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Vermont Place-Names: Footprints Of History

04/16/12 7:55AM By Mitch Wertlieb

The names of Vermont's towns and villages, streets and places mark twists in history, and reveal the character of Vermont's people. 

In this VPR series, we share stories from the book, "Vermont Place Names, Footprints in History," by the late Esther Munroe Swift. The book is considered the authoritative text on Vermont towns.

We learn about Lyndon's Red Village and what happened to the village of Hale, among many other historical anecdotes.

"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.

Monday - Isle La Motte

Esther Munroe Swift writes that the Grand Isle County town of Isle La Motte changed its name for a time, "to Vineyard. ... It may have been that there were a large number of grapes on the island." Or, Swift writes, "the people of the island are generally of English and Scottish descent. That being the case, they may not have liked the French flavor of their town's name." Whatever the reason, the change was not a permanent one, in November 1830, the name was changed back to Isle La Motte."

Tuesday - Baltimore

The Windsor County town of Baltimore was created out of a corner of Cavendish. Esther Munroe Swift writes,  "no on has ever satisfactorily explained the use of the name Baltimore in Vermont. The city in Maryland was named for George Calvert ... who was granted the colony of Maryland in 1632, but did not live to see it settled. Baltimore is the Celtic word meaning ‘large town,' which was appropriate for the capital of Calvert's colony, but certainly not the case for the Vermont town. Strangely, there is a Baltimore in Ireland, which is very little larger than the one in Vermont."

Wednesday - Granville

Swift writes, "Old-timers in Granville recall that there used to be two areas with distinctive nicknames. Codfish Corners is thought to have taken its name from the staple item on the Vermont country diet earlier in the century, salt codfish....The other curious place name in Granville was Puddledock. ... It meant a swampy low-lying place. But the non-Vermonters who created the United States Coast and Geodetic Survey maps did not know that, so the one for the Granville area shows Paddledock as the location of a lumber camp, instead of Puddledock."

Thursday - Lyndon

The Red Village is a hamlet in the southeast corner of Lyndon, and there are many stories about how it got its name. Swift writes, "One persistent account claims that it was called so because some Russian exiles had settled in that area. However, there are several reasons this is not valid." The most important, she writes: "'red' was not used in connection with Russia or Russians until after the First World War. And of course the name of the village is much older than that." Swift writes the origin is probably, "because many residents had painted their houses and or barns with red ochre."

Friday - Guilford

The town of Guilford has a village in its northwestern corner called Hinesburg, "which took its name from William Hines," an early settler, Swift writes. The trouble began, when the village wanted a post office. "Washington was willing, but said the office couldn't be named Hinesburg, because there already was a Hinesburg post office in Vermont, right where it should be, in the town of Hinesburg. The village residents were even willing to have their office called West Guilford, but instead they got Hale (the name was apparently the brainchild of a Washington clerk)." The office eventually closed in 1903. But the name didn't remain, according to Swift, "Disgusted with the whole affair, the village residents went back to using the Hinesburg name."

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