by Lou Varricchio
LEICESTER | The state’s first glassworks opened along the shores of Addison County’s Lake Dunmore in 1813. The lakeside workings, variously referred to as either the Vermont Glass Factory or Lake Dunmore Glass Company, consisted of a large factory complex that stood near today’s Sunset Lodge.
In Vermont’s early years, manufacturing was a homegrown enterprise. Small towns sprouted a variety of factories and mills at the dawn of the Industrial Age. Local workers made everything from woolen fabric to jacket buttons, even utilitarian glassware.
Conceived to manufacture window glass, the Lake Dunmore operation eventually produced a variety of glassware includes bottles, flasks, drinking cups, even whimsical miniature top hats that are now sought after collector’s items. (Note: While more than a few collectors visit Lake Dunmore to find antique glass relics near the old factory, be mindful of private property rights along the shoreline.)
“Foreign competition, over-expansion with a plant in East Middlebury, and a bad fire at the Lake Dunmore facility caused glass production to cease in 1817,” writes author and historian William Powers of Rutland. Powers is a seasonal resident along the lake and has studied its history extensively. “In 1832, the Lake Dunmore Glass Company was formed and resumed glassmaking through 1842 when the glass furnaces were cooled forever.”
Powers notes that the late author Max Petersen compiled a history of Vermont glass making with a focus on the Lake Dunmore glass-making center.
The history of Lake Dunmore’s glass factory begins with Henry R. Schoolcraft who was born in Albany County, New York, in 1793. After his foray into Vermont glassmaking, Schoolcraft headed west and made a name for himself as a frontier pathfinder. The Encyclopedia Britannica has a listing for Schoolcraft. He is described as “An American explorer and ethnologist noted for his discovery of the source of the Mississippi River and for his writings on the native peoples of the North American plains.” He died in Washington, D.C. in 1864.
“He settled in Salisbury in 1812 and assisted in the building and managing of the glassworks of the ‘Vermont Company’ both in Salisbury and in Middlebury,” Glass collector Steve Sewell of Antique-Bottles.net said. “While living at Lake Dunmore he erected a chemical furnace and experimental laboratory, and at the same time studied chemistry and mineralogy under a Professor F. Hall of Middlebury College.”
Sewell adds that Schoolcraft’s overseas competition, the over-extended plant operation in East Middlebury, plus a large fire at the Lake Dunmore factory caused glass production to stop in 1817.
“In 1832, the Lake Dunmore Glass Company was formed and glass making continued through 1842 when the factory went idle for the last time,” he says.
According to Sewell to achieve the color variety of Lake Dunmore glass, Salisbury glassworkers gathered glass from various pots to create the spectrum.
A good place to admire examples of Lake Dunmore and East Middlebury glassware is to visit the acclaimed Bennington Museum on Main Street in Bennington. Aside from exhibiting excellent collections of art and sculpture, you can find a variety of 19th century Vermont glassware on display.
But another interesting sidebar to the Lake Dunmore glass factory was its owner’s issuance of paper banknotes by the Farmers Bank of Troy, New York, according to William Powers. Powers wrote the popular book, “Leicester Vermont’s Silver Lake: Beyond the Myths” and has spent decades researching the history of the Lake Dunmore-Silver Lake-Fern Lake region.
“A unique feature of the (Lake Dunmore)… factory was the issue of its own money (script) in varying values from $1 to $5,” Powers writes. “These notes are rare and quite collectible. The signature of the president of the works, Samuel Swift, is hand signed on every bill denomination.”
Powers notes that on the $1.50 version, a man named Milo Cook is listed as clerk-of-the-works; his unique signature is printed on the bill.
DOI archeologist Bill Lindsay advises that for those interested in learning more about the science and art of glassmaking, as it was done in early Vermont and elsewhere in New England, Grace Kendrick’s classic book “The Mouth-Blown Bottle” is an excellent starting point.