Originally part of the Essex Township decreed by the English Crown in the 18th century, modern Essex Junction traces its roots back to a time shortly after the American Revolution when Ira Allen, brother of the more famous Ethan Allen, constructed a dam at a bend and natural water fall in the Winooski River between what is now Essex Junction and Williston. A saw mill adjacent to the dam sent logs down the Winooski to Lake Champlain. The falls, known as Hubbells Falls, became a site of early industry and economic growth in the Essex Town area.
An oil painting of a later version of the dam titled “Hubbells Falls in Essex Junction” adorns the lobby of the Vermont Statehouse. Today, Green Mountain Power Corp. operates a hydroelectric station at the 20th century site of the dam with four 2000 kilowatt generators.
At a short distance from Hubbells Falls, two roadways connecting Burlington to points east and north formed an intersection known today as Five Corners. An early 19th century tavern and rest station built at the intersection was expanded and now serves as the municipal office building for the Village government.
By the 1850s, the land adjacent to the road intersection formed a railroad junction connecting six different lines, including the Burlington to Northfield rail line constructed by Governor Charles Paine. When a rail station was built to accommodate passengers, the area around the station was formally named Painesville. However, conductors on trains pulling into the station would announce to passengers that they were approaching Essex Junction, to let them know that this was the place to change trains
The railroad commerce and falls spurred development in the area and the population grew. In 1873, residents built the Park Street School, Vermont’s first brick schoolhouse The need to build additional schools and provide municipal services that the surrounding town of Essex, still largely undeveloped, could not provide, prompted residents to petition the Vermont Legislature to allow them to incorporate their community into a village. In 1892, the Legislature approved a new charter for the Village of Essex Junction. In doing so, the Legislature continued a uniquely Vermont practice of allowing developing areas of former townships to become incorporated municipalities with their own taxing authority. Incorporated villages could raise taxes to pay for their own services without assistance from their affiliated towns.
Essex Junction’s incorporation as a distinct municipality and school district was quickly followed by a period of expansive growth:
In 1893 the Essex Junction Volunteer Fire Department was established and electricity was brought to Essex Junction.
In 1895 trolley service was brought to Essex Junction from Burlington.
In 1896 the Essex Junction police department was created
In 1899 the Essex Junction library was created. In 1926, the present library building was opened when Samuel Brownell donated a new building for that purpose to the Village of Essex Junction. In 1970, an addition to the Brownell Library was completed and opened to the public.
In 1900 public water was made available and in 1914 the Essex Junction water district was formed.
In 1912 another large brick school was constructed on Prospect Street which later served as Essex Junction High School and now serves as the Fleming Elementary School
In 1922, the Champlain Valley Exposition relocated to Essex Junction. Today, the Champlain Valley Exposition hosts Vermont's largest agricultural fair and numerous events throughout the year.
In 1926 the Essex Junction sanitation department was created
In 1953, the Maple Street Park was opened and the Essex Junction recreation department was created.
In 1955, the Village hired its first professional manager.
1957 marked the arrival of IBM. When IBM originally arrived in Essex Junction, it employed 400 people and occupied a 10,000 sq. ft. building. Today, IBM is Vermont's largest private employer with over 7,000 employees and 3.3 million sq. ft of building space. Since the arrival of IBM, the population of Essex Junction has doubled to its current size of 8,900 residents.
In 1970, Essex Junction finished construction of the Essex Junction Educational Center and Vocational Center, which later became Essex High School and the Center for Technology, Essex. In 1994, due to growth in the Essex Town population and their need for a high school, Essex Junction and Essex Town formed the Union 46 School District to allow shared jurisdiction over the schools. They are now the largest high school and secondary technical school in Vermont.
In 1983, Essex Junction constructed the present wastewater treatment facility to serve the tri-town community of Essex Junction, Essex, and Williston. The facility has won national recognition for quality and energy efficiency.
Today, Essex Junction is Vermont’s largest incorporated village, with a population greater than most Vermont cities. Essex Junction’s Park Street School still serves an educational role as an office and meeting space for the Chittenden Central Supervisory Union, which provides administrative support for three Chittenden County school districts. But the Park Street School also serves as a testament to Essex Junction’s century-old commitment to joining traditional Vermont values with a progressive outlook towards community, education, and economic sustainability.