History of Montpelier
Montpelier was originally chartered in 1781 and granted to Timothy Bigelow and a group of 58 people he led. However, the first permanent settlement was initiated in 1789, by Colonel Jacob Davis and General Parley Davis from Massachusetts, who surveyed the land, cleared the forest and built a log house. They came up with the name Montpelier, after the city in France. At the time, Americans were enthusiastic about all things French, mainly due to the country’s help during the American Revolutionary War. New settlers soon came and by 1791 Montpelier had 117 inhabitants. That was the year Vermont became a U.S. state but Montpelier was not chosen as the permanent state capital until 1805. As for the reason why this small town was chosen, it was either because of its location, with several roads and the proximity to river, or because of land and money that were promised.
Throughout the early 19th century, Montpelier thrived, attracted many newcomers, mostly craftsmen, and new factories, sawmills and ironworks soon opened. The falls on the Winooski River provided sufficient water power for the mills and the industry was booming. Thanks to the quarries in nearby Barre, the town attracted sculptors from Italy and stone cutters from Spain. As it happened in many American cities, the arrival of the railroad in the mid-19th century was crucial for Montpelier, boosting the commerce and bringing tourists and other visitors. In 1848, Dr. Julius Dewey, father of the celebrated Spanish-American War hero George Dewey, founded National Life Insurance Company, one of the first insurance companies not only in the USA, but also in the world.
After the Civil War, several new hotels opened in Montpelier, increasing the tourism revenues to the town. In 1884, Montpelier got the first municipal water driven hydro system in Vermont and in 1895 it was finally incorporated as a city.
Since Montpelier is situated near three of the major ski areas in Vermont, winter tourism became important for the city, especially after it got the first rope tow in the nation.
In 1991, there was a flood in Montpelier caused by ice floes that blocked parts of the Winooski River, causing it to flow backwards into the city.
Plans for the urban development of this small town, especially for the riverfront and office park development, began in 1997.
Today, Montpelier is still a typical American small town, despite being a state capital, but it is considered to be one of the most livable cities in the country, with strong economy and easy access to scenic natural surroundings.
Geography and Climate
Montpelier is located in central Vermont, near the Winooski River, with several tributaries flowing through the city. The city center, being almost completely flat, is susceptible to flooding. Two of the worst floods in the city occurred in 1927 and 1992. The city occupies 10.3 square miles and is situated at the foothills of the Green Mountains.
The climate in Montpelier is humid continental. The winters are cold, long, with plenty of snowfall. Springs and autumns are brief and the summers are warm and comfortable.
Together with Barre, Montpelier forms a small micropolitan area in central Vermont, sometimes called “twin cities.”
At the 2000 U.S. Census, the racial makeup in Montpelier was 96.55% White, 1.4% Hispanic or Latino, 0.82% Asian, 0.65% African American, 0.24% Native American, 0.01% Pacific Islander, 0.39% some other race and 1.34% from two or more races. At the same census, the city had 3,739 households and 1,940 families. The median age was 40. The median household income was $37,513 and the per capita income was $22,599.
The economy in Montpelier relies largely on the state government, which is the largest employer. In fact, some the state employs some 2,300 people in the city, which is remarkable considering how small Montpelier actually is. Service industry and retail are also significant sectors in the economy of the city, especially higher education, healthcare and insurance. The headquarters of National Life Insurance Company, one of the oldest and largest insurance companies in the USA, are still located in Montpelier.
Montpelier also owes much of its revenue to tourism, especially the ski tourism at Sugarbush and Mad River Glen resorts. It also receives a lot of visitors coming to watch the foliage change colors in the autumn.
The region of central Vermont, where Montpelier is located, is famous for its granite quarries and the industries deriving from them, such as the production of granite monuments. Food processing is another large sector.
Landmarks and Culture of Montpelier
The State House with its golden dome is one of the most important landmarks in Montpelier. Other places of interest include Supreme Court Building, Green Mount Cemetery, Hubbard Park and Montpelier City Hall. Nearby towns also have major attractions, such as the Rock of Ages Quarry in Barre, Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream Factory in Waterbury and the town of Cabot, famous for the Cabot cheddar cheese.
Notable cultural institutions in the city include Montpelier Theatre Guild, T.W. Wood Gallery and Arts Center, Vermont Historical Society Museum, Montpelier Chamber Orchestra Society, Vermont College Art Center and The Artisans Hand Gallery.
Montpelier has only one elementary school, one middle school and one high school. The city is home to Vermont College, New England Culinary Institute, Vermont College of Fine Arts and it also has a campus of the Community College of Vermont.
As for the roads and transportation, Montpelier is one of the most accessible towns and cities in Vermont. Major highways include I-89, U.S. Route 2, Vermont Route 12 and U.S. Route 302.
Amtrak provides daily passenger rail service to Montpelier on the company’s Vermonter route, while the bus service is provided by Greyhound Bus Lines. Local buses are operated by Green Mountain Transit Authority.
The closest commercial airport is the Burlington International Airport, located 35 miles northwest of Montpelier.
Montpelier is located on two walking and cycling paths: Cross Vermont Trail and Central Vermont Regional Path.