Charles Dewey points out historical Old Bennington buildings on Ralph Earl’s landscape, “View of Bennington.” (Derek Carson)
Charles Dewey points out historical Old Bennington buildings on Ralph Earl’s landscape, “View of Bennington.” (Derek Carson)

BENNINGTON -- The Friends of the Bennington Battle Monument met on Tuesday for the annual meeting, which featured a presentation from members Charles Dewey and Jane Radocchia on the history of Monument Circle.

Typically, only about seven people show up for the Friends' annual meeting, so they didn't want to invite a guest speaker who would be forced to awkwardly present to such a small audience, caretaker Marylou Chicote said to the 30 or so residents who had assembled to hear Radocchia and Dewey present, "An Exploration of Monument Circle."

Dewey began by pointing out specific buildings in Ralph Earl's landscape, "View of Bennington," which was painted in the late 1700s. At that point, Old Bennington was the population center in Bennington, and featured the headquarters of the Vermont Gazette, an inn, and several stores and offices. Starting in about 1836, said Dewey, with the construction of several mills in town, people began moving down the hill into what is downtown Bennington today.

Radocchia, who is an architect as well as a historian, showed pictures of several residences throughout Old Bennington, noting the changing architectural styles over time, and which aspects of the houses were likely original. Many of the houses, she said, simply copied the architecture of the early 1800s, but were not actually present. "To me, it's okay to have done the best you could in your period. That's what makes it interesting," she said.

By 1867, Old Bennington only had two stores, as most had moved with the population, and the hill was occupied primarily with residences. In 1877, a Troy company produced a "birds-eye view" of Bennington, which shows what the town looked like at this time, a full-size version of which is currently on display at the Bennington Free Library, according to Radocchia.

That same year, in celebration of the centiennal of the Battle of Bennington, the local historical society began considering designs for the Bennington Battle Monument. By the time the cornerstone was placed in 1887, many of the surrounding residences had either been destroyed or re-located. "All of this was either torn down or moved," said Radocchia, gesturing to an area on the birds-eye view, "They were very good at moving houses."

One member of the audience asked if there had been any opposition from the families who had lived in those houses. "When you look at the celebrations for the centennial, and how much was done, there might have been some opposition," said Dewey, "but there was so much momentum, and pride in getting this built."

The road currently known as Monument Circle had once reached all the way to Northside Drive, but with the construction of the Monument, the road was stopped there. If you look, said Radocchia, you can still see the gap in the trees where the road once continued.

Membership in the Friends of the Bennington Battle Monument costs $10 per year. Members receive free admission to the Monument, which typically costs $5, as well as a discount at the gift shop.

Derek Carson can be reached for comment at dcarson@benningtonbanner.com. Follow him on Twitter @DerekCarsonBB