By Elaine Haney & Andrew Brown
Way back in 1763, a six square mile parcel of land known as the Essex Grant was chartered by England’s King George III to Governor Benning Wentworth of New Hampshire. This parcel however wasn’t permanently occupied until 1783, when farmers settled in the area. The settlers held their first town meeting in 1786, where they elected three selectmen. There were 72 residents of the Town at that time. You can actually see a copy of the grant from King George III hanging by the fireplace in the Brownell Library.
In the 1850s, railroads arrived in the area, and a small settlement named Painesville (named after Charles Paine, president of Central Vermont Railroad) grew alongside the Winooski River. With six rail lines eventually making connections in this area, Painesville changed its name to Essex Junction and became an incorporated village with its own board of trustees in 1893.
What exactly is an incorporated village? An incorporated, or chartered, village is a “sub-town district” that allows its residents to accomplish basic municipal services. There were as many as 76 incorporated villages in Vermont at one time, but many have been unified with their surrounding towns by various means. You can find a list of the remaining 36 incorporated villages in Vermont on the Secretary of State’s website.
By 1893, the Town of Essex was still primarily farmland, while Essex Junction had grown into a bustling little community. At that time, farmers in the rural Town did not need sanitation services, fire protection, or significant road repairs, and rural Essex was not home to the wide variety of businesses that had located themselves in close proximity to the Winooski River and the rail lines. Essex Junction was created in 1893 as an incorporated village so the residents of that district could tax themselves in order to pay for the municipal services they needed.
Fast forward half a century. Prior to the opening of the IBM plant, the 1950 Census shows the population of the Town of Essex was 3,931 including the Village, with 2,741 of that total living in the Village. By 1960, the Town of Essex population had increased over 80%, to 7,090, including a Village population that had grown over 90% to 5,340. Another half-century later, the 2017 American Community Survey showed the population of the Town was 21,012, including 10,132 Village residents – or 48% of the total Town of Essex population.
Some things have changed over the last century. The populations of our communities have become almost equal. Parts of Essex outside the Village now feature a mixture of suburban and rural areas. Even although the rural areas of the Town of Essex are still very rural, the entire Town now requires the same municipal services–paving and grading, assessment, planning, fire protection, recreation, etc–as the Village of Essex Junction. But some things haven’t changed: the beautiful rural areas of Essex and the bustling commercial center of Essex Junction still exist and are thriving. And both the Town and the Village still have their own governing boards: the Selectboard and the Trustees.
Over the next many months, our communities will explore together the potential of unifying into a single community. Stay tuned for next week’s column, and as always, send your questions, thoughts, and concerns to us at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com. You can also reach out to our municipal manager, Evan Teich, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you haven’t already, please don’t forget to fill out the community-wide survey.
Two references used for the historical facts in this article are “Essex and Essex Junction” by Richard and Lucille Allen (Arcadia Publishing, 2004) and “The History of Essex, Vermont” edited by Frank R. Bent (Essex Publishing Company, 1963). Both of these books are available at the Brownell Library and the Essex Free Library. Census figures come from www.census.gov. For a history of incorporated villages, see the Secretary of State’s website: https://www.sec.state.vt.us/archives-records/state-archives/government-history/continuing-issues/villages-and-cities/history-of-incorporated-villages.aspx
Special thanks to Essex Historical Society member Tim Jerman for providing fact checking and additional historic information.
Editor’s note: The Reporter is providing the trustees and selectboard a regular space to discuss consolidation-related issues. Want to respond to something in the column? Send a letter to email@example.com.