Hartford was chartered in 1761 by Governor Benning Wentworth of New Hampshire. It was the first town east of the Green Mountains to be chartered after the French and Indian Wars and is one of the so-called Connecticut towns of Vermont that were settled by pioneers from Connecticut.
Our history revolves around our rivers. First used for transportation by the native population (Lyman Point in White River Jct. was a site used by the natives heading north with the captives from Deerfield, MA. Indian raid), then by the early settlers. The 3 rivers (Connecticut, White, and Ottaquechee) provided transportation and mill power for the town for over 2 centuries. The railroads followed the river valleys and commercial development along the rivers. In the 1960s the Interstate Highway system again followed the rivers to maintain the transportation importance of the town, and river power is still in use in Wilder and Quechee.
Early settlement patterns typically saw the farmers on the hillsides (as is reflected in the Jericho Rural Historic District) and the mills and commerce along the river rapids (Quechee Historic Mill District, and Hartford Village Historic District).
Each of the villages has its own unique character and history. Quechee and Hartford developed early due to the waterpower available to run the grist, saw, and soon the Woolen Mills.
Quechee was a mill town from its inception until the 1960s when the mills closed and put almost everyone out of work. Today it is a popular resort community, which retains much of its historic character thanks to the Quechee Lakes Corporation, which preserved most of the old buildings. Of special note was the Dewey's Mills, located at the head of the Quechee Gorge, which developed and produced the technique to re-work wool rags into 'shoddy'. Mr. Dewey was involved with the building of the Woodstock Railroad, which helped move his products to market. For over 100 years Dewey's Mills was a thriving village in its own right - until the Army Corps needed the land for its flood control project.
Hartford Village was the economic and social center of the town for most of the town's history. The mills there supported the wealthy mill owners and their employees, who in turn saw that a fine church and library were established early in the nineteenth century. Our famous native son, Governor Samuel Pingree, was a resident of the village for most of his life.
White River Junction
White River Junction was thinly populated until the coming of the railroad in 1848. It soon became a major railroad junction with an 8-track crossing served by 5 railways with 50 passenger trains entering and leaving daily. There were many railroad and passenger-related businesses - including The Latham Works, which built engines. The Irish who built the railroads gave way to the Italians who came to work on them and remain vital members of the town. White River Junction became the entertainment center of town with performances by Barnum and Bailey, Buffalo Bill, and many other groups, including prizefights! The Vermont State Fair was held here annually from the mid-1800s until the mid-1900s with a popular race tack and a special train spur bringing folks up the hill from the station.
Wilder was one of the first 'planned communities' in the area and also is a Historic District. Charles Wilder and his brothers from Boston arrived in 1880 and proceeded to build an extensive paper mill to supply the city newspapers. He also built housing for the workers and contributed much to the enhancement of the village. Upon his death, he left enough to build the Wilder Club and Library and a much sought-after bridge across the Connecticut River on the condition that the town change the name from Olcott Falls to Wilder. After much controversy, the bridge was built but was dismantled when the current electric generating plant and dam were constructed in 1950.
West Hartford is the most rural of Hartford's five villages. It is situated on the White River and is crossed by the Appalachian Trail. While some of the area has been developed for residential use, significant forest, farming, and open lands remain. Although almost half of the village was wiped out by the 1927 flood, the village still features a Country Store with a lunch counter, a beautiful small library, and a fine town park along the White River which is a popular fishing site. It is on the National Register as a Historic District.