The City of Vergennes (population 2,741) is the smallest and oldest chartered city in Vermont. As early as 1764, a sawmill was constructed at the falls of Otter Creek, and the surrounding community was incorporated in 1788. The city’s name was suggested by Ethan Allen to honor the Comte de Vergennes, who served as the French Minister of Foreign Affairs and negotiator of the Treaty of Paris.
Because of its proximity to Lake Champlain, Vergennes became the site of a U.S. Navy shipyard during the War of 1812. Later in the 19th century, trade on the lake and the arrival of the railroad encouraged extensive commercial development. Growth slowed in the 20th century, however, and Vergennes’ historic downtown declined, but recent revitalization efforts are reversing that trend. A major catalyst for this revitalization has been the rehabilitation of the Vergennes Opera House (1897). Vacant for two decades, the building was in serious disrepair when a $1.5 million restoration began in 1994. The building now serves as a performing arts center and is also used for City Council meetings and civic functions. The project has been a partnership of the City of Vergennes, the Friends of the Vergennes Opera House, and other organizations.
On the heels of the Opera House reopening in 1997, entrepreneurs began to take a new interest in the downtown. The Vergennes Partnership, a Main Street program, was established in 1999. The City has invested in traffic calming and beautification projects and is working to restore the Old Train Station, possibly the oldest clapboard station remaining in Vermont.