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Connecticut River runs through Brattleboro history | History

Someone new to the area recently asked why the Connecticut River is not more of a focal point in the community. The towering buildings on Main Street appear to have turned their backs on the river, and the railroad tracks separate the public from easy access to the riverbank.

Over the years, the Connecticut River has been a great deal to those who have lived along the waterway. When the Abenaki were the only people here, the river was used for transportation, commerce, cultural gatherings, and food. The river was then known as Wantastegok and indigenous cultures were cultivated along the banks. For the Abenaki, the river is much more than a hobby and entertainment, it is the basis of indigenous society.

Indigenous settlements along the Connecticut River and its tributaries predate the arrival of Europeans by thousands of years. In 1635, English traders moved up the Connecticut River to establish a fur trade with local Indigenous peoples. Smallpox arrived with the traders and the native river culture was decimated by the disease. Dutch traders used the Mohawk Trail up the Connecticut River to trade with the Abenaki as well. French traders also came south on the Connecticut and West Rivers to connect with the Abenaki for trade and form alliances. In the 1600s, Abenaki culture was under duress from all sides.

Fort Dummer, built in 1724, was the region’s first European settlement. The fort was built along the Connecticut River about a mile south of what is now Main Street. It was a militarized blockhouse built for trade and to continue English colonization north of the river valley.

Europeans found settling along the river to be dangerous. There is evidence that the Abenaki warriors fought fiercely to defend their homeland. Native attacks took place at Fort Putney, the English colonies south of Fort Dummer and the present retreat farm. All of these areas were former Abenaki lands that had been seized by English colonizers along the river.

English settlers continued to expand on Abenaki lands and build on hills far from major rivers. The English discovered that they were not as easily attacked by belligerent Abenaki if they did not occupy land that was previously managed by the Abenaki.

After the French and Indian War ended, the town of Brattleboro began on Meetinghouse Hill, about two miles west of the Connecticut River. The hill was a more easily defended place than the river. Over time, the town developed along Whetstone Creek. What is now the village of West Brattleboro was the town’s first commercial center.

In the 1790s, a dam and canal system was built in Turners Falls, Massachusetts. This allowed the flatboats from Brattleboro to travel up and down the Connecticut River to Hartford, Connecticut. From Hartford, larger ships could then reach the Atlantic Ocean and travel to the West Indies. Brattleboro’s center of commerce and trade began to move from the West Village to the growing East Village. These dams also meant the end of migrations of salmon and shad up the Connecticut River.

By 1800, the Connecticut River was the primary trade route for Brattleboro merchants and manufacturers. What is now Main Street, a dock for flat boats has been established just north of where Whetstone Creek empties into the Connecticut River. The landing stage was just behind a general store and warehouse owned by John Holbrook. Holbrook owned one of the largest flatboats and made his fortune carrying goods along the river. This fortune would help finance the development of the East Village commercial district.

The Connecticut River Valley population was reported to have doubled between 1800 and 1810, as the canals of Holyoke and Turners Falls in Massachusetts and Bellows Falls in Vermont became economic engines that transformed the river. into a super transport highway.

Over time, the flatboat trade was supplemented by steamboats. Steamboats were faster, more powerful, and could carry more cargo. In 1826, the Barnet was the first steamboat to land at Brattleboro.

In 1849 the railroad arrived. The trails ran along the west bank of the Connecticut River and effectively cut off the city from access to the waterway. The landing stage near Whetstone Creek disappeared and the goods were then transported by train.

The great logging runs on the Connecticut River also began around this time. Logging companies on both sides of the Connecticut River harvested trees and took them down the river to sawmills in Massachusetts. Newspaper readers would start at the end of March and end at the beginning of September. This disrupted other uses of the river for long periods of time.

In the early 1900s, there were too many competing interests in the waterway. Tourism businesses wanted to run their motor boats, factories and mills wanted to use water power to run their businesses, landowners wanted to protect their buildings along the shore from damage from logs and log companies. electricity wanted to build dams to provide electricity. Prolonged logging along the river valley had increased the impact of seasonal flooding. A little over 100 years ago, the river served too many masters and could not meet everyone’s needs.

The cutting routes ended in 1915. The creation of dams, such as the Vernon dam in 1909, caused a general flood of the river and contributed to the increase in the threat of flooding. The floods of the 1920s and 1930s caused severe damage and loss of life. The river, once Brattleboro’s commercial conductor, had become a dangerous natural adversary.

From the late 1700s, economic development along the river was a focal point of community growth. Mills and factories used the river for electricity and also as a waste disposal system. Towns and villages used the river as a dumping ground and also dumped sewage into the waterway.

In the 1900s, the river became dangerous for the environment. The river, which had been the lifeblood of the community, was now a threat. In 1948, the Federal Water Pollution Control Act began the work process to clean up the heavily polluted river. In 1952, the Connecticut River Watershed Council was formed to tackle pollution problems. In the 1950s, the river was called “America’s best landscaped sewer”.

In December 1967, Brattleboro’s first sewage treatment plant opened. Over the following decades, it continued to be improved and enlarged. Fortunately, the pollution does not flow directly into the river as it once did. According to the Connecticut River Conservancy website, “is it clean? River water tests in the area typically score Class B, which means it is safe for swimming and fishing.

In 1864, George Perkins Marsh, who grew up in the Connecticut River watershed, wrote: “Man has too long forgotten that the land was given to him for usufruct only, not for consumption, much less. for rampant waste. In his book “Man and Nature,” Marsh wrote about the devastation of watershed fisheries caused by extensive logging and agriculture. Usufruct is a legal term related to the Abenaki approach to natural resource management. It means the right to enjoy and benefit from the use and benefits of a natural resource without destroying or wasting the resource.

To answer the newcomer question, the Connecticut River has always served several purposes, but Brattleboro did not systematically apply the concept of usufruct when making decisions about the uses of the river. Instead, competing interests have limited access, damaged fisheries, altered water flow, and threatened wildlife while meeting the needs of power companies, commercial industries, and railroad owners. These decisions may have been made to improve the town’s economy, but one consequence has been a decrease in the positive impact of the river on the community of Brattleboro.

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