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How Barre City Was Formed
How Barre City Was Formed
by Sen. Bill Doyle
The front page of The Brattleboro Reformer of December 8, 1893 had the following lead story: “Barre - The Busy Hustling Chicago of New England, a story of the progress, industries and wealth of the Granite City. It’s location in history - marvelous development of the Granite City industry - manufacturing and splendid educational facilities.” Barre more than tripled its population from 2,000 in 1880 to 6,800 in 1890, a record for a town in Vermont at that time. During a 12-year period, 626 houses were built, and in 1891, over 100 houses were constructed.
This rapid growth led to the formation in 1886 of a village government which consisted of a five-member board of bailiffs. The bailiffs had power over many municipal services, such as fire protection, but could raise taxes only for highways. Many different writers gave various reasons for the village to become a city. Barre historian Dean Perry wrote, “Most certainly the separation would have had to come before 1931, even if it had not taken place in 1895. For a town of 15,000 to 16,000 people would have been decided unwieldy to manage.” Another historian, Marion McDonald, said the formation was inevitable and added that “fear of being absorbed by Montpelier” was another reason. She felt the formation of the city took place because of the increased need for city services such as sewer, water, lighting and paved streets, which the town would be reluctant to pay for.
Barre’s leading newspaper at the time, The Granite City Leader, ran an editorial in March of 1894 endorsing the separation. The editorial rejected any thought that Barre and Montpelier merge as one city but did support a city charter for Barre indicating that a mayor and council would be more efficient and responsible. The editorial said the village bailiffs “were experienced in government and served mainly for the purpose of improving their own property.” A city government, the editorial continued, would facilitate the construction of an electric light plant and a street commission would improve “streets that were so bad that the national government refused to deliver mail in that community.” The paper said a stronger police department would see that street corners were not “a roosting place for gangs of swearing, insulting, tobacco-expectorating loafers.”
There was a warned meeting on October 23, 1894 to discuss the form of government that Barre should have. Granite manufacturers, such as John Gordon, favored a city charter. Gordon said that a city government “would be more efficient and less expensive to operate than the existing system.” Taxes in Barre were more than double the taxes in Boston. Those opposed to the split at the meeting included President Pierce of Goddard Seminary, who saw little advantage to city government and said while Boston had low taxes, that city was heavily in debt. Others argued that Barre would lose out in civic pride because instead of being the 5th largest city in Vermont, it would become the 10th largest. After the debate, the vote revealed 112 for separation and 17 against, and Barre’s representatives brought the city charter to the legislature in November of 1894.
There was little debate and little opposition to the charter in the House of Representatives. More debate took place in the Senate, but that body also gave its support of the division unanimously. Barre’s first mayor in the first city report wrote the following: “The city form of government will prove a success and but few can be found who would recommend returning to the old system of town and village government.”
The mayor continued:
“We may take pride in the fact that our city has within its borders several of the best equipped plants for manufacturing monumental and cemetery work in the world. Located as we are, with a railroad running to the best granite quarries for monumental work which are known to exist, the future is full of promise and will bring to our city a steady increasing role.”
Describing the residents of the city, Smith said:
“They are largely hard-working and orderly, and few communities having so large a population have less violation of the law. To those who come to reside among us from foreign shores, we should extend the right-hand of fellowship, aid them to become citizens, to get homes of their own, for it is upon them and their descendents that the future management of the city will in large measure depend.”
Senator Bill Doyle serves on the Senate Education Committee and Senate Economic Affairs Committee, and is the Senate Minority Leader. He teaches government history at Johnson State College. He can be reached at 186 Murray Road, Montpelier, VT 05602; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org; or call 223-2851.
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