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History Corner: Bits About Plainfield’s Early Settlers

Baxter Bancroft resided in Plainfield longer than any other — 84 years (by 1882) — per an entry in volume IV of the Vermont Historical Gazetteer edited by Abby Hemenway in 1882. This section is titled “The History of Plainfield, Roxbury, and Fayston.” 

Bancroft had one child — Moses — according to a historical account written by Dudley B. Smith. M.D. Bancroft told Smith that as late as 1804 neither he nor his father nor any of the neighbors had chimneys for their houses. Instead they lay stones into “some form of chimney for a few feet, and the smoke was allowed to go out, if it would, through a hole in the roof.” Bancroft described the roof as large pieces of elm bark tied with strings. Sometimes a storm in the night would blow the pieces off the roof, so his father would have to get up and tie them on again.

Also, the roof would often catch fire and sometimes burn the house down. Although Smith doesn’t specifically mention the construction of Bancroft’s house other than the roof and the rock chimney, in several previous entries the settlement’s first houses are described as “log-houses,” with a distinction made later for frame and brick house construction. 

One summer the Bancrofts had nothing to eat but milk until Willard Shepherd gave them a bushel of rye. 

Charles McCloud built the first framed house in the village in 1798. Additionally, the first store had a kiln for making earthenware. Silas Williams built the first tavern, which was presumably supplied by the three distilleries in town: one in Mrs. Chamberlain’s garden, one in William Park’s garden, and one east of S. B. Gale’s house.

Plainfield Village incorporated in 1867, and the first two mills burnt to the ground the same year they were built. In 1877, the sawmill and gristmill, seven houses, two shops, and four barns burned. James Richards was blamed for the fires and later jailed. Also, in October 1869, a flood washed away the sawmill and gristmill, a clothing manufacturer, a machine shop, a blacksmith shop, and more. The railroad started coming to Plainfield from Montpelier in 1873.