Archive 05-14-2023 Stowe’s History

Stowe lies in a broad, fertile valley between Mt. Mansfield and the Green Mountains on the west, and the Worcester Range or “Hogback” Mountains on the east. The Waterbury River (or Little River, as it is presently known) flows southward and empties into the large Reservoir created by the Flood Control Dam above Waterbury Center. There, the “Little River” flows southward and empties into the westward flowing Winooski River, west of the Village of Waterbury.

Stowe became a chartered town on June 8, 1763, when governor Benning Wentworth of New Hampshire designated 64 men as “Proprietors”. None of these men actually settled in the town at that time.  It wasn’t until 1793, two years after Vermont joined the original thirteen of the United States of America, that people settled in the state.

Oliver Luce was the first settler and arrived in Stowe in March, 1793, with his wife and two small daughters.  He built a one room log cabin about two miles north of the present Village of Stowe where Route 100 curves to the right and the Hill, or Old Stage Coach Road, runs straight to Morristown Corners and Cadys Falls.  When moving his family to the log cabin, he left most of their belongings at Waterbury Center, and trekked the balance of the way on foot through trackless forest, pulling a small hand sled loaded only with some household necessities.  A stone monument bearing a commemorative bronze tablet stands in the grass triangle where the two roads meet and near the location of the first house in Stowe.

This original sled is on display at the Stowe Historical Society. It was presented to the Stowe Historical Society by Oliver Luce’s great-great-grand-daughter, Mrs. Elsie Alger Page, the first President of the Society.

The second settler, Captain Clement Moody. arrived a day after Oliver and settled south of the Lower Village, on what is now Route 100, near the present site of the Spruce Pond Building. Fifth generation members of the Moody family still live on nearby land. Captain Moody was followed by other families shortly after, including close relatives of Oliver Luce. Luce Hill to the southwest of the Mountain Road (Route 108) was named after Ivory Luce, a member of this family.  The town grew rapidly over the succeeding years and by 1800, most of the land had sold.  The population was 816. Steady growth continued for the next fifty years.  About 40 of the town’s men fought in the War of 1812, and about 208 fought in the Civil War.

In addition to the outlying farms, the early settlers congregated in five distinct locations. The original Upper or North Village was situated in the neighborhood of Oliver Luce’s log cabin. The present village was called the Center or Middle Village, and Mill Village was located directly down stream from there.  Next to Mill Village was the settlement called Lower Village. A separate hamlet of Moscow, originally called Smith’s Falls, was two miles further down the Little River. Stowe eventually became the largest township in Vermont.  In 1840, the Town of Mansfield, was added to the original 36 square miles called Stowe. In 1855, part of the Town of Sterling (split between Johnson, Morristown and Stowe), was added.  Stowe has a storied past and, at various times, has been part of both Chittenden County and Washington County. 

Vermont Businesses
Lumber and agriculture have been the essential industries of Stowe over most of its history.

The first problem of the American settler in Vermont was simply staying alive. His second challenge was developing a cash crop to make a living. In Stowe, the cash crop was potash, leached from hardwood ashes  when land was cleared. Prior to the development of the modern chemical industry, potash was the source of  lye used making soaps and tanning leather, among other purposes.  During the War of 1812, potash was embargoed by the British.  In order to circumvent that embargo, smugglers carried potash, and other embargoed materials, through what is now called Smugglers’ Notch Pass.   

Throughout most of Stowe’s history, lumber and agriculture were the essential industries, and the cleared land used for dairy farming.  Initially, the cash crop was butter, with many butter tub mills operating along the streams feeding Little River. Eventually, most Stowe’s farms produced bulk milk which sold in the Boston market.  The maple syrup industry was born during the Civil War, with the introduction of tin cans and the invention of metal spouts and evaporator pans.  Most early producers were dairy farmers who made maple syrup and sugar during the off-season of the farm for their own use and for extra income.  The transformation of maple sugaring into a salable commodity gave rise to the Vermont Maple Sugar Makers Association which was founded in 1893.

One of the oldest wood-working plants in the Town of Stowe was the C.E. & F.O. Burt Corp., which used to operate a steam-powered sawmill in the present Village.  There are two local companies, located in the Village of Moscow, still operating today – the George F. Adams, Co. makes a line of wood products and the Little River Wood Products Co. produces wooden handles.   Others, like Stoware and Cady Wagon Co., made a variety of wooden products, carriages, wagons and sleighs until the 1970s.

Religion and education were prioritized when establishing the government of the State, the Legislature in 1779.  The planning included townships, each six miles square, with 70 “rights” or lots in each.  There were five lots reserved in each town.  Each of the five lots were designated for a special purpose – college, town school, the “Propagation of the Gospel” (The Church of England – now the Episcopal Diocese of Vermont), the “First Settled Minister” and Governor’s Right.

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