Montpelier History Facts and Timeline

(Montpelier, Vermont - VT, USA)

More than 10,000 years ago in history, Native Americans lived in the state of Vermont, with small groups of Abenaki peoples based around areas such as the Winooski River and the Montpelier of today.

Roughly 3,000 years ago, the tribes had become considerably more civilized, with settlements, hunters using bows and arrows, ceramics and even a basic trade network. In the 2nd century, the Iroquois peoples fought with the existing tribes and took control over much of the land.

Centuries came and went with no great historical significance, that is until the 16th century came along. In 1535, Vermont welcomed its very first European visitor, although it wasn't until the latter part of the 18th century that Montpelier began to draw attention to itself.

Vermont General Assembly

In the year 1781, the state's legislative body, the Vermont General Assembly, gave the land to a small group of European Americans, with the view of creating a permanent settlement. Montpelier was officially founded in 1787, following the arrival of one Colonel Jacob Davis from Charlton, MA. The land was surveyed, wooded areas cleared of trees and a log house was built next to the Winooski River.

A name for this growing settlement was discussed and Colonel Davis decided that it should be named after a city in France that he knew, Montpellier (spelt with one 'l' rather than two). At this time in Vermont history, the French were looked upon very favorably, because of their contribution to the American Revolution.

The State Capital of Vermont is Born

Just a few years later, the population was rapidly approaching 150 people, with several large farms providing the necessary local produce. In 1805, Montpelier was officially chosen as a permanent site for the state government. This was mainly due to its central location within the territory and good access via the Winooski River Valley. The other choice had been Burlington, which was located right next to the northwestern border of Vermont and considered too distant.

The local residents were extremely proud that their hometown had been chosen to lead the state, even though it was fairly small, and they set about raising more than US$10,000 to build a wooden State House before the General Assembly changed its mind. This was soon considered too small and not grand enough, and rumors that an alternative state capital might be chosen prompted the building of the 'Second State House' between 1833 and 1838. This structure was much more impressive, boasting Greek Revival architecture and a giant dome.

Growth and Evolution of the Vermont Capital

By the middle of the 19th century, Montpelier was becoming a center for commerce and manufacturing, with much power for its mills being provided by the river. Trade links had certainly been greatly improved in 1849, when the Vermont Central Railroad reached the town. The town was divided into two different areas, named Montpelier and East Montpelier, the latter of reach remains as a separate town / suburb today.

Disaster stuck in 1857, when the Vermont State House was almost completely destroyed by fire. Portions of the building were salvaged, including the ornate portico at the front, and the building was virtually rebuilt. Additional windows were added and the dome was raised in height.

In the 1880s, electric lights illuminated the streets of the town, being powered by modern hydro generators fed by the river rapids. Soon after, in 1895, the government of Vermont announced that Montpelier was finally to be incorporated as a city.

The Montpelier of Today

Even though Montpelier has a tiny population of less than 10,000 people, it remains the state capital of Vermont. A number of dates during the 20th century stand out in history, such as the women's suffrage campaigns in the early 1920s, the devastating flood damage in 1927, statewide Great Depression and subsequent hardship in the 1930s, and the appearance of the New England hurricane in 1938. More recently, Tropical Storm Irene (Hurricane Irene) once again showed that Mother Nature is a force to be reckoned with in 2011, causing flooding and extensive damage to much of Vermont.

Today, Montpelier is a charming state capital, thanks to its small size, compact nature and friendly residents. Many of the top attractions are easy to reach on foot, and history buffs will find that a trip to the Vermont Historical Society Museum on State Street will be a rewarding one.