We love local history and hope that as antique hunters you like knowing a bit of local history as well. I will start this page by telling you about Barre, my home town and over the next few months will try to add a bit of local color and legend for most of the cities and some of the towns found on the BuyWays. We invite other local dealers to send in some local lore or provide us with vintage images.
Barre: Vermont’s Granite City
Barre was founded in the 1780’s by settlers moving up from Western Massachusetts and Connecticut, who decided better opportunity awaited them in the wilds still found in the Green Mountains of Vermont. Barre was fortunate to be located on the ancient Coos Indian trail, which was one of the few east\west trails crossing the mountains that make up the backbone of Vermont. It was used by generations of Abenaki Indians traveling from their winter homes on Lake Champlain to their summer fishing grounds in the Connecticut River Valley near Bradford. Many of the original settlers followed first the Connecticut River, then the Coos trail to the land they had purchased, sight unseen. Originally called Wildersburg, the town was renamed in 1793, the result of a fist fight held between two men representing their respective home towns in Massachusetts, the winner being Jonathan Sherman of Barre Mass. Had his adversary been the victor, Vermont’s premier antique center would today be known as Holden.
Some found fertile farm land under the forest they cleared, but many were disappointed to find that their acreage was mostly rock. Water power was abundant in the town, and with its central location, a variety of mills prospered. By 1830 Barre was a thriving farming and industrial town with a population of around 2000. It was however the granite that the town was sitting on that would define the identity of Barre and ultimately bring it fame and fortune. As soon as early settlers arrived in the 1790’s, the granite found near the surface was being cut into useful foundation stones, hitching and fence posts, and millstones, the most valuable transportable item you could make out of granite. By 1796, the major granite outcrop located in Barre was known as Millstone Hill.
The use of Barre granite in building the State House in Montpelier in the 1830’s made all of Vermont aware of the clarity and beauty of “Barre Gray”. The fire that destroyed the building 20 years later, when only the granite walls were left standing, proved it’s quality and durability. In the early 1800’s the granite business continued to grow slowly on both granite outcrops, Millstone Hill and Cobble Hill, as more and more stone was shipped throughout the Northeast. It was, however, the arrival of the railroad, first to Downtown Barre in 1877, then with the construction of the Sky Route to Millstone Hill in 1888, that changed everything. For the next 20 years Barre exploded, growing from a small village of 2000 to Vermont’s most cosmopolitan City of almost 20,000. First came waves of Scots from Aberdeen who arrived to develop the quarries, then Italians from the marble producing areas of Northern Italy, who came to carve the rough stone into monuments, statues and other works of art. By 1900 Barre Gray was recognized as the finest granite in America, some say the world, used almost exclusively in the production of the finest civic monuments and personal memorials in America.
By 1920, 74 independent quarries, with 3000 men, were operating on Millstone Hill as other immigrants from Scandinavia, Spain, Lebanon, Ireland and Canada moved to Barre increasing it’s ethnic diversity and adding their own hue to Barre’s amazing local color. Like so many industrial New England towns, the last half of the 20th century was tough on The Granite City. New more efficient technologies meant fewer men were needed in production, cheaper imports and the changes in American burial practices led to a decline in the granite business and eventually in the prosperity of Barre overall. In the last decade Barre has worked hard to revive itself, by respecting its past through such projects as the preservation of the The Historic Labor Hall and the historic quarry area on Millstone Hill as well as in the installation of many granite sculptures on The Hill and on Main St. Downtown. It has also put a significant investment in it’s future by completely rebuilding The City’s Downtown infrastructure, which has drawn in a variety of new restaurants, retail stores and businesses. The growth and development of the antique shops now located in our beautiful downtown is part of this effort.