The Story of the Williams House

The house that was located on the site of the present library was originally put up about 1798 by a Mrs. Cleveland, wife of sea-captain Josiah Cleveland. From 1800 to 1809, the house was owned and occupied by Nicholas Baylies, Esq. The house was then purchased by Charles Marsh, who in turn sold it to Norman Williams in 1818. Regarding the property, Mr. Williams noted: “The house was pleasantly situated on the Green, but was not for some reason much sought for. The rooms were said to be too high, and the house a whimsical one; but it suited me exactly, and I was never more pleased with any purchase.” Mr. Williams owned the property until his death in 1868.

One of the best descriptions of the house, and the Williams’ influence on it, can be taken from the address Frederick Billings gave at the opening of the Norman Williams Public Library.

It may also be worth noting that when the family moved to the home on the Green, it was not then the pleasant place it now is, paths criss-crossed it, and ashes and garbage were freely dumped on it. Norman and Mary Ann led the move to clean it up and beautify it.

On the spot where this library stands, was once one of the loveliest homes of Woodstock. …large rooms fronting on the piazza…walls covered with figured paper teaching lessons of history…what a home that was in its domestic life, its social hospitality, it cheerfulness, its culture and Christian refinement. How could it be otherwise where Mr. and Mrs. Norman Williams lived…

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Norman & Mary, owners of the house

Norman Williams, eldest child of Jesse and Hannah (Palmer) Williams was born in West Woodstock November 6, 1791 and grew up in the house his father built just above the old junction of Rose Hill Road and the road leading to Prosper and Barnard.

He attended the old district 4 school at the Flats, then had a year each at Royalton Academy (1805-6) and Randolph (1806-07) before entering the sophomore class at UVM. He graduated Valedictorian, delivering a poem and address August 18, 1810. His father Jesse was always somewhat embarrassed by the son’s poetry–some of which he contributed to the Woodstock Observer. However, he studied law in Burlington, and after being admitted to the bar there, began practice in Woodstock and soon became Register of Probate in the Hartford District. Over the years he held office frequently as State Auditor of Accounts 1819-23; Secretary of State 1823-31; Secretary of the Vermont State Senate 1835-39; and Clerk of Windsor County Court 1839-68. He also served on the three-man commission to prepare plans for the present Vermont State House. And on a commission which revised the Vermont Statutes.

In connection with his civil service, we should make special mention of Mary Ann Wentworth Brown, his wife. She was born in St. Andrew, New Brunswick, November 24,1794, the daughter of Henry Barlow Brown and Rebecca Appleton, and granddaughter of a Loyalist who left Boston. We don’t know what brought the family to Woodstock, but we do know that they rented a farm owned by Jesse Williams in the Beaver Meadow area at the junction of the Happy Valley Road with the Creamery Hill Road to Hartland. As Mr. Brown was a lawyer, Norman’s interest in visiting there is natural. The presence of some very charming daughters made the visits habitual. Mary Ann had had some schooling, especially in drawing, while living with the Higginson family in Boston. After her marriage to Norman on December 11, 1817, she exercised her talents in designing seals for various courts in this county. (Pierce’s First Genealogy, p. 202 is the authority for the statement that she designed “the present arrangement of the great seal of Vermont.”) This undoubtedly just about the time that her husband was first appointed acting Secretary of State.

Norman Williams was a corporator of the Woodstock National Bank, and an Incorporator of the Woodstock medical College. In this, he was directly involved, teaching Jurisprudence, and serving as Dean of the faculty throughout its existence. He was also a trustee of UVM for two terms.

Norman Williams

Norman Williams

Mary Ann Williams. Portrait at the Norman Williams Public Library.

Mary Ann Williams. Portrait at the Norman Williams Public Library.

Original drawing by Annette Compton.

Original drawing by Annette Compton.

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Side and front view of Norman Williams House

Detail from the “Plan of the Home of the late Norman Williams, Woodstock, Vt. November, 1882

Detail from the “Plan of the Home of the late Norman Williams, Woodstock, Vt. November, 1882

Norman Williams (posing against the tree in the background) looks on as the men of the  Woodstock Light Infantry , the local militia company, practiced their drills in front of his house on the Green in 1861.

Norman Williams (posing against the tree in the background) looks on as the men of the Woodstock Light Infantry, the local militia company, practiced their drills in front of his house on the Green in 1861.