing operations and 500 to 700 men in quarrying and setting crews. The Woodbury Granite Companyu was the largest producer of granite products in the world, and the stone industry in Hardwick reached its peak in 1911. The construction that year of the solid granite Memorial Hall, housing the town offices, symbolized the town’s pride in their industry.

The period following World War I saw a decline in the granite industry. Concrete was then coming into more common use in construction and granite veneer on the face of a building gave the same visual effect as solid block without the dollar investment.

During the 1920’s , there was an upsurge in the importance of agriculture in Hardwick. Farmers of French ancestry emigrated from Canada and purchased farms in the town. They consolidated small holdings into large profitable dairying operations, boosting the local economy.

A fire in 1923 destroyed much of Main Street in a spectacular conflagaration. In 1927, the flood which devastated most the state of Vermont struck Hardwick too. The Lamoille overflowed its banks, and the ragingwaters swept away streets, farms, businesses and houses. Economic havoc was caused by the Depression, and the village struggled through those lean years with the assistance of the P.W.A., which sponsored projects that improved the sewer system and established a nursery school.

Town of Hardwick Population

  • 1890 – 1,547
  • 1900 – 2,466
  • 1910 – 3,201
  • 1920 – 2,641
  • 1930 – 2,720

By the mid 1920’s, most of the high quality granite had been extracted from area quarries, leaving only inferior grade stone of little commercial value. In addition, demand for stone in the construction trade was low, forcing the closing of many of the granite sheds. Within the next ten years much fo the local stone quarrying and finishing operations were phased out or consolidated with facilities in Barre.

The economic boom was over for Hardwick, and it struggled against the various forces which had ravaged it. Buildings damaged by fires and flooding were repaired or rebuilt, but he economic damage from the Depression and the demise of the granite industry were too severe to contend with. Commerce waned. Population dropped from a high of 3,200 in 1912 to 2,600 in 1940. The chief industrial employer during the 1930’s and 1940’s was the Sam Daniels Foundry, manufacturers of wood furnaces, sugaring evaporator pans and farm implements.

Many inhabitants had left Hardwick during World Was II in order to work in the defense plants in larger towns, andsome of these people returned after the war ended. A knitting company moved into Hardwick in the1950’s, employing 90 women, The Sam Daniels Foundry was still in operation, and logging and sawmills employed some. One of the last two working granite sheds burned on April 9, 1952, and what had once been the largest granite company in the world closed in that year, leaving 52 employees jobless. The only remaining granite shed is located within the Historic District. Many Hardwick residents sought employment outside of the town and commuted to jobs in Morrisville, Montpelier, St. Johnsbury or Barre.

As industry waned, Hardwick returned to being and agriculture community in the 1940’s and 50’s and again the Village of Hardwick and the designated historic district became the hub for the area. Farmers did most of their shopping there, purchasing food, feed, agricultural machinery, etc. Once again the shopping center for greater Hardwick, the village became more prosperous.

During the 1960’s and 70’s, as roads improved, and as access to larger towns increased, regional shopping centers drew retail sales away from Hardwick. The last major industry in town, the Sam Daniels Foundry, closed its Hardwick operations in 1970, and the commercial/industrial base of Hardwick was again weakened.

Today Hardwick has a population of 2,613 and the town is considered one-half an agricultural community and one-half a “bedroom” community. Efforts have been made to attract industries to the town by establishment of a 34 acre industrial site co-sponsored by the Town of Hardwick and the Northern Development Agency. In addition, interest in revitalizing Hardwick Village’s downtown commercial district is hoped to be the initial step in reversing the declining economic situation the village has experienced over the last two decades.

Town of Hardwick Population

  • 1940 – 2,605
  • 1950 – 2,629
  • 1960 – 2,349
  • 1970 – 2,466
  • 1980 – 2,613

Source: National Register of Historic Places Inventory – Nomination Form (pdf)

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