GLIMPSES OF GREENSBORO'S HISTORY
In 1877, Abby Hemenway in the Vermont Historical Gazetteer, described Greensboro saying, "At the eastern extremity of the Caspian, and just below its outlet, is the beautiful little village of Greensboro, where there are some 25 neat dwellings, a hotel, 3 or 4 stores, excellent mills for sawing and grinding, also several shops where mechanical business of divers [sic] sorts is carried on, 2 churches, Congregational and Presbyterian, the town house and schoolhouse.
The Beginnings of Greensboro
Although no tangible evidence remains, it is assumed that the land that is now Greensboro was once inhabited by Abenaki Indians. The first white settlers arrived after a charter was granted to 67 men, most of whom had served in Connecticut regiments during the Revolutionary War. They petitioned for the town on March 15, 1780 and the following November the Vermont legislature made the grant under the name of Coltkiln, in honor of Harris Colt of Lyme, Connecticut, who captained a company under Washington's command, the first named grantee. However, when the charter was issued August 20, 1781, it was under the name of Greensboro, after Timothy Green.
Two roads were important in the settlement of Greensboro. From 1776-79, Colonel Jacob Bayley, head of the American or colonial militia in Vermont in 1776, built the Bayley-Hazen Road. While Bayley-Hazen Road was a failure as a military road, for a number of years, all Greensboro settlers followed it here. Today, near the site of the Greensboro Block House that guarded Hazen Road, there is a monument to two soldiers, Constant Bliss and Moses Sleeper, who were killed by Indians in 1781. Another important road significant to the settlement of Greensboro was the Hinman Road built by Timothy Hinman between 1791 and 1793.
The Block House
One of the earliest landmarks of Greensboro is the Old Stone House that was built near the site of the blockhouse. It has been a curiosity to townspeople and summer residents for many years. It was built in the early 1800s of blocks cut from a single boulder found on the farm on which it is located. There have been some stories suggesting that the house is haunted. Although there has been speculation as to its exact construction, it still remains a structure of its time and of architectural interest.
Early Greensboro settlers came from numerous nationalities. The first settlers arrived in 1789, most coming from Connecticut as well as from other Vermont towns. The Scots came between 1830 and 1880. The French Canadians started arriving after 1880. Other nationalities included Portuguese and Irish. Many of the settlers from other nations were immigrants who found the topography of Greensboro much like that of their native countries. Today, Greensboro has residents from many different countries and States.
A part of Greensboro's history includes Greensboro Bend, known as "the town that the railroad built." In 1869, James Simpson and Henry Tolman got the Town of Greensboro to vote a bond of $18,000 to support routing a loop of the St. Johnsbury and Lake Champlain Railroad through Greensboro Bend. Their judgment was excellent, for as a result, Greensboro Bend and the surrounding area received new life. By 1880 Greensboro Bend had an industrial life of its own, for the railroad brought in goods from outside as well as passengers. It also took livestock, dairy products, and other goods produced in the area to other Vermont towns and distant cities such as Boston. Greensboro Bend grew and flourished in buildings and population as long as the railroad operated, but the economy suffered when the railroad gave way to road transportation.
Commerce thrived in Greensboro throughout its history. In the first half-century the community remained pretty self-sufficient with carpenters, coopers, leather tanners, plasterers, masons, wall builders and other tradesmen among the residents. Merchants, tinsmiths, carriage makers, innkeepers, doctors, and lawyers soon followed. The most common occupation of the 1800’s, however, was farming. For farms to be built land needed to be cleared and potash, from the burning of trees, was one of the few commodities that could be exchanged for necessities. Maple sugaring has been an important industry in Greensboro since the early 1800s. Milk is another staple that has survived the numerous requirements made of its production and transportation over time, and is still important today.
The Ice Industry
The harvesting and sale of ice became big business from the late 1800s until the late 1930s since farmers needed large amounts for keeping milk and butter cool during warm summer days and for shipping on the railroad. At one point three commercial ice houses in Greensboro harvested 180,000 tons of ice in 2-3 weeks from mid-January to mid-February. Ice was used to preserve food in “ice boxes” in people’s homes and shipped as far away as the Caribbean. Both sawmills and gristmills were also vital to Greensboro’s history and there were several in town, including the grist mill in the center of town which became the Millers Thumb shop. Village merchants opened early stores that carried mostly items which settlers could not produce themselves. Inns, hotels and boarding houses also hired local residents to meet the needs of travelers to Greensboro. Many residents provided maintenance and other services to both local community and summer residents, and this continues.
Greensboro’s history has included a strong sense of community developed through many forms of entertainment as well as civic organizations. Early on, weddings and funerals were important social events and widely attended. “Bees” were a popular form of socializing where farmers found that building a barn became a party when neighbors shared the labor. Sugar-on-snow parties became a sign of spring. Often times there were lively winter dances to fiddle music. The Greensboro Dramatic Club brightened winter evenings in 1885. There were gill players and lecture series given by folks from Boston.
For a half century beginning in the 1920’s residents from Greensboro often traveled to the nearby town of East Craftsbury to take part in and enjoy the East Hill Players’ Shakespeare productions under the direction of Miss Jean Simpson. Basketball and baseball occupied the time of Greensboro’s younger residents who often endured cold nights to travel to play against teams from neighboring towns. Cross-country ski programs have ensured that all of Greensboro’s children learned to ski and continue even today. Ice-skating and more recently snowmobiling were also popular sports.
The County Fair was always a well-attended event, signalling the end of summer. Over the years Greensboro held parades celebrating various occasions, a tradition that was revived for July 4th in 2005. Mountain View Country Club, providing golf and tennis for the residents, was founded in 1898 and is the oldest golf course in Vermont in its original location. In keeping with the nature of Caspian Lake, the Greensboro Yacht Club held sailboat races for over half the 20th century. 4-H, Girls and Boy Scouts inspired many local children to develop their skills and talents. The Caspian Lake Grange has been an active organization in Greensboro’s history. A beautiful Memorial Garden, maintained by volunteers, memorializes past residents. The Barr Hill and Long Pond Natural Areas, and conservation of private properties with the Vermont and The Greensboro Land Trusts, are testimony to Greensboro citizens' concern to preserve the town's rural landscape and wildlife habitat.
Greensboro’s rich religious life has been influenced by what was going on with religion at the time. The Congregational Church, beginning in 1817 dominated the religious life during Greensboro’s first century. The United Presbyterian Church was built in 1850. On February 13, 1929 the two churches merged under the name of the Federated Church that was changed later to the Church of Christ. The Greensboro Bend Methodist Church was organized in 1880 and was one of the first buildings in the Bend. St. Michael’s Catholic Church was built in 1891 and replaced by a larger church in 1968. Greensboro’s citizens have contributed in many ways to international religious communities.
Greensboro’s early settlers, like others in Vermont, considered education as one of their main concerns. The first school in Greensboro opened in Aaron Shepard’s barn in the summer of 1794. As with many Vermont towns, Greensboro initially had many local school districts. By 1900 Greensboro had eleven schools. New schools were built during the next years to meet the growing number of students and later, to close some schools and bring students together in one location. The last one-room school house, then serving five grades, closed in the 1950s. Greensboro High School opened in 1917 and the last class graduated in 1968. Today local students attend Lakeview Elementary School through grade 6, then Hazen Union High School in Hardwick.
Over the years Greensboro experienced its share of misfortunes, including numerous fires that changed the town. In addition to farmers and other residents losing homes and barns, the town’s public records were lost in the 1831 fire of the store owned by Storrs and Longdon and seven years later the rebuilt store and seven other businesses were again lost to fire. Influenza afflicted residents periodically, but was worst during the 1918 epidemic that spread around the world. Although Greensboro is on high ground there was a large flood in 1810 that caused extensive damage. Over a century later, the hurricane of 1938 caused many losses in the area. Another disaster that has entered local lore was the head-on collision of two trains just below Greensboro Bend on May 5, 1944, which resulted in the death of a fireman.
Greensboro has been fortunate to experience a long, rich history of readers, writers and artists. While many were summer residents, there were also local artisans who have expressed themselves in many modes of art. These artisans have shared their works through shows and local shops. The Greensboro Free Library has been vital to the community since 1900 when Henry Tolman gave land and funds to build the library in the center of town. That building served well until 1994 when the library moved to larger space and the historic building was leased to the Greensboro Historical Society. Throughout the years Greensboro has been privileged to experience performances from musicians, actors, orators, and poets from Boston, New York City and Washington, D.C.
The shore of Caspian Lake has called to many vacationers since the late nineteenth century. Summer residents formed a colony that has been a rich part of Greensboro’s history. Families who continue to come to Greensboro generation after generation still include writers, poets, artists, doctors, lawyers, judges, performers, ministers, deans, educators, business people and many from different walks of life. They have been very generous with both their talents and resources, helping to fund many projects and buildings in Greensboro. Early summer residents built camps in specific areas around the lake that were given names that still identify these locations today. The summer community remains vital to Caspian Lake and Greensboro.
As Greensboro’s history continues the Greensboro Historical Society continues to document it, maintaining files of events, photos, recordings and relevant artifacts. Time will continue Greensboro’s legacy. Maybe you will be a contributor to the future history of this town. Greensboro’s history is not faceless or nameless. Thousands of men and women have contributed to it and continue to do so today. For more detailed information about Greensboro's history, please check some of the items referenced below or listed on our "Resources" page or visit the historical society building at 29 Breezy Avenue, next to the Willey’s Store. At the Greensboro Historical Society there are many resources to provide you with more details about Greensboro’s history. The GHS building contains photos, personal records, historical artifacts, audio and video recordings and a wealth of written material.
Listed here are some of those written resources:
- Fisher, Sally (1975) Greensboro – Where Have You Been?
- Gray, Phillip More Greensboro Memories (Greensboro Historical Society, 1977)
- Gray, Philip Lake Village, Vermont (Greensboro Historical Society, 1978)
- Hill, Lewis Fetched-Up Yankee, A New England Boyhood Remembered (Chester, CT: The Globe-Pequot Press, 1990)
- Hill, Nancy (ed.) 200 Years of Greensboro's Church by the Lake (Greensboro Historical Society, 1975)
- Landon, S, W., Early Memories of Caspian Lake (Greensboro Historical Society, 1975)
- Stone, A. History of Greensboro
- Stone, J.P. A History of Greensboro and the Congregational Church, A Semi-Centennial Discourse (Montpelier, Vermont: E. P. Walton, 1854).
- The Hazen Road Dispatch (The Greensboro Historical Society)
- Votey, Constance Growing Up With Aspenhurst (Greensboro Historical Society, 1976, 1980)
- Watson, Peter North Shore Summers (Greensboro Historical Society, 1981)
- Weber., S.B. (Ed.) (1990) The History of Greensboro: The First Two Hundred Years. Available from the Greensboro Historical Society, Greensboro, VT.
The Landscape Change Program, at the University of Vermont, is a virtual collection of images that documents 200 years of Vermont’s changing face. To view an interesting collection of pictures of Greensboro, click on This Link and type Greensboro in the box.