Although chartered as a town in 1763, Stowe’s first settlers did not arrive until 30 years later in 1793. By the dawn of the 19th century, most of Stowe’s land had been sold, and the population had grown to 316. Today, Stowe is Vermont’s largest town in land area with over 50,000 acres and a permanent population of over 4,000. Vermont’s highest peak, Mt. Mansfield, and some of the finest agricultural and woodland in the state are located within this land area.
The agriculture and lumber industries were essential to the town in Stowe’s early years. At one time, over 75% of the land in Stowe and most of Vermont was open land that had been cleared by lumber-production and was used for agriculture – primarily sheep farming. As many as 8,000 sheep grazed the hills and valleys of Stowe in those days.
Stowe’s farming fortunes fluctuated with the rest of New England agriculture. Eventually, most of Vermont shifted from sheep to dairy farms with more than 100 farms located in Stowe alone. Only nine of these farms continue to operate today. Over the years, this shift allowed 75% of the cleared land to reforest.
Unlike most of Vermont, Stowe’s history does not center exclusively around farming. By the mid-1800’s, Stowe had developed into a famous summer resort due to its spectacular mountain scenery and good transportation connections. The Toll Road to the top of Mt. Mansfield was completed by 1870; the Summit House on the top of Mt. Mansfield was finished just as the Civil War broke out, and the stately 300-room Mansfield House occupied most of the present village. Known as the “Big Hotel”, the Mansfield House burned to the ground in 1889.
A large stable housing over 100 horses, tack, carriages and stable hands, was located behind the “Big Hotel” at the present site of the Green Mountain Inn’s Annex wing. This barn was eventually torn down as a fire hazard in 1953, and several of the original beams were used in constructing The Whip Bar & Grill.
The Depot Building, located adjacent to the Green Mountain Inn, was built in 1897 as a depot for the Mt. Mansfield Electric Railway. Running the 11 miles between Waterbury and Stowe, this train carried both passengers and freight until 1932. The Depot Building is now connected to the Inn by a bridge, housing 16 guest rooms and a variety of shops on the lower levels.
Summer tourism remained vital to Stowe’s economic life through the First World War. 1913 marked the beginning of a new era in the history of Stowe when three resident Swedish families took to traveling around town on long wooden boards with upturned ends. This new form of transportation piqued the curiosity of the local citizenry. It did not take long for many townspeople to become hooked on this strange new sport, and skiing found a home in Stowe. This turning point marked the launching of what was to become Stowe’s true destiny.
In 1921, Stowe held its first Winter Carnival with ski jumping, skating, and myriad other fun-filled events. Downhill skiing, however, would not truly develop in Stowe until the Great Depression, when the Civilian Conservation Corps established camps and began clearing ski trails on Mt. Mansfield. The first, constructed in 1933, was the Bruce Trail that led from the present site of the Octagon to Ranch Camp. This trail is now incorporated into the Mt. Mansfield Ski Touring trail system. In 1934, the next – and perhaps most famous – ski trail was cut: the Nose Dive. In the early days, skiers hiked the 2.5 miles to the summit. Rope tows emerged as an easier method, only to be supplanted by chairlifts, beginning with a single chair in 1940. This venerable chair operated until 1986, when it was retired in favor of a high-speed detachable quad.
Skiing and the town of Stowe expanded steadily over the years as interest in the sport grew. In the process, Stowe established its reputation as one of the premier ski resorts and vacation destinations in the world. Today, Stowe offers guests an outstanding variety of year round recreational activities, attractions and special events from world-class skiing and riding terrain to myriad on-mountain programs and off-mountain activities capable of satisfying the most disconcerting travelers. With the newest and fastest lift service on the East Coast, Stowe’s two gondola-connected mountains offer skiers and riders of all levels an unparalleled experience. Stowe looks forward to an even brighter future with the opening of its new base village in late 2008.