From 1796 through the 1940s Barton Vermont was an unlikely spot for manufacturing and milling operations. It is located in the Northeast Kingdom where the economy was dominated by agriculture and forestry. The manufacturing and milling establishments were driven by the natural waterfalls of the Barton River. (This industrial area is currently known as the Crystal Lake Falls Historic District.)
Barton grew in population and prosperity during the Industrial Revolution because factories were dependent on water power. Barton grew even more during the mid-19th century when the railroad connected them to Boston and other major cities. From grist mills to farm machinery to woolen factories, from cotton textiles to furniture factories Barton survived the 19th century and 30 plus years of the 20th century. Then came the Technological Revolution followed by the Great Depression and one by one the mills and factories closed.
The first sawmill at the river was Walter Heyward Company who eventually expanded thier business to making wooden chair parts. More sawmills, two shingle mills, three shops that produced window sashes, doors and blinds set up business at the river. Several woodworking firms joined the growing industrial area and they produced carriages, toilet seats, furniture, piano actions and bowling pins. The largest factory in the beginning years was Wessell, Nickel, and Gross who produced piano actions. Another major industry in Barton was the Peerless Company. They made cotton undergarments. Peerless hired 200 women and 50 men. Employing women had a huge impact on the social history of the community. The factory opened in 1892 and closed in 1924. The fashion industry had moved on to silk. When Peerless closed its doors it marked the beginning of the decline of manufacturing in Barton . In addition to changing times the depression dealt them another card in the deck of financial ruin. In 1940 it was over with the exception of Ethan Allen, builder of fine furniture, who remains there today. They have about 400 employees.
Many of the remains are in ruins while some of the buildings have been preserved and are currently in use.
As you walk around the grounds you will notice the Safety Signs. The Asbestos sign interested me because I’d never thought about asbestos being in brick and mortar in the late 1800s and early 1900s. A quick Google and I not only learned that it was being used but that asbestos was first mined 4000 years ago and became widely used at the end of the 19th century. Now that has nothing to do with Barton’s Ruins, but I thought it was interesting. That means that it had been widely used in the US for almost two centuries before anyone connected it with illness.
No warning sign on the walking bridge over the river, but we didn’t fall in so I guess it was okay.
Wood framed factories in ruins.
Factory (front and back} restored and currently occupied. Front looks great, back still needs paint. Actually I think they may have left it unpainted so it would blend in better with the ruins. Giving them the benefit of the doubt here.
Abandoned buildings in Barton also remind us of another time when the community prospered and the country was going through significant social and economic changes.
*(Ethan Allen is actually located in Orleans VT, and this is a little confusing, but Orleans is located in the northeast corner of Barton and the two villages incorporated and apparently became Barton. Both villages still retain their names, however.)
Barton is one of many small towns in the United States that experienced rapid growth during the Industrial Revolution, followed by a rapid decline, and managed to survive. These communities pull together, building a new future while still preserving their history. Barton is definitely a place worth visiting.