Hartford, Vermont and its Five Villages of Hartford, Quechee, West Hartford, White River Junction, and Wilder (includes excerpts from an article by Sonia Hakala appearing in the May/June 2008 issue of UPPER VALLEY LIFE and THE GATEWAY OF VERMONT, Hartford and its Villages, circa 1904, prepared by Jim Kenison and The Hartford Historical Society).
The Town of Hartford is a unique and wonderful place. It is located on the border of Vermont and New Hampshire at the intersection of Interstates 89 and 91 as well as US Routes 4 and 5. It's destiny has been intimately entwined with water, particularly the three rivers that wander through the town: the White, the Ottauquechee and the Connecticut. The White and Connecticut rivers are particularly important because this joining was also repeated in the confluence of railroads in the 19th century and the interstate highways in the 20th century.
Hartford is in the heart of the "Upper Valley," a region that is home to several renowned educational and medical facilities, including the US Veterans Demonstration Hospital, Dartmouth College, Franklin Pierce College, Community College of Vermont, and Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center.
Perhaps more important is the exceptional quality of life enjoyed by area residents. Residents hold to community-centered family values; enjoy the freedom of "safe" living and have ready access to excellent schools, public and private. Numerous year-round, recreational activities are available to the entire family and include multiple water activities, hiking, biking, hunting, as well as all facets of winter sports: ice skating, ice fishing, downhill and cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing.
In keeping with Vermont tradition, Hartford is composed of five distinct, historic villages, all of which are named on the National Historic Register: Hartford, West Hartford, Quechee, White River Junction and Wilder. Making up this diverse community, each village has its own character and identity.
The village proper is built upon both banks of the White River and has a diverse residential and commercial history producing, at times, chairs, tools, lumber, carriages, grist and textiles. It has many historic houses and buildings and was the birth site of Horace Wells, who was the first dentist to use "Laughing Gas" as an anesthesia.
Many families have moved into the center of the village creating a "walking" community. There are excellent fishing and swimming holes along the river anf there is a boat launch off Watson Memorial Park. Also located at the southern end of the park is a dog park, the only one in the Upper Valley. It has become very popular, not only for canines, but owners and families alike.
Quechee was settled in the 1760s when homesteaders were deeded acres for the erection of mills along the Ottauquechee River. The mills became the heartbeat of this community, providing everything from lumber to cider for the settlers. To accommodate growing traffic, a bridge was built over the Ottauquechee River at the current site of the Quechee covered bridge.
During the 1800s, the mills thrived, gaining particular attention for fabric. J.C. Parker and Co. (the property now occupied by Simon Pearce Glass) developed a fabric, "shoddy", made of new wool and reworked soft rags, thereby gaining a reputation for producing some of the country's finest white baby flannel. Another woolen mill, Dewey and Company, was establishing its reputation providing fabric for making baseball uniforms for the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees. Over 64 buildings sprang up around this company, creating the village of Dewey's Mills just downstream from Quechee Village.
In the 1950s, due to the shortage of an affordable labor force and the enticement of the South and its labor force, the mills started closing. Quechee lost the economic base that had existed for almost 200 years. The once booming community became a village of abandoned buildings with broken windows, fallen roofs, brush and bramble covered walls, crumbling foundations, a ghost town of what it had once been.
To add to the decline of Quechee Village, in 1962 a project to address flooding in the lower Connecticut River was initiated. As a result of this project, the village of Dewey's Mills and that mill ceased to exist. In its place, the Army Corps of Engineers built a causeway between Dewey's Mills Pond and the Ottauquechee River, which has created a walking trail and wonderful wildlife sanctuary.
In the late 1960s, a group of investors arrived in the area looking for that quintessential Vermont land to build a four-season resort community. As this was the first development of its size to come under the jurisdiction of Vermont's Land Use Act 250 Law, the end result is a resort that is well planned, developed and maintained with great attention to its surrounding, which includes the Ottauquechee River Valley, its hillsides, open meadows and woodland. Known as the Quechee Lakes Corporation, the company purchased all available land for its planned community and amenities. Today, the Quechee Lakes Resort is one of New England's finest resorts for seasonal and year-round owners.
Quechee Gorge, known as "Vermont's Little Grand Canyon", on the Ottauquechee River is one of New England's most popular natural wonders. Trails from the Quechee Gorge Visitor Center weave throughout the area (Gorge land is owned by the Army Corps of Engineers) and the Quechee Gorge State Park. A true destination site, over 200,000 visitors visit the Vermont Institute of Natural Science nearby, fish and canoe the river, hike the trails in summer and fall, and cross country ski and snowshoe in the winter.
This village is the most rural of the five villages of Hartford. Situated on the White River, it offers a variety of recreational water sports including white water kayaking, canoeing and tubing. There are great spots for swimming and fishing as well. Although there has been some residential development, the rural character of the village remains as evidence by its expansive open fields, beautiful long views of the White River Valley and surrounding hills.
Although much of the village was wiped out in the 1927 flood, a classic country store serves up breakfast and lunch while providing grocery necessities. The town's public library is located in this village. The original building was destroyed by the flood and rebuilt from fund donated by the City of Hartford, Connecticut.
A welcome addition to the village center is the new Patriot's Bridge. Dedicated to all Hartford service men and women; a lovely 'pocket park' is sited at the northern entrance to the bridge in honor of three servicemen from Hartford who died while serving in Iraq.
The impact of the rivers is most pronounced in White River Junction. Throughout its colorful history, the village has been a stop for boat traffic, staging for log drives, and one of New England's most important railroad hubs. With the railroads came manufacturing and warehousing for varying business including bread, produce, paper, and chocolates, diversity that continues today in an entirely different vein.
In the 1960s, the federal government extended the interstate highway system into northern New England. The intersection of Interstates 91 and 89 moved the center of commercial activity closer to the highways which compromised the economic vitality of downtown White River until it faded away. not unlike the disappearance of the mills in the village of Quechee.
Residents, the business community, and local government believed there was opportunity in the revitalization of White River Junction. Although it has taken twenty years to bring back lost vitality, the village is now the creative economy cornerstone of the town and the region. Art, professional theater, education, restaurants, museums, music, events, and excursion trains have made White River Junction a "happening" place.
Like the villages of Quechee and White River Junction, Wilder was once the site of a mammoth plant of the International Paper Company for the production of newspaper and pulp. Originally the location was called Olcott Falls, named for the family that built a canal and dam around the falls. However, a Mr. Wilder, who was responsible for the building of the paper mill, also drew the plans for the village including bridges, streets, and location of important buildings. Thus, the change in name from Olcott Falls to Wilder.
Located just north of White River Junction, Wilder is the site of the Wilder Dam and Salmon Ladder, one of TransCanada's hydroelectric dams that dot the length of the Connecticut River. The village also includes several newly-developed, technologically modern commercial parks as well as a Community College of Vermont site and home to a public transportation company.
Its proximity to Hanover's workplaces and its two recreation parks, the Dothan Brook Elementary School and its sense of the importance of neighborhoods, has made it one of the town's most desirable residential communities.