BRATTLEBORO — Forty-four year old Francis Goodhue moved his family to Brattleboro in 1811. His wife and three children quickly became active participants in the community. Goodhue had grown up in Ipswich, Massachusetts, part of a prominent colonial family. He learned the surveying trade and began to travel for work.
By the 1790s Goodhue was newly married and moved to Swanzey, New Hampshire. As the town was growing, he helped lay out additional tracts of land for sale to settlers. Goodhue married Polly Brown of Guilford, Vermont in 1788. Together they opened a Public House along the Swanzey stage road to Boston.
In 1799 Francis expanded his entrepreneurial interests and bought a store in Swanzey. He advertised his goods in the New Hampshire Sentinel newspaper. Rum, cane sugar and tea were products that arrived from the slave islands of the West Indies and were sold in his store.
Goodhue was finding success as a merchant and became a partner in a store in Weathersfield, Vermont, just south of Mount Ascutney in the Connecticut River Valley, about 40 miles north of Brattleboro.
In 1804 Goodhue bought out his Weathersfield partner, Reuben Hatch, and also purchased a tavern and a great deal of farm land from Hatch as well. He moved his growing family to Weathersfield and purchased a prominent brick house that overlooked the valley.
Goodhue oversaw the operation of the Weathersfield general store and the tavern. Farmers rented land from him and used his pastures for grazing. Goodhue quickly developed a flatboat trade along the Connecticut River and substantially cut transportation costs for goods traveling up and down the river. He also became owner of local bark, saw and grist mills. He continued to buy farmland in the Weathersfield area. A historian wrote about Goodhue’s expansion into this Vermont community and said, “Nearly all the village had fallen into the hands of Mr. Francis Goodhue.”
In 1810 there were 13 people living in the Goodhue household. Five family members and eight employees. According to the census, two of the workers were “free persons of color.” Later that year Francis Goodhue sold his 1,000 acre farm to William Jarvis.
Jarvis was an American diplomat who had been stationed in Portugal for a decade. He retired from diplomatic service and moved to Vermont with merino sheep he had smuggled out of Spain. Jarvis began the “Sheep Craze.” By 1837, when Francis Goodhue died, there were more than a million sheep in the state.
In 1811 Goodhue moved his family to the East Village of Brattleboro. He bought John Holbrook’s house, store, saw mill and grist mill along the Whetstone Brook, at the bottom of what would become Main Street. He also bought the island between Brattleboro and Hinsdale, N.H. The island was almost 40 acres and Holbrook had operated a slaughterhouse there as part of his many businesses.
John Holbrook had been the largest Connecticut River merchant in Brattleboro but he decided to move to the Hartford, Connecticut area to pursue banking and investment interests. Goodhue purchased Holbrook’s local businesses and looked to expand.
Goodhue bought meadows immediately north, south and west of the East Village from John W. Blake, a Connecticut River merchant who had recently struggled financially as tensions between Great Britain and the United States negatively impacted international trade. Blake’s land included the John Arms farm and tavern, which would later become part of the Brattleboro Retreat.
Goodhue became owner of most of the land on Main Street from the High Street intersection to what would become the Common. He also expanded Holbrook’s businesses by establishing a corn whiskey distillery in the former Holbrook complex on the Whetstone Brook.
Goodhue entered into a partnership with John W. Blake’s son, John R. Blake. The two merchants transported goods up and down the Connecticut River and carried on extensive trade with Hartford, Connecticut. They shipped horses, cattle, and produce down the river and received goods from the West Indies and other places around the world. They also traded by wagon team with Boston, sending 15 or 20 teams back and forth over the island bridges to New Hampshire and Massachusetts. Goodhue, like Holbrook before him, invested in local businesses such as a woolen mill, paper mill, cotton spinning and farming.
Goodhue, along with other river merchants, wanted to develop the East Village and have that become the commercial hub of Brattleboro. With his support, the Brattleborough Village Meeting House Society was organized and a meeting house was built on land owned by Goodhue that would later become the Common. Up until this time, most business and settlement was in West Brattleboro.
In order to help develop the East Village, Goodhue invested in three private water companies that began offering running water to builders of homes and businesses in the area. In 1815 John Holbrook moved back to Brattleboro because his son-in-law, William Fessenden, had died. Holbrook returned to take over Fessenden’s printing and publishing business. Together, Goodhue and Holbrook changed the future of Brattleboro.
By 1824, the East Village had grown to the point where it “was said to be the richest village of its size in New England.” It was estimated that Goodhue’s trade along the Connecticut River brought almost $100,000 worth of merchandise into the region each year. Those goods were distributed and sold throughout the Connecticut River Valley. While Holbrook focused on his paper-making, publishing and printing business, Goodhue accounted for much of the commercial and residential development of the East Village.
In 1880 Brattleboro historian Henry Burnham wrote, “We know of no man of property who has settled here who manifested more real confidence in our future than did Mr. Goodhue. He completely identified with our private and public interests, and was ever ready to listen to and assist in any project presenting a reasonable prospect of tending to the public welfare.”
In 1821 Goodhue offered land on Main Street for the first Brattleboro Bank, chartered in the same year. He also provided land for the Congregational and Unitarian Churches. He built a home on the west side of Main Street in 1815. Later, in 1834, he built a home on the east side of Main Street and gave the other house to his son. The house on the west side was located where the parking lot to the Post office is now. The house on the east side was located where the Gibson Aiken Center is now.
Brattleboro historian Mary Cabot wrote, “With Mr. Goodhue every moment was improved in advancing the growth and general prosperity of this settlement on the western bank of the Connecticut River.”