Clarendon Yesterday

Located south of the City of Rutland, the town of Clarendon has its own distinct history and identify. The first residents of the area were Native Americans, who moved north after the last glacier receded roughly 10,000 years ago. White settlement accelerated after the Crown Point Military Road of 1759 was blazed through the Green Mountains to Clarendon, where it followed the Otter Creek Valley north. European settlers began to farm “The Flats” along the creek and established the village of Clarendon by 1800.

West of a ridge that divides the town the Clarendon River provided waterpower for a number of small industries centered in the neighborhood of Chippenhook. In the northwest corner of town a mineral springs became the site of a fashionable resort hotel (1835) prior to the Civil War, creating the hamlet known as Clarendon Springs. Clarendon was one of the most prosperous towns in Rutland County. As elsewhere in rural Vermont in the latter 19th century, population in the town declined.

Land Grants Controversy and Early Settlement

The land grants controversy between New York and New Hampshire settlers led to violence in Clarendon, where Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys vandalized the homes of New York grantees in 1773. After the Revolution, most land claims and confiscations were settled, and residents began building permanent dwellings. In 1791 Clarendon was the most populous town in Rutland County with 1,478 residents.

The village of Clarendon developed after 1790 on a low ridge east of the Otter Creek. Farms along the Otter Creek provided the economic base for the social life and commerce of Clarendon village. Contrary to then accepted farming lore that recommended high ground over flood plains, “The Flats” along the creek proved superior for livestock and cash-crop farming. After 1820, some farmers in the area had become quite wealthy.

On the other side of town, the village of Chippenhook on the Clarendon River developed around 1800 with a sawmill, gristmill, tannery, and several workshops. An iron works, which produced stoves, operated until 1817 south of the hamlet on the Clarendon-Tinmouth town line. A rubblestone blacksmith shop and a wood frame cabinet shop in Chippenhook date from this early industrial era.

Theophilus Harrington, the Addison County judge who freed a black slave because the owner could not produce “a bill of sale from God Almighty,” was a resident of this neighborhood during these years.

As wool growing became the major occupation of Vermont farmers in the second quarter of the 19th century, a new industry came to Chippenhook. In 1826, Daniel Ewing of Pittsford began manufacture of teasels, a tool for carding wool, in the hamlet. In 1830, Russell Fish of neighboring Ira built a rubblestone mill on the river for Ewing. Now in ruin, the wool manufactory site is a small reminder of the extensive Vermont woolen industry of these years.

Suzie Peak, bordering the Ira line, is the highest point in Clarendon, commanding a 360 degree view of a majority of towns in Rutland County with noteworthy views to the south and east of the Tinmouth Channel and the Clarendon River Valley. Clarendon Cave, a large limestone cave consisting of 3 rooms, exists on the east face of Suzie Peak. These caves have been known since the Battle of Hubbardton when it was rumored that residents concealed some of their property in this and other caves in the mountainside to avoid confiscation by the invading British.

A large historical Marble Quarry also exists on the east face. Operated in the 1870’s to 1880’s by WilliamBarnes, the quarry hole is surrounded by large marble block remnants. A Revolutionary War road called the Star Route runs from Manchester to Rutland, also traverses the east face of Suzie Peak.

Resorts, Railroads, Mills, and Quarries

Mineral Springs, already recognized for their restorative powers by Native Americans, were discovered in the northwest part of the town near the Clarendon River in 1776 by Asa Smith, who is said to have been led to the site by a prophetic dream. The first hotel in the springs, The American House, was built in 1798, and it became increasingly popular as a health resort. The Green Mountain House was built by Silas Green about 1820. Capitalizing on the success of the earlier hotel, about 1835 Thomas McLaughlin financed the construction of the large brick Clarendon House hotel.

The completion of the Rutland and Whitehall Railroad through West Rutland in 1850 aided business at the resort by providing a close rail connection for its out-of-state clients, who were mainly from Virginia and the Carolinas. But the Civil War closed the resort while destroying the wealth of its southern clientele. In 1866 McLaughlin sold his hotel at a loss to Byron Murray, who had a smaller hotel, the Murray House built c.1870. Although Murray and his sons enjoyed some success and attempted to expand the focus of the spa, it closed permanently in 1898 when it could no longer compete with more popular resorts in Vermont and elsewhere that offered a greater variety of activities.

The latter half of the 19th century witnessed other changes in Clarendon. The milling settlements of North and East Clarendon increased in size and importance after they became stops on the Rutland and Burlington Railroad in 1849. Three turning mills and a chair factory utilized the waterpower of the Cold River in North Clarendon by 1869, and a number of new homes were built in the village beginning about that time. In the hills east of the village, Hiram B. Spafford ran a number of wood turning shops, building and converting for his own use outbuildings on a farm formerly occupied by his brother Eldad Spafford, a blacksmith.

The small village of East Clarendon had long been the site of a gristmill owned by members of the Kingsley family. After the arrival of the railroad in 1849, the depot served as a loading point for farm and dairy produce, and the hamlet became something of a neighborhood social center. After

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a fire destroyed the original mill building, covered-bridge builder Nicholas M. Powers built for John J. Kingsley, a new turbine driven gristmill which operated for over fifty years.

At least two quarries have been operated in the town. The larger of the two, known as the Clarendon quarry, was run by a West Rutland marble company. It was operated in the 1800’s, closed, and reopened in 1909.

Agricultural Development

Dairying became increasingly important in Clarendon after the Civil War. Farmers had large dairy barns built to house and milk their profitable herds. Nicholas Powers built a cheese factory next to his home, and a cheese factory and creamery that processed milk from over 360 cows was erected in North Clarendon. Cheese, butter, and grain were loaded at the North and East Clarendon depots. In the 20th century, bulk milk supplanted cheese and butter as the produce of Vermont dairy farms.

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References:

  1. Town Plan 2016 who adapted from the history of Clarendon included in
  2. The Historic Architecture of Rutland County, Curtis B. Johnson, Editor and Elsa Gilbertson, Asst. Editor (Montpelier, VT: Vermont Division for Historic Preservation, 1988) pp. 101-104.

Additional Resources:

Centennial Year of Clarendon Springs, Vermont, Rutland, VT: Title and Company, 1876.

Clarendon, Vermont 1761-1976, Rutland, Vermont: Academy Books, 1976

Vermont Historical Records Survey, Inventory of the Town, Village and City Archives of Vermont, No. 11, Rutland County, Volume 5, Town of Clarendon, Montpelier, Vermont: 1940.