Dorset Vermont Historical Society


A Brief History of
DORSET, VERMONT

Chartered August 20, 1761

Dorset Post OfficeWhen Benning Wentworth, Governor of New Hampshire, granted charters for the nine towns from Sunderland north to Danby in 1761, he could not have guessed that they would develop so individually. Dorset is most favorably situated, its 46 square miles anchored by mountains - on the southwest by Mother Myrick, on the northwest by the Scallop, and on the eastern border by the Green Mountain front. It gives rise to three rivers, Otter Creek and the Mettowee running north, the Batten Kill flowing south - still prime sources of trout in the Northeast.

Of the original grantees of 1761 only one, William Lemmon, is known to have actually settled in Dorset. The others sold their rights to men from Connecticut, Massachusetts and New York. As Dorset's very first settler (1768), Felix Powel received fifty free acres of land. Joining Powel were Isaac Lacey, Benjamin Baldwin, Abraham Underhill, John Manley, Jr. and George Page. The next year saw four more Baldwins, another Manley (Deacon John, Sr.,) and four Farwell brothers. Other early families included Armstrong, Bloomer, Curtis, Gray, Kent, Paddock and Sykes. These family names are still traceable here today, many of their forebears at rest in Maple Hill Cemetery.

Norcross West Quarry

Two elements combined to make Dorset quite different from the other grants along what are now Route 7A and Route 30. Strangely both are geographical and one is geological. A rise of mountains between these two routes turned Dorset into a split town with the villages of Dorset and South Dorset along Route 30 and North and East Dorset on Route 7A. Morse Hill Road from South Dorset to East Dorset is the only direct ink between them in the town - a distance of 3.6 miles. Lying buried in this range of peaks, Mt. Aeolus, Owls Head, Netop and Dorset Mountain, was the geological phenomenon that became Dorset's claim to fame throughout the country - marble.

The country's first commercial marble quarry was opened in South Dorset by Isaac Underhill in 1785 on the land of Reuben Bloomer. Over Dorset's marble industry lifetime of some 130 years, two dozen or more quarries located on the slopes of Dorset Mountain and Mt. Aeolus provided marble for headstones, lintels, hearths and the like in the early years, followed by monumental uses and later building stone used in many notable buildings, such as the New York Public Library, the library of Brown University, and Memorial Continental Hall of the Daughters of the American Revolution in Washington, D.C. Wilson House c 1920Several mansions on New York City's 5th Avenue were built of Dorset marble, and many bank buildings across the land were graced by interiors lined with polished Dorset marble, some of which was attractively streaked or tinted with green or bluish colors. After the clapboard church in Dorset Village burned in 1907 a new church was built in the same style using locally quarried marble.

One quarry is known as the Gettysburg because from its tunnel-like cut were taken marble blocks fashioned into 5000 or more gravestones for the cemetery on the Civil War battleground of that name. At the formidable Freedley tunnel quarry, located 1000 feet above the East Dorset valley, an inclined railway was built to transport the large marble blocks (typically 4x4x8 feet in size) to the mill located in the valley below, replacing the slow and laborious trip down the mountain in ox-drawn wagons and sleds.


Although marble was the jewel in the crown of Dorset's history this did not mean that other industries did not flourish. There were sheep farms, dairies, cheese factories, saw and grist mills, apple orchards, iron foundries, maple sugaring and especially the Fenton Pottery kilns which produced stoneware from 1800 to 1833.

It was in 1775 and 1776 that this town hosted the vitally important Dorset Conventions which set the stage for the creation of the Republic and later the state of Vermont. These meetings were held at the tavern of Cephas Kent on the West Road and today a marble monument marks that general location.

Washington Hotel c 1895
Washington Hotel c1895 (Since 1905 the Dorset Inn)

In 1852 a hotel was built in East Dorset to accommodate the growing number of travelers. It was here in 1895 a boy named Bill Wilson was born in a room behind the bar. He grew up to become the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous. His birthplace, re-named the Wilson House, still operates as a hotel and retreat for recovering alcoholics who come by the thousands every year to visit Bill W's grave.

Mill Pond
Mill (Prentiss) Pond ca. 1900

A new element entered the life of Dorset in the 1870s when the marble industry was approaching its peak. The quiet town with marble sidewalks was discovered by summer visitors who boarded at private homes and farms for a couple weeks or a month at a time. First came clergymen and their families, then the nature lovers attracted by the earthly beauty of the area, then the artists and writers who drew fresh inspiration from the vistas on every side. The Dorset Inn, in Dorset village, has been in continuous operation since 1796. Some of the family homes that took in boarders became more established hostelries such as the Barrows House (1898) and the Inn at West View Farm (1917). More accommodation was needed and over the years other boarding places gave way to today's popular Bed and Breakfasts.


Dorset Field Club Golf Course

Golf was played in Dorset as early as 1881. An early course map dated Sept. 13, 1886, shows a nine-hole course spreading over the pastures of several neighboring farms. The 1886 date is cited to prove the Dorset Field Club's reputation as the nation's oldest golf club still playing the sport on the same site. The clubhouse was built in 1896. It remained a nine-hole course until the late 1990s when adjacent land became available. The added back nine opened for play in July 1999.

Answering the tourist demand for entertainment is the unique Dorset Playhouse, a beautiful little theater built in 1929 from the wood of two early barns for the use of local thespians. Still in operation under the Dorset Players aegis, it has been shared during the summers since the end of World War II by excellent professional acting companies. The local players still mount five productions each winter.

Dorset PlayhouseThe population of Dorset had been about 2200 in the 1870s, but dropped to slightly more than 1100 by the 1930s with the closing of the marble quarries, mills and iron foundries. It was the ski craze that hit southern Vermont in the early 1950s that truly opened Dorset up to its present four season resort status. The addition of state-of-the-art ski lifts at Bromley Mountain, Stratton and Magic Mountain brought increased threat of rapid growth and change to the secluded villages surrounding them. The population of Dorset has grown to just over 2000 as we start the new millennium.

Yet town planners and Selectmen along with ever vigilant residents have resisted modernization and over-building so that current photographs of Dorset streets, country roads and homes appear almost exactly as they were a hundred years ago, but certainly warmer, more comfortable and better maintained.

Dorset Historical Society
P.O. Box 52 · Route 30 at Kent Hill Road
Dorset, VT 05251 USA · 802-867-0331 · Fax 802-867-0412
E-mail: dorsethist@verizon.net