Danby Town History

The Beginning

Danby’s original settlers first arrived in the area after 1765, traveling down and extending a road from western Dorset. Located among the highest peaks of the Taconic Mountain Range, Danby Four Corners was constructed in the center of the newly settled town to be a point of focus for the many small farms that were developing, scattered among the hills. As more came to settle in the area, Danby Borough began to take shape in the Otter Creek valley on the eastern border of town.

Rapid Growth

MainStreetDanbyAs the area became more and more developed, second generations of original settlers began to build their own houses, and small communities began to develop within the small town. The 1830’s saw many new homes being built in the area, as well as the arrival of three Union Church Societies who inevitably brought three new churches to the town. Fueled by the water power of the Mill Brook which runs right through Danby Borough, coupled with the newly constructed north-south stage road (U.S. Route 7), the town evolved into a thriving center of commerce for the logging and marble industries. Danby Borough began to overshadow the importance of Danby Four Corners by 1840. On the nearby Dorset Mountain extensive quarrying was underway, and mills for sawing marble began to pop up along the Mill Brook, bringing workers and their families to Danby Borough.

In 1852 the Western Vermont Railroad was constructed through Danby Borough, and the area saw a several year period of exponential growth as marble production soared. Many homes in the town had marble features, a display of the new wealth that flooded the area. The Danby Bank, with its grand Greek revival columns, was a testament to the success felt by the town.

RailroadEconomic Hardships

When the railroad went bankrupt in 1857 however, the economy of the town was devastated. The Danby Bank folded. The intense competition in the marble industry from producers in Bennington and Rutland forced the Western Vermont Marble Company to stop quarrying completely by 1870.

One of the few to make out well during this hard economical period was Silas L. Griffith, Vermont’s first millionaire. In 1861 Griffith built a successful store in Danby Borough. In 1872, Griffith and partner Eugene McIntyre founded a charcoal and lumber company in neighboring Mount Tabor that became a quick success. Griffith came to own roughly 50,000 acres of woodland as well as several lumber mills. Griffith poured his success back into Danby and built a library, as well as made major contributions to the Congregational Church, the schools, and a Christmas fund that gave children in eastern Danby and Mount Tabor with a gift each year.

Turn of the 20th Century

The marble industry saw a resurgence in 1901 as the use of white marble in public architecture became a popular building trend. The Vermont Marble Company bought the holdings of the Western Vermont Marble Company and quarrying started back up in full swing in Danby. During the following decades marble quarried from the area went into many important buildings such as the U.S. Supreme Court and the Jefferson Memorial. Several new stores and homes were built in the area as a result of the economic boom, but development for the most part ceased after the post World War II downturn in the marble industry.

Present Day Danby

Today, Danby village is listed on the National Register of Historic places and is recognized for its rich architectural legacy. Many of the homes and farmhouses are historic, going all the way back to the beginnings of this quant little Vermont town.

Danby History from the 1881-1882 County Gazetteer and Directory

Danby is located in the extreme southern part of the County, in lat. 43′ 21 and long. 40° 1′ east from Washington, and is bounded north by Tinmouth and a small part of Wallingford, east by Mt. Tabor, south by Dorset in Bennington County, and west by Pawlet. It was granted to Jonathan Willard and sixty-seven others from Nine Partners, Dutchess Co. NY, the charter bearing date Aug. 27, 1761, being issued one year after it was petitioned for by the above mentioned parties. In area it is a trifle over six miles square, or about 24,690 acres.

The charter bears the usual restrictions and reservations incident to all the Wentworth charters, the tract being bounded therein as follows:” Beginning at the northwest corner of Dorset, from thence running due north six miles; thence due east six miles; thence due south six miles to the northeast corner of Dorset aforesaid; and thence due west by Dorset aforesaid, six miles, to the northwest corner, which is also the southeast corner of Pawlet, and that the same be and is hereby incorporated into a township by the name of Danby, and the inhabitants that do or shall hereafter inhabit the said township, are declared to be enfranchised with, and entitled to all and every the privileges and immunities that towns within our province by law exercise and enjoy.” The bounds of the township have never been changed, remaining the same today that they were in 1761.

The surface of the town is diversified by numerous hills and valleys, lending a charm to the scenery, at the same time affording superior advantages for all kinds of agricultural and pastoral pursuits. The rich valleys, clothed with waving grain, and the verdant hillslopes affording pasturage for numerous flocks, all being embellished and enriched by numerous springs and limpid streams, affording numerous millsites. With all these, is it to be wondered at that the Danbyites are a prosperous happy people?

Danby Mountain, sometimes called “Spruce,” extends north and south through the entire length of the township, intersecting on the south with what is familiarly known as “Dorset Mountain.” Another range of hills extends through the eastern half, thus dividing the town into three sections, designated as the east, west, and middle. A portion of Otter Creek valley is included within the limits of the town, east of which lie the Green Mountains.

Of the numerous small streams the two principal are Mill River and Flower Brook. Mill River is formed by the junction of a large number of small streams, one of which rises in the extreme southwestern part of the town it flows an easterly course through the township, emptying into Otter Creek, in the township of Mt. Tabor.

Flower Brook rises in the northwestern part of the town, flows a southerly course for about one mile, then turns westerly and empties into Pawlet River, in the town of Pawlet. A small pond or lake is situated in the center of the township, called Danby Pond, the outlet of which flows into Mill River. Otter Creek flows through a portion of the northeastern part of the town, and the Bennington and Rutland Railway crosses the northeastern corner.

Several mineral springs, noted for their medicinal qualities, are located in different parts of the town, the principal of which, discovered in 1869 is situated about two miles north of Danby borough.

The principal part of the town is of the Æolian limestone formation, while the northwestern and northeastern part is of the talcoid schist. Several good marble deposits have been found, though none are worked to any great extent. Clay, suitable for brick manufacture is abundant, while plumbago and sulphuret of lead are found to some extent. The soil presents numerous varieties, from the finest alluvial deposit to clay, nearly all of which are susceptible of cultivation. The timber is that common to the surrounding towns. This is one of the best sugar producing towns in the county.

In 1880, Danby had a population of 1,202. The township was divided into twelve school districts, contained thirteen common schools, employing five male and seventeen female teachers, at an aggregate salary of $2,571.00. There were 258 pupils attending common schools, and the whole cost of the schools for the year ending October 3oth, was $2,811.00, with J. C. Williams, Esq., superintendent.

Danby,, a post village and station on the Bennington and Rutland Railway, located in the eastern part of the township, is the largest village. It contains three stores, two tin shops, one grist mill, one saw mill, one hotel, one church, two blacksmith shops and about one hundred inhabitants.

Danby Four Corners, (p. o.) located northwest of the borough, near the centre of the township, is a small hamlet containing one store, one cheese factory, one blacksmith shop and half-a-dozen dwellings.

H. B. Jenkins’ grist mill, located near Danby borough, is operated by both water and steam power, has two runs of stones and grinds 10,000 bushels of grain per annum.

O. B. Hadwin’ s grist mill, located at Danby borough, operates one run of stones, by water power, and grinds several thousand bushels of grain yearly.

E. Kelley’s saw mill, located on road 40, is operated by water power, has one circular saw for cutting lumber, and two small saws for cutting shingles, lath, etc., and has also a planing mill attached. Mr. Kelley employs three hands, and manufactures 300,000 feet of lumber per annum.

Parris Valley Cheese factory, located in the western part of the township, was established in 1875 by L. G. Parris, and is still operated by him. He uses the milk from zoo cows and manufactures 2,000 pounds of cheese per week.

Harris F. Otis is probably the most extensive sugar manufacturer in this section of the country. He taps over 3,000 trees per year. In 1880 he manufactured 1,500 gallons of maple syrup.

The first proprietors meeting was held on the 24th day of September, 1760, at the house of Nathan Shepard, in Nine Partners, N. Y., when Jonathan Ormsby was appointed clerk. Samuel Rose was appointed agent to go to Albany and get what information he could relative to obtaining a grant in the western part of the Province of New Hampshire. At a meeting held on the 15th of October following, Jonathan Willard was chosen agent to go to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and procure a charter. The request of the proprietors was granted, and on the 27th of August, 1761, as before stated, the charter was issued. Of the sixty-eight grantees, each one’s share, according to the charter, was about 250 acres, although but few of the original proprietors ever settled within the township. The five hundred acres, re-served in all charters for the Governor, was located upon the mountain in the south-western part of the township, and still bear the name of ” Governor’s Right.”

According to the directions of the charter, the proprietors of the township held their first meeting after the grant, at “Great Nine Partners, Cromelbow Precinct, Dutchess County,” Sept. 22nd, 1761, with Jonathan Willard as moderator. At this meeting Jonathan Ormsby was appointed clerk, Aaron Buck, treasurer, and Samuel Shepard, constable; a committee composed of the following, was appointed “to set out from home the third Monday in October next, in order to proceed on business of making divisions of land, etc.” Jonathan Willard, Jonathan Ormsby, Samuel Rose, Nehemiah Reynolds, Moses Kelly, Daniel Dunham and Stephen Videto.

At the first annual meeting of the proprietors, held at Nine Partners on the second Tuesday of March, 1762, the number of this committee was reduced from seven to three, who were to finish laying out the lots. This committee was engaged during the summer of ’62 in making the surveys, and on the 5th of October another meeting was held at the inn of Lewis Delavargue, to hear a report of their proceedings. This report showed that the work was not wholly completed, arid would have to be delayed until another spring, when Darius Lobdel, Aaron Buck, Jonathan Palmer and Zephaniah Buck, were appointed to proceed at once and finish laying out the land. This committee finished the surveys of the first division during that summer (1763), and the lots were numbered, each share containing, as the proprietors had voted, 100 acres.

On the 5th of Sept. 1763, the proprietors met at the house of Capt. Michael Hopkins, in Amenia Precinct, Dutchess County, N. Y., for the purpose of drawing their lots. This was performed by placing numbers in a hat, corresponding to the numbers of the surveyed lots, and Abraham Finch and Daniel Shepard were appointed to draw for each proprietor’s lot. Thomas Rowley was surveyor in the first division, who had been employed by the committee for that purpose. Each proprietor was to pay his share of the cost of surveying, or forfeit his right. The drawing was all done fairly and gave general satisfaction.

In the fall of 1763 or spring of 1764, a road, or rather bridlepath, was laid out from Bennington to Danby, by Darius Lobdel and Samuel Rose, and the following summer was worked some, those who worked upon it being paid in land. This was the same route now used as a highway, leading from Danby to West Dorset, across the mountain, and was for a long time the only road leading to the township, and accounts for this part of Danby being settled first. At the annual meeting on the second Tuesday of March, 1764, held in Amenia Precinct, N. Y., the proprietors agreed to donate land from the undivided portion of the township, to the person or persons who would make the first settlement. As yet no clearing had been made and no attempts were made at settling until the following year, when during’ the summer, Joseph Soper, Joseph Earl, Crispin Bull, Luther Colvin and Micah Vail came to the township, forming the first settlement.

Joseph Soper, from Nine Partners, came first, with his family. Joseph Earl, from Nine Partners, came next and commenced a clearing west of Soper, and was followed by Crispin Bull, from the same place. Luther Colvin and Micah Vail both came about the same time from Long Island. These five families constituted the entire population of the township in the spring of 1766, and were all active and useful men. Many of their descendants are still living in the township.

The first annual town-meeting of the inhabitants of Danby, was held at the house of Timothy Bull, on the 14th of March, 1769. At this meeting Timothy Bull was elected moderator; Thomas Rowley, town clerk; Stephen Calkins, Seth Cook and Crispin Bull, selectmen ; Daniel Vanolendo, constable ; Nathan Weller, treasurer ; Peter Irish, collector.; John Stafford, surveyor ; Joseph Earl, Stephen Calkins and Seth Cook, committee to lay out highways.

At a meeting, held Sept. 29, 1769, it was voted to lay out five roads in the township ; of these, the first was laid from the “notch” in the mountains to Joseph Earl’s, which was the first road built in town. Town-meeting continued to be held at the house of Timothy Bull until 1773, when it was held at the house of Mr. Williamson Bull, and from this time until 1779 they were held at the house of Micah Vail, as that part of the township was the most thickly settled, and was hence more convenient for most of the settlers. Roads were increasing in number, so that in 1773 it required three surveyors, who were Stephen Calkins, Ephraim Seley and Philip Griffith. In 1786 they had increased so rapidly that it then required fourteen surveyors to locate lines.

The census of 1800 shows the population of the town to have been fourteen hundred and eighty-seven. At that time nearly every part of the town was settled, the farms cleared up and under cultivation. Three sawmills had been built, and considerable progress made in the erection of framed houses. Roads had been built in nearly every direction ; two stores and three houses. hotels were in operation. There were but two dwelling houses at Danby borough at that time, and one hotel, kept by Bradford Barnes, but it was very thickly settled along Otter Creek, north of the village. The central part of the town, in the vicinity of Danby Four Corners, and south from there, was at that time the most thickly settled. That portion of the township known as “Bromley Hollow,” and “South America,” had also become quite thickly settled, and the township was in a flourishing condition.

For the first fifty years after its settlement the population of the township increased rapidly, and then from that time until 1850 there was a falling off in population, owing in a great measure to emigration; but the building of the railroad in 1851 gave a new impetus to business, and its population rapidly increased. Danby borough soon became a thriving village, while business was nearly ruined at the Corners.

Captain John Burt was the first innkeeper in Danby, having kept a hotel on road 14, about the year 1775, which he kept for many years. The first tavern at the Corners was built by Elisha Brown, in the year 1800. The first store ever kept in town was in 1790, by Henry Frost, at or near the corner of roads 32 and 35. This store was in connection with the tavern. His successor was Jozaniah Barrett, who continued the business until about the year 1810.

Joseph Soper, the first settler of Danby, came from Nine Partners, N. Y., in 1765, and located in the southeastern part of the township, two of his brothers settling in Dorset about the same time. His log house was the first erected in town, and for several months his was the only family in town. He came with two horses, bringing his family and effects upon their backs, and finding his way by means of marked trees. A few years after his settlement here, while on his way home from mill, at Manchester, a distance of fourteen miles, he was overtaken by a severe snow storm, in which, overcome by cold and exhaustion, he perished. His body was found the following day within one mile from his home. It was buried in a hollow log, on the spot where found, it being the first grave ever made in the township.

Joseph Earl, the second settler of the township, came from Nine Partners in 1765, locating near the spot now occupied by the residence of John Hilliard. He resided in Danby but a few years, having left during the Revolutionary war. He was a man of ability and bore a conspicuous part in organizing society.

Crispin Bull, the third settler of Danby, came from Nine Partners in 1765, and commenced a settlement near the present homestead of John Hilliard. He at once took up a leading position, and was one of the first board of selectmen, elected in 1769. He also made the first clearing on the east side of the town, about the year 1772. He received from the proprietors sixty acres of land for sixty day’s work building roads, which is now some of the best land in the township. He died in 1810, aged 70 years, having passed a long, laborious and industrious life. His wife, Mary Carpenter, died in 1833, aged 92 years.

Luther Colvin came from Rhode Island to Danby in 1765. He was the fourth settler in the town, and found his way thither by means of marked trees. Luther Colvin, like all the other settlers, brought with him a scanty supply of household articles and furniture, and experienced much difficulty in procuring the necessaries of life while making a settlement. It was his custom to go to Manchester to mill and back the same day, carrying the grist upon his back. At one time, when grain was scarce, he carried the last bushel of wheat he possessed, which was to last for several months, or until harvest time came again. He was a hard working man, possessed of considerable ability, and occupied a prominent place in society. He is said to have brought the first stove into town, and to have built the second frame house. He became a Quaker, and joined the society. He died in 1829, aged about 90. His wife, Lydia Colvin, who died in 1814, was also quite advanced in years. Their children were as follows : Stephen, Caleb, John, Catharine, Lydia, Esther, Anna and Freelove.

Captain Micah Vail, one of the original five settlers who came to Danby in 1765, was born in 1730, the seventh son of Moses Vail, of Huntington, Long Island, and of English descent. He was considered a very efficient man in town affairs, and exercised a great deal of influence among the people of his times. It may be truly said that he was one of the fathers of the town. He was the moderator of the annual town meetings of 1773 and 1774 ; was one of the board of selectmen in 1770, and again in 1775. He was associated with Allen, Warner and others, in defending the rights of the people during the struggle between New York and New Hampshire, being for several years a member of the committee of safety. He represented Danby in the convention which met at the house of Deacon Cephas Kent, in Dorset, in 1776, and which declared the New Hampshire grants a free and separate district. He and his wife both died of the measles in 1777, the same day, and were buried in the same grave. They had a large family of children, some of whose descendants are still residing in Danby. The children were as follows : Deborah, Hannah, Louisa, Eunice, Moses, John, Phoebe, Lucretia, Edward and Micah.

Lemuel Griffith, born in Massachusetts, in 1745, came to Danby in 1782, locating on the farm now owned by Michael Cunningham. He afterwards became a heavy landholder, owning at one time some six or seven farms, of several hundred acres. Mr. Griffith left numerous worthy descendants, many of whom became prominent citizens of the township. Some of them still reside in Danby, and others in different parts of the United States. He married Elizabeth Potter, who died in 1805, aged 63. He died in 1818, aged 73. Their children were David, George, Thomas, Jonathan, Mary and John.

George Sowle settled at an early date in Westport, Mass., where his son Henry was subsequently born. Henry had two sons, Wesson and Joseph. Wesson married Ruhama Robinson, of Westport, to whom was born a son James, in 1760. James, while still quite young, married Patience Macumber, and subsequently settled in Danby in April of 1792, locating upon the farm now owned by Albertus Warner, and occupied by James Sowle, Jr. The house was the first frame-house erected in this portion of the township, and is now over one hundred years old and still well preserved. The fireplaces, of which there are three, were built when the house was erected, and are now in a good state of preservation, and still used in place of stoves for warming the rooms. The house was first built as an inn, but the road was changed to the valley before the building was completed, so the hotel was never kept there.

Elihu Benson came to Danby from Rhode Island, in 1798, and settled the farm now owned by Jared L. Cook, a great grandson of Benson’s. Mr. Benson married Huldah Brow and resided upon the old homestead until his death, in 1806. They had a family of ten children, seven boys and three girls. Their daughter Elizabeth married Stephen Cook, and resided upon the old farm about thirty-five years and then removed to Dorset, where her husband died in 1852. She then returned to Danby and has made it her home on the old farm until the present time.

Ira Cook, father of Jared L., who now resides in Pawlet, was born on this farm. He married Artemesia Lobdell, which union was blessed with one child (Jared L), she dying about 1850, when Ira subsequently married Rachel Herrick, and has one daughter. Jared L. married Lucy Colvin, and has two daughters.

Oliver Harrington came to Danby previous to the Revolution, locating in the northeast part of the township, on the farm now owned by Benjamin Brown, where he resided until his death, at an advanced age. Andrew, son of Oliver, was born here, where he resided until his death. He married Lydia Miller, and had a family of seven children, three boys and four girls.

Daniel Parris came to Danby from Williamstown, Mass., about the year 1785, locating in the western part of the town, buying a small farm, to which he kept adding from time to time, until he finally owned one thousand acres, upon which he resided until his death, leaving a large family of children. Many of his descendants still reside in the township.

Edward Vail, son of Capt. Micah, was born in Danby and resided there all his life, dying in 1841. He was colonel of militia, and a captain in the war of 1812. Started for the battle of Plattsburg, but did not proceed any farther than Whitehall, where he learned that the danger was over, and returned. His son Edward was born in 1824, and has been a resident of Danby up to the present time.

Harris Otis came to Danby from Mass. in the year 1794, locating upon the farm now owned by Harris F. Otis, son of William, and grandson of Harris. Harris was a physician and practiced in the township many years, and at the same time took a great interest in farming. He died in 1847, aged 72. William Otis was born on the old Otis homestead in 1807, and is still a resident of the township, a very popular man and ex-representative. He has a family of nine children, three of whome, William F., Harris F. and Grant M., are residents of the township.

In the year 1778, Caleb Smith, from Uxbridge, Mass., came to the town of Danby, then a vast wilderness, and settled on the southwestern part of the farm now owned by A. D. Smith. The spot chosen by him was one of the most picturesque and beautiful in Vermont, overlooking as it does the broad valley of Otter Creek. Mr. Smith built a log house, then, after hard work, succeeded in cutting and burning over a space of twenty acres, and a year or two afterwards, planting a large field of corn on a piece of ground where now stands a large sugar orchard. Mr. Smith continued to improve his farm until his death, which occurred at the age of 8o years. Nathan Smith next located on the homestead, and in 1799 he built the house in which his grandson now resides, which at that time was considered one of the best in town. Upon the door handle is stamped the date 1799, which is considered a valuable relic, being still kept in use. Daniel Smith succeeded to the homestead. He was an industrious farmer, a good citizen and greatly esteemed. He died in 1830, aged 36 years. And now the old homestead is in the possession of Augustus D. Smith, whose enterprise and ability has made the farm renowned throughout New England as one of the greatest fruit and sugar producing farms in Vermont.

Mr. Smith married Charity S., daughter of William Herrick, the union being blessed by three children, Augustus N. W who resides with his father and has charge of the farm, Charity V., also living with her parents, and Daniel C., a resident of the town. A. D. has always been a public spirited man, and has held various town offices during a period of many years. For seven years he held the office of justice of the peace, was Supt. of common schools from 1857 to 1861, and has been president of the County Agricultural Society. The old homestead is the subject of the engraving (below).

The first Church society organized in the township was of Baptist denomination, organized in 1781, and the Rev. Hezekiah Eastman was the first settled minister. The organization was kept up for some twenty years, and then began to decline. There is no organized society of this denomination at the present time.

The first church was built in 1795, by a Methodist society, and stood west of the Corners, near the burial ground, and was torn down in 1822, after which time meeting was held in the brick school house. In 1838 the present Congregational church at Danby borough was erected by a union society, composed of Episcopal Methodists, Close Communion Baptists and Friends. The church south of the Corners was finished next, 1839. The society was composed of Methodists and Baptists. The church at the corners was completed about the year 1840. This was designed as a union church, and dedicated as such, all the denominations being represented.

The only society supporting a resident clergyman at the present time is the Congregational Church at Danby borough. This society was organized in 1869, by the Rev. Aldace Walker, D. D., having at its organization but twelve members, their first pastor being James P. Stone. They occupy the old church built in 1836, a comfortable structure capable of seating 225 persons. It cost about $2,300, but is now only valued at about $2,000, including the entire church property. The society now has about twenty-three members, with Lucean D. Mears as pastor.