Although Barre (BARE-ie) started out not much different from other fledgling late 18th-century New England towns, a quirk of geology established its fate.
Originally chartered as Wildersburgh in 1780, the area’s first settlers arrived in 1788, followed soon thereafter by emigrants from New Hampshire and Massachusetts. A name change resulted in Barre replacing Wildersburgh, though exactly how the change occurred has been lost to history. Two stories prevail—one version involves a bout of fisticuffs, the other has to do with offering naming rights to the person who contributed the most money toward the construction of a meeting house (the winning bid, by the way, was £62).
The huge quantity of granite found nearby is the geological phenomenon that altered the course of Barre’s history. Shortly after the conclusion of the War of 1812, many highly skilled stonecutters from Italy, Scotland and other nations came to ply their trade. The arrival of the railroad simplified transportation, and the city adopted the moniker Granite Center of the World. Barre has been the largest granite-producing district in the country since 1900.
Barre granite, known for its almost flawless texture, comes in two shades: white and blue-gray. Fine works created from the local stone can be found throughout the region, including the state house in nearby Montpelier.
You don’t have to go far, though, to find some prime examples of granite craftsmanship. Pay a visit to Barre Opera House at 6 N. Main St.; phone (802) 476-8188. Hope Cemetery, established in 1895, has many artistic, often whimsical memorials, all crafted out of Barre gray granite. And the Robert Burns Monument, at 60 Washington St., was cut by local artisans in 1899 and is considered one of the finest pieces of granite sculpture in the world. In addition to a statue of Burns, the sculpture includes four panels that depict scenes from his poems and from his cottage in Ayr, Scotland.
Many large plants still produce granite sculpture for use in monuments and tombstones, and factory and quarry tours are available in nearby Graniteville at Rock of Ages Visitors Center.
Central Vermont Chamber of Commerce 33 Stewart Rd. BARRE, VT 05641. Phone:(802)229-5711
A downtown walking tour covers the town’s common, memorials, a number of 19th-century churches, the Opera House, Masonic Temple, library, post office and fire station. You can pick up a walking tour brochure at the chamber of commerce, the library and local merchants.
Rock of Ages Visitors Center