Endlessly intriguing.

One thing that I must say that I like about Vermont (aside from the lack of roadside advertising, which is reason enough to live here), is the crazy notion of the New England town. When I first met my wife, it took me months (literally) to really get my head around how completely different things were structured here than they are elsewhere and I still think it is somewhat odd, yet very inspiring it is allegiance to the ideals of Democracy.

Anyway, so pondering it a bit today, I thought that I would post a truncated (and rearranged) description of it from the Wikipedia entry on New England Towns:


The New England town is the basic unit of local government in each of the six New England states.

Without a direct counterpart in most other U.S. states, New England towns are conceptually similar to civil townships in other states, but are incorporated, possessing powers like cities in other states. New England towns are often governed by town meeting. Virtually all corporate municipalities in New England are based on the town model; statutory forms based on the concept of a compact populated place, which is prevalent elsewhere in the U.S., are uncommon.

County government in New England states is typically weak, sometimes even non-existent; for example, Connecticut and Rhode Island retain counties only as geographic subdivisions that have no governmental authority, while Massachusetts has abolished eight of fourteen county governments so far… most functions normally handled by county-level government in the rest of the United States are handled by town-level government in New England. In Connecticut, Rhode Island, and parts of Massachusetts, county government has been completely abolished.

Characteristics of the New England town system

Towns are laid out so that all land within the boundaries of a state is allocated to a town or other corporate municipality. Except in some very sparsely populated areas of the three northern New England states, the concept of unincorporated territory, even in rural areas, is unknown. With the exception of those very sparsely populated areas, all land in New England is within the boundaries of a town or other incorporated municipality.

Traditionally, a town’s legislative body is the open town meeting, which is a form of direct democratic rule, with a board of selectmen possessing executive authority. Only two small Swiss Landsgemeinde remain as similarly democratic as the small New England town.

A town almost always contains a built-up populated place (the “town center”) with the same name as the town. Additional built-up places with different names are often found within towns, along with a mixture of extraneous urban and rural territory. There is no unincorporated territory between the towns; leaving a town means entering another town or other municipality.

Since virtually all residents live within the boundaries of an incorporated municipality, residents receive most local services at the municipal level, and county government tends to be very weak. Differences among states do exist in the level of services provided at the municipal and county level, but generally

Residents usually identify with their town for purposes of civic identity, thinking of the town in its entirety as a single, coherent community. There are some cases where residents identify more strongly with villages or sections of a town than with the town itself, but this is the exception, not the rule.

More than 90% of the municipalities in the six New England states are towns. Other forms of municipalities that exist—most notably, cities—are generally based on the town concept as well (most cities in New England are merely former towns that grew to have too many inhabitants for a town meeting to be an effective legislative body).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *