Megan LaCasse Ms.
One hundred and thirty years ago there was a quaint, prosperous little town nestled in the heart of Vermont. Today, it’s a dense forest. The town of Elmore, Vermont is most certainly still in existence, but not as it was once upon a time. Elmore, in Lamoille County, is a quiet little town, known nowadays for its mountain and lake with the same name. The middle of town consists mainly of the Elmore Store, the Elmore School (a one room school house), the town clerks office, and the town hail. There is a sign posted by the waterfront of the lake that reads “Elmore, The Beauty Spot of Vermont,” which is by no means an understatement. Little do the folks of Elmore know today, that this quiet and modest community has quite a history. I have lived in this town my entire life; I went to the Elmore School, I’ve hiked the mountain many times, have swum in the lake every summer, but never have I really stopped to wonder about the where it all started. And now that I’ve had the chance to research the history, I’ve learned things I never would have otherwise. There was once a school in Stan Merriam’s yard. a starch factory up Elmore Pond road, a farm where my house is, and even an entire self- sustained community—complete with a blacksmith, at least one sawmill, a school house. and a store—now overgrown in the middle of the woods. What happened to this place? What is the real history of Elmore? Although the town still lives on today, once upon a time there was a rise, height, and downfall of Elmore, Vermont.
To every story there must be a beginning, and this one is no different. After the Revolutionary War, America was given freedom, and all the land that goes along with it. Colonel Samuel Elmore and several other Revolutionary War veterans, most of whom fought under him, and who were mainly of Sharon and Norwalk Connecticut. were given Vermont land in payment for their service in the war. In November of 1780, a charter was granted to Col. Elmore and sixty-four others, including Elmore’s sons. James and Seth Olmstead. Aaron Keeler. and General Oliver Wolcott (a signer of the Declaration of Independence. and for whom the neighboring town is named) (“Elmore”). The charter was not delivered to the men until August 21, 1781. which marks the otticial date ot the birth of Elmore (Carpenter). The town wasn’t settled until the spring of 1790, when Col. Elmore’s Sons Martin and Jesse Elmore, the Olmstead brothers and Aaron Keeler came by boat with the goal of clearing the land for a crop the next year. In the fall, all the men returned to Connecticut for the winter except for Martin. who lived alone in a small cabin through the harsh winter: he saw no other humans except for a few visits with Old Joe’ and his squaw, Molly—two Native Americans of the area—and possibly a fellow settler in a neighboring town. The following spring the Olmsteads, the Elmores, and a few others came back to establish the town (“Early History of Elmore “,. Cricket Smith, secretary of the Elmore Historical Society, told me that while the first settlers trickled in. a lot of the grantees were busy selling their Elmore land from Bennington mostly, so in the earliest years the land was still being distributed, and once that was straightened out many people could come to live. Nevertheless, the first book of records for the town was started in 1792, and on July 23 of that same year the first town meeting was held, electing the town officials (“Book of Records Sheet”,). The town was becoming organized and sufficient. Henry Olmstead. son of Seth, was the first “white child” born in the town on May 14, 1793 (Carpenter). In 1798 the first sawmill was built, marking the start of an industry that would later define the town. The first hotel in town was built by Seth Olmstead in 1813. (Kauffman, Early History of Elmore in Chronological Order). Throughout the next few decades a couple of churches, several schools, stores, mills, and much more sprang up all over. It wasn’t just a little grant of land in the middle of the woods anymore; Elmore was most certainly a bona fide town.
Straight through the 1800’s, Elmore continued to prosper. One article from 1861. ‘Early History of Elmore,’ writes ‘Elmore is a hardy little town. ..and inhabited by an industrious and a generally thriving class of people.” Things in town were going well. I heard from a couple different people that Elmore was even in the running when the state capital was being decided. There were two main centers of life in the town: Elmore, by the lake, where the center of town is still today, and East Elmore, lying about 4 miles southeast of Elmore. Both villages had a store, a congregation, roads leading in and out, t least one school in the area.. .all the necessities for the citizens of either community. The town was flourishing. The earliest and main businesses of Elmore were associated with lumbering. Cricket Smith estimated that there were probably 7 mills scattered about town in the 1880’s, the time which marks the height of the industry. Farming was also a common livelihood. The soil, especially by the lake, was rich for crops, and much land was cleared for the grazing animals (Smith Interview). Annamary Anderson, the current teacher of the Elmore School, thought that she had heard that at some point there were 53 farms in the town at once. Even teachers could also find ajob in Elmore: by 1882 there were 8 schools in the area with 16 teachers (“Schools 1883”). The town continued to thrive throughout the 1800’s. The first census of Elmore in 1791 showed 12 people living in town, but that number quickly grew to 45 in 1800, and by 1810 there were 157 inhabitants. From then on the population steadily increased each decade, peaking around the year 1880 with about 680 people—coincidentally around the same time as the peak of the lumbering industry (‘Kauffman, Population of Elmore).
Actually, this was not such a coincidence. Elmore had reached a climax, and by the very definition of the word. things were about to go downhill. To run a lumber business you need trees, obviously. But the thing is that one day, if you continue to log the woods and cut the lumber, you’re going to run out of trees, which is exactly what happened to the mills in Elmore. As Annarnary Anderson put it, “They cut themselves right out of business!” Everything was cut down; even the whole side of the mountain was stripped (Smith Interview). One by one each sawmill shut down, running many people out of work and out of town. There was nothing left to cut down. ‘Logging is getting to be a thing of the past in Elmore” said one 1906 newspaper article (“Pond Area’). In a span ofjust 30 years. the once booming industry just disappeared. Farming was the only main thing left in the town, and even that didn’t last. There were reports of great fires that took out much of the lumber, and also periods of bad weather which ruined farmland. The land near the lake was better for farming, and with the mills and many of the people gone, East Elmore became abandoned and eventually all together forgotten. By this time—the early 1900’s—things weren’t going very well, and not just ir Elmore. People were experiencing hard times not only throughout the state but across the country. This was the time when Prohibition, the World Wars, and especially the Depression all impacted the American people, including the citizens of Elmore. The carmers of Elmore certainly felt these burdens, too. Cricket Smith also said that her husband’s family used to run a dairy farm. Ihey would take the milk pails down to Morrisville, and were doing pretty well until new regulations stated that the milk must be distributed by bulk cans, rather than the individual pails. The Smiths and many other local farmers could simply not afford this, running even more Elmore farmers out of money and work. In addition to all this, Annamary Anderson told me of the popularity of sheep farming. as Scottish immigrants brought the animal to the area. This was about the time when the West was being discovered and gradually settled, and many people moved out west where better sheep farming and greater possibilities lay. Elmore was not the most accessible place either, and by that time people needed to go places. The next generation simply moved away, leaving Elmore behind. There was nothing there for them; their parents couldn’t give them land, and there weren’t really any jobs available. The grandeurs, business and many people of the town were slipping away. Decade by decade, the population slowly declined (Smith Interview,).
So, what ever happened to this little town? The village of East Elmore is no more Sometime, probably around the 1960’s, to eliminate the possibility of so-called squatters the selectmen of Elmore had all the old abandoned buildings of East Elmore destroyed b’ burning them. Today, there is nothing left but old stone foundations in an overgrown marshland. Mrs. Anderson. who has brought the Elmore School students to the site on two occasions, described the area. She said you can still follow the old road that used to run right into the center of town. You can still see where the old blacksmith’s shop was, where the post office was, where the old school house was and even the school’s outhouse. Mrs. Anderson told me about how sometime ago when there still was a school there, the students must have planted daylilies outside the schoolhouse, because they still come up every year right to this day. The lilies act as a simple reminder to the past: and the once thriving village that is now nothing in the middle of the woods. Elmore, however, is still a town. There is even a state park and a beach now which attracts many visitors. Since reaching a low in the 1970’s, the population of Elmore has increased the population today is approximately 950 (still considered a very small town by today’s standards). There is still the lake, the old general store, the school house in the middle of town, the Methodist Church, and more than anything, there are still the memories.
From the first adventurous trek into the
wilderness in 1790, to the last lumber worker who moved out of town, the town
of Elmore rose, prospered, and then fell. In this sense, little Elmore can be
connected to Rome, Egypt, and the Mayan civilization. They all went through the
‘Dynastic Cycle,” where a society will rise and fall. But it is not called a
cycle for nothing. Rome, Egypt and even some Mayan culture are all still there
today; maybe not in the way they once were, but they are still there, as is
Elmore. Mrs. Anderson teaches her students about history by taking them to the
site of a town in their own backyards. She explained that it really illustrates
to the kids the difference between the old and the new, the way things were and
the way they are now. My research has illustrated that same thing to me. I now
know the story behind Elmore. I can see what the town was like, the way things
used to be. Although I sympathize for those past citizens 0 Elmore and all that they lost, by no means do I pity
Elmore. Elmore is the most important place in the world to me because it is
where I live, where I have always lived. I now know its past. and I can’t wait to see the future of this quaint little
town nestled in
heart of Vermont