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Swanton Town History

The tiny town of Swanton, Vermont, lies in northern Franklin County, separated from the Canadian border by only its sister town of Highgate. To the west is Lake Champlain, to the east Interstate 89 followed by the foothills of the Green Mountains. The Missisquoi River runs right through the village, and the 6,600-acre Missisquoi National Wildlife Refugeand the Maquam Waterfowl Area are within shouting distance.

With a population of 6,200 and covering 41,408 acres, Swanton is quite rural in nature. All of the lake-oriented recreation you’d expect can be found in or near Swanton, including boating, swimming and fishing, plus other outdoor activities like golf, tennis and downhill or cross-country skiing. Franklin County is the state’s largest producer of dairy products and maple syrup, and dairy, corn and grain all figure prominently in Swanton’s farming economy. The town’s proximity to the Interstate makes it an easy commute to St. Albans, Chittenden County and Burlington to the south, a daily trip made by many residents. Franklin County’s largest employers include name brands like Ben & Jerry’s, Comet Confectionery, Fonda Group and Wyeth and are within easy driving distance. Swanton is also a popular place for contractors and home-based business owners to settle. U.S. Customs and the Immigration and Naturalization Service maintain offices in Swanton.

Unlike other Vermont towns, Swanton counts its beginnings as far back as 6,000 BC, when Indians are thought to have camped at the site of John’s Bridge to hunt and fish. Swanton is believed to be the earliest area in Vermont to have been inhabited by humans. Archaeologists can confirm that Abenakis, who call themselves the People of the Dawn, were living here by 800 BC with 20 percent of its population being Abenaki. Swanton remains a center of Abenaki activity and culture. It is home to the Abenaki Tribal Headquarters.

Swanton was chartered in 1763, and the first permanent European settlers arrived in the late 1700s. From the beginning, it has been a center for transportation, first by water as sloops, and later, barges built in Swanton, carried limber, and later, the railroads. Even today, New England Central freight trains can be seen on the tracks that run on the east side of town.

The Village of Swanton is the town’s economic center and home to shops, the library, schools and a beautiful town green that is also home to a pair of “royal” swans, a gift from the Queen of England back in 1961. This bestowal was the brainstorm of a Montreal public relations man with a camp in Swanton, who wanted to do something to celebrate the town’s 1963 bicentennial. He arranged for a pair of swans to be sent from a naturalist trust in Norfolk, England with the Queen’s blessing, to Swanton, where they spent summers on the green and winters in a resident’s yard. While today’s swans aren’t the original (or even descended from them), Swanton still calls them the Royal Swans.

Swanton has a way of getting under the skin of people who settle there. Armand Messier runs the Country Essence Bed & Breakfast and is the former information director for the Chamber of Commerce. “Visitors always say they are amazed to see how neat the town is,” he says. “It’s clean, laid back and has a beautiful green.” Messier mentions community spirit, exemplified by the library’s current expansion project. With the help of the Swanton Historical Society and Gordon Winters, the former owner of Swanton Lumber Company who sold his camp on the lake and donated the proceeds, the library has built a large addition.

Lise MacDonald and her husband, John, moved to Swanton 18 years ago when they purchased Swanton Wayside Furniture off Route 7 in the village. “We were attracted to Swanton because it had a lot of similarities to our home town, also a border town,” she says. “And there’s the green, a center to the village, and an old library, so it had very much a center to it.”

MacDonald also likes the fact that Swanton has been able to keep its sense of community. “And it’s a diverse community. There’s the Abenaki and the French Canadian, and the school system is good. The elementary school is known for a lot of good programs. When we first came here, I served on the school board and was active in the school, so it’s a community that’s easy to become active in.”

Swanton elementary school is comprised of two buildings: the Mary S. Babcock building housing pre-kindergarten through 2nd grade, and the Swanton Central building, which houses 2nd through 6th grade. School population is approximately 673 students. Middle school and high school students attend Missisquoi Valley Union High School.

Asked what she thinks would be the most appealing thing to anyone considering a move to Swanton, MacDonald didn’t hesitate. “We have a home in the village and cottage on the lake. It doesn’t get any better than that.”