How Hartland came to be
What was it like back then, back when it all began? Did the mountains stand taller than they do today, worn down, with age, at the bones in their knees? Or have they grown since, built strong by kind hands and fertile earth? Did the rivers run straight and free, or bend and turn as they do now, oxbowed into twisted knots? Were the trees more lush, more frequent, with no fields, farms, or towns to disrupt the verdant forests? What was it like then, before we called it Hartland and home? I cannot hope to know. But I can dream, and so I do.
I dream of long ago valleys, ruled by nature, teeming with life, luscious and free. The deer and the turkey and the grey squirrel call themselves masters, and no man exists to meddle in nature’s ordered affairs. There is no color that I see when I dream, save one.
I dream of green, and oh how beautifully green it is. It is the green of fresh spring grass poking through the mucky marsh of snow-patched fields. It is the green of a John Deere tractor rolling along against a sky blue backdrop free of clouds. It is the green of the bitter apples, that fall before they are ripe to satisfy the hungry deer. It is the green of tranquility, of peace, of life, and oh what a beautiful green it is.
I dream of the lands of Hartland now as a distant past, but centuries ago, other men, with more power than I, dreamt of those lands as an approaching future. That saw Hartland for what it was, and more importantly, for what it could be. Perhaps they dreamt of a future where man and nature could coexist in a world of equal creation, symbiotic to its core. Or perhaps they saw it as just another economic gain. I do not know. But what I do know is that on July 10th, 1761, the mind of New Hampshire Governor Benning Wentworth was resolute, and he granted a charter that changed the course of Hartland’s history forever.
The charter divided the area we now know as Hartland into 71 equal shares, and thus, our town was born. The initial name given to the area was Hertford, and for twenty-one years the name stuck, however, as we know, the name was not fated to stay. Concerned about the confusion that the name created with the nearby town of Hartford, the name was eventually changed into that which we know and love by an act of the legislature in 1782. And so it was that Hartland was officially born into Vermont before Vermont was even truly Vermont, having not been formed into a state until 1791, nine years later. Hartland is not full of Vermonters, Vermont just has a little square of Hartlanders in it.
When all of this was beginning, the town was likely not much more than a swatch of sprawling land as it was before, only now dotted with loosely joined farms and homesteads, with a population of people easily dwarfed by that of the deer. Today however, Hartland is home to roughly 3,300 residents spread across a total of about 900 families.
The old economy of the town was an industrial one, largely dominated by wool-mills, and one particularly renowned blanket-mill owned by the prominent blanket company, J.E. Ashworth & Sons; the company mainly supplied blankets United States Military. Today, Hartland’s economy is still mainly industrial with most of its employees working in the manufacturing of durable goods.
What began as those disjointed plots, soon blossomed into the bright flowers of Three Corners, Four Corners, and eventually North Hartland, each with their own post offices and churches (all any real town needs is one, but we’ve always been a little over achieving). The horse and buggies were traded for tractors and cars, the dirt roads were paved to asphalt (well a few), and telephone poles started to sprout like trees. It may have been a New Hampshire governor that planted the seed, but it was Hartlanders who nurtured it into what it is today.
What this means is that yes, Hartland has grown, and in some ways it has changed, but in many ways it remains the same. We Hartlanders are a proud, hardworking people, who like to take what the land gives us and turn it into something good, something useful, and something that we are proud of. Yet, we never take too much, and, to our credit, do a pretty good job of keeping things the way they are meant to be. We don’t take over control from Mother Nature, we just steer the truck for a little bit down dusty dirt roads, still learning to drive, while she kicks back and takes in the view. Some things will never change, and sometimes that’s okay.
I dream of Hartland, back before it was our home, trying to imagine what it was like, but I don’t have to imagine much. Most of the time I can just open my eyes and look around me to find a living picture of the world back then. Things may look a little different buried under time, but underneath it is all still the same mountains, the same hills, the same rivers, rocks, and trees. Just ask most people in Hartland what times were like back then. You may get a long story that involves the words of great-great-grandparents passed down through the generation, but the core of the story will always ring true: “Eh, yuh, not much ‘as changed.” In truth, we change faster than Hartland ever will, and that change leads to perishing and Damon Hall won’t stand forever. The dam won’t hold back the river forever, nor will the churches always bring us together for potlucks and rummage sales until the end of time. Hartland by name began with us and so it shall die, but the land will go on forever (so long as we preserve what we can), until the sun itself turns off its burning light. When we die out and disappear from this world, the dust will be blown away to reveal Hartland as it was in the beginning, as it always has been, for the next lucky souls to come along and call it home. Therefore, we need to take this time to understand Hartland as it was, and as it will be, but most importantly as it is, the way it is now as we exist alongside it, because it is that understanding that will tell us who we our. In all things we discover ourselves, and Hartland is no different. So let’s plow two fields in one pass. Join me as we find ourselves in the past, present, and future of this land, this town, this home we call Hartland.
A special thanks to the websites of http://hartland.govoffice.com and Wikipedia (as sadly sparse as its page was) for some of the more factual information and a shout out to a page all of you should check out when you get a chance: http://www.uvm.edu/landscape/. It’s a website created by a UVM professor and his wife that is comprised of hundreds, possibly thousands, of photos taken in Vermont throughout the years that give you some idea of how much things have changed and how much they haven’t. Keep an eye out for all things Hartland.
As always thanks for reading, and stay safe out there in our sudden spring; try not to get washed away!