What is Middlesex?
Let’s start with its name.
Perhaps New Hampshire Gov. Benning Wentworth, who claimed the right to grant land in what is now Vermont, named it Middlesex after the English county, or possibly after the prosperous counties of Middlesex in both Massachusetts and Connecticut. Historians aren’t certain. Possibly, Wentworth was trying to curry favor with the English nobleman Lord Middlesex. Or maybe the name came from our town’s location in the middle—that is, between Waterbury and Worcester, which were granted in June 1763, immediately before and after Middlesex.
Whatever the reason, the name stuck. Which is more than we can say of the county in which our town resides. Middlesex has at various times been part of the counties of Gloucester, Unity, Cumberland, Bennington, Addison, Jefferson and, finally, Washington.
The town’s first settler, Thomas Mead, didn’t arrive here until about 1782 — nearly 20 years after it was granted. He settled near today’s Settlement Farm east of the village. It wasn’t always easy living. One morning, Mead found that one of his sheep had been killed; he quickly tracked and shot two bears, before finding the likely culprit, and dispatching it, too.
Despite hardships, the town grew. By 1791, about 60 people lived in town. Many of them attended the first Town Meeting, held in the home of Seth Putnam, whose family developed a prosperous mill operation in the part of town still known as Putnamville.
The town blossomed from one person to a downright neighborly 401 by 1810. By 1850, 1,365 people lived here, but during the rest of the 1800s, farmers migrated west for greener pastures. The town grew again in the late 20th century, and reached 1,743 in 2000.
Middlesex has been home to a number of smaller communities. We still know about Putnamville and the Village of Middlesex. But the town also used to boast neighborhoods called Wrightsville, Middlesex Center (which was once the site of town hall), Beartown and even Skunks Misery. In the last 150 years, Middlesex has gone from having 14 separate schoolhouses to one central school for the whole town.
Imagine early 20th-century Middlesex, abuzz with mills and small-town commerce, steam engines rumbling through to its train station and Model Ts pulling up to the Middlesex Hotel. The Flood of 1927, however, badly damaged the village. The houses along one street were destroyed, along with a creamery, Miles General Store and a blacksmith shop. The high waters swept away the entire millworks in Putnamville. Neither village has yet been rebuilt to its former bustling state, although past images remain as inspiration.
The flood also heavily damaged Wrightsville. Today, part of that village is flooded again, lying beneath Wrightsville Reservoir, which was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s to protect Montpelier from flooding. The CCC also did flood-control work in the village area, and built Camp Mead (named after Thomas) to house the workers.
In 1958, interstate construction began. Built with on- and off-ramps in town, the highway made it easier for people to travel. It also displaced homes, however, cutting through fertile farm fields and physically dividing the town.
Over time, residents have adapted to the changes. Unlike the agricultural homesteaders of yesteryear, 90 percent of Middlesex residents now commute to work. Others, with the help of the Internet and other technologies, work from home.
While we no longer gather so much in village clusters, Middlesex residents meet at the town’s active school, its churches, its Town Meeting, and community gatherings. Perhaps now more than any point in our past, Middlesex residents feel the need to know our neighbors.
Copyright 2003-2008 Town of Middlesex, Vermont. All rights reserved.