A bunch of 250th birthday parties for Vermont towns and cities
By Nathaniel Gibson
Above a certain age, many people stop keeping track of their birthdays. But when a bunch of Vermont towns reached the ripe age of 250 this year, they celebrated in style.
The big 250th can also be called the sestercentennial or the easier-to-remember quarter-millennial — meaning that these towns were originally chartered a quarter of a millennium ago. And they marked their long and rich heritages with a plethora of events — parades, fireworks, quilt shows, art exhibits, live music, dancing, wagon rides, historical exhibits, and more.
These 63 towns, about a quarter of the state’s total, predate not only the founding of the United States, but the state of Vermont itself. They were originally chartered in 1761 by New Hampshire Governor Benning Wentworth as he attempted to exert control over the territory between New Hampshire and the Province of New York.
Although the grants were eventually invalidated by King George III, who ruled that the Connecticut River was the boundary between New York and New Hampshire, unhappy colonists declared the territory to be free and independent. Vermont was subsequently founded on January 15, 1777.
The town of Woodstock’s 250th birthday bash was a picnic at the Billings Farm & Museum on July 10 — with horse and wagon rides, games, presentations on the history of the town, free ice cream, and live music by the Old Sam Peabody Band. “It was a great community celebration of 250 years, and we had the perfect location in the Billings Farm and Museum,” says Elizabeth Finlayson, Director of the Woodstock Chamber of Commerce.
On the other side of the state the southern Vermont town of Manchester marked its 250th on August 12 and 13. Entertainment included wagon rides, tours of Dellwood Cemetery, a stock car show, a hoedown and barbecue, a carnival and a concert by the U.S. Navy Band followed by fireworks.
“The opening ceremony at the Bennington County Courthouse in the village with Governor Shumlin was very well received, and all the other events also went off well,” reports town clerk Linda Spence, who helped organize the festivities.
“Everyone who participated enjoyed themselves, and it was great to see families represented across multiple generations.”
A few miles north of Manchester on Route 30 the town of Pawlet celebrated its 250th anniversary during the memorable weekend of August 26 to 28. Festivities included live music, dancing, a quilt show, many displays and exhibits, ghost walks and a parade. The celebration culminated with fireworks that ended just as tropical storm Irene showed up.
“I hope having that memorable day to look back on has been able to bring a smile to the folks in our town who suffered from the damage and destruction of tropical storm Irene the next day,” remarked event organizer Judy Coolidge. “To see the number of people who came home to Pawlet to be part of this celebration and to hear the wonderful stories of what a fabulous time they had has been so rewarding.”
Benning Wentworth continued making land grants in the present State of Vermont until 1764. Next year the towns of Averrill, Bloomfield, Bristol, Charlotte, Ferrisburgh, Hinesburg, Lemington, Lewis, and Monkton will celebrate their 250th anniversaries, with even more to come in 2013.
Nathaniel Gibson is a freelance writer who lives in Pawlet and may be contacted at www.nathanielrgibson.com.
The article originally appeared in the Fall 2011 edition of the Rutland Regional Vermont Insider Guide.