Photograph by Chad Finer.
| Walk along Main Street in Norwich and experience the ebb and flow of life in an early Vermont town through the stories its historic buildings tell. Here is a community forged by the determination and skills of its early settlers. Their legacy survives in the architectural styles that line its streets. With commercial, residential, and public buildings clustered near its green, Norwich remains an engaged, vibrant community.
On July 4, 1761, Royal Governor Benning Wentworth of the Province of New Hampshire granted a charter for the town of Norwich to a group of Connecticut proprietors. Founding families like the Hatchs and Burtons purchased large tracts of wilderness in the southern end of town, today’s village center. Surviving an arduous journey up the Connecticut River valley, they cleared the land of trees and rocks, laid roads, and harnessed waterpower for grist and saw mills. A few decades later the Emerson family arrived and left its mark through construction of the elegant, classical architecture that defines the village center.
Many early residents settled near “the Center” on the hillsides north of town. As land was cleared, settlement shifted to the flatter “Plain,” which offered fertile soil better suited to agriculture and easy access to the river. The construction of the South Meeting House in 1817 and the American Literary, Scientific and Military Academy in 1819 on the Plain secured its position as the new town center. The 1820s to 1840s were prosperous decades. The town exported apples, wool, and other agricultural products. Tanneries and potash, cloth dyeing, and other factories joined the grist and saw mills on nearby Blood Brook. The presence of the academy (later Norwich University) and of Dartmouth College across the river in Hanover, New Hampshire, attracted educated, affluent people, who built stylish homes in the village center.
The Norwich Historic Walking Tour Brochure is available free at Tracy Hall, The Norwich Inn, participating Norwich merchants and Vermont Welcome Centers (I-89 and I-91). It is also available at the Norwich Historical Society.
Special thanks to the National Park Service for its contribution through the Certified Local Government Program, administered by the Vermont Division for Historic Preservation
Images courtesy of the Norwich Historical Society, except as