Tracing the History of Addison County and Middlebury
Nov 1, 2019 at 8:00 AM in Things to Do by
Situated in western Vermont about midway within the state, Addison County and Middlebury, its county seat, boast a rich history, some of which dates as far back as the seventeenth century. Sandwiched between the Adirondack Mountains of New York and the Green Mountains of Vermont, its location proved particularly strategic during the early history of America. Today this geographic emplacement between two old mountain ranges adds immensely to the experience here whether you’re recreating or just enjoying the scenery from the seat of your car.
The Iroquois first inhabited this land and then the Europeans began to arrive in the early part of the 1600s. Lake Champlain, the 107-mile freshwater lake that borders Addison County to the west, facilitated transportation in these parts throughout the centuries. From trappers arriving from Canada to the colonists traveling these waters in an attempt to defeat the British during the Revolutionary War, Lake Champlain has long played a pivotal role in forming the history of the area.
From the northern part of Addison County at the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum to the Fort Ti Cable Ferry in the south, following the length of this famous lake is a great way to trace some of the most historical happenings of this New England state. The maritime heritage of the Champlain Valley is well preserved at the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum. There you can find out about and visit many of the vessels that underwater archeologists recovered from the depths of the lake. From Revolutionary War schooners to some of the world’s first steamboats, here young and old enjoy checking out the various watercraft that have been recovered from the bottom of the lake. (The first commercially-successful steamboat in America, invented by American Robert Fulton, initially traveled just south of Lake Champlain in New York state between New York City and Albany in 1807.)
Halfway down the lake in Addison, stop at Chimney Point State Historic Site, another strategic site on a peninsula that was first occupied by Native Americans, then the French and then alternately the British and the colonists during the Revolutionary War. Crown Point State Historic Site (on the New York side) is another strategic and historical spot worth checking out. It’s also pretty cool to cross the Lake Champlain Bridge, which is the only bridge across the lake.
During the summer season, it’s way more fun, however, to traverse the lake on the Fort Ti Cable Ferry. During its seven-minute scenic crossing, you can learn about local lore and history. Fort Ticonderoga, also on the New York side, awaits you at the other end, an excellent destination for history buffs or just ordinary travelers interested in finding out more about the region and, of course, the red coats.
On the way back to Vermont and Addison County, hit the Mount Independence Historic Site, which is also on the shores of Lake Champlain. Better get a very early start!
After a full day of sightseeing, continue your history tour–this time seated with a delicious libation in hand–at Morgan’s Tavern at the renowned Middlebury Inn. Established in 1827 on Middlebury’s town green, this historic hotel serves up genteel New England hospitality to travelers arriving from near and far. It’s one of the few properties in Vermont that offers afternoon tea, a highly civilized tradition best practiced within a warm, cozy interior the likes of which you find here. Or, reserve a table at Morgan’s Tavern for dinner where they provide a fine dining experience worthy of the approval of our nation’s first gastronome, President Thomas Jefferson. For an extended moment passed within this fine establishment’s old stones–or rather old bricks–consider booking a room.
You can also organize a stay at Brandon Inn, another historic property located on the village green in nearby Brandon, Vermont. Established in 1786 (only ten years after the birth of our nation) and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Brandon Inn is one of the oldest, continuously operating places of lodging in Vermont. If you stay here, you’ll also revel in one of their exquisite breakfasts that will set you up nicely for the day.
In Ferrisburgh, in the northern part of Addison County, you can visit a unique museum located in a pastoral setting that’s a delight to behold. Rokeby Museum brings the Underground Railroad to life through the telling of the story of two fugitives that found freedom from slavery here in the 1830s. Walk the grounds and visit the Robinson family home and nine historic farm buildings. Not only will you learn about the amazing story of the abolitionists but you will also discover how Vermonters lived almost two hundred years ago. Rokeby was originally a thriving Merino sheep farm. Did you know that sheepherding was once the main agricultural activity in this region? And you thought Vermont was all about cows.
Speaking of animals, equine enthusiasts must make a visit to the University of Vermont Morgan Horse Farm. It’s an historic site that’s home to a working herd of more than forty Morgan horses. Since 1907, it has been an official breeding place for the Morgan horse, one of the first American-bred horses. Morgan horses are also Vermont’s official state animal.
There are many historic sites, buildings, bridges, trails and more in Vermont that allow you to delve into a bygone era at every turn. Go to the Addison County Visitors Center in Middlebury to find out more about them or just let your Discovery Map be your guide. Either way, like much of the rest of Vermont, this bastion of tradition is both beautiful and full of stories.