Looking at East Dorset's History
Dorset Marble Company Mill looking north c 1910
The Dorset Historical Society is working to build its resources on the history of East Dorset. Recently we added to our collection several photographs taken around the turn of the 20th century such as the one shown here on the left. By the 1930s we know that all those marble mills in East and North Dorset were gone. What follows is a brief picture of what we have learned so far.
In the late 1700s the governors of both New York and New Hampshire were granting lands in the territory we know as Dorset. Although NH Governor Benning Wentworth chartered Dorset in 1761, James Duane, a lawyer from NYC and Albany, was also given a patent by the governor of New York for a parcel known as Princetown which included the lands of today's East Dorset. On a visit in 1765, Duane provides our first documentation of the area. He writes in his diary, "In or near the North East bounds of Dorset is a large Pond where theres good fishing; but it is difficult of access. Near this place we suppose is the common source of Batten Kill & Otter Creek,…" It's interesting that these places were known and named in 1765, although Duane reports that Dorset had no settlers.
Same view, October, 2010
Note the flat roof building in both pictures
Arriving in 1769, Zachariah Curtis was the first known settler in East Dorset. He owned most of what is the Route 7 valley for five miles north of East Dorset village and built the Curtis Hotel at the entrance to a large Pond (early named Dorset Pond, now Emerald Lake). The Eli Deming Tavern was operating at the intersection of Morse Hill Road and the Rutland-Manchester Road (now Benedict Road ) in 1786. By 1785, Isaac Underhill had opened the first marble quarry on Mt. Aeolus (or Green Peak) - the mountain between the villages of Dorset and East Dorset. Thus, marble quarrying and finishing determined and dominated the growth of these villages throughout the 19th century.
The Freedley Quarry, the largest in the area, began operation in 1808. Quarry workers lived all along Dorset Hill Road (formerly the County Road) as the many foundations and cemeteries attest. The marble from the hill side quarries was sent one mile down the mountain on an inclined railway to the East Dorset valley where the milling and finishing took place. Marble became the life blood of the area.
In 1852, the Rutland Railroad was completed to Manchester with stations in North and East Dorset bringing change and prosperity. This opened easy transport of goods (especially marble) and people to and from Burlington, New York City, Washington, D.C. and points in between. That same year the Mt Aeolus Inn (now the Wilson House) opened.
The 1856 Rice & Harwood map identifies several homes and businesses in operation in East Dorset. But the 1869 Bennington County Beers Atlas map for East Dorset shows a village that boasted a hotel, two stores, two churches, a school, a railroad, a cheese factory, a lumbering operation, a woodenware manufacturer, at least eight marble mills or finishing shops and many houses. Almost all of the houses remain. A walk along Mad Tom Road identifies the similarity in architectural style of these houses suggesting they may have been built around the 1860s.
By the 1930s East Dorset village had changed. All the marble mills from North Dorset to East Dorset were gone. The North Dorset Railroad Station (dilapidated, but still standing) had been 'retired' by the mid 1930s. In 1955, the East Dorset station was 'retired' and dismantled. A new Route 7 roadway was relocated west of the original road. School #6, built in 1874, came down in 1966 making way for the Dorset Town Offices. The Congregational Church (1838) and St. Jerome's Church (1874) remain. The homes built by these mill owners and workers also remain in East Dorset to remind us of the affluence and community that developed here during the end of the 19th century.
As we continue researching the history of these homes and collecting the history of the community, we hope to learn more about the growth of East Dorset. Should your ramblings in the attic or barn turn up some local history, please give us a call.