Understanding the past to better understand the present and prepare for the future. Domont has a colourful history to be told.
DOMONT IN THE MIDDLE AGES
A lieu-dit in the Middle Ages
During the Middle Ages, the vast expanses of forested areas in the vicinity became property of the barons of Montmorency, the first Christian barons in France. At this time, Domont was no more than a lieu-dit, a small, uninhabited geographical area, which was property of Baron Landri.
Founding of the priory
In 1098, Baron Landri donated the land to the Benedictine monks of Cluny. The monks cleared the current site of the parsonage and built a priory. A village of woodcutters developed around this religious community. There are three hypotheses of what the original name of this lieu-dit might have been; ‘Dos du Mont’ (literally, ‘behind the mountain), ‘Dal Mund’ (the door of the valley), and lastly, ‘Dool Monte’ (the mountain of sacred stone).
For the centuries spanning the Medieval period, inhabitants would only know Domont as a place of agriculture and farming. The forest-lined slopes of Domont were covered in grapevines, whilst the fertile Plaine de France, which supplied the French capital with grain, stretched out below. Although the first two centuries were prosperous, the next were disastrous and offered nothing but war and epidemics that devastated the region.
The knights of Villiers, Barons of Domont
The knights of Villiers would succeed the Montmorency family to become the Barons of Domont. Two of these barons would go on to make French history. In 1203, Jean de Villiers was involved in the siege of Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade. Pierre de Villiers, comrade in arms of Du Guesclin, served two kings of France, John the Good and Charles V, in the highest office of the country. In 1364, he acquired the Isle Adam estate and founded one of France’s most distinguished families there, the Villiers-Adam.
FROM THE RENAISSANCE TO THE AGE OF ENLIGHTENMENT
A region spared from epidemic and the Fronde
From the end of the Middle Ages to the Age of Enlightenment, two families, the Champluisants and the Gallarbois, owned the seigniory of Domont and Manine. By acquiring the seigniory of Cepoy, they extended the borders of the Domont parish southwards, from Piscop to Pigale, via the Génichalote meadow. With its north-facing orientation and the sprawling expanse of forest to protect it, very few inhabitants were struck down by the surrounding epidemics. The area was also spared from the French Wars of Religion, followed by the Fronde, which devastated neighbouring villages.
From grapevines to fruit trees: the famous Montmorency cherry tree of Madame de Sévigné
Grapevines gradually gave way to fruit trees, and it was Madame de Sévigné who would secure the future of the Montmorency cherry, which she tasted on the side of the road from Domont to Andilly. Madame de la Massais took ownership of Domont in 1771. She was a witty woman, and her salon in Paris was the delight of many a philosopher. Madame de Genlis, who was a regular at these salons, would stay in Domont during the summer months. Following in the footsteps of Rousseau, pupils of Jussieu would collect plants near the Château de la Chasse; Bosc and Manon Roland were great admirers of the flora of the region.
Jean-Pierre Decorde, the first mayor of Domont, elected in 1790
With the country on the brink of revolution, Domont inhabitants were ordered to write their ‘cahiers de doléances’, or list of grievances for the king. Not long after the forests were damaged by game, the most dreaded tax of all was imposed; the taille. In 1790, the oldest families of Domont elected their first mayor, Jean-Pierre Decorde. The Revolution toughened and a strange priest, Tache, had ideas to transform the church, which had been left to ruin, into a Temple of Reason. After Thermidor, the 11th month in the French Republican Calendar, the inhabitants of Domont dispelled him and restored the building as an act of solidarity. Led by Bosc through the forest, the Girondin outlaws hid near the Château de la Chasse. One of them, La Révellière-Lépeaux, would go on to lead France under the Directory and became a resident of Domont in 1811. David d’Angers married his granddaughter and he too settled in the commune.
THE 19TH CENTURY
936 inhabitants by the mid-19th century
In 1850, Domont had a population of 936. Every year in springtime, herbalists would flock to the town, following in the footsteps of Bosc. They would take the Chemin de la Flore path, which begins at the Auberge de la Croix Blanche and ends at the Auberge du Bouquet de la Vallée, via the Trou du Tonnerre hole.
During this period, most of the male population worked with wood as woodcutters, hoop makers and trellis makers. Most of the women were embroiderers, lacemakers and trim makers. This period also marked the beginning of the vegetable growing activities of the ‘trimardeurs’, the vagabonds of the era. In the winter, they would live in the woods, gathering mushrooms and cutting down branches. In the summer, they grew peas and crops.
The Franco-Prussian War broke out in 1870, and on 16 September, the Uhlans infiltrated into Domont. With the Siege of Paris under way, the enemy used Domont as a trench camp. The occupation lasted for a year, with around 400 dragoons limiting access to Domont.
The building of the fort
As peace reigned once more, the French army chose Domont, the highest hillock in the Montmorency forest, as the place to build a ‘first-class fort’. Stones from Champeaux were used as building material and two young officers, Delanne and Joffre, with a bright future ahead of them, were in charge of the construction work. In 1878, the armoured turret overlooked the entire southern part of the city and a large expanse of the Plaine de France to the north. During World War I, the cannon bore down on German troupes and Domont decorated the officer’s mess with a fresco.
Bricks and pears
Economic activity grew extensively with the arrival of the railway. The first Domont brick was made in 1895, and visibility at the 1900 World’s Fair turned it into a booming business, with brickworks cropping up across the region. Pears contributed to the wealth of small farmers; the William, Doyenne de Comice and Poire de Curé varieties were shipped to England by the fruit growers’ cooperative.
DOMONT IN THE 20TH CENTURY
A holiday destination
With the onset of war in 1914, Domont became a place for holidaymakers. Far from the Flanders Road, and bordered by the sprawling Montmorency forest, the châteaux, vast parks and luxurious villas were all positioned around the church. Baron Brincart lived in the Château de Domont, whilst General Delanne resided at the Chancellery. The former property of the De Bussy family in Ombreval, and the Priory Châteaux of the legal practitioner Glandaz all bear witness to the history of the town. As proof of this thriving period for Domont, Mr Laguionie, director of the Printemps department store, took up residence in the Château de Longpré. On 7 July 1917, La Tribune wrote, “There is no war in sight in our pretty town, sheltered by its shaded pastures of apple and pear trees.” And yet it was the children who would pay the heavy price on the battle field; Marshall Joffre opened a monument in their honour in 1921.
From a village to a suburban area
As the rural way of life began to disappear, it was soon replaced with a population of employees. New buildings gradually encroached on the fields and orchards. In 1931, Domont had a population of 3,572, and was transformed from a village into a suburban area (‘agglomération de banlieue’), much like a commuter town, where workers leave in the morning and return only at night to rest.
Domont freed on 30 August 1944
The Blitz hit French soil in 1940 and Domont was once again occupied by the enemy. Years of misery ensued for the town’s inhabitants. In September 1943, many Domont inhabitants were taken to Drancy and disappeared in the concentration camps, never to be heard of again. Close to La Belle Rachée, where the Kommandantur settlement was located, a young Robert Meunier fell to German gunfire. The first American tank infiltrated into the town on 30 August 1944 and Domont was freed at last. The hardships endured and the new-found joy of liberation would cement the old and the new Domont together. The village was able to express itself once more and Domont’s artists made a name for themselves.
As Yvonne Printemps was dazzling everyone in Paris with her voice, a young Bernard Buffet was sketching his first masterpieces in Manine.
During the years after the war, urban growth intensified and building after building descended upon the town.
In 1960, Domont’s population was 5,000; 15 years later it grew to 11,000, and is now close to 16,000.
The commune is twinned with its European sister towns. Faced with the rapid changes that have shaped their surroundings over time, Domont residents have always been able to adapt, whilst still safeguarding their identity. It is thanks to their foresight that Domont can offer such a high quality of life, now more than ever.
Domont, Histoire d’un village d’Île de France (‘Domont: the history of a village in Île de France’)
By François and Jacques Bousquet
Work published with the support of the Domont town council
Printed by Gaborieau d’Aubusson
Promenade dans Domont, Hier et Aujourd’hui (‘A stroll through Domont: Yesterday and Today’)
By Gilberte Herlin, Jean Lecuir and Victor Porcher
Discover the different sides to Domont’s history with the information and images provided on the website