The former Old Tavern, on Route 116, Hinesburg Road.

Taverns and Spring Water, Then and Now

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Thursday November 17, 2011

Can you guess how many businesses there are in South Burlington?  According to the US Census Bureau, South Burlington was a plethora of 2,276 businesses in 2007.  People have such diverse interests and needs, its no wonder there are so many businesses today.  They range from lodging and restaurants to healthcare and high tech companies to retail stores and home-based industries.  We have light industry and a solar farm, telecommuters and on and on…  This is quite a different picture of South Burlington business than it was in its earliest days.  In addition to farming, in the early 1800s, there were a handful of businesses located in what is now South Burlington. But they were nonetheless diverse, if not plentiful.  Here is a sampling of a few…

There are at least a dozen or so restaurants and hotels located along Williston Road today.  However, in 1800, a hungry traveler heading east along the Winooski Turnpike (now Williston Road) considered himself fortunate to stop for a rest or meal at one of the two principal taverns located nearby.  According to the booklet published by the South Burlington League of Women Voters, South Burlington Vermont 1865 – 1965, a tavern on the north side of the Winooski Turnpike on the corner of Fourth Street, was run by John Eldridge until his death in 1813.  A bit further down Fourth Street (Hinesburg Road), Nathan Smith II, John’s son-in-law, kept a large tavern until 1822.  You can find what was once the Old Tavern, presently owned by Micky Auclair, on Route 116, Hinesburg Road.

According to Look Around South Burlington, a pamphlet published by the Chittenden County Historical Society, the tavern’s large basement housed jail cells, used in the “old days” when prisoners were transported through the area. There was also a spring mounted dance floor on the second floor.  I don’t know if today’s zoning would allow this…

In addition to the “tourist” industry, several South Burlington businessmen at the time, capitalized on the natural resources within the town’s borders. According to the booklet South Burlington 1865 – 1965, around 1890, Dr. Jabez Penniman opened a Lime Kiln located by the “High Bridge,” near Winooski Park. The kiln is no longer there, but its history remains with the road that possesses its name, “Lime Kiln Road.” The kiln furnaces used scrub pine, which grew on the land now encompassed by the Burlington Airport.  Mr. DeForge, a resident of South Burlington, was a cooper and made wooden barrels for the Lime Kiln.

Meantime, on the south end of town, Henry Hough erected a soap factory, which operated for several years on Shelburne Road near the site of the present Orchard Elementary School. In addition, according to the book, Picturesque Burlington, by Joseph Auld, published in 1893, there was a natural spring called Alpha Spring, located in an isolated area east of Shelburne Road (thought to have been somewhere near the current IDX Drive). At the time, there was a demand for pure spring water, largely supplied by imported waters, until the introduction of domestic brands, which “sprung up” in the late 1800s.  This included the Alpha Spring Water, which was bottled here in South Burlington.  It was considered a “crystal pure drinking water” for drinking as a regular beverage or for use in the “sick room,” as it came from the spring in its natural state.  Today, we have a brewery on Shelburne Road and countless cafés throughout our community. 

While physical evidence of these early entrepreneurs may be out of sight, how wonderful it is to know they existed right here in South Burlington.

If anyone knows of any other hidden treasures from South Burlington’s past, please let me know via email at  I’d love to learn more about it.

SOURCE: Elizabeth Milizia, Contributor