The Village of Vermontville was established in 1836.
It is the home of the original Annual Maple Syrup Festival.
The Village has a population of approximately 793 people, and it
covers 1 square mile. Our village has adopted a Village Master
Plan, Village Zoning Ordinance, and a revised Village Code of Ordinances,
all since 2002.
History of our Village and its Buildings
No other town or city in Michigan can compare with
Vermontville as to the unique manner in which it was founded. While
other town's came into being by chance, usually influenced by some
geographical advantage, Vermontville was the result of careful planning
and the plans were made hundreds of miles removed from the forested
wilderness that was destined to become a town.
It was in the fall of 1835 that Reverend Sylvester
Cochrane, a Congregational minister from East Poulney, Vermont,
visited Michigan with the idea of locating here permanently. He
found settlers so scattered that it was difficult to organize schools
or churches and there was born in his mind the idea of starting
a sizeable colony, which could from the start, enjoy much the same
cultural advantage existing in New England. The Reverend Cochrane
returned to Vermont and sold the idea to his friends and neighbors.
There were numerous meetings of families interested
in emigrating to Michigan and finally, on March 27, 1836 at Castleton,
Vermont, rules and regulations were drawn up for what was to be
called the Union Colony. There were plenty of "whereases" and some
twenty rules and regulations, but the manuscript even today stands
as a remarkable example of concise and intelligent planning. Some
of the more important provisions were:
- A committee of two was set up to pass on the worthiness
of applicants for membership in the colony. A committee of three
was named to journey to Michigan to explore and purchase land
for the Colony, buying three square miles or 5,760 acres and
as much more as the collective funds would permit.
- The land was then to be laid out in farms of 10 acres each
and each member of the Colony then would be entitled to the
sum of $212.50 paid in advance to one farm lot of 160 acres
and one town lot of 10 acres. Persons unable to raise that money
could pay $106.25 and settle for 80 acres of farm land and a
five acre lot in town. There also was a provision for a member
to give his note in lieu of payment, for a period of three months.
- Each settler, when receiving a deed to his village lot,
was to give a note to the Colony for $25.00, payable in two
years, and the Colony was to use the money towards defraying
the expense of building a meeting house. An 80 acre lot was
to be reserved for a parsonage.
2, 1836, S.C. Church and William G. Henry left Vermont with the
Colony's money in a cowhide valise. In, western New York they were
joined by Walt J. Squier, one of the Colonists, and the three made
their arduous journey west by way of Buffalo and Detroit, reaching
Battle Creek more than a month from the time they left home. Squier
and Henry went on to Kalamazoo and made side trips exploring unclaimed
land, while, Mr. Church did likewise in other unsettled areas.
weeks of this the three men met and talked things over. The situation
seemed discouraging. They had explored Barry County as far as Middleville,
as well as parts of Ionia and Kalamazoo Counties, and had found
no suitable areas of sufficient size and excellence to suit the
needs of the more than thirty Colonists they represented. Then Mr.
Church met Colonel Sarnes of Gull Prairie, who had just finished
surveying Eaton County, and the Colonel took him to the state land
office and showed him what he claimed was a me area at the western
border of Eaton County. In the entire township only one plat had
agents for the Colony, along with several other colonists who had
arrived in Battle Creek from Vermont, made the trip to the present
site of Vermontville, taking two days to push their way through
the wilderness between Bellevue and their destination. They spent
another day inspecting the area and liked what they found. A few
days later in Kalamazoo they completed the purchase and then returned
to the site and laid out the village according to rules and regulations
of the Colony. W.J. Squier, W.S. Fairfield, Samuel and Charles
Sheldon, Levi Merrill, Charles T. Moffitt, and several others stayed
and commenced chopping and clearing land, while Mr. Church, early
in June, started back to Vermont to make arrangements for removing
summer Beezaleel Taft moved in with his family. Reuben Sanford,
who had bought land adjoining the Colony, arrived with his wife
and small son and shortly afterward his wife gave birth to a second
son, who was the first white child born in the settlement. During
the fall the Jay Hawkins, Jacob Fuller, and Elijah Fuller families
arrived. Mr. Church, who is responsible for much of the written
history of the Colony, arrived in November of 1836 with his wife
and six children.
numerous and constantly raided hen roosts and pig pens, but never
harmed humans. Bear also were plentiful and in 1839 when a big black
bear had exhausted the patience of the settlement by frequent raids
on livestock, all the men and boys turned out and hunted him down.
The bear skin was sold for $4.00, which was used to start a Sabbath
early years of the settlement Indians were common. Members of the
Pottawatomie tribe lived in the area and without exception they
were friendly. The former Vermonteers found the Indians each spring
in one of Vermont's most common practices, that of making maple
syrup from the sap of the hard maple. The sugar season in 1837 was
excellent and the following year found some of the colonists taking
maple sugar to Battle Creek for sale. In the years since, the product,
eventually largely replaced by maple syrup, has remained an important
cash crop throughout the area.
of Vermontville was incorporated, along with hundreds of villages
in the state by an act of the Legislature, March 11, 1867, by Orin
Dickinson, William Parmenter, John L. Hunter, and seventeen others.
Church's Addition was laid out September 6, 1869 by Eliza Church,
and Squier's Addition was laid out November 8, 1869 by Martin L.
Squier. After the village was incorporated Davis and Parmenter's
Addition was laid out in 1877.
the history of Vermontville, Wells R. Martin started the first hotel.
In 1855 James Tufford built the New England Hotel, which later became
known as the Follett House and which for many years was ably managed
by S.A Gunn, a native of Ashtabula County, Ohio.
Wells Martin, in partnership with Deactur Scoville, also started
the first store in Vermontville; freighting in merchandise from
Bellevue and selling it from his home. The first regular store was
started in 1846, when Hale and Frink opened a place of business
on the first floor of the Academy building.
few years after the settlement was started S. S. Church brought
in the first mail over a route which was established from Bellevue
to Ionia. A post office was established at Vermontville about 1840,
with Dr. Dewey H. Robinson acting as postmaster. Mail was brought
through on horseback once a week.
In the spring
of 1874 Vermontville's first newspaper, the Enterprise, was started
by I.C. Worcester, who later sold to G.W. Hoskins. Mr. Hoskins sold
to K. Kittridge, who later sold to Captain F.W. Potter. The Vermontville
Echo today represents an unbroken record of more than 80 years,
during which time the publication has changed its name from Enterprise
to Hawk to Echo.
who founded Vermontville came prepared to carry on the church and
school systems they had known in their native Vermont. In February
1837, they organized the Congregational Church with the Reverend
Sylvester Cochrane as pastor. The history at the church would make
a book length story in itself.
the Methodist Episcopal Church was organized here by the Reverend
Samuel Noble at the Red Schoolhouse in District 2, and in 1862 a
church building erected at a cost of $2,400.00 over a period of
nearly two years, was formally dedicated. As early as 1878 the Free
Methodists had begun holding meetings in the village but did not
have a regular place of worship.
school in Vermontville was established in the summer of 1828 and
was held in various private homes. That fall a log school house
was erected and about seven months of school was held each year,
with a woman teacher during the summer term and a man teacher in
the winter. During the winter term enrollment was more than doubled,
with many grown men and women attending.
the population had so increased that an association was formed and
plans made for building an academy, to serve both as a church and
a school. In the fall of 1844 the building was completed and the
Reverend R.D. Benedict, pastor of the Congregational Church, taught
a four month term of school in which "the higher English branches
and also the languages" were offered. In the 1860's the Academy,
which was comparable to the present day high school, was combined
with the district school and a union school, with two departments,
was set up in the academy building. In 1869 voters in the district
approved plans for building a new union school and in 1870 the building
was put up at a cost of $12,000.00.
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History of the Opera House
Construction on the Opera House was started in either
1893 or 1896 and completed in 1898. It is a two-story red brick
structure with a cut stone foundation and an off-center tower over
the front entrance. It also has a balcony, coat check room and a
box office for ticket sales.
The Opera House was built to replace the building
that had been used for village and township business and various
forms of social events. The first building burned in 1896. The village
financed the first story of the Opera House and the township financed
the second story.
the building neared completion, three local men, Charles Fleming
(a shoe dealer), E.D. Barber (a hardware merchant) and W. C. Alsover
(a cashier at the local bank), suggested including a large stage
with wings, scenery and a curtain so that stage plays could be held.
The three furnished the funds to complete this project. Their investment
was paid off later from proceeds from the plays.
It was from the Opera House stage that L. Verne
Slout, a hometown boy, first presented his Slout Players who toured
several states for years and won recognition as Michigan's oldest
tent show company. In 1953 he took his final bow after a thirty-year
Fire Department equipment was stored in the east
end of the building for many years. In the early 1960's the size
of the new fire trucks made it necessary to build a more modem fire
barn across the street.
The west end of the first floor houses the Mildred
Allen Memorial Library and, when the new fire barn was built, the
library expanded to utilize the space to the east. The village and
township offices were also moved to new locations in the Opera House.
The Opera House was used for traveling medicine
shows, graduations, roller skating, Boy Scout meetings, free movies,
dances, religious services and other social events. It is still
used for stage plays and various other events such as amateur night
and the crowning of the Maple Syrup Festival queen in case of poor
On Apri1 30, 1978 the Opera House was dedicated
as a Michigan Historical Building by Jerry D. Roe, Michigan Historical
Commissioner. New front steps were installed in 1985. Since then
other refurbishment has been done, including the front doors stripped
and refinished, new kitchen, the floor refinished, new draperies
and stage lighting (funds donated by the Vermontville Women's Club),
heating and cooling, and painting.
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History of the Vermontville Chapel and
The Academy/Chapel, which is now the Vermontville
Museum, remains the property of the First Congregational Church.
In a larger sense, however, it belongs to the entire community.
The construction of the Academy appears to have
taken place because Rev. Sylvester Cochrane, spiritual leader of
the union Colony, asked his parishioners to "build a house in which
we may instruct our children and worship the Lord."
In 1843, only five years after the First Congregational
Church was organized, the members procured materials and raised
funds by subscription to erect on the northwest corner of the village
square a two-story building. It was to serve as both an academy
The simple 30' x 40' frame building has a white
clapboard exterior. Its gabled roof (originally shingled but now
covered with sheet metal) and the modified Greek cornice reflect
its origins in the early national period.
the completion of the upper floor in the fall of 1844, the Rev.
W. U. Benedict, the second pastor of the church, started teaching
the higher branches of English and languages. Not only was the Academy
the local institution of learning until the union School opened
in 1870, it was also a highly respected center of learning in Eaton
and surrounding counties until Olivet College became well established.
Rev. Benedict organized the ladies of the church
into a society which for years had the welfare of the Academy/Chapel
at heart. Their earliest endeavor was the purchase of the Academy's
windows. Each window consists of sixteen panes which make them unusual
In 1847 the ladies purchased the first bell to be
used not only for summoning worshipers to church services and students
to classes but also for alerting villagers to important happenings.
According to a diary kept of the day, its tolling announced the
death of President Lincoln in 1865. The bell was later sold to the
union School District but was returned to the Chapel when the school
was torn down. Church services were held in the chapel until the
present First Congregational Church was dedicated in November, 1864.
In 1900 the outside stairs were added to the Chapel
and a storage room on the back. In 1904 the kitchen was enlarged
and the upper floor was furnished as a dining room. within a few
years improvements were made to the lower level which became an
attractive parlor. Prior to the construction of the Opera House
it was the site of the annual Township Meetings.
In 1966 the newly organized Vermontville Historical
Society received permission from the church board to use the building
as a museum. The building was officially opened to the public as
a museum during the 1967 Maple Syrup Festival.
On June 7, 1970 a bronze plaque was placed to the
south of the building by the Michigan Historical Commission designating
it as a Historical Landmark Building. In 1972 it was placed on the
National Registry of Historical Buildings.
In 1976, in response to a joint appeal from the
church and the Historical Society, financial assistance was obtained
from friends and descendants of many pioneer families to begin an
extensive restoration project. The original pine floor was replaced
with a new one and the foundation was strengthened in order that
further work might be continued at a later date. During the summers
of 1982 and 1983 work was resumed and the upper floor was leveled
and carpeted. The walls were paneled and a new fire escape was added.
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History of the Angel House
On September 1, 1843 William Uriah Benedict, the
second Congregational minister in Vermontville, purchased the land
where this home is located. The property remained in the Benedict
family until 1920 Glenn and Beulah Lake assumed ownership and later
sold the home to Edmund and Ina Sprague in January 1925. The Spragues
sold the property to Dr. L. D. and Hildred Kelsey in 1939. Mrs.
Kelsey-Peabody resided in the home until her passing in 2004.
This home is now owned jointly by the Kelsey children and occupied
by Douglas Kelsey.
house is very well built and its cherry log beams are in excellent
condition. On the south side of the home there is a bay window extending
two stories. The eastside of the house has a similar window.
The home has five picture windows which is unusual for a house built
in the middle 1800's. In the late 1880's or 1890's Sarah B. Williams,
the daughter of Rev. Uriah Benedict and an artist, painted a mural
in oils in the east bedroom on the second floor for her daughter,
Alma. The mural is painted on plaster on the dropped part of a double
ceiling. The painted portion, which is approximately 12 inches wide,
has cupid-like angels cavorting in the grass and flowers. The angels
are beautifully colored and the grasses and flowers are natural
looking. One little angel is fully clothed and is said to represent
the daughter, Alma.
Alma later married Dr. Lester Swinton, whom she
met at Olivet College, and they moved to Ontonanagon where he practiced
for many years serving the mining and lumber camps. After his death,
she moved to Marquette. When she was in her middle eighties she
took a course in creative writing at Northern Michigan University.
In the Mildred Allen Memorial Library there is a copy of her book,
"I Married a Doctor", which tells of her experiences assisting
her husband in treating the accidents that occurred in the camps.
Also in the library are two paperbacks by Mrs. Swinton, "Tales
My Mother Told Me", and "Teen and Tales". Mrs. Swinton
was also a piano teacher for many years. She was also President
of the Michigan Federation of Music Clubs and is noted for her work
and support of Interlochen Music Camp. There is a music scholarship
in her memory at Northern Michigan University. She passed away in
Marquette on April 25, 1965.
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Postage Cancellation Stamps
used by the Vermontville Post Office in the past.
click on any photo
to see a larger version
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