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September 19th, 2017

Montpelier Becomes a City

 

In August of 1781, the state of Vermont chartered the town of Montpelier to Colonel Jacob Davis and several associates. Many of these associates were also named in the town of Calais, which was chartered by the state one day later.

It is thought that Colonel Davis selected the town’s name as well as the town of Calais. Davis named Calais for the port city in France of the same name, and he named Montpelier for the French city of Montpellier in southern France. Many people think that the two French names were chosen because France had been a very strong ally in 1778 and had helped us win the Revolutionary War.

In 1805, Vermont was selected by the legislature to be the state capital. In 1848, the Vermont Legislature passed a law dividing the community into two towns, Montpelier Town and East Montpelier Town. Montpelier had most of the people, and East Montpelier received 80 percent of the land.

While the legal voters of Montpelier Village wanted the division, the division was opposed by the town.

Those for the passage of the bill argued:

“The inhabitants of the village… had a just claim to be set off on account of a hardship of being compelled to travel so far uphill to town meeting, of having been deprived of their fair portion of highway taxes, and thus been subjected to bad streets and roads an evil to which they would still be exposed while the east part of the town held the balance of power … that the state had an interest in having good streets in the village where the legislature meet annually, and that it was unreasonable to refuse to place the village in a situation to make the desired improvements.”

Those opposed to the division argued:

“It was contrary to the precedent established here to divide towns without previous notice and action in town meetings, that it would be hasty legislation, and lead to many evils by way of bad precedent and future calls for divisions of towns without valid reason, and that it would be unjust to the hill portion of the town which had resisted the application to this division.”

According to Ellen Hill and Marilyn Blackwell, authors of “Across the Onion,” the division in the long run worked to the advantage of both town and city:

“As time passed, the people of East Montpelier began to realize that there were compensating benefits from being detached from the village (City of Montpelier). The new town still held the majority of the land area, including the prime farm land, and its share of prominent men and leaders. The town could now devote its attention to its own bridges, roads, and schools without having to take into account the needs of the city. Its representatives in the legislature, coming from a farm district, would better serve rural interests. In the next century the city spent its revenues on paved roads, streetlights, water mains, and sewer systems, projects that the farmers of East Montpelier were certainly not interested in supporting.”

The city of Montpelier was created by a special act of the legislature in 1894. The charter divided the city into five wards and assumed the obligation of the town, village and school district. The charter specified the responsibilities of the mayor, council and other city officials. In 1898 the charter was amended by the legislature to annex part of the town of Berlin. The charter was subsequently amended around the turn of the century to provide that the mayor receive a salary of $300.00 and each alderman $150.00.

The first election of the new charter was held on March 5, 1895 and the first mayor was George W. Wing. At this time, the city council was organized. It was thought that the unified municipal form of government, which included town, village and school district, was a decided improvement. It was also thought that the principle of non-partisanship, which began with the first city election proved a wise policy.

Under the new governmental structure, new bridges, new school buildings, improved roads and sidewalks were constructed. In addition, both the water and sewer systems were extended. The number of lighted streets was extended to 20 miles. A trolley connecting Montpelier and Barre carried passengers back and forth between the two cities.

The city of Montpelier included many smaller villages that at one time were separate governmental entities. Daggats Mills was located in the eastern section of the city, as was Gallison Village, where many of the Gallison family had lived. Another separate village was Gould, and today there are many homes located on Gould Hill. The Meadow, located close to downtown Montpelier, was originally a common meadow, where the people in the town took their cows for summer pasturing. The city also encompassed West Montpelier, Wrights Mills Village, or what is now known as Wrightsville.

 

Senator Bill Doyle serves on the Senate Education Committee and Senate Economic Affairs Committee, and is the Senate Assistant Minority Leader. He teaches government history at Johnson State College. He can be reached at 186 Murray Road, Montpelier, VT 05602; e-mail wdoyle@leg.state.vt.us; or call 223-2851.

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