Barton is near the southern end of Orleans County on Interstate 91, bounded on the southwest by Glover, on the northwest by Irasburg, on the northeast by Brownington, on the southeast by Westmore and on the south by the Caledonia County towns of Sutton and Sheffield.
Barton contains two incorporated villages that have their own trustees – Barton Village, located at the outlet of Crystal Lake, and Orleans Village, which is in the northern corner of town on the Barton River. Barton Village was originally called Barton Mills, and Orleans Village was originally called Barton Landing because it provided access to the river.
Crystal Lake, the town’s main geographic feature, is three miles long, one mile wide and more than 100 feet deep in places with native lake trout. The lake features a state park and almost a mile of sandy shoreline with a designated swimming area.
The town was granted Oct. 20, 1781 to William Barton and his associates, and settlement commenced in the spring of 1795. The town’s first sawmill was built by William Barton in the summer of 1796. The earliest settlers had to go south to Lyndon and St. Johnsbury for their supplies, a distance of 20 to 30 miles.
The Vermont Historical Gazetteer contains a number of tales from the early 1800s of smugglers confronted and caught in Barton with cattle and various types of goods, including clothing, wire and steel.
In one instance, the Gazetteer said a U. S. custom officer received information in March 1814 that a company of smugglers had crossed the line, intending to pass through town: “Some of the inhabitants of this town and Irasburgh went out to meet them, which they did near the north line of the town… There they had quite a hard battle. Several were severely wounded, on both sides. But the smugglers proved too strong a force for the custom officers and their party, and they drove through.”
Barton Landing (now Orleans Village) grew slowly until the railroad reached the area in 1858. Meanwhile, Barton Mills, which became Barton Village, developed into an industrial center. The Gazetteer declared in the 1870s: “This town is not surpassed in New England for water power for mills and factories. There are five dams within 100 rods below Crystal Lake,” where Willoughby Brook sends the lake’s outflow to the Barton River.
Considerable growth occurred between 1890 and 1920, but that came to a stop with the 1927 flood, regarded as one of Vermont’s most devastating natural disasters. It was caused by three days of torrential rain from Nov. 2-4 on already saturated soil. Barton Village was severely damaged, while statewide the flooding took out 1,285 bridges, miles of roads and railroads and countless homes and buildings. It was blamed for 84 deaths, including that of Lt. Gov. S. Hollister Jackson.