Northfield was chartered by Governor Thomas Chittenden on behalf of the state of Vermont on October 10, 1781 to Joel Matthews. As was usual of Vermont charters, provisions were made for a county grammar school, a college, the first settled minister, and a portion of land for the propagtion of the gospel. The original grant was 18,518 acres. Forty-one years later, Northfield annexed 6,000 acres from Waitsfield.
The first meeting of the proprietors of Northfield was held In Hartland, Vermont in 1783. One year later, the proprietors decided that Elijah Paine would be allowed to have 200 acres in Northfield if he would build a sawmill within 18 months and another 200 acres if he would build a grist mill a year later. Elijah Paine was the father of Charles Paine, who was governor of Vermont from 1841 to 1843. Paine, in 1799, undertook building a road 22 miles long at the cost of $10,000 from Brookfield to Montpelier. This is known today as the Paine Turnpike. This road was on the main route from Boston to Montreal in the early 1800s.
The first permanent settlement was made by Amos Ezekiel Robinson in May 1785. The first child was born in 1787, Kazia, daughter of Amos and Bathany Robinson. The first town meeting was held on March 25, 1794. Amos Robinson was the first to represent Northfield in the House of Representatives. The Vermont Senate was not created until 1836.
In 1800, Northfield voted for governor, lieutenant governor and 12 members of the governor’s council. This was the first year that Northfield voted for statewide officials. Each candidate received all the 12 votes that were cast. The governor elected that year was Isaac Tichnor, who was born in Newark, New Jersey and was affectionately known as “Jersey Slick.”
Most historians believe that Northfield was named for Northfield, Massachusetts. Northfield, Massachusetts was named because it was the most northern town in that colony.
The first post office was opened in the main village in 1828. The second post office was opened in 1869 on the Berlin-Northfield town line that was named Gouldville or Factory Village. There was a woolen mill In that area which was operated by the Gould Family. In 1905 the name of the village was changed to Northfield Falls. The third post office was opened in 1875 in South Northfield and closed in 1906. The village was known as Slab City, because the chief businesses were woodworking shops and sawmills.
Governor Paine was a Harvard graduate and served in the Vermont Legislature in 1828 and 1829. Paine was interested in agriculture and the breeding of cattle and a leader in the building of the Vermont Central Railroad. He owned a large hotel in Northfield and was involved in many other enterprises.
Governor Paine had a great interest in early childhood education In his Inaugural Address in 1842 he said: “There is nothing which so much promotes the love of order in a community as the diffusion of knowledge, and especially of that knowledge which is early instilled into the mind. Those who are prepared, with sound principles and good education, for the active scenes of life, can hardly fail to make useful, peaceable and moral members of society. And those who are not thus prepared, though naturally well-inclined, may easily be made instruments of disorder and mischief. Society has, therefore, no security, except in the early education of its members. Self-interest is thus made the means of compelling us to discharge the highest of all duties towards our fellow men. That portion of our lives, which is employed most profitably for ourselves and our own children, is probably the time we devote to educating the children of others Ń the greatest of all benefits is that of living in a peaceable, moral and well-governed community.”
Northfield can be very proud of renovating the Paine House and in linking it with the Brown Public Library.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org; or call 223-2851.