Home Commentary Montpelier’s First July 4th Celebration: 1807

Montpelier’s First July 4th Celebration: 1807

Montpelier’s first Statehouse. Woodcut from Conant’s Vermont History, artist unknown, found on Wikipedia.
History Corner

By Carla Occaso

Montpelier grew quickly after it was declared the seat of Vermont’s government. During the October session of the legislature held in Danville in 1805, an “Act Establishing the Permanent Seat of the Legislature at Montpelier” was enacted by the general assembly. Prior to that, the legislature met in different towns each time. A committee was then appointed to plan for and erect a building for lawmakers to use before September 1, 1808, according to Daniel P. Thompson’s “History of the town of Montpelier from the time it was first chartered in 1781 to the year 1860.” 

In the midst of this excitement, Thompson writes of “the appearance of the village the first time he entered it” on the fourth of July, 1807. On that day, State Street had been surveyed, but not opened. Men and women rode through the stream on horses, or carts, or wagons to go from one side of town (across the “Branch”) to the other. Thompson recalls rolling up his trousers with around 10 other boys and wading across the water. He saw two lines of stakes running east and west through the midst of a meadow in a strangely straight row. He asked an older boy what they were for, and the boy responded, “they are to show where we are to have a new, handsome street from the new State House right across the Branch with a fine, elegant new bridge.” 

Then, Thompson recalls they reached where the “then novelty” national jubilee was to be celebrated. He found activities were to be performed on the groundwork of the new Statehouse. The flooring timbers had been framed together and roughly floored over. A large platform was set up on this floored area. The orator was Paul Dean, a Universalist minister from Boston, who sometimes preached in Montpelier. 

“This was the first general public celebration of the Fourth of July ever held in Montpelier,” Thompson writes. A few weeks after the Fourth of July, in 1807, the frame of the Statehouse was raised. Also during that summer the foundation and brick work of the Pavilion House was done by Thomas Davis (son of Col. Jacob Davis, one of Montpelier’s founders). It was built to house the traveling legislature. State Street was opened by fall and a bridge was built over the Branch.