This Place in History: Lake Memphremagog

Local News

NEWPORT, Vt.

At ‘This Place in History” we’re in Newport, Vt. with Executive Director of the Vermont Historical Society Steve Perkins.

“We have beautiful Lake Memphremagog behind us and we’re going to go ask Scott Wheeler, the publisher of Vermont’s Northland Journal about how it got its name and what’s really cool about Lake Memphremagog,” explained Perkins.

“Lake Memphremagog, historically, it’s been said, means beautiful waters in Abenaki. But, it translates better into big waters or vast expanse of water. That isn’t so romantic-sounding as beautiful waters, but it’s Abenaki,” said Wheeler.

“It’s a 30 mile long lake, give or take, and only about 5 or 6 miles is on the American side. In Orleans county, and particularly in northern Orleans county, Lake Memphremagog has been a big part of life here. Before the arrival of European settlers, this was, and still is to a degree, the Abenaki homeland. It was a source of transportation for the Abenaki. They camped around it. They lived around it. They fished and hunted,” explained Wheeler.

“And then we arrived, the European settlers. We harnassed it for power. As with the Abenaki, we fished it. We also used it to transport lumber down from Canada. The soft wood lumber came down the lake in the water with booms. The hard wood lumber came down on barges. Right here where i’m being interviewed was actually the site of the international mill. It was a huge mill and that’s where most of the hardwood was handled,” continued Wheeler.

“And is that lumber industry that built the city of Newport?” asked Perkins.

“Yes, the lumber industry, the railroad industry and also the salmon run attracted people from all over the Northeast. Tourism was very important. But the lumber industry was a huge part of life here. The lake was used for many things, but it wasn’t always legal. During Prohibition, it was used as a transportation route for the illegal alcohol industry. During the summer months, they would come down by boat. In the winter months, they come down by truck or car.”

“So we’re right here along the Canadian border. It’s been a tradition of cross-border trade for generations. What’s Newport known for today? What can people see here today?” asked Perkins.

“Newport is in an evolutionary period. Newport has never stayed the same for long. It continues to evolve. I think during that whole EB-5 thing, we all stood around with our hands in the air waiting for the big bundle of money to fall because it was going to make the area boom. When that didn’t happen, I think there’s a group of people who are now stepping up to the plate and we’re going back into our roots as survivors. We have a long ways to go, but I think there’s a bit of growing optimism,” concluded Wheeler.


At ‘This Place in History’!

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

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

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