Little City, big history

VERGENNES Vergennes ranks as one of the third oldest cities in New England, as well as the smallest American, historical Vermont communities settled in 1766 and incorporated in 1788. The brick, wood, and stone of Main Street resonate with history. Vergennes central business and residential district is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The history of Vergennes is quite unique in the way it attracted its population. Rather than the traditional Vermont farmers, a different class of people settled here, such as manufacturers, merchants, and professional men including mechanics and laborers. The stretch of 1,200 acres did not afford many to use the land for farming. Instead, Vergennes served as a commercial center for the surrounding agricultural areas. To date, Vergennes maintains a strong industrial base with two major companies, Goodrich Aerospace (where vital parts for NASAs space-shuttle fleet and defense craft are manufactured) and Nathaniel Electronics. The convenience of Otter Creek and the presence of the Monkton Iron Company, one of the largest iron works in the United States, enhanced the growth of Vergennes into a visible commercial success. With the success, elaborate homes appeared block after block with diverse architectural structures. Early in Vergennes history rapid industrial growth appeared with forges, blast furnaces, a wire factory, and other facilities. Such growth made Vergennes the most suitable location for and played an integral part of the War of 1812. It was during the War of 1812 that Commodore Thomas MacDonough established a shipyard at the foot of Otter Creek where he prepared his navy and built numerous ships including, the flagship Saratoga, the largest military vessel ever launched in Vermont. After the war and within ten years, the Lake Champlain Steamship Company built four lake steamers at the same shipyard MacDonough established. In 1824 the opening of the Champlain Canal connected Lake Champlain with the Hudson River and led to increased passenger traffic on the lake. The railroad in 1855 also increased production as lumber was transported. Aside from Vergennes history, there are also cultural and recreational attractions. Visit the Opera House, the Greek Revival style Bixby Library, Rokeby Museum, Round Barn Merinos, and the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum. Picnic on the banks of the Otter Creek or the city green where one can experience a true farmers market. Another fabulous idea would be take a cruise down the Otter Creek to Lake Champlain. Whether one wants adventure or serenity, Vergnenes will satisfy all needs in a hometown away from home. Vergennes will have one in awe viewing the historic buildings and picturesque Main Street with plenty of things to see and do. Vergennes offers a variety of restaurants varying and offering an eclectic array of fare including a touch of the Asian realm and al fresco dining, lodging, and shops including just about everything from Vermont handcrafted products, quality clothing, as well as fresh produce. Further information on some of the historical buildings and businesses include the following: The Rokeby Museum Find the National Historic Landmark Underground site in nearby Ferrisburgh. This fully furnished house holds 200 years of treasures, as well as eight historic farm buildings to explore and plenty of land to hike. The Stevens House The Stevens House, originally Painters Tavern, built in the late 18th century still remains and features the original architecture. This building served as a stagecoach stop, a tavern, and a hotel. Currently, it houses two restaurants and a bank. The Stevens House is the oldest existent structure on Main Street, a true landmark, and a fine example of Italianate architecture. City Hall/Opera House City Hall erected in 1897 is the only Romanesque Revival building on Main Street. By the early 1970s the Opera House had deteriorated having been closed for 24 years. A group of volunteers, known as The Friends of the Vergennes Opera House, raised $1.5 million in a grassroots effort to restore the building, which reopened in 1997. It remains the cultural and educational hub of Vergennes, as well as home to the City Hall offices. Basin Harbor Club Not far from the heart of Vergennes is Basin Harbor, one of the jewels of the Champlain Valley. This historic hotel situated on Lake Champlain with views of the Adirondack Mountains includes fine dining, a full golf course, tennis, lake cruise boat, ropes course, fitness center, and more. H.J. LeBouef & Son, Inc. The historic city of Vergennes is home to H.J. LeBoeuf & Son, Inc., one of the longest-standing family-owned establishments located at 210 Main St. HJL Inc. has operated for five generations as a general contracting firm specializing in a diverse range of custom residential, commercial and restoration projects. Norman LeBoeuf, President, carries on the Vergennes family tradition started in 1888 by his great, great grandfather. Some of the restoration/renovation projects undertaken over the 119-year history of the family business include the Stevens Residence (1870) and St. Peters Roman Catholic Church and Rectory both done in conjunction with Joseph Falardo. CL built the Bridport Masonic Hall in 1891 and H.J. LeBoeuf restored it in 1991. The Clock Shop The Clock Shop will transport you back in time. Buying some time with David Welch, the owner of the Clock Shop, located at 33 Green St., will be worth your while in all respects. Time is of the essence according to David, and he has captured time in his nostalgic shop. It is his motto, Buy Some Time from Us, that drives him. One of his famous lines includes, These clocks control, they take control, and I have no control. Sound familiar? Time does seem to get away from us. Welchs forte is clocks. Clocks are everywhere in the Vergennes shop, hanging, sprawled over counters, and near his workbench. Displaying and operating cuckoo clocks brings out ones inner child as we ponder the thoughts of days past. Coffee who can forget coffee? Welchs window display of coffeepots includes percolators, both electric and non-electric, just like the ones mother and grandmother used to use. For more information, you may want to contact the Ferrisburgh Historical Society, 1217 Sand Rd., Ferrisburgh, Vt. 05456, 802-877-3217 since the Vergennes Area History Club has joined that group.

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