The first inhabitants of Richmond were indigenous people, who utilized the natural resources and topographic features important for travel, hunting, and food. Paleo-Indians are believed to be the first Vermonters and undoubtedly traveled through and hunted in Richmond. They were hunters and gatherers and lived in the Champlain Lowlands between 12,000 and 9,500 years ago. Archaic Indians lived here during the Archaic period from 9,500 to 3,000 years ago. The Winooski River was also a common highway for the Abenaki Indians after 1,000 A.D. between Lake Champlain and the Connecticut River.
An important archaeological site was discovered in 1809 in Jonesville, with arrowheads and stone utensils discovered in an area off Wes White Hill Road. In 1993, a nearby site was excavated as part of the engineering project to replace the bridge over the Huntington River. At that site, new findings showed the site was used on a seasonal basis by Abenaki Indians beginning around 1400 A.D., who developed a small camp or residential base for gathering food and hunting for a wide variety of fur-bearing mammals. Excavation showed that at least 11 different species of mammals were brought back to the site, including bear, deer, beaver, cottontail rabbit, chipmunk, red squirrel, muskrat, porcupine, fisher, mink, and skunk. The seasonal residents hunted within the Winooski River Valley and more upland areas, particularly the Green Mountains and area around Gillett Pond and its surrounding wetlands. Artifacts at the site also showed evidence that the Abenaki Indians had some contact with St. Lawrence Iroquois and perhaps with areas of New York near the Hudson River.
Throughout the 17th and well into the 18th century, Vermont served as a passageway for the French and Indian raiding parties harassing English settlers to the south and east, and also served as a slave corridor where captured whites were driven north to Canada. European settlement of Vermont did not begin until the Treaty of Paris ended the French and Indian War in 1763. While surrounding townships were being granted by Governor Wentworth of New Hampshire and being settled and organized, there was not one dwelling in the area destined to become Richmond. In 1775, Amos Brownson and John Chamberlain established homesteads in the area known as “the flats” which was at that time a part of the Williston Township. This early settlement coincided with the advent of the American Revolution when Vermont settlements on the borders of civilization were vulnerable to Indian attack. A man and a child were killed at the Chamberlain homestead before Richmond’s settlers, along with nearly all the other families in Chittenden County, abandoned their new homes and fled to the south for safety.
After the Revolutionary War in 1784, Brownson and Chamberlain returned, other settlers arrived, and settlements were built in areas which were then portions of Huntington, Bolton, Jericho and Williston. Portions of these settlements formed what became Richmond. Richmond was granted township status in 1794 when the Vermont Legislature combined parts of Williston, Jericho and New Huntington to form the new town. A portion of Bolton was added to Richmond in 1804. By the time the census was taken in 1800, Richmond had grown to a population of 718. Formal community responsibility began with the first Town Meeting in March 1795.
Two forms of commerce were visible in early Richmond: agriculture and trading. The latter was secondary to farming, dependent primarily upon the produce raised by local farmers. Wool and grain, the chief commodities in the early years gave way to milk and dairy products in the mid- 1800’s. Cheese and butter were made in local factories and shipped to market. Business activity was enhanced by Richmond’s proximity to the Turnpike Road (US Route 2). Travelers on the difficult 60-mile trip between Burlington and Montpelier found Richmond a natural overnight stop.
The farmer, needing the cash to pay for the products and services offered in town, found his woodland could bring him some revenue. Lumber was in demand, and ships sailed daily from Burlington carrying away much of the wealth of Vermont’s forests. Hardwood not sold as lumber was burned to make potash. Smoke spiraling upward behind many farm homes told of the stripping of forestland. Within 100 years after the first settlers arrived, the valleys and hillsides were denuded of their ancient cover. The loss of this resource paved the way for the devastating floods of the twentieth century. As the community grew to a population of 1,453 in 1850 transportation and communication became important. The turnpike was improved in 1849, the same year that the railroad was completed. Richmond’s business district began to shift to the north of the river to be nearer to the turnpike and the railroad. Telegraph service linked Richmond with the rest of the country also in 1849.
With new and expanded markets available, it became profitable to operate factories and businesses in Richmond. H.C. Gleason opened a creamery in 1885, the Borden Company established a milk processing plant, and a cooperative creamery began to operate. At that time, Richmond was the second largest shipper of butter and cheese in the State of Vermont. Other industries in this thriving community of the 1800’s were: a carriage manufacturing steam sawmill, furniture factory, paper mill, spool factory, woolen mill, spoke factory, cider mill, several grist mills, and a steam mechanics shop. Businesses dealing in drugs, furniture, dry goods, groceries, hardware, tinware, harness making, jewelry, millinery, blacksmithing, confections, boots and shoes, marble and woodenware were available to the Richmond resident.
One of the items of business transacted at Town Meeting on December 6, 1796 was the decision to obtain a site for a meetinghouse. Isaac Gleason and Thomas Whitcomb donated land on which to erect a structure that could serve as a combined meeting house and house of worship. Construction was begun in 1812 on what was to become Richmond’s most famous building, the Round Church. Money to pay for the building was raised by selling pews, with no preference given to anyone because of religious creed. Because of the several religious denominations contributing time and money toward building the church, and holding services there, it has been referred to as an early community church.
The Round Church ceased to be used for regular religious services in the 1880s but continued to serve the town as a meetinghouse until 1973 when State regulations declared the church unsafe for public use. In 1976 the town deeded the church to the Richmond Historical Society for forty years so that restoration could proceed with federal assistance. This was renewed for an additional forty years in 2016.
Education has deep roots in Richmond. One of the first examples of community responsibility occurring at the June 5, 1795 Town Meeting was the division of Richmond into six school districts. The number of districts eventually grew to 11, containing a total of 9 individual schoolhouses. The Richmond Academy was built in 1868 near the present post office. The academy offered high school subjects as well as elementary education. A new brick schoolhouse was built adjacent to the academy in 1907. It was enlarged in 1914 and served Richmond students for most of the 20th century. The building became home to the Richmond Town Clerk’s office in 1989 after the elementary school moved to its new campus just off the Jericho Road. It is now part of the Richmond Town Center complex.
At the turn of the century, Richmond began to acquire some of the hallmarks of twentieth century living. In the early 1900’s R. J. Robinson opened the first electric light plant on Dugway Road at the Huntington Gorge, which was subsequently purchased by Green Mountain Power. Western Telephone and Telegraph offered their service from an office in the old Jonesville Hotel. Later, a movie theater on Bridge Street, advertised “good clean pictures for young and old” on Wednesday and Saturday evenings. This theater building was later converted to a shirt factory, and now houses Toscano Café Bistro restaurant.
Several companies in the early 1900’s provided jobs for those seeking employment off the numerous farms in Richmond. The Richmond Underwear Factory employed 150 women in the building, which later became the Cellucord Factory and is now the Goodwin Baker Building. Borden Milk Products Company bought and expanded the Vermont Condensed Milk Company and provided work for 125 men. Other employers were the Richmond Cooperative Creamery and Harrington’s smokehouse, and Plant & Griffith Lumber Company and Lane’s Woodturning Plant.
A catastrophic fire blazed in the Incorporated Village of Richmond on the night of April 23, 1908. Flames destroyed much of the business section of the town including: two hotels, a drug store, a meat market, fruit store, hardware store, town offices, library, dentist’s office and several residences. In just a few hours the whole Masonic block and more was blackened and useless. Showing a true spirit of resiliency, the people soon began rebuilding, but much of what was lost could not be replaced.
Another disaster, a devastating flood, overwhelmed Richmond in November 1927. Damage in Richmond alone was set at $239,000. Losses included two large bridges and eight small ones (including two covered bridges), long stretches of highway and railroad tracks, Lane’s Wood Turning Plant in Jonesville, and many houses, barns and livestock. Many businesses and the school suffered heavy damage, but were able to reopen.
As was the case with many small Vermont towns, Richmond’s population began a steady decline during the Great Depression. This trend was reversed in the 1960s as a result of new regional employers coming into Chittenden County. Since then, Richmond’s population has continued to grow. In 1989, voters in the Incorporated Village of Richmond and the Town of Richmond voted to merge the two municipalities. In 1996, the Round Church was designated a National Historic Landmark. Currently Richmond boasts a number of fine traditions as evidence of its community spirit. Examples include the annual July 4th Parade and the annual Pilgrimage at the Round Church. Additional community activities are centered around Volunteers’ Green, home to a very active Little League, a growing youth soccer program, a summer concert series, and Richmond’s Farmers Market. In 1999, the Town hosted the first State Veteran’s Day Parade.
[From 2012 Richmond Town Plan with special thanks to Harriet Riggs]