May 28, 2018

WILLISTON’S 250TH ANNIVERSARY: What’s in a name?

A man steers a horse and wagon outside the Oak Hill Creamery in the early 1900s.

A man steers a horse and wagon outside the Oak Hill Creamery in the early 1900s.

By Richard H. Allen

Special to the Observer

Geographers define toponymy as the study of place names, their origins and classification. Some Williston place names have changed over the years and can reveal insight into the town’s past.



What is the difference between a pond and a lake? Most people would say a pond is smaller and perhaps more mundane. What we know today as Lake Iroquois was once called Hinesburg Pond. It had a long-standing reputation for its fine fishing, as witnessed by a bill introduced in the Vermont legislature in 1866 to ”preserve the fish” in the pond, probably a reaction to the impending dam (built in 1867) that would raise the water level and provide power for the Hinesburg industry. As the pond gained a reputation as a pleasant place to picnic and summer, there was a movement to change its name to better reflect its beauty. A piece in the Sept. 11, 1895 Vermont Watchman suggested the pond label be dropped and replaced with something like Mirror or Crystal Lake. The “clear, cold and deep” water, the setting of “forests, rocks, and cultivated fields” and “an abundant supply of Vermont’s finest fish” all “deserve the name of a lake,” the Watchman states. At that time, there were three cottages on the pond, with a promise of more to be built.

On June 9, 1897, it was reported in the Vermont Watchman that the name was officially changed to Lake Iroquois because “as tradition says the Iroquois Indians once held councils on its shores.” Given that the Iroquois confederacy was located in upstate New York, this was a curious choice for the renaming.



Mud Pond’s very accurate and descriptive hydronym would keep this body of water from ever becoming a popular recreational asset like Lake Iroquois. But the name did not hold people back from harvesting ice from the pond for the creamery in 1892 and for years afterwards. Flora M. Whitcomb gathered Mud Pond lore for a 1976 article in the Williston Historical Society Bulletin and recounted her favorite story. Several boys would take lanterns to the shores of the pond on spring nights to watch for turtles coming out to lay their eggs in the gravel. Once the eggs were laid and the female had returned to the water, the boys would gather up the eggs and take them home until they hatched. The young turtles were then let go and would naturally return to their home base.

Mud Pond is the source of Allen Brook, a stream that flows entirely within the boundaries of Williston, and, according to Esther Swift in “Vermont Place Names,” is named for Ethan Allen.



Around 1900, Williston residents had three town centers to service their needs. North Williston, by the railroad tracks in the Winooski River valley, had a store, school, post office, train depot, industries, farms and houses. The village of Williston, along the present Route 2, also had a post office, several stores and churches, and was considered the center of town. There was a third town center called Talcott (a.k.a Talcottville) that was located on what is now Old Creamery Road, near the intersection with Oak Hill Road. There was a Talcott post office from 1897 to 1903, a store, a school (1858-1950) and a creamery. In 1901, Talcott was important enough to be serviced by a stage (picture a horse-drawn wagon) that left the North Williston depot at 8:10 a.m. and 5:05 p.m. daily, except Sunday.

A cheese factory was established here in 1868 by Hiram Walston and managed by Lewis H. Talcott from 1870 on. The Oak Hill Co-op Creamery Association operated from 1891 to 1903 to “manufacture butter and cheese and sell milk and deal in milk products,” according to a March 1, 1892 Vermont Public Record. Hindered by the lack of railroad service, this creamery was at a disadvantage when compared to those in North Williston and Essex Junction. It was under the auspices of the Borden Company and later H. P. Hood until 1937. Before the road was named for the old creamery in the late 1990s, it was known as West Oak Hill Road.



Many of the other roads in Williston were named after a prominent family that lived on them including Fay Lane, Chapman Lane, Van Sicklen Road and Bradley Lane. The Brownell family name was given to a road and mountain in Williston, and later a block and library in Essex Junction. The Brownell house at 3188 South Brownell Road, now the Imajica Equestrian Center, was in the family from 1841 to 1942.

On the border Williston shares with Richmond, Yantz Hill stands out prominently. The hill is unlabeled on 1857 and 1869 maps of Chittenden County. On the 1906 USGS topographic map, it is labeled Yantz Hill. But according to Moody and Putnam, in “The Williston Story,” it was called John Charles Hill at one time. Charles was born in Canada around 1817 and lived in Williston in 1850 with his wife Matilda and three children. The Yantz family arrived in Williston later and is listed in the federal census as living in Williston from at least 1900 on.

The other hill named after an early resident is Bean Hill in North Williston. It was never marked on a map and is only in the public record because of a photo of North Williston taken in the early 1900s “from Bean Hill.” Sanborn Bean was a property owner in the area in the early 1800s. There are not too many people today who call the hill, west of North Williston Road and south of Fay Lane, Bean Hill.



Intersections of roads were often named. The schoolhouse that is now in front of Williston Central School is commonly referred to as the Stove Pipe Corner School. It was originally on the northwest corner of Mountain View and North Williston roads. Many of the houses in the area were fitted with stove pipes and not chimneys. Moody and Putnam venture that this might have been an indication of the very modest means of the residents in that area. Ironically, the schoolhouse had a brick chimney, not a stove pipe, when it was moved in 1988.

Whether named after a family, a physical characteristic or a business, the place names in Williston provide some interesting chronicling of the town’s past.

Local historian Richard Allen will present a free slide show, “Stories from Williston’s Past,” May 11 at 11 a.m. in the Dorothy Alling Memorial Library as part of the town’s 250th anniversary celebration. 


Speak Your Mind