From: History of Bennington County, Vt.
With Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of Some of Its Prominent Men and Pioneers.
Edited by Lewis Cass Aldrich. Syracuse, N. Y., D. Mason S Co., Publishers, 1889.
While unquestionably less celebrated as a resort, and possibly less calculated for such purpose, the village now known as Manchester Centre comes to view as the most prominent business center of the busy township of Manchester; and while the enterprising residents of the village have made no special effort at the adornment thereof, nature has provided them with a situation which for health, attractiveness and desirability is unsurpassed in the township. During late years there seems to have been developed, on the part of some of the residents here at least, an inclination to make this point a resort; and this tendency would seem to be confirmed by the fact that within a few years past the name of the village has been changed from that given it many years ago — Factory Point
It is a well established fact that the average summer visitor, whose chief aim is to find rest and quiet away from the busy scenes of city life has no desire to visit a place at which manufacturing is carried on to any considerable extent, and as the name “Factory Point ” would seem to indicate a manufacturing locality it could not, under such circumstances, become at all popular as a resort. To remove this objection a number of the influential men of the village (for the place is not lacking of such) quietly, but effectually, besought the powers at Washington to change the name of the post-office from Factory Point to Manchester Centre, all of which was speedily accomplished. The name of the office having been changed by competent authority, common consent changed the name of the village, and having no corporate existence no power was required to effect the latter change. All this has been done within the last few years.
The village of Manchester Centre occupies a position in the township a little to the northeast of its geographical center, and about one and one-fourth miles from the village of Manchester. The West Branch Creek passes through the town, which stream by damming, and the natural fall of its waters, afforded an excellent power for the numerous factories that have from time to time lined its banks. This power still exists, but it is not utilized to the tenth part of the extent of twenty or thirty years ago. The village contains a population of about five hundred persons, a number never before reached, although the mills and factories have not been inactive operation for a number of years.
The lands on which the village stands were settled and improved at about the same period as were the other parts of the township. Timothy MEAD was the pioneer, and his possessions embraced the greater part of the village tract. Although a progressive person Mr. MEAD was greatly opposed to selling his lands, thus retarding the early growth of the village. His house was located on the site now occupied by the Colburn House. Using the excellent water-power afforded by the West Branch Mr. MEAD built a saw-mill and soon afterwards a grist-mill, the latter being the first of its kind in the township. It was built on the same side of the stream that the present mill occupies, but further down, while the saw-mill was above it. When the present grist-mill was erected in 1840, so far as could be the material of the old mill was used. Mr. MEAD also built a fulling-mill on the site now covered by the large and unoccupied factory building; he built a store in the town at which Joel PRATT carried on business for a number of years.
At that time the road from Manchester turned to the right immediately after crossing the stream, and passed along in front of where the present mill stands. This old road is still used in getting to the rear of the several business houses along Main street, and in reaching the shops standing on the bank of the creek, although, as is well known, the present main thoroughfare passes a few rods farther north.
When the commissioners appointed for the purpose of selecting a site for the court-house and jail, were casting about for a suitable location they determined upon locating them on Mr. MEAD’s land, at a point near where the Baptist Church now stands, but the worthy proprietor refused to part with the land for that purpose, and thus to this village was lost an opportunity that would have greatly enhanced its early growth. Mr. MEAD did, however, convey lands to the Baptist Society on which a church edifice was built, while Isaac and Jeremiah WHELPLEY and Timothy SOPER gave lands for the purpose of a burying ground. “The site of the old meeting-house,” says judge MUNSON’s address,” can readily be located on the westerly side of the present cemetery grounds. The road on which it stood was then the main highway; the street past the Episcopal Church not being in existence until long after.”
“Mr. MEAD died in 1802. His real estate was divided among his children, and soon passed into other hands. But the early growth of the place was slow, and in 1812 it could hardly be called a village. The old grist-mill and the fulling-mill were still in operation. The original saw-mill had done its work, and been succeeded by another on the opposite side of the stream, about where the west end of the tannery stands. The store building was no longer occupied as such, and had been used as a school-room while the first school-house of the district was being erected. Where the wagon shop is located stood a distillery, and adjoining it was the carding-mill of Chester CLARK. Benjamin MATTISON, the owner of the saw-mill and fulling-mill, lived in the Timothy MEAD house. James BORLAND, who carried on business at the grist-mill and leased the distillery to other parties, lived in a house which stood just east of the old store building. The dwelling-house nearest the mills, on the road leading to the village (Manchester), stood on the top of the hill south of the present residence of Deacon BURRITT. On the road toward Dorset the first dwelling was that of William SMITH, where the LESTER house now (1875) stands. A few rods east of the residence of A. G. CLARK, was a good sized house, usually occupied by two families ; and a little further on was a house of smaller size. The Jacob MEAD house was then occupied by David BROOKS, who was about building a tavern on the lot now owned by Mr. ADAMS. The next building was the Baptist meeting-house, an edifice of moderate size, divided into great square pews, and embellished with a sounding-board. The society was then in charge of Elder Calvin CHAMBERLAIN, a Revolutionary pensioner, and a man of great influence among the Baptist Churches of the State. Just beyond the meeting-house, at the northeast corner of the burying ground, stood the district school-house. About on the spot where Joseph LUGENE, jr., has recently erected a house lived Peletiah SOPER, one of the old settlers. Near the site of Deacon AMES’s house stood a small store in which James WHELPLEY traded, and just north of it was a dwelling. Imagine these few scattered buildings partially surrounded by a dense forest at no great distance, and you have the Factory Point of 1812.”
During this period a great improvement was being carried out in the construction of a highway directly connecting the two villages. This project was the more remarkable from the fact that the proposed route of the road lay across the low and swampy glebe lands, and the building of a road across this tract was by many thought to be impracticable, if not hazardous. Prior to its construction travelers between these villages used the old west road as far Noble J. PURDY’s place; thence east through Marbleville to the center road near where judge MUNSON now resides, and thence north to Factory Point.
These lands, or as they have been called, the glebe lands, through which the road passed, now comprise some of the richest farming tracts in the township. The author of the pamphlet history of Manchester, to whom we are indebted for many of the facts herein stated, owns a considerable tract of land in this vicinity, and John BATTIS, whose residence stands near the central part of the “glebe,” is also the owner of an excellent farm, made from what was formerly thought to be unavailable lands.
But however much the early settlement and growth of Factory Point may have been retarded by the peculiar actions of Timothy MEAD, the place has long since been the most populous of any of the three villages of Manchester; and to no single family is due the credit of having built up and increased the value of property in the village more than Myron CLARK, and those who have managed the estate since his decease. Mr. CLARK came to Factory Point from the town of Rupert some time prior to the year 1840. He purchased the old mills, distillery and power. He rebuilt the grist-mill in 1840, as is indicated on the marble cap over the entrance. His son, Augustus G. CLARK, about this time became associated with the business, and so continued until judge CLARK’s death about 1869, and then succeeded to the proprietorship thereof. Ten years later, 1879, Augustus G. CLARK died, and since that event Colonel Mason S. COLBURN and John H. WHIPPLE, sons-in-law of Augustus G. CLARK, have managed the business and estate. The tannery building standing on the south bank of the West Branch was built by A. G. CLARK and by him operated. Of late years, however, the tanning business has not been regularly carried on at this place, the scarcity of material and unsatisfactory condition of the markets both contributing to the necessity of discontinuing the business for a time at least. Also on the south side of the stream and west of the road stands another large idle factory. This was built originally by HARRIS and JENNINGS, and designed for an extensive fulling-mill and carding-mill. About the time of the close of the late war other machinery was added and a knitting department started. Since these manufactures were discontinued the building has been used occasionally, but not to any great extent.
Opposite the carding-mill, on the north bank of the stream, and about where the ice-house now stands, once stood a small tannery building; but all evidences of its occupancy are now destroyed, and its location is hidden from view by the large Colburn House barns.
On the spot where Timothy MEAD’s dwelling-house stood, is now the hotel called the Colburn House, the property of Lorenzo SHAFFNER. This worthy host is a comparatively new resident in Manchester, but notwithstanding that he has the faculty of making himself agreeably known, and his house one of the most popular hostleries of the county. Connected with this hotel is a livery owned and managed by James A. THAYER. Farther up Main street, and occupying a prominent site, is Thayer’s Hotel, with a livery attached. This is by many years the older house, and has long been conducted by Landlord Stephen E. THAYER.