About Swanton


Our Community

It has become popular to ascribe New England place names to English sources, and Swanton is no exception. Some writers have suggested that the Vermont town is named for Swanton, Kent, and some enthusiasts have gone on to say that the name means “a swan’s town”. Queen Elizabeth II did send a pair ofRoyal swans to Vermont’s Swanton in honor of the bicentennial of the town’s granting, but the fact is that the Kentish name actually derives from “town of the swineherds”.

The source of the name can more likely be found in William Swanton, a British naval officer who commanded a squadron at the time of the capture of Louisbourg in 1760; it was his timely arrival that dealt the final coup de grâce to the already almost overwhelmed French fleet. After the war, Swanton (then a captain) retired from the navy and settled in Bath, Maine, where he established a shipyard that was already famous for its custom-built ships when Benning Wentworth named this town in 1763.

Swanton is one of the few places in Vermont where Natives are known to have had a permanent settlement. From about 1700 to 1758, the important Abnaki village of Missisiasuk was on the Missisquoi River. The village’s name, meaning “people of the great grassy meadows”, helps to bear out the translation of Missiquoi itself as “great grassy meadows”. The Abnaki name for the mouth of the river was Maskwenozakek, literally “the place where muskelunge abound”, which would have been a good enough reason in itself for establishing a village nearby.

Adapted from Esther Munroe Swift’s Vermont Place-Names: Footprints of History 

History of Swanton

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 Refuge and 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.”

Lake Champlain

Located in the northwestern corner of Vermont, Lake Champlain is a large body of water that straddles both the New York and Canadian Borders. Some, a distinction that not all residents of Vermont appreciate, considers Lake Champlain the sixth Great Lake. At 107 miles long, 14 miles wide and 405 feet deep it surely meets the distinction stretching from Missiquoi in Quebec Province, Canada, all the way to Whitehall, New York, just a short drive from Glens Falls on the Hudson River.

Formed about 10,000 years ago with the retreat of the Wisconsin glacier that covered most of North America, Lake Champlain started as a cold inland sea. A skeleton of a whale found in Charlotte, Vermont is on display at the University of Vermont in Burlington and serves as proof of it’s ocean origin (or some ancient Native Americans had a great sense of humor). As the ice dam on what is now the St. Lawrence Seaway melted and the ground rose, the ocean water flowed north and was replaced by fresh water melting into the valley.

Once heavily farmed, the shores of Lake Champlain have given way to becoming a popular tourist attraction. It’s relatively close proximity to major US cities like Boston, Providence, Hartford and New York with excellent interstate access makes it a popular summer time and fall retreat. The state of Vermont only enhances this experience with a string of excellent state parks.

If you don’t have your own boat, or if paddling long distances in potentially rough conditions isn’t your idea of a good time your adventure will probably start at Kamp Kill Kare State Park in St. Albans Bay, Vermont. This 17-acre day use park was once a private boys camp and the massive three-story hotel now serves as modern changing facilities and office space for park employees. Picnic tables and cooking grills dot the area throughout the park. The park has two public swimming areas, with the one on the southern shore having a sandy bottom.

It is here where you can catch a ride on the state run Burton Island Ferry. Operated from the week before Memorial Day to Labor Day, the open deck passenger ferry makes six trips a day across Lake Champlain weather permitting. The scenic trip is $2 one-way per person and affords an opportunity to look for Lake Champlain’s elusive resident monster, Champ.

If you own your own boat or plan to paddle your adventure can start at Kamp Kill Kare State Park or North Hero State Park. Located in North Hero on Grand Isle, North Hero State Park is considered by some the crown jewel of the Lake Champlain Island Parks. At 399 acres it is the largest and offers a variety of services and facilities. Ninety-nine spacious, wooded and private campsites, as well as eighteen large Adirondack style lean-tos are available in this park. Picnic areas, hot showers, an unimproved rocky beach and a boat launch make this remote location 13 miles from the Canadian border a great place to start a paddling adventure. Once heavily farmed, the park is a bucolic mixture of hardwoods, evergreens and meadows affording beautiful views of Lake Champlain and the Green Mountains to the east.

Famed around the world for green pastures, rolling hills and quaint villages, no visit to Vermont is complete without seeing massive Lake Champlain. Whether it’s simply a day trip to Burton Island State Park on the ferry, or a backcountry wilderness experience on Woods Island, there is something for everyone on the island parks of Lake Champlain.

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