Early Settlement. Before the arrival of the first European settlers, Native Americans passed through the Winooski River valley and settled in parts of what is now Waterbury [†]. The area's abundant supply of water, timber and soil provided ample food and shelter, which eventually attracted other settlers as well.
In February 1704, a band of about 300 French and Indian soldiers and warriors under the leadership of Hertel de Rouville followed a route from Canada along Lake Champlain, to the frozen Winooski River, to the White River, and then down the Connecticut River to Deerfield, Massachusetts in the early morning hours. Following the raid, which left 44 Deerfield residents dead and 109 men, women and children taken captive, the French and Indian raiding party returned back to Canada by the same route. Records indicate that the raiding party and their captives camped in the vicinity of Bolton Falls on March 17, 1704 as they traveled the frozen Winooski River on their return trip to Canada.
In 1763, King George III of England granted a charter through Governor Benning Wentworth of New Hampshire for land in the Winooski River valley. The initial proprietors, mostly from Waterbury, Connecticut, named the new township after their hometown. According to the town charter, Waterbury contained 23,040 acres. Tracts of land from Middlesex and Bolton were added in 1850 and 1851 that increased the acreage to 32,768. Lots were initially laid out in 1773, and the land was surveyed nine years later by Partridge Thatcher.
James Marsh, Waterbury's first permanent settler, arrived in 1783 and claimed land north of the Winooski River in the vicinity of what is now Winooski Street. Ezra Butler, who later became a Vermont governor, built the first frame house in the northern extremity of town and in March of 1790, he called a meeting to incorporate the township. By 1791, Waterbury's population had reached 93 people, as counted in the first U.S. Census.
Also in 1790, residents built the first school. Strong believers in a good education, the townspeople voted in 1803 to build a school where the railroad now crosses Stowe Street. The tax would be two cents on a dollar and payable in wheat, rye, or corn.
Most early inhabitants lived near the Winooski River, bordering the town on the northwest, for it was here that adequate water was available and fishing and trapping could be more easily achieved. Within the decade, a growing population of settlers was attracted to newly opened Main Street as the site of residences, businesses and institutions. Farms were also established in the area that is now Park Row and Randall Street.
Waterbury's first grist mill was erected in 1793. The town's early industries, located primarily along the Little River, Thatcher Brook, and Alder Brook, included wood and leather products, baskets, children's carriages, starch, alcohol, and scythe handles. The first successful merchant in town was Amasa Pride.
Agriculture was also a major industry. In the 1800s, self- sufficient farms yielded gradually to commercial agriculture, which was characterized by the rise and fall of "sheep mania" during the period from 1830 1870, and the flowering of the dairy industry thereafter. Many of the town's stone walls, marking old sheep pasture boundaries, date from this period.
The Railroad Era. The Central Vermont Railroad came to Waterbury in 1849. With it came economic growth and tourism. The railroad also contributed to the relocation of the center of local activity from Waterbury Center to Waterbury Village, which soon saw a surge in industries, businesses and population growth.
After 1850, a string of small concerns sprung up in the area immediately surrounding the railroad's original depot including the Cooley Wright Foundry established in 1882. The town's budding tourism industry also was served by the construction of the Waterbury Inn in 1885, and the establishment of the Mount Mansfield Electric Railroad to Stowe in 1896.
As well as inviting a greater transient population, rail transportation brought with it new permanent settlement. By the mid-1870s the number of homes on Union Street (then Maple Street), Winooski Street, and South Main Street had doubled since 1850. By 1880, Waterbury's population was more than 2,200 — large enough to support a public high school, a local newspaper, a library association, and a number of retail establishments.
The economic growth of Waterbury during the late-19th and centuries is reflected in the many historic commercial early 20th and residential structures erected during this period. There are over 200 structures of varying functional types, many of which are fine examples of major 19th century architectural styles ranging from Federal to Queen Anne. Economic prosperity also brought an increase in middle-class housing as evidenced by the building of several stately homes on South Main Street. Additionally, Randall Street, which was developed with uniformity akin to urban speculation, was nearly built up in its entirety during the 1880s and 1890s.
State Facilities. In 1889, Mr. C.C. Warren his farm to the state and in 1891, the state constructed the Vermont State Hospital on the land. The state hospital treated individuals with mental illnesses and disabilities. Over the years, the hospital's capacity grew to approximately 1,400. Following the de-institutionalization of a large percentage of the hospital's patients in the 1970s, most of original hospital buildings were converted to state office buildings, and the grounds are now referred to as the Waterbury State Office Complex.
† Town and Village of Waterbury Municipal Plan, 2013 draft, outside.vermont.gov, accessed November, 2021.