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Area History

Jay, situated at the Canadian border, is a town with a rather interesting history (as has most of the Northeast Kingdom area.) Previously known as both Wyllis and Carthage, the name Jay is in honor of John Jay, a celebrated New York statesman who was essential to Vermont becoming the 14th U.S. State.

Amongst the most interesting aspects in the tale is that although the town was chartered (twice, actually) in 1792, it had no population recorded in the census of 1791 or 1800. A post office didn't even come into the picture until 1836 (and it closed in 1905). What may be even more interesting, is that the land itself (7,600 acres) was given to Thomas Chittenden, then Governor, in lieu of 350 pounds owed him by the state for salary. John Jay was the one to receive the second charter that year, for some 15,360 acres to the north of that land, in appreciation of his involvement in helping Vermont become a state.

In a later election, though there was no impropriety, Chittenden's opponents tried to make issue of the land granted to him, and the raising of the question itself was enough to cost him the election. Wanting to brush the entire ugly affair under the carpet as swiftly as possible, the legislature named the town Jay and considered it done. What of Wyllis? That was the family who originally petitioned for the land (and was granted it) but abandoned the claim, pursuing warmer territory somewhere farther south.

Today it may seem bizarre that so much land should be given in lieu of payment, but at the time, land was plentiful, and many family's fortunes were eventually made in just such a fashion. One thing is abundantly clear. Jay Mountain literally dominates the region and is centerpiece to the entire Northeast Kingdom.

Farther south, the famous resort town of Stowe has similar origins. Chartered in 1763, residents would not arrive there until 30 years later. When they did come, though, they came with a passion and a purpose. The very first settlers were Olive Luce and his family in March of 1793. The story is told that they left most of their possessions behind and dragged what they did bring on foot, pulling a small hand sled behind them through the wilderness, to a one-room log cabin that Oliver had built the summer before. Just one day later came Captain Clement Moody. Fifth generation members of his family still live on the land.

The town grew quickly after that. Just seven years later, most of the land was sold and there were 816 people living in Stowe. The town continued to grow in rapid rate for some 50 years. Forty men from Stowe served in the War of 1812, and 208 served the North in the Civil War. The rapid growth of Stowe remains a testimony to the beauty and richness of the land.