Old Constitution House, Windsor, Vermont

The Old Constitution House on North Main Street in Windsor, Vermont, around 1927. Image from The Birthplace of Vermont; a History of Windsor to 1781 (1927).

The scene in 2019:

Vermont is one of several states that was arguably an independent nation prior to statehood. Although never formally recognized by any foreign nation, the lightly populated, mountainous land between New Hampshire and New York was a de facto country between 1777, when it declared its independence, and 1791, when it voted to join the United States as the 14th state. Since then, Vermonters have retained a high degree of independence, particularly when it comes to political thinking. However, Vermont’s 1777 independence had less to do with lofty political ideals, and more to do with practical necessities.

Prior to the American Revolution, both New Hampshire and New York claimed the territory that would become Vermont, and both issued land grants to settlers here. These grants often conflicted with one another, leading to conflict between the two groups of settlers. The British government recognized New York’s claims, but a band of New Hampshire-affiliated settlers, led by Ethan Allen, formed the Green Mountain Boys in 1770 to protect their interests. Over the next few years this led to instances of violence, most notably the Westminster Massacre, when two protesters were killed by a New York-affiliated sheriff at the Westminster courthouse in March 1775.

The settlers with New Hampshire grants ultimately gained control of much of the territory, and on January 15, 1777 they declared independence, at the same courthouse in Westminster where the massacre had occurred. In the declaration, the new state was named the Republic of New Connecticut, but several months later the name was changed to Vermont, which is based on the French name for the Green Mountains, les verts monts. From here, the next step was to draft a constitution to organize the new government. So, on July 2, 1777 the 72 delegates to the Vermont constitutional convention met here in Windsor, in the tavern of Elijah West. This building, which is shown in these two photos, was originally located on Main Street in the center of Windsor, although it has subsequently been moved twice over the years.

Unlike the United States Constitution, which took an entire summer to draft in 1787, the Vermont delegates created their constitution here in a week. They borrowed heavily from the Pennsylvania constitution, largely copying its structure and, in many cases, its exact wording. Among the features of the Vermont constitution was a declaration of rights, which guaranteed rights such as freedom of speech, freedom of religion, trial by jury, freedom from search and seizure, and free elections for all men in Vermont.

However, perhaps the most significant provision in the constitution’s declaration of rights—and one of the few not copied from Pennsylvania—was the first one, which abolished slavery among adults. This was the first constitution in the present-day United States to do so, although it proved difficult to enforce. Nonetheless, it was an important first step in ending slavery, and within less than a decade many other northeastern states had begun gradual abolition or, in the case of Massachusetts, outlawed it entirely.

The finished document was signed here in this building on July 8, 1777, and it went on to serve as Vermont’s constitution for much of the state’s time as a de facto independent nation. However, it was subsequently replaced by a new document in 1786, which was in turn followed by the current state constitution in 1793, two years after Vermont joined the union as the fourteenth state.

In the meantime, this building here in Windsor reverted to its primary use, and it remained a tavern until 1848. Then, around 1870 it was moved to a new location, where it was used first as a tenement house and then later as a warehouse. By the turn of the 20th century it was in danger of being demolished, but it was ultimately preserved and, in 1914, moved to its current location on North Main Street, just to the north of the village center.

The first photo was taken a little over a decade after the move. At the time, it was owned and operated as a museum by the Old Constitution House Association, which had been responsible for saving the building. Nearly a century later, very little has changed in this scene. The property was transferred to the state in 1961, but it continues to serve as a museum, and it stands as one of the oldest surviving  buildings in Vermont. Because of its significance as the birthplace of Vermont, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1971, and it is also a contributing property within the Windsor Village Historic District, which was established four years later.

Windsor House, Windsor, Vermont

The Windsor House on Main Street in Windsor, around 1865-1885. Image courtesy of the New York Public Library.

The scene in 2018:

This hotel was built in 1836 in the center of Windsor, an important town located along the banks of the Connecticut River in Vermont. At the time, Windsor was a prosperous manufacturing center, and it was one of the largest towns in the state by population, with over 3,000 residents during the 1830 census. By the following decade, it was also one of the first towns in the state with a railroad connection, when the Vermont Central opened in 1849 between Windsor and Hartford.

The Windsor House was one of the finest hotels in the area during the mid-19th century. In 1840, the Boston Traveler published a glowing letter to the editor by an anonymous writer who praised the hotel with the following description:

The Windsor House is a handsome brick edifice, 3 storys high. It contains 90 rooms; 10 private parlors, 6 of them having 2 sleeping rooms attached; 2 large parlors on the first floor; a dining hall; a reading room; 1 office. The halls on each floor are 15 feet wide. Besides the above rooms, there is a wing containing 30 sleeping rooms, and in the 4th story of the house is a large hall. The whole house is well furnished, and in the latest style, and will easily accommodate 150 persons.

The politeness of Mr. S. A. Coburn, the host, who for 7 or 8 years had charge of the Merrimack House, Lowell—the activity of his head clerk, Mr. Mitchell, (who was formerly attached to one of the first houses in New York,) the general attention of the domestics, and all the internal arrangements will insure a liberal public patronage. As a summer residence its location contains many advantages, which it might be well for such travellers as seek for a spot where they can breathe the pure mountain air, personally to make enquiry into. To all who have occasion to pass through that pleasant country, we can only say, that at the Windsor House they will find every attention and comfort which can be desired.

By the early 1840s, the hotel had evidently changed hands, as it was being run by Jehiel H. Simonds, who subsequently owned it for many years. During this time, the hotel apparently catered to both travelers and long-term residents, with the 1850 census showing 43 people living here, including Simonds himself and his wife Harriet. It is difficult to determine how many of these were hotel staff, but one of the resident employees here was Henry Parks, a 30-year-old African American who worked as a groom. He would later go on to enlist in the famous 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment, one of the first African-American units in the Civil War.

Simonds was still living here and running the hotel when the first photo was taken sometime around the 1870s. The 1880 census is much more helpful in determining the occupations of the people who lived here around this time. That year, there were a total of 17 people living here. Two were Jehiel and Harriet Simonds, and seven more were hotel employees, including a chambermaid, cook, porter, two waiters, and two laborers.

Of the eight boarders who were listed here during the 1880 census, five were from the Richards family, originally from Charlestown, New Hampshire. They included 60-year-old Harriet Richards and her son Jarvis, along with E. Jane Richards, who was the wife of Harriet’s son DeForest. DeForest, who would later become governor of Wyoming, was not living here at the time, but his two young children, Inez and J. DeForest, were here at the Windsor House with their mother, uncle, and grandmother. J. DeForest was five years old at the time, and he eventually went on to become an accomplished college football player at the University of Michigan, where he played halfback and quarterback during the mid-1890s.

In the meantime, Jehiel Simonds operated the Windsor House until his death in 1885 at the age of 83. The hotel remained in business for many years afterward, and it has long been a prominent landmark in downtown Windsor. It was threatened by demolition in the early 1970s, but it was ultimately preserved and repurposed, with a variety of commercial tenants. The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1971, and it is still standing today, nearly two centuries after it was completed. The neighboring 1824 Pettes-Journal Block on the far left side of this scene is also still standing, and there have been few exterior changes to either this building or the Windsor House since the first photo was taken.

Overlook, Hartford, Vermont

The Overlook house in Hartford, around 1900. Image from The Old and the New.

The scene in 2018:

This house, which was known as Overlook, was built at some point during the 19th century, probably around the 1870s based on its Second Empire-style architecture. For many years it was the home of Alfred E. Watson, a noted businessman and local politician. He was born in 1857 and he grew up in Hartford, where his father, Edwin C. Watson, manufactured agricultural tools in the firm of French, Watson & Co. Alfred attended nearby Dartmouth College, graduating in 1883, and that same year he married Mary Maude Carr of Montpelier.

Alfred Watson was primarily involved in the insurance business, but he was also a director and treasurer of the White River Savings Bank, director of Hartford National Bank, and director of the Chicago, Kalamazoo & Saginaw Railway. In addition, he was involved in politics, holding a number of different offices. He served as Secretary of Civil and Military Affairs during the administration of fellow Hartford native Governor Samuel E. Pingree, and he was subsequently elected to both houses of the state legislature, along with serving on the state’s Board of Railway Commissioners.

Alfred and Mary Watson had two children. Their son Cedric died in 1890 before his first birthday, but their daughter Margery lived to adulthood. The first photo was taken sometime around the turn of the 20th century, and the 1900 census shows that they were living here with Margery, who was 12 years old at the time, Mary’s father Walter S. Carr, and Alfred’s nephew, Carl W. Cameron. The latter moved out sometime before the 1910 census, but the rest of the family was still here during that year. Walter subsequently died in 1915 at the age of 82, and Margery evidently moved out of the house by the time of her marriage in 1917.

Mary died in 1948 at the age of 83, and Alfred continued to live here until his death in 1950 at the age of 93. They both outlived their daughter Margery, who died in 1940. With no surviving heirs, and with little demand for such a large single-family home during the mid-20th century, the house was ultimately divided into apartments. At some point, the house underwent some significant changes, including the removal of the barn on the left side and the large front porch. Many of its other Victorian-era exterior details are similarly lost, having been replaced by modern siding. Overall, though, the house, which is now known as Hillcrest Manor, is still standing, and it is still recognizable from the first photo. It recently underwent a major renovation shortly before the present-day photo was taken, and it now consists of nine affordable housing units.

 

Mary d.1948, age 83

Second Congregational Church, Hartford, Vermont

The Second Congregational Church in the center of Hartford, around 1903-1910. Image from The Old and the New.

The church in 2018:

The present-day town of Hartford consists of five distinct villages, spread out across nearly 50 square miles of land. During the first half of the 19th century, this village here along the banks of the White River developed into the de facto town center. It was known as White River Village, and in in 1827 the Congregational Society of White River Village—later renamed the Second Congregational Society of Hartford, Vermont—was established here, with the intent of constructing a meeting house here.

This building, which is shown here in these two photos, was completed in late 1828, and it was formally dedicated on January 8, 1829. It was constructed by Jedediah Dana of Lebanon, New Hampshire, with a design that was typical for New England churches of the period, including a tower and belfry above the main entrance. On the interior, the church could seat 400 people, with pews on either side of two aisles, along with a gallery in the rear of the church.

As was often the cases in churches at the time, parishioners purchased their pews. Prices started at $52, a considerable sum for the 1820s, and the more desirable pews carried a premium. Individual families decorated and furnished their pews according to their tastes, and in the early years only pew owners could vote in church meetings, with the voting power determined by the number of pews that the person held. In all, 61 pews were sold when the church was completed, for a total of $3,788.50, which nearly covered the $4,297 that it cost to construct the building.

The church remained in use throughout the 19th century, but by the turn of the 20th century it was in need of a major renovation. This work, which was done in 1902-1903, included converting the gallery into a meeting room, replacing the heating and ventilation systems, installing new carpet and upholstery, and reducing the seating capacity to 300. Both the interior and exterior were also remodeled with Colonial Revival-style features, which were added by local architect Louis S. Newton.

The first photo was taken sometime soon after these renovations were completed. Since then, very little has changed here on the exterior. Aside from the lack of shutters in the present-day view, the church looks the same as it did more than a century ago, and it remains in use as an active church, now known as the Greater Hartford United Church of Christ. Along with the other buildings here in the village center, it is now part of the Hartford Village Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.

Louis S. Newton House, Hartford, Vermont

The house at 1683 Maple Street in Hartford, around 1900. Image from The Old and the New.

The house in 2018:

This Greek Revival-style cottage was built around 1859, and its earliest recorded owner was George Brockway, a chair manufacturer who was listed here as the owner in the 1869 county atlas. It does not indicate whether he personally lived here or just owned the property, but it seems likely that this was his home, and the 1870 census shows him living in Hartford with his four young children, who ranged in age from three months to four years old. He ultimately sold the property for $1,400 to John H. French in 1871, and he died two years later at the age of 43.

In 1884, the house was purchased by Almira L. Newton, who lived here for many years along with several other family members, including her sister Caroline and her brother Louis. None of the three siblings evidently ever married, although Almira raised her adopted son Bradleigh here. All three of the Newtons were living at the house during the 1900 and 1910 censuses, but Louis appears to have moved elsewhere in town by 1920, and in 1921 he relocated to Burlington.

Louis S. Newton was a noted local architect. Here in Hartford, he is perhaps best remembered for his 1903 remodeling of the historic Second Congregational Church, and he also did some work here on his sister’s house, adding Colonial Revival-style details around 1900. Elsewhere, his other works consisted of a variety of houses and commercial buildings, including both renovations and new construction. He designed the Occom Ridge houses at nearby Dartmouth College at the turn of the 20th century, and in 1914 he restored the Old Constitution House in Windsor, which is regarded as the birthplace of Vermont.

The house remained in the Newton family until at least the early 1940s, and it has since changed ownership many times over the years. However, its appearance has remained remarkably unchanged throughout this time, with few exterior changes more than a century after the first photo was taken. Today, the house is part of the Hartford Village Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1998.

Ephraim Morris House, Hartford, Vermont

The house at 1627 Maple Street in Hartford, around 1900. Image from The Old and the New.

The scene in 2018:

This house was built in 1894 as the home of Ephraim Morris, one of the most prominent residents of late 19th century Hartford, Vermont. Morris was born in 1832, a little to the north of here in the town of Strafford, and he grew up in Norwich, where he attended Norwich University before moving to Boston to become a clerk in a boot and shoe firm. However, he ultimately returned to Vermont in 1854, settling in Hartford and joining his father Sylvester’s business. Later in the year, he married his wife, Almira M. Nickerson, who was originally from South Dennis, Massachusetts.

Sylvester Morris retired in 1857, and Ephraim carried on the business with his brother Edward. In the early years, they ground plaster and sold it for use as fertilizer, but they subsequently switched to manufacturing chairs. Then, later in the 19th century the brothers entered the woolen manufacturing industry, operating the Hartford Woolen Company along with the Ottauquechee Woolen Company in nearby North Hartland.

Aside from these businesses, Ephraim was also a director and vice president of the National Bank of White River Junction, and he represented Hartford in the state legislature from 1896 to 1898. However, perhaps his single most important contribution to the town came in 1893, when he donated $5,000 to build the Hartford Library. The library, which remains in use today, stands directly adjacent to the spot where, a year later, he built his own house.

Ephraim and Almira Morris had two daughters, Kate and Annie. Both attended Smith College, and Kate was in the school’s first graduating class, along with being the first to receive a Ph.D. from the school. She married Charles M. Cone in 1884, and they lived in a historic house just a little to the east of here in the center of Hartford. Annie, who was 14 years younger than her sister, was still living with her parents when they moved into this house in 1894, and she was still here during the 1900 census, shortly before her marriage to Roland E. Stevens.

The first photo was taken around this time, showing the side view of the house from the library grounds. The architecture of the house was primarily Colonial Revival in style, with distinctive elements such as the large Palladian window, but it also had some features from the earlier Queen Anne style, including the asymmetrical design and the turret at the southeast corner of the house.

Ephraim Morris died in 1901, followed by his widow Almira in 1909. Their daughter Annie subsequently inherited this house, and she lived here with her husband Roland for many years. He was a lawyer, and probably his most famous case came late in his life, when in 1952 he sued the state of Vermont on behalf the Iroquois tribe, claiming that much of the state’s land was unlawfully taken from them. The suit was ultimately unsuccessful, but both he and his case gained widespread attention in newspapers across New England.

Annie apparently died at some point in the 1950s, and Roland died in 1957 at the age of 89. Their large house was subsequently sold to the Bible Baptist Church, which converted it into a church. Since then, the building has been acquired by a different church, Praise Chapel, and it remains in use today. Despite these changes in use, though, the exterior of the building has remained well-preserved in more than a century since the first photo was taken, and it is now a contributing property within the Hartford Village Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1998.