Vermont Place-Names: Footprints Of History

May 2, 2013

The names of the places around us often tell the unique story of Vermont’s history. All next week on Morning Edition, we’ll be taking a look at some of those names.

Our guide is “Vermont Place Names: Footprints of History,” by Esther Munroe Swift.

Let us know if you have a question about a place name below, and we’ll see if Vermont Place Names has the answer.

Vermont Place Names, Footprints of History was first published in 1977. The copyright is held by Esther Munroe Swift’s estate, which granted permission for its use. 

Vermont Place-Names 2012

PERU-Bennington

Swift wrote that the town was originally called Brumley, then Bromley. "The people of Bromley thought that their town's name was holding back the development of the community so they asked the legislature to change it...in 1804. The name Bromley was associated in peoples' minds with a poor and poverty-stricken place, but the name Peru was associated with the wealth of South America." It seems to have worked, Swift notes, "the population of Bromley was 72 in 1791, and in 1810 Peru has 239 people. The boom peaked in the 1840's when the population reached almost 600, it has declined fairly steadily ever since."

CABOT-Washington

Swift writes, “Cabot is the only town in the state that got its name from a romantic attachment. Major Lyman Hitchcock…and Miss Sophia Cabot fell in love while Lyman was still in the Continental Army. Sophia’s father refused to let his daughter marry a solider, so the lovers were thwarted. Then Lyman got in on a Vermont grant, in which he was the next-to-largest land buyer. Sophia’s father went north with a survey crew to inspect the holdings of his would-be son-in-law and liked what he saw. He gave Lyman and Sophia his blessing, and the other grantees of Lyman’s Vermont town let him name the town for his fiancée.” If you’re wondering, they married and settled in Cabot, and records say they had two children.

GUILDHALL-Essex

Visitors know a sign in Guildhall reminds readers it’s pronounced Gil-hall, so the “D” is silent.  The sign boasts it’s, “the only town in the world so named.” Swift notes that an earlier scholar said “by whom the name of Guildhall was given to the town is not known. They only other place in the world that bears the same name is London’s Guildhall, the equivalent of a New England “town hall.” Swift says it’s entirely possible that’s what Benning Wentworth had in mind when he named the town. But she says, there’s one other possibility. “The chief grantee of the town was Elihu Hall. Four other members of the Hall Family were also on the list of grantees. It’s is possible that Guildhall was a kind of play on the Hall name. Swift notes, “many early records show the name spelled Gilhall, which reflects the Vermonter’s tendency to soften or skip over entirely the d sound in many words."

WASHINGTON- Orange

Swift writes, “Washington town is a surprise to many people, not being in the county of Washington. The town was created nearly 35 years before the County, originally named Jefferson, renamed Washington.” It was named that for our first president. Swift writes, “The County was first established in 1810. The Federalists objected to the name Jefferson for a new county. However, the Jeffersonian Republicans held a small majority in the legislature…so Jefferson county it was. Four years later, the Federalists were back in power and changed the name to Washington, to honor the first president of the United States.” That left the town of Washington…”in the same predicament as Essex and Chittenden towns, that of not being in the county with which it shares a name.”

SWANTON-Franklin

There have been a number of misunderstandings over the years about how Swanton got its name. Swift wrote that Swanton was probably named for William Swanton, a British navel officer who was well known when the town was named for founding the Bath, Maine shipyard. Swift writes, “In the 20th Century it became popular to acribe New England place names to English sources, and some writers have suggested that the Vermont town derives its name from the English village of Swanton, Kent.” People have assumed it means a Swan’s town. Swift note, “Queen Elizabeth the second sent a pair of Royal Swans to the Vermont town in honor of its bicentennial.” But, “In fact, the Kentish village has its name from the Old English, “town of the swineherds.”