Originally called Hillsboro, Danville was originally granted by New York and chartered in 1786. The original name was apt due to the land’s prominent hilly features. It lies alongside the base of a still more elevated and broken range to the west known as Cow Hill and Walden Mountain.
The name Danville originates from the distinguished 18th century French Admiral Jean Baptiste Bourguignon d’Anville. In the spring of 1783, pioneer Charles Hackett opened a spot for a cabin on what is now called the “Isaac Morrill Pitch.” He eventually made a second opening, now called the “Charles Sias Pitch.” In 1784, Capt. Charles Sias and his family, from Peacham, were the first to settle here and brave the long and dreary winter of this dense and unbroken wilderness. Arriving by handsled, the family immediately went to work tapping the thick grove of maple trees, which supplied them with an abundance of sugar. In 1785, around 50 emigrants from New Hampshire and Massachusetts settled as squatters.
The first child born in town was named Danville Howard in the summer of 1787, but the child didn’t live past the age of three. The influx of settlers was rapid and in 1789 it was estimated that more than 200 families had arrived. Around 1790, John Webber opened the first store in the center of town. When Caledonia County was established from a portion of Orange County, a strife developed between Danville and Peacham as to which would be the shire town. Danville would eventually win and Peacham would become the site of the grammar school.
The town’s iconic “Green” was deeded over in 1796 by Aaron Hartshorn and Thomas Dow, to have and to hold as long as the public buildings should remain in Danville. In 1805, the Vermont General Assembly met in the halls of the old Court House, which at the time stood on the west side of the Green, with a bank and a jailhouse on the opposite side. According to the Vermont Historical Gazetteer, “during the early history of Danville the town has marked influence in the councils of the state. And for many years, stood among the foremost in the state for its wealth and productions.” In 1855, the unpopular decision was made to move the public buildings to St. Johnsbury, the new shire town.
There are five villages, situated on elevated land in the center of town with excellent views of the White Mountains and Franconia Notch in New Hampshire. North Danville Village, five miles north, lies on the banks of the Sleepers River, a tributary of the Passumpsic, and boasts some of the finest lands in town. West Danville Village, Harvey’s Hollow and Greenbanks Villages are on Joe’s Brook.
Joe’s Pond covers roughly 1,000 acres and was once famed for its abundant trout. The pond is now home to camps and summer residents. One of the town’s most famous citizens was U.S. Congressman Thaddeus Stevens, born on April 4, 1792 in Danville. Several tributaries flowing into the Passumpsic River lie within the town. Danville sits in the heart of Caledonia County, bordered to the north by Wheelock. St. Johnsbury to the east, Barnet and Peacham to the south and Cabot, Stannard and Walden to the west.
In recent years, Danville has become a popular community due to its access to Route 2, one of the state’s well-traveled east-west corridors. Like many towns in the state, cell phone service is widely available but reception depends greatly on location. The villages are sparsely populated by small businesses, including stores, health clinics, restaurants, professional offices and inns. From 1807 to 1889, the town had its own weekly newspaper called the North Star but the offices were burned in the Great Fire of 1889 which leveled several buildings in the village. In 1988, a group of citizens re-established the publication as a community magazine called the North Star Monthly, which is still locally owned and serving Caledonia County. There are several operating dairy farms still in town.