The First Two Centuries of Cabot
Once part of Caledonia County, Cabot is situated in the northeastern part of Washington County, bounded on the north by Walden and Danville, east by Danville and Peacham, south by Marshfield and west by Woodbury. The township is six miles square and was once heavily wooded by hardwoods, hemlock and spruce.
The Town of Cabot received its name from Mr. Lyman Hitchcock, one of the original grantees, in honor of his intended bride, Miss Cabot of Connecticut, a descendant of Sebastian and John Cabot, the early navigators and explorers of North America.
The first Cabot settler was Benjamin Webster, an uncle of Daniel Webster. In 1783 Webster made a little clearing and built a log cabin on the Bayley-Hazen Road near what is now the Walden line. He returned to New Hampshire and the following March the family snowshoed in, the hired man drawing what few goods they had on a hand sled with the baby daughter riding in a wooden washtub.
Other settlers soon followed and by 1787 four settlers requested that a meeting be called to organize the town government. The original call, dated February 5, 1788 was issued by Walter Brock, Justice of Peace, for the meeting to be held in Thomas Lyford’s house. This document is in the Cabot Public Library. There were probably no more than 10 or 11 voters present but officers were elected. It was voted to build a school house but times were hard and the school house was not built until 1792 at a cost of $35 in wheat and $5 in cash, nails or glass.
In the early days the settlers had to clear the forests, and since there was no way to market the timber they made potash salts. Potatoes were raised in abundance and there was no near market for the crops. Hanson Rogers was the first of many who erected distilleries and the potatoes were made into whiskey. Before the war of 1812 shipments were made to Boston and Portland, but with the war a new market opened and the whiskey was smuggled into Canada.
Dr. Gersham Beardsley and his brother Horace of Massachusetts built what became a famous tavern, The Yellow House. Since a county road was built from Montpelier through Calais to Cabot joining the Bayley-Hazen Road, traffic had to pass over Cabot Plains. The Yellow House became a favorite stopping place.
Thomas Lyford who was a mill-wright built an up-and-down sawmill in 1789 using the Winooski River for water power. Others saw the advantages of water power and set up businesses. A wool-carding and cloth dressing shop, a starch factory, carriage shop, blacksmith shop and small foundry soon followed.
In 1790 Major Hitchcock, Captain Jesse Levenworth and Asa Douglas presented the town eight acres of land for public use at Cabot Center, where the seat of government was moved over strong protests by the settlers on Cabot Plain.
About 1810, business had begun to move away from the Plain to a new settlement at the Center, which in turn was abandoned for a newer settlement beside the Winooski River. The Yellow House was torn down in 1855, but the hinges and front latch were retrieved and are now on display in the Cabot Historical Society.
As industry developed along the Winooski river the seat of government moved to Cabot Village. A third settlement soon developed in Lower Cabot. Again available water power from the river encouraged the growth of industry.
When the settlers first came to West Hill they discovered a great meadow providing hay which was hand scythed, stacked and hauled on hand sleds to the barns in winter. About 1820 Avery Atkins bought the land and built a dam across the West Hill Brook, flooded the meadow and used the waterpower for a saw and gristmill. From then on this body of water was called West Hill Pond.
Other settlements were made at East Cabot, Hookerville and Peterville, along the Molly Brook.
At one time there were 14 school districts, beginning with No. 1 on Cabot Plains, built in 1792; No. 2 at Cabot Center, 1793; and No. 3 at Lower Cabot, 1800. A new district was added as new areas were settled. At first school was kept only a few weeks in winter, later a summer session was added.
The Congregational Society built the first of Cabot’s churches in Cabot Center in 1806. The Methodist church followed in 1822. These two churches joined in 1928 to become the Cabot United Church.
Sheep raising was once important, but with the decline of the wool market farmers turned to dairying. F.A. Messer built a creamery in Cabot Village in 1893 and the milk delivered there was manufactured into butter. In 1919 a group of 94 farmers bought the creamery and established the Cabot Farmers Creamery Co. Inc.
A ride along today’s Bayley-Hazen Road on Cabot Plains affords one of the most extensive and finest views in the state regardless of the season of the year. Jay Peak on the Canadian border, Spruce Peak, Belvedere Mountain, the Worcester Range, Mt. Mansfield, Camel’s Hump and the Lincoln Peaks are easily seen and identified. To the east rise the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Here on the height of the lands between the Winooski and Connecticut Rivers is where the story of Cabot began.
Note: Jennie Smith Donaldson, shown above, taught school in Cabot and surrounding towns for many years. She was a respected historian and was frequently asked to speak to area groups and organizations about Cabot history. We feel very fortunate that her family donated many of her lesson plans, notes, photographs and clippings to the Cabot Historical Society.
Cabot History from the Gazetteer of Washington County, Vt., 1783-1899.
Cabot Charter, August 17, 1781.
Business Directory, Cabot, 1883-1884.