About Hardwick

            Hardwick, a town in Caledonia County, Vt., contains the unincorporated villages of Hardwick, East Hardwick, and Mackville, and has a population of about 3200 people.  The town serves as a bedroom community for employers as far away as Chittenden County and as a commercial center for the region.

Geography

            The westernmost town in Caledonia County, Hardwick borders the Caledonia County towns of Walden and Stannard to the east, the Orleans County towns of Greensboro and Craftsbury to the north, the Lamoille County town of Wolcott to the west, and the Washington County town of Woodbury to the south. Hardwick has a total area of 39 square miles.

            Rain on Hardwick drains into the Lamoille River and its tributaries flowing west to Lake Champlain. The highest point in Hardwick, the summit of Jeudevine Mountain in the northern corner of the town, is 1,831 feet above sea level.

            Vermont Routes 14, 15, and 16 pass through the town.

Economy

            Hardwick doesn’t have an affluent population. In 2010, the median income for a household was $33,636, and the median income for a family was $39,278. Males had a median income of $27,188 versus $21,732 for females. About 10.5% of families and 14.0% of the population were below the poverty level, including 16% of those under age 18 and 14% of those over age 65. The price of real estate reflects the affluence of the town.

Demographics

            In 2010 there were 1,216 households of which 52% were married living together; 38% of the households contained children under the age of 18. The average household size was 2.6 and the average family size was 3. About 30% of the people were under the age of 18, and 12% were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 36 years.

Agriculture

            In the past 20 years, Hardwick has focused on using sustainable agriculture and food processing as its local economic base. The Vermont Food Venture Center, provides a “shared-use kitchen incubator for value-added and specialty food producers.” In 2020, a project to restore and expand a 1930s Dutch Colonial style barn, painted yellow, along Vermont Route 15, – the Yellow Barn Project – promises to provide space for post-incubator businesses to continue their operations and market their products. 

Government

            A 5-person Selectboard, assisted by a wide variety of volunteer Committees and Commissions, governs the town through a Town Manager. The town owns the Hardwick Electric Department and 225 feet of shoreline on Caspian Lake in Greensboro where the 2.4 acres has been used for recreation since 1927.

Media

            The Hardwick Gazette is a weekly newspaper, founded in 1889, that serves Hardwick and surrounding communities. In 2020, it became a digital publication, available at https://hardwickgazette.com

History

            During the Revolutionary War, Congress supported the construction of the Bayley-Hazen Military Road from the Connecticut River Valley to Montreal, in Lower Canada. Road construction went only as far as Montgomery, Vt., but after the war it provided settlers with access to northeastern Vermont.

            Creating a new world, the daunting task each group of pioneers faced anew, draws on settlers’ remembered traditions from their former homes as well as parameters established by the state and federal governments.  The Republic of Vermont chartered the Town of Hardwick in 1781.  The 1790 census shows 3 people in two families, those of Mark and Jabin Norris, living here. They settled along the Bayley-Hazen military road and called it “The Street” or “Hardwick Street,” giving themselves a sense of community like those they had come from.

            Vermont became a state in 1791, a year after the Norrises arrived in Hardwick. They and other settlers knew they would have to define a local government eventually, but that would have to wait until after they assured their own survival. Typically in eastern wilderness settlements, grist and lumber mills, like those Samuel Stevens developed at the falls of the Lamoille River before 1805, provided lumber and ground grain and assured that the community could survive.

            On March 31, 1795, five years after the first settler arrived, the men of Hardwick held a Town Meeting. At it, Norris and his neighbors created the essential elements of a government – a tax collector, two listers (tax assessors), a treasurer, three selectmen (Town Council) a constable, 3 Surveyors of Highways (supervisors of road work), 1 tithingman, and 4 hay wardens (responsible for stray cattle). Men who owned property could vote, and they regarded holding an office as both a privilege and a duty. The Town held one annual meeting to keep abreast of Town business and to set policy for the coming year. Beyond that, townsmen could petition Special meetings to address pressing issues.

            At its second Town Meeting, 1796, townsmen voted to call a minister to establish a church the Town would support.  Since Hardwick had a tithingman already in place, the people must have held informal services. Calling a minister implied a desire for a more formal arrangement. The church served as the guardian of all orderliness outside the marketplace. Church councils investigated, tried, and adjudicated transgressions in personal behavior prescribed by church laws and community standards. Church councils had the power to excommunicate a transgressor from the church community, a powerful deterrent when the church offered the only social life outside the family.

            Hardwick, as an organized community with mills, a church, and a government, attracted more settlers, and more settlers attracted more merchants and tradesmen. The second wave of tradesmen included a tanner, a blacksmith, a cabinet maker, a wheelwright, a shoemaker, an innkeeper, a general merchant, and a potash factory which provided one of the few sources of cash in a wilderness economy.

            As the population increased, concerns about orderliness and honesty intensified, so at its fourth town meeting, 1798, Hardwick elected additional town officials to regulate commerce, protect consumers, and to arbitrate conflicting claims – a fence viewer, to arbitrate boundary disputes, and a leather sealer, to certify the quality of leather. In 1799, it elected three members to “the committee to inspect the town treasurer and reports to the town” – to audit the books.

            Children arrived in Hardwick nearly as soon as adults, and they worked alongside the adults clearing the land and building homesteads. When survival was the primary issue, formal education seemed like a luxury. However, in a free-market economy and direct democracy, citizens must know how to read, write, and do the arithmetic necessary for honest transactions. Thus, after the hard work of establishing themselves, frontier communities built schools to educate their children.  In 1799, with approximately 50 children under the age of 10, and another 20 between 10 and 18, Hardwick established four school districts which taxed themselves to build school buildings and pay teachers.

            In 1800 Hardwick held 263 people.  A village called Stevensville, now East Hardwick, grew up around Stevens’ mills and became the early center of manufacturing activity. A second village, South Hardwick, developed at the intersection of the Lamoille River and a pass through the hills south to Woodbury and Montpelier. The increase in people meant an increase in the number of domestic animals, and in 1800 the town decreed that swine could no longer run free. It elected three “Pound Keepers” to round up and hold stray animals the Hay Warden had no responsibility for.

            As the population grew, social strata developed. By 1800, it was clear that not all pioneers could pay their taxes, and the town elected a “vendue master for constable and collection officer.” It was his unhappy job to sell off property for unpaid taxes. Also in 1800 the town elected another consumer protection officer called the Sealer of Weights and Measures. It elected its final consumer protection officers in 1802 –  two Surveyors of Lumber.

            By 1804, fourteen years after the initial settlers arrived, the community had enough impoverished incompetents, elderly, widows, orphans, and infirm that it grudgingly accepted some responsibility for their care. It appointed the Selectmen as “Overseers of the Poor.” Typically the Selectmen arranged for orphans to serve as indentured servants. They auctioned off adults and families to whomever would provide for them at the lowest cost to the town. In 1807 the Overseer function had grown large enough that the town appointed a committee to audit the “Overseers'” accounts.

            Initially people buried their dead privately, but in 1811 the town saw a need to regulate burials and care for graves; it elected two sextons for town cemeteries.

            Early government in Hardwick secured its own functioning so it could build roads, educate children, and assure a standard of products and practices in the commercial sector lest disputes between buyers and sellers bring disorder to the community. It offered only minimum support for those who could not function in the marketplace. It took no role in domestic disputes, and it had little interest in non-commercial disputes between people. Instead, it supported a church which addressed those issues.

            Thus Hardwick became an agricultural community like the rest of its neighbors. It sent 236  soldiers to defend the union during the Civil War. In 1870, Hardwick had a population of 1,519 people and an economy based on the work of farmers, merchants, and professionals similar to the towns around them. During the decade of the 1870s, however, Hardwick’s history began to diverge from that of its neighbors, because Hardwick had both a railroad and granite. Walden and Wolcott, to the east and west, had a railroad, but no granite. Woodbury, to the south, had granite but no railroad.

            After the Civil War, a group of regional business people developed a railroad that ran east and west across northern Vermont, mostly following the Lamoille Valley from St Johnsbury to Swanton. They broke ground in 1869 and finished the road in 1877. The first passenger train arrived in Hardwick on January 1, 1872. The railroad, known as the Lamoille Valley RR (LVRR), the St. Johnsbury and Lake Champlain RR, the St. Johnsbury and Lamoille County RR  (St. J. & L.C.), and finally the Lamoille Valley RR, quickly became an important fixture in the region, carrying away timber, hay, hides, cheese, butter, butter tubs, and brooms made in Hardwick. It also carried away people, and initially, Hardwick’s population dropped to 1484 in 1880. Granite, however, brought new people to town.

            The industrial and urban growth of the post-Civil War era tremendously increased private and public wealth, and great neoclassical buildings of marble and granite came into fashion to house corporations, banks, and the well-to-do. Similarly, urban development called for tremendous amounts of stone, frequently granite, for bridges, dams, and civic buildings.  Hardwick had granite perfectly suited to building buildings.

            When Samuel Wheeler opened the first granite shed in Hardwick in 1870, he knew a railroad would come through Hardwick and make shipping his product, which weighed 170-200 pounds per cubic foot, physically and economically feasible. He wasn’t alone. Through the 1880s and 1890s, up to eleven sheds grew up along the railroad tracks, but not until a privately funded railroad, the Hardwick and Woodbury RR, ran from the quarries in the hills of Woodbury to the sheds in Hardwick did the industry start to boom.

            Industrialization came rapidly. In 1888 – Woodbury Granite Company (W.G.C.) incorporated as a small quarry in Woodbury. At that time, Hardwick competed with Barre in the monument market and didn’t do very well; Hardwick stone wasn’t as nice as Barre sone. Nevertheless, the business had grown large enough in Hardwick to make it worth while for the granite cutters’ union to organize the workers in 1890. Owners quickly accepted unionization, and the union spoke for the workers for the rest of the life of the industry in town.

            In the same year, the needs of the South Hardwick had diverged from those of the Town so that in 1890, the Village of Hardwick received a charter from the state. It immediately levied bonds for services the Town would not support, like a municipal water supply in 1891, and a volunteer fire company. The town had a population of about 1500 people.

            In 1892, the Boston and Maine Railroad, which controlled the ST.J.&L.C., built a 1.7 mile railroad spur from the ST.J.&L.C. to Buffalo Mountain, which became known as the Quarry Railroad.  In the same year, the village added a sewer system and hired one policeman.

            In 1894, a group of speculators incorporated the Hardwick &Woodbury R.R. (H.&W.) to run from Quarry RR to rich the granite quarries on Robinson Mountain in Woodbury. Without this railroad, they knew that the industry could never develop to its full potential. Meanwhile, others in the village successfully advocated for an electric power plant.  With an infrastructure of the railroad to haul the stone and electricity to run the tools that shaped and polished it, the granite industry, dominated by the newly reorganized Woodbury Granite Company which built its sheds in the Village of Hardwick.

   In 1896, the Village began to install concrete sidewalks beside its dirt streets. In 1897, the town  converted the old 1860 Town Hall into a performance theater called the Opera House. The same year, two wealthy local philanthropists donated a public library building and collection to the town. Hardwick looked on itself as a First Class Place.

         In 1900, 59% of the male workforce in the Village of Hardwick worked in some granite-related activity. In 1903, the Woodbury Granite Company won the two-year contract to build the Pennsylvania State Capitol and completed it in 22 months. Within a few years, it became the largest building-granite company in the country, and perhaps the world. Buildings around the country made with Hardwick granite include the Wisconsin State Capitol, Chicago City Hall, and the Old Post Office Building in Washington, D.C., as well as hundreds of banks, post offices, and other public buildings.

         The granite industry in Hardwick paid a monthly payroll of about $40,000 – about $1,130,000 dollars monthly in 2017 – and Hardwick’s population peaked at 3201 in 1910.

         After World War I, municipalities and corporations stopped building granite buildings in favor of sky-scrapers which could offer more space on a smaller footprint. The building-granite industry in Hardwick died slowly, the workers gradually went away, the H&W RR tracks got torn up and sold, and the community went back to being the market center for the local region. In 1960, the population had dropped to 2349. Over time, having two municipal bodies ceased to make much sense, and the Village of Hardwick and Town of Hardwick merged in 1988.