This Place in History: Essex Junction

Vermont Historical Society

ESSEX JUNCTION, Vt.

At ‘This Place in History’ we’re in Essex Junction with Executive Director of the Vermont Historical Society Steve Perkins.

“We’re going to be talking about what a ‘junction’ means. Why are all these towns in Vermont called junctions? Essex Junction and White River Junction? Tim Jerman, a member of the Essex Community Historical Society is going to join us and we’re going to explore what built this really cool village in Chittenden county.

“We were incorporated as our own municipality in 1892 and there was a vote in 1893. We were always part of the town of Essex, but there was nobody really down here until about 1850 when the rail line came in. And ever since then, we’ve been known as the junction because there were several rail lines crossing here and several rail lines coming together,” began Jerman.

“As services were added down here, they didn’t want the town to have to pay for that. So, that’s how villages got started all over Vermont, to pay for your own infrastructure.”

“The main rail line came up from Boston and it goes all the way to Canada. It connected here to the Canadian line. The reason it’s not in Burlington was competition. The Rutland Railroad and the Vermont Central were fighting over who was going to get the route. There were a lot of shenanigans and politics back in the 1840s. Bottom line, former governor Charles Paine won that battle and decided to run the line to connect with the Canadian line right here instead of in Burlington. This place was called Painesville before it became Essex Junction for about ten years,” added Jerman.

“This is very acrimonious if we talk about the mid 19th Century with these rail line wars and who’s going to get the rail line and where’s the connection going to be? And you brought a poem with you that talks about what happened here,” said Perkins.

“I did…What had happened was he had got on a train in Burlington; he was going to Boston. He missed that train, waited nine hours in the old station with no heat in the middle of winter; then, finally in the morning when the train came, he jumped on the first train he saw and it brought him back to Burlington. He got on the wrong train,” explained Jerman.

“There used to be 36 trains a day on four tracks. Today there’s just one. We just have Amtrack and the Burlington chip train. But, back then there were trains coming and going all the time. Plus, there was a trolley that ran all the way to Burlington back-and-forth all day.”

“There was a restaurant in the station back then. There was a huge hotel right over there called the Johnson Hotel. That burned in 1912 and was never rebuilt. There was also another big barn here where people would get off the train and they had performance art and things,” said Jerman.

“I should mention the Drury brick yard, which was our biggest business, was served by the rail line. It lasted for 100 years and over 500 million bricks came out of where the brickyard is in Essex Junction right now. All of Fort Ethan Allen was built with Drury bricks and there’s very few people around here who don’t have a Drury brick. They were all stamped, so you know whose they are,” concluded Jerman.

At ‘This Place in History’!

For more from our ‘This Place in History’ series, click here.

To view a map of Vermont’s roadside historic site markers, click here.

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