Judge Wheeler's Interesting Account at the Dedication Saturday Evening---
With Other Facts of the Town's Early Days and Former Fights.
This town was organized on the first Tuesday, which was the first day, of March, 1768, probably at the house of John Arms, which stood about where the Retreat farm-house stands. There were about 60 voters, seven of whom lived about old Fort Dummer, and from there to William King's, where Lorenzo Thayer's farm is; 10 lived north of West river; and the rest northwest of Arms's. There was a grist mill and a saw mill on Whetstone brook at the bridge, at which no one lived, and no one lived between Cemetery hill and Mr. Arms's. John Arms was the moderator, Dr. Henry Wells was made clerk, Samuel Wells supervisor. They had no slectmen. Other officers required by the laws of the province of New York were chosen, and thus the organization was accomplished.
The house was built just south of the west part of the cemetery in what is now the open field. It was framed: was longest east and west, and fronted south. A road was built to it from the north at the time coming up on the west side of the cemetery; one was built from the east, coming to it across the common; one was built from the south, coming to it on the west side of the common; and one from the west coming directly to it from the northwest corner of the common. Benjamin Butterfield, Jr., a carpenter, built himself a house in the corner between the north and west roads, and took a license as retailer; Abner Scovel, a farmer, built a house between the south and west roads; Dr. Henry Wells, the only physician then, lived where Mr. Capen does; and the minister, Abner Reeve, just east of where Mr. Brown now lives, on the road coming from the east. William McCune, a farmer, lived where the buildings have lately been burnt, and Oliver Cook the blacksmith, beyond him on the road coming from the north. Here in this house town and religious meetings were held, and this was the middle of the town till 1786.
In the year that the meeting-house was built William Harris came and settled where now is the southwest corner opposite Mrs. Bigelow's; in 1772 William Ellas where the seminary is, and Lieut. Root where Mr. Thurber lives; in 1776 Malachi Church built mills on the brook, and Capt. John Houghton came and lived in front of where Clark's block is, and in 1778 Rutherford Hayes came and settled where Mrs. Bigelow lives and others came and lived in that part of the valley. In 1785 the road, now the old road from Marlboro, was built down through to here. Through West Brattleboro it did not come where it now does, but went straight out to where the seminary buildings are and the straight down to the brook. The support of the gospel then, by law, rested upon the towns, and the meeting-houses for both religious and town meetings were to be proved for by the towns. This town voted to build a new meeting-house, and to set on this road east of Capt. Houghton's. It was built there, 60 by 48, two stories high, and the north side was just about in the norse path of the present traveled track opposite the present meeting-house. The front door was on the south side with another entrance at each end, and a belfry with a steeple was finally built at the west end. Pews were sold to raise money to finish it.
Here the town and religious meetings were held till 1817, when the house was moved to where the present one is. The town had then been relieved by law from supporting the gospel, but it still owned the meeting-house subject to the rights of the pew-holders. Town meetings in the same place with religious meetings were not agreeable. An agreement was made between the town, the pew-holders and the academy, with consent of John Noyes, who gave the land for the academy, that the pew-holders should have the meeting house, and town meetings should be held in the hall of the academy, which stood on the corner west of the present seminary buildings. The annual meeting in 1818 was holden in the meeting-house and freeman's meeting in academy hall; and here they were held till 1854.
While these things had been going on Matthew Martin had come from Townshend and rebuilt the mill at Whetstone bridge; Gardner Chandler has come and lived at the Brooks House corner; John W. Blake had come; Samuel Dickinson had come and built a trip hammer shop; John Holbrook had come from Newfane hill; Francis Goodhue had come; Chester Pomeroy had come from Newfane hill, bring the Park house with him; Calvin Townsley had come from Templeton; Jacob Estey from Hinsdale; and many others of all classes, ministers, doctors, lawyers, merchants and artisans.
In 1849 the railroad came. While this part of the town had so much increased in population, the farming part westward had fallen off. No trolley cars ran to West Brattleboro as now for voters to ride up there on and the highway was not as good. The voters here began to move to have the meetings here, but this could not be easily carried. Finally a special meeting was called for Feb. 20, 1854 to see, among other things, what measures the town would take to provide a suitable hall for holding town and freemen's meetings. When the day came the voters here were rallied and went up; and those of the west part were on hand. After much opposition, including a great speech by Judge Samuel Clark, the meeting voted that the town erect a suitable building for a town hall and other municipal purposes to be located in the East village, and that a committee of five be chosen by ballot to devise, play, and erect such a building. Edward Kirkland, Timothy Vinton, Lafayette Clark, George Newman and Francis Goodhue were chosen such a committee and authorized to borrow $15,000. This was taken to mean that all town meetings were to be held here and no more held at West Brattleboro. Temporarily they were held in Revere hall, next to the Revere House, in a stone building that stood where Mr. Cox's stove store is.
Before much had been done towards a new hall a meeting was called there to have the vote rescinded, but the articles were promptly dismissed. The Vermont House, kept by Capt. Lord, Townsley's store and Wantastiquet hall had before gone up in flame and smoke to make room for the new building. It was built in 1855. A meeting was held in it December 12 to hear a report from the building committee, and to see if the town would authorize them to borrow a sufficient sum for remaining expenses of finishing and furnishing it. The committee and the contractor, Joel Bullard, had done their work well; all are gone now but Mr. Goodhue; but still there was opposition. Finally, after much debate, the committee were authorized to borrow $8500 for finishing and furnishing the house and it was completed. When done it was an appropriate and handsome structure, admired by outsiders, and a source of pride for the town. For 40 years it stood with alteration, repair or sign of decay on the outside, and but little alteration within.
Its use during these 40 years was not confined to municipal purposes; but state conventions, grand concerts and theatrical shows were held in the great hall; and the county clerk's office, lawyer's offices, book stores and the post office were at times kept below. Whatever use it was put to it stood well. I was asked to speak only of what has become historic, which ends with the town hall as it was. I would go outside of my commission, and here is the place for me to stop.
Brattleboro Reformer, February 7, 1896.
Speech by Hon. Hoyt Henry Wheeler, Saturday evening, February 1, 1896.