Charleston, situated in the eastern part of Orleans County, is bounded to the southwest by Westmore and Brownington, to the northwest by Derby, to the northeast by Morgan and to the southeast by the Essex County town of Brighton.
Charleston was granted and later chartered on Nov. 8, 1780 to Commodore Abraham Whipple, his shipmates and others. Whipple was a distinguished naval officer who sank the first British ship in the Revolutionary War. His original name for his Vermont town was Navy, which was changed to Charleston after his death.
Most of the original grantees lived in Cranston, Providence and Johnson, Rhode Island and never moved here. The town’s main attraction was the abundance of fish in Echo Lake in the eastern part of town.
The main waterway is the Clyde river, which rises in Brighton and flows with a slow current through the center of Charleston until it reaches the Great Falls in the western part of Charleston, where it descends more than 100 feet on its way to Derby and Lake Memphremagog
The township was an unbroken wilderness until 1802, when Abner Allyn of Barton cut the first trees and planted potatoes after carrying them from Barton, a distance of 12 miles. The soil was rich loam and produced a good yield. The following year, Allyn moved his family to a log house he built. By 1820, the population reached 100. In 1823, Allyn was instrumental in getting a road built from West Charleston to East Charleston. On Nov. 16, 1825, the name of the town was changed from Navy to Charleston. The reason is not known, but is likely connected to Commodore Whipple. It occurred six years after his death of at age 85.
Whipple’s last service in the Revolutionary War, as commander of a squadron of three Continental Navy ships, took place at Charleston, S.C., which was under threat from British forces. In December 1779, he ordered his ships’ guns and crews moved on shore to reinforce land batteries and repulse the expected British assault. The siege that followed forced 5,000 Continental troops in Charleston to surrender on May 12, 1780. Whipple was among those taken prisoner and later paroled. His distinguished Revolutionary War service was over, but it was recognized in the 20th century by the U.S. Navy, which named three ships after him in 1903, 1920 and 1970.
Today, Charleston is home to the NorthWoods Stewardship Center, a non-profit organization nestled on 1,500 acres dedicated to promoting practical ways of protecting and preserving the northern forest environment as a resource for future generations. The center is respected throughout New England and is a destination for cultural and educational events.