In 1750, Benning Wentworth, Lt. Governor of Massachusetts, was given “The Grants” of New Hampshire and New Connecticut (Vermont). This land between the Connecticut and Hudson Rivers was wild and unsettled. Wentworth was pressured by his political peers to sell off the land and pay them royalties, with the trees going to the British Navy.
Wilmington was the third parcel (“land grant”) sold by Wentworth not once but twice…in 1751 and again in 1761. There were contests between the arriving Connecticut settlers and the New York Albany County Sheriff, which led to the formation of “The Green Mountain Boys” when Sheriff Tenecht said of Ethan Allen, “I’ll chase those boys back into those damn Green Mountains.” A second surge of settlement took place in the 1830s with the introduction of water power saw mills on the river and the town began its move off Lisle Hill to the present historical district. By the late 1800s, a third surge of travelers was arriving by rail. That lasted until the late 1920s, when the railroad finally succumbed to the harsh weather and hard economic times. The current wealth of visitors began in the 1930s with the dedication of “The Molly Stark Trail” (Rt. 9) and car traffic replaced the train.
Walk in any direction from the stoplight in the village of Wilmington and you’ll come upon superb examples of 18th and 19th century construction. In as many as eight distinct architectural styles — from Late Colonial (1750-1788) to Colonial Revival (1880-1900), the architecture is so well preserved that the major part of the village has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Typical of the architectural gems are Crafts Inn, the massive wood-frame hotel on West Main Street and the adjacent Memorial Hall. These Late Shingle-Style structures, built in 1902, are the work of America’s foremost architect of the time, Stanford White. With its long, sweeping porches, a large central gambrel roof and heavy cedar shingles, Shingle-Style architecture was popular in Newport, Rhode Island, and other wealthy enclaves as the first homegrown architectural style. Crafts Inn (formerly Child’s Tavern) catered to summer tourists who flocked to Wilmington when the railroad finally reached town in 1891. Among the famous guests who left their names in the register were President Taft and Admiral Perry. (After his architectural triumph in Wilmington, Stanford White became even more celebrated when jealous husband, Harry Thaw, killed him in 1906. This led to a sensational society trial and the best-selling book and movie called “The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing.”)
The town library is a jewel of a red brick building in the Classical Revival style. Its most striking feature is the front entrance, a classic portal with Ionic columns and a heavy oak paneled door topped by a fanned window and guarded by a sculpted Union soldier on the front lawn. At the edge of the street stands a charming granite fountain, which, in times gone by, quenched passersby on the sidewalk side and horses on the street side. The stone carries the nostalgic legend, “How Dear to My Heart are the Scenes of My Childhood.” One of America’s most popular authors of the time lived just across the road. Clarence Budington Kelland, though not well remembered today, became the nation’s highest paid writer with his stories about Scattergood Baines (a crafty Vermonter based on a real-life Wilmington resident). Kelland wrote hundreds of books—adventures, westerns, mysteries—as well as stories for movie scripts and short stories that ran in the Saturday Evening Post and Colliers during the 20s, 30s and 40s.
The oldest village building is the 1760 Norton House, a well-preserved Colonial Cape Style structure on the west end of town. This timber-frame house was dragged to its present site by oxen in the 1830s, about the same time the entire village of Wilmington was moved to its present site from its original hilltop location one-half mile to the north.
A stroll through the Village of Wilmington provides a visual journey back in time, with many houses restored and some yet to be. A shoppers Mecca of privately owned specialty shops, restaurants and a pub, Wilmington has such an attraction of events, activities, demonstrations, shopping and dining that visitors are encouraged to use the parking areas on E. Main Street and walk to the Historic District (W. Main Street)
For more Wilmington History, please visit the Molly Stark Byway Project