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Williston Town

Williston Town Hall is located at 7900 Williston Road, Williston VT 05495; phone: 802-878-5121.

Beginnings [1]

The natural geography and environmental diversity of the Town of Williston has historically made Williston a desirable place for settlement. Approximately 12,000 years ago, after the glacial sheets had receded from Vermont, the western edge of Williston near today's Route 2A abutted a large body of salt water called the Champlain Sea. The first Vermonters, called Paleo-Indians, were already settling in Williston at this time. One of Vermont's oldest known archaeological sites from this time period lies east of the former Champlain Sea shoreline, occupying a bedrock knoll above an ancient lake plain high above Williston Village. This Paleo-Indian site confirms that as early as 10,000 BC native peoples utilized Williston's abundant natural resources. Later Archaic and Woodland Period archaeological sites have been found along streams and present and former channels of the Winooski River. These sites provide evidence that native peoples made their home in Williston for thousands of years making use of the area's raw materials for tools and the abundant plant and animal resources for food and other necessities of life.

In 1763, New Hampshire Governor Benning Wentworth chartered the Town of Williston. Colonel Samuel Willis, for whom the Town is named, was among the first Williston Town Proprietors. It was not until the early 1770's, however, that European settlers arrived in Williston. Thomas Chittenden, who went on to be Vermont's first governor, and Major Jonathan Spafford were among the first European settlers. Land disputes between New Hampshire and New York hindered settlement, and it was not until 1786 that the Town of Williston held its first meeting.

In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the Town of Williston was primarily reliant on agriculture as its economic base. The gently rolling, fertile soils of Williston were well suited to agriculture, but often required substantial clearing. Saw and grist mills developed along Williston's waterways and dams were built to exploit water power. The Village of Williston, known today as the Williston Village Historic District, was Williston's first center. The Village developed linearly along the Montpelier to Burlington Stage Road, known as the Winooski Turnpike, which was a popular route of travel due to its smooth grade. In 1791, Williston was the fastest growing community in Vermont with 491 residents. There were seven taverns located along the Winooski Turnpike by 1800, including a hotel in the Village which served the coach trade. To meet the educational needs of its residents, several school districts were established throughout Williston. These school districts served Williston until the twentieth century, when they were consolidated into larger community schools. Williston Academy, founded in 1829, was first a private school and then, in the twentieth century, the consolidated school for Williston.

Diversified farming peaked in Williston in 1825. By 1829, sheep farming had become the primary economic base of the Town. To accommodate ever larger flocks, clear cutting of forest lands increased. In 1850, there were five times as many sheep as people in Williston and the landscape was virtually barren of trees and undergrowth. That same year, the Central Vermont Railroad was completed through Williston. The railroad made it possible to ship dairy products to urban areas. This, in turn, made dairy farming an attractive alternative as the market for wool shifted to the west. The hamlet of North Williston developed around the railroad stop along what is now Chapman Road. Creameries developed throughout Williston to support the dairy farmers. North Williston grew to incorporate a post office, a general store, a foundry, a machine shop, a cheese factory, a cold storage plant, and a poultry warehouse. Butter, cheese, and chickens were regularly exported from Williston. Butter was refrigerated in Smith Wright's cold storage plant by one of the first commercial refrigerators in the United States. The twentieth century brought further development to Williston. In the 1920s, Williston received electrification, sidewalks, footbridges, and paved roads. Development shifted away from the railroads back to the roads with the increasing popularity of the automobile. In 1927, 15 miles of railroad track washed out and the North Williston community began to decline. In 1928, U.S. Route 2 was paved and tourist cottages sprouted along its corridor as recreation began to center on the car. By the 1940s, the once thriving community of North Williston had nearly vanished.

  1. Town of Williston Planning Commission, 2000 Williston Comprehensive Plan, Williston VT
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