The History of Wilder, Vermont

Wilder, Vermont is a village within the Town of Hartford, Vermont. Hartford was established in 1776 as part of the Charter signed by New Hampshire Governor Benning Wentworth, which also included the neighboring towns of Norwich, Vt., Hanover, N.H., Lebanon N.H., and Enfield, N.H.

Wilder is located in the northeast portion of the town alongside the Connecticut River, adjacent to three waterfalls originally known as “White River Falls.” The waterfalls are now submerged by the Wilder Dam, but were significant factors in the founding and development of the Upper Valley.

Wilder was originally named Olcott Falls, Vermont (also Olcott, Vermont), after Miles Olcott who constructed the first locks around the falls in the early 1800s.  The locks allowed passage around the falls, and improved shipping of the valuable timber resources of the Connecticut River Valley. The arrival of the railroad in White River Junction, Vt. in 1848 made river transportation less valuable, and the locks were washed away in a series of floods.

In 1880 the rights to develop the falls and the surrounding area was sold to Charles T. Wilder and Herbert A. Wilder, prominent paper manufacturers in the Boston area who would build a substantial water-powered paper mill at the site.  The Wilder Brothers Mill would change the landscape of the Upper Valley and contributed substantial growth in Olcott Falls. Charles T. Wilder took an active role in the development of the village, which would be renamed for him following his death in 1897. The town is one of the earliest examples of a planned community in America, with Mr. Wilder designing an orderly street plan and designating certain areas for the construction of a school, library, and church that is now the Charles T. Wilder Center.

The Wilder Mill was razed in the late 1940s to make way for the Wilder Hydroelectric Dam, but remnants can still be seen in what is now Kilowatt Park. Much of the area surrounding the Charles T. Wilder Center is now part of the Wilder Village Historic District, which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1999.

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