The Village of Bellows Falls is the largest population center (about 3,500 residents) within the Town of Rockingham and has long served as the civic, commercial, and cultural hub of the community. In the 18th and 19th centuries, the local topography of the Connecticut River inspired the construction of a canal system, bridges, and mills that took advantage of hydropower and plentiful water. As a transportation hub and manufacturing center, Bellows Falls became the "market town" for the regional agricultural economy. It has been the seat of town government since 1869. The Village itself was incorporated in 1909 and since then has been overseen by a Board of Trustees elected by residents of the Village.
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Today, the tall clock tower of the brick Town Hall rises above a vibrant downtown that's gained a regional reputation for arts and antiques, live music, and innovative bricks-and-mortar projects that combine economic development and historic preservation. Within a short walk of downtown are residential neighborhoods that include many gems of Victorian-era architecture known as "painted ladies".
At Bellows Falls, the Connecticut River long ago created a series of level terraces adjacent to a long and narrow gorge known as the Great Falls. The short distance between shores enabled the construction of the first bridge (1785) anywhere on the entire 410-mile-long river, making Bellows Falls an important river crossroads. At a time when travel by river was more practical than overland, a series of eight locks on the Bellows Falls Canal (1791-1802) lifted boats a height of more than fifty feet around the gorge. It was one of the first transportation canals constructed in the country, and was completed more than two decades before the famous Erie Canal.
In 1849, two railroad lines converged in Bellows Falls, making Bellows Falls a railroad hub. The railroad stimulated the growth of local industries like the Vermont Farm Machine Company, which manufactured farm and dairy equipment, and the Bellows Falls Cooperative Creamery, which processed and distributed milk from farms in the region. After the railroad arrived, the transportation canal became a system of flumes that directed water to one of the largest paper-making complexes in the world. The company that in 1869 was among the first to use wood pulp for making paper was later one of 13 consolidated to form the International Paper Company in 1898.
All of this industrial activity promoted the growth and evolution of a downtown commercial district and nearby neighborhoods. Three historic districts listed in the National Register of Historic Places encompass industrial, commercial and residential areas.