Westmore is situated in the southeastern part of Orleans County on the eastern range of the Green Mountains and has some fairly high peaks. It is bordered to the northeast by Charleston, to the east by the Essex County town of Brighton, to the south by the Caledonia County towns of Newark and Sutton, to the west by Barton and to the northwest by Brownington.
Westmore’s main geographic feature and recreational attraction is stunning Lake Willoughby, which is about six miles long and a mile wide, extending north and south, framed by mountains. It splits the town into two unequal parts and is the Northeast Kingdom’s second largest lake, slightly behind Lake Seymour in Morgan. But Lake Willoughby – with a maximum depth of more than 300 feet – is almost twice as deep as Seymour. The southern half of Lake Willoughby is surrounded by a state forest. The lake’s outlet, the Willoughby River, flows into the Barton River and on to Lake Memphremagog.
Westmore was granted in 1780 to Capt. Uriah Seymour, Abraham Sedgwick and their associates. Very few, if any, of the original grantees ever settled in town. But they offered a man named David Porter 200 acres if he would build the first sawmill and 200 more acres if he would build the first gristmill in town. Porter accepted the offer, and by 1804 the mills were operating. The town was initially named Westford, but was later changed to Westmore because there was another Vermont town called Westford.
Because Westmore has some very good soil, the first settlers cleared large farms and built impressive barns. They prospered briefly, but the War of 1812 convinced them to abandon their property for the safer, more populated towns south of Orleans County. The Vermont Historical Gazetteer of the 1870s provided this account: “They were surrounded by a howling wilderness a long distance from any other settlement, their numbers few and scattering, the frosts destroyed their crops, and the fear of the British and hostile Indians on the north still filled their hearts at length with dismay; their courage failed... They concluded that their means were insufficient to protect them against an expected and much feared attack of the Indians.”
Soon, according to the Gazetteer, Westmore was left without any human inhabitants: “The mills and most of the buildings that had been erected went to ruin… The lands that had been cleared lay common for a long time, and the inhabitants of Brownington and Derby annually drove large lots of cattle, horses and mules here to pasture.”
It was not until 1830 that settlers showed up again. Westmore was reorganized in 1833, and the population grew slowly. The demand for a public road through town was so great and the antic-ipated road was so expensive that other towns to the north and south agreed to help pay for it. The only route was along the eastern shore of Lake Willoughby, which was steep and rocky. The road was completed in 1852, opening new incentives for settlement.
As soon as the road was finished, an elegant Lake House was opened at the south end of the lake, offering splendid views of the water and surrounding mountains. Another hotel followed on the east side of the lake. And Westmore was back on the road to prosperity.