The largest watercourse in the Town of Rutland is Otter Creek (Peconktuk) the Waubanakee word for “Crooked River.” This historic waterway rises in the Danby Mt. Tabor area and flows northerly its enitre length to enter Lake Champlain below Vergennes.
Presumably some early voyager noted a side tributary entering Otter Creek from the East near Dorr Bridge and bestowed upon this stream the prosaic name “East Creek”‘. No doubt the indians called this by a more euphonious name probably lost forever. Little Offer Creek in Ferrisburg was called Wanakaketuk and Lewis Creek an effortlss Sungahneetuk. There is another East Creek in Orwell.
Since the first recorded white man to visit these parts was accompanied by twelve Caughnawaga Indians why not rechristen our misnamed stream Caughnawaga Creek? Would not a tale of a large catch of trout become more invested with glory when it was divulged that they were caught in “The Caughnawaga”?
One branch of this stream rises in the Town of Chittenden and drains the area which feeds the Chittenden Dam. During the great flood of 1927 Chittenden Dam held this branch in obeyence saving the down-river towns from great damage. However in 1947 the “flashboards’ on this dam broke sending a great flood of water into East Pitttsford Pond alias “Meadow Lake”. This in turn collapsed send veritable wall of water into Rutland Town and City. While 1,500 people ran for their lives other hundreds cringed before its fury. This branch joins another which rises in the Wheelerville area and supplies the City of Rutland. This branch is commonly known ar Mendon Brook.
The confluence of these two main branches is in the norfheastern part of Rutland Town, a short distance above Glen Dam which is piped to Glen Station in Mill Village. This in turn empties into Patches Dam just above the “76” bridge.
Countless grist, saw, carding, shinge and clapboard mills have been built on East Creek. They are now completely a thing of the past and a few flood-ravaged foundations stand as mute evidence of past dreams, successes or failures. (A mill was once planned and a dam built near the mouth of Tenney Brook near Crescent St.. When the gate was closed and the pond filled the dam collapsed thus changing a dream into a nightmare.) Around 1877 the grist and sawmill in Mill Village burned. Before the holocaust was finished, buildings were burned as far as North St. in Rutland City. A sidelight of this fire; the horse-drawn fire engines became stuck in the mud on North Main St. in front of the present Sewards Dairy.
The coming of hydro-electric power changed the picture of this stream. With the constructon of Patches Dam in the early 1920`s the last grist rumbled through the mill in Mill Village and the whine of the circular raw run by water power echoed into oblivion. However many of the landowners along the stream received an impetus to their economy when “the Company” bought the water rights.
Before the larger dams were built there were ice jams in the spring. On one occasion the Chittenden Stage and driver were hit by a cake of ice and capsized near Mill Village.The driver contracted pnuemonia and died. A jam once changed the course of the stream from west of the present State Police Barracks to its present course.
Besides a vast amount of hydraulic energy this stream has provided a rich bounty of fish.
First, native trout followed by stocked rainbow and brown. From the pristine headwaters to Otter Creek fish have been and still are plentiful. The largest “unofficial” w ild native was a five and one-fourth pound monster caught near the covered bridge in Mill Village by a “Mr. Brown” many years ago.How many priceless hours have been spent on th s stream by the followers of Isaac Walton-from a small boy’s first dace to the fly fisherman’s big one that did not get away.
A few Ole Swimmin’ Hoes still exist.
Another contribution which should not be overlooked is the annual fur harvest which this creek accounts for. Many school boys have had their first lessons of running a business of their own and learned the value of a dollar, while many adults have helped fill the larder with money derived from the pelts of mink, muskrat, raccoon,beaver and the otter taken along this stream.
So from a plunging, pristine mountain river East Creek has been pretty well tamed by dams and civilization, but as long as water falls from the sky and runs downhill it will be here and there will always be some vestige of its bygone splendor.
Written by Donald V. Russell
Sources of information
Indian Names. Rowland Robinson
Rutland Herald Clippings – “Old Mill” May 20, 1925
Child’s Directory 1881 -82
Family stories and records