From the Coventry Plot Map circa 1822 (1)
The first settlers in Coventry were farmers who immigrated from New Hampshire in search
of fertile land to grow their crops. They found that land on the east side of town along
the Barton River valley. But there had always been entrepreneurs and men of business who
knew that the waterfalls on the Black River in the western part of town held excellent
potential for profitable industrial development. As early as 1794 Ira Allen knew that the
falls on the Black River were a valuable property when he temporarily deeded away all of
the lots in Coventry excepting the six contiguous to the falls where he intended to build
a sawmill and gristmill.
In 1802, as the farmers from New Hampshire were pitching their lots by the Barton River in the east, the proprietor Jabez Fitch built a cabin at the upper falls on the Black River in the west and then proceded to build a SAWMILL.
This was the first stirrings of a population center on the westside of town. But it wasn't until the early 1820's with the arrival of the Harmon brothers that the future village of Coventry would really begin to take hold.
|At a sale of lands for taxes in 1813, two brothers, Calvin and Argalus Harmon of Vergennes, paid $1 dollar apiece for 3 lots of land including lots number 107 and part of lot number 111 which today encompass the village and lower falls. As Pliny White put it:|
When the Harmons purchased it, it was a mere wilderness and the Level part of it was
a cedar swamp. They were men of intelligence, energy, wealth, and business habits,
and all these they put in exercise to advance the interests of the town in which they
took up their residence. They engaged actively in business themselves, encouraged
farmers and mechanics to immigrate and gave a powerful impetus to the prosperity of
the place. Well knowing the value of such a water power as is furnished by the falls
of Black River, they decided to lay the foundation of a village beside those falls,
and to that work they now directed all their energies.
Pliny White, History of Coventry,Vt,
In 1821 the Harmons hired Thomas Baldwin
to clear five acres of land in what is now the
center of Coventry village. Baldwin was an "eastsider" living on a lot just
north of the "Four Corners" who had immigrated to Coventry from Westminster, Vt. in 1804.
Baldwin hired another eastsider
to help him with the job and it was Burrington who felled the first tree and built the
first house in the village. It was a small log cabin on land now occupied by the Coventry
Senior Housing apartments. A second log cabin was soon constucted about 600 feet to the
northeast on the corner lot now owned by the Lunna family. This second cabin was
occupied by Ebenezer Hamilton
who kept it as a boarding house for those who were employed by the
Harmons in clearing and building the town. A third cabin was built by Jonas Cutting
across the street on the lot now occupied by the Galuska's house. Cutting was a
blacksmith and carried on his trade in a workshop directly adjacent to his house.
All of these cabins were rough hewn homesteads that were built as temporary dwellings. It was now time for Coventry to begin building itself for real.
Site of original buildings in the Village
From Wallings 1858 Map
In the spring of 1822 Calvin and another brother
DANIEL WILLIAM HARMON
moved to Coventry and immediately began commercial operations. Before winter set in they
had built a store, a sawmill, an
and a two-storey dwelling house. (It is also probable
that they built a gristmill.(2)) The store was
stocked with goods sufficient to meet the needs of the small town. It also provided a home
market for Coventry farmers to sell their grains and salts. It was a hand hewn structure with
rough boards casing the interior and rough exterior clapboards nailed directly onto the studs.
The store was built on the opposite corner, south of Ebenezer Hamilton's boardinghouse.
The sawmill was constructed on the south bank of the river just up stream from where the
present day ruins of the grist mill lie. The ashery for the production of pearlash was built
on the river bank behind the boardinghouse. Calvin Harmon's house was the first frame house
in the village and was located on the site of the Kimball family house next to the
current Coventry Town Hall.
The next year, 1823, saw more improvements made to the village. In January, with voluntary labor provided by the villagers the first schoolhouse was built. The top of a very large hardwood stump was leveled and smoothed to supply a foundation for one of its corners. The schoolhouse was built across the street from where the Congregational Church is on the site of the house now owned by the MacFarlanes. The first classes were taught by Loring Frost and they continued here until 1835 when another schoolhouse was built directly south of the first one.
Ebenezer Hamilton abandoned his boardinghouse cabin and built a two-story, 30 by 40 foot house and became the first village tavern keeper. The house was built on the lot now owned by the Souliere's on the east side of the Common. Hamilton's tavern lasted for 36 years before it burned down on Sept. 3, 1859.
Calvin Harmon built a BLACKSMITH shop below the falls on the river and furnished it with a trip hammer. This must have been a great improvement over Jonas Cutting's operation as Mr. Cutting went to work in the new shop apparently abandoning his own.
The land for the village commons was donated to the town by the Harmon brothers. They stipulated only that the land should be cleared of stumps and the surface smoothed by the townspeople. When it became clear that there was not much enthusiasm among the people for this type of work the Harmon's came up with a novel approach as Pliny White describes:
...to expedite matters, it was agreed that whoever became "the worse for liquor" should do public penance
by digging out one stump. This proved to be much more effectual in clearing the land than in preventing
drunkenness. A pint of rum afterwards came to be regarded as a fair compensation for digging out a stump.
Pliny White, History of Coventry,Vt,
|In 1824 the third Harmon brother Argalus came to Coventry and purchased the mills at the upper falls. He built a store and a two story house to the southeast up the hill from the falls. By 1825 the first phase of the development of Coventry village would come to a close and a new one would begin. In February of that year Calvin and Daniel Harmon sold their stock of goods in their store in the village to Elijah Cleveland & Co.|
1. Vermont Historical Society, Montpelier, VT
2. Reports Of Cases Argued And Determined In The Supreme Court Of The State Of Vermont, By Wendell P Stafford, Volume 69, New Series Volume 1, St Johnsbury Vt, Caledonian Press, C.M. Sone & Co, 1897, pp 446-455
- History of Coventry, Pliny White 1858, Irasburg, VT