Killington was originally settled by families from Connecticut,
Massachusetts and Rhode Island. They came to Vermont looking for
good, cheap land to farm - largely because their farming methods
had depleted soils (due to lack of crop rotation and proper
fertilizing) and as families expanded, it was necessary for some of
the younger generation to look elsewhere for a place to farm. By
1810 there were 116 inhabitants in Killington and 218,000 in
Vermont's settlers set about taming the wilderness by
establishing grain and saw mills. The woods were opened up and
pushed back, not only to make way for farmland but also to promote
a feeling of safety. The forests supplied the logs and boards for
homes and wood for furniture, tools, utensils, and heat. Although
they were plentiful, logs could only be driven to market via
waterways so this industry remained small until 1850 when the
railroad made its debut. Then rail transportation hastened the
cutting of forests by making possible a major logging industry.
Farming was difficult on the thin soils in mountain towns, but
the 1811 introduction of Merino sheep began a profitable industry
along with the lumber business. Vermont was 70 to 75 percent clear
of trees by the late 1800s. (It reverted back to 70 to 80 percent
forested after the demise of the sheep industry.)
As the population of the state quickly grew to 314,120 in 1850,
Killington grew slowly and peaked at 578 in 1850. Reflecting what
was happening in other hill towns, the statistics of 1840 showed
the town had 82 horses, 625 cattle, and 1450 sheep. Oats, wheat,
potatoes, maple sugar, hay, and wool were the major crops of the
Prosperity was short lived, however. The sheep industry was
dealt a blow by the loss of its protective tariff and a subsequent
decline in demand for wool triggered a severe economic loss to the
To make matters worse, the soils were being depleted from poor
agricultural methods, overgrazing by sheep, and the extensive
logging, which caused erosion problems. Unrestricted hunting and
trapping resulted in scarcer wildlife and even fish were
disappearing. By the mid-to-late 1800s, the Green Mountains of
Vermont had become a biological wasteland.
To exacerbate matters, disease, storms, and the rugged climate
made for a short growing season. Vermonters fled the state -
145,655 natives had left by 1850. The economic downturn compounded
the severity of the exodus, and by 1880 Vermont had lost 54 percent
of her native population to migration!
From 1850 to 1900, two out of every five Vermonters gave up the
struggle and headed for greener pastures. Additionally, many
Vermont men died in the Civil War, and those who did return often
spread the word about opportunities where the climate was less
harsh, the terrain less rugged, and the land more fertile. The
railroads and Erie Canal provided an easy and cheap escape route to
the beckoning country of the West and Mid-West where the federal
government was promoting homesteading at $1.25 per unimproved
Mountain towns were among the most severely affected. (Vermont
had 20 towns with an elevation of 1500 feet or more.) They had
always presented a harsh environment and constant challenge to
their inhabitants, but the reversal of Vermont's economic growth
was particularly cruel because their residents had depended so
heavily on those jobs that offered subsistence living - sheep
raising, farming, logging, hunting, and trapping.
Windham dropped from a population of 1,000 to 150, Stratton from
212 to 72, Searsburg from 1,431 to 84, and Shrewsbury from 1,149 to
464. By 1900 there were 402 people in Killington. The decline
continued until 1960 when Killington reached a low of 266
Some "urban" areas in Vermont did prosper in the mid-to-late 1800s.
Proctor did well as a marble town, and Rutland was thriving due to
the railroad and Howe Scale. From 1850 to 1880 Rutland tripled in
population and aside from its good fortune of being a manufacturing
and railroad center, it was the recipient of a favorable tourist
trade enhanced by surrounding lakes and neighboring peaks.
Ironically, it was at the time when the railroads were making it
so easy to leave, that it also became easier for others to visit
Vermont and enjoy the cooler Green Mountain summers.
Although the mountain towns suffered greatly from the exodus,
many were saved from extinction by a new economic means to
survival, tourism. Stagecoach stops became busier, and inns and
taverns saw an increasing summer trade even in the more remote and
Enterprising Vermonters, who were aware of both the economic
benefit and the aesthetic challenge offered by visits to nearby
mountains, capitalized on the business opportunities and opened
hotels both in towns near high peaks and in some cases on them as
Additionally, many locals took to enjoying Sunday outings on
their neighboring peaks. In Rutland there was an interest in "going
up the mountain" as early as 1859. A "horse path" from the
Wheelerville section of Mendon up to just below Killington Peak was
built by 1860.
Vincent C. Meyerhoffer built a rustic cabin about 300 feet below
the Peak in 1860, and playing host to increasing throngs of friends
and visitors, enlarged his cabin to a hotel, which opened on June
17 for the 1880 summer season.
Killington's Summit House was more ambitious than the original
hotel on Mount Mansfield. It had rooms for 30 to 40 guests,
stables, sheds, annexes, and porches and offered hiking, croquet
and fishing as well as glorious sunrises and sunsets.
For several years, Meyerhoffer had a booming business with a
steady flow of out-of-state tourists as well as dinner and
overnight guests from Rutland. Making the ten-mile journey by
horse-drawn carriage ride by night to arrive at the hotel at dawn
was one of the favorite Rutland pastimes.
Publicists advertised a view from the top "far surpassing in
extent and beauty that obtained from any other mountain in Vermont"
and even regarded it "more attractive than that from Mount
Washington, being less a scene of desolation and of greater
pastoral beauty, presenting to the beholder a sea of mountains
clothed to their summits with verdure, their sides dotted with
nestling lakes and fertile farms."
Some more rugged individuals hiked the 3000 vertical feet from
the Wheelerville approach. Many other routes were used or built to
get to the peak from other towns with horse, oxen, and foot power
popular modes of transportation!
Although the hotel trade on Killington came to an end by 1910,
people continued to visit the summit. The late Claude Dewey, a
trapper, served as a guide for groups wishing to make the climb
just after the hotel fell into disuse. He usually started from West
Bridgewater and went up the old Juggernaut Trail.
Treks to the Peak continued to be popular in the 1900s with oxen
and horse drawn rides taking some to the base of Killington (K-1
Lodge area), and from there they would hike or snowshoe up to the
"It was for excitement, discovery, and challenge" that they
undertook the trip, notes Rutland historian Dawn Hance. Adventure
then, as now, was Killington's calling card.
But the townspeople of Killington (formerly known as Sherburne)
did not reap the economic benefits of their mountain just yet. That
would change with the ski area being developed, and the "new
settlers" who would come to town to cast their lot with winter
We'll trace the town's resurgence and learn what it was like to
establish a "mountain community" in talks with "oldies but goodies"
in coming weeks.