Vermont’s Southwest Homeland


January 30, 2003


“Have you ever,” wrote Dorothy Canfield Fisher of Arlington, Vermont “driven over Route 7 north from Massachusetts? If you have, and the day is fine, you have, like other motorists, stopped your car to admire the view at Pownel turn. No one who has seen it can forget the complex, harmonious composition of its two green and smiling valleys, diverging in a V from below where you stand. Tradition has it”, she continued, “the pioneer trail also passed this way and this very spot was an overnight halting place.”


Farther north another woman of letters from Vermont’s southwest homeland, Margaret Hard, who, with her husband Walter owned the Johnny Appleseed Bookstore in Manchester, described the great valley that marks the heart of the region as follows: “I never drive up the valley from Bennington to Arlington, watching the glorious chains of mountains marching ahead of me, that I do not think of Carl Ruggles Marching Mountains symphony. He needs no recording of his symphony, in one sense, because centuries, millions of them, have already recorded it in the everlasting contours of Vermont’s mountain beauty.”


The Carl Ruggles to which she refers was a famous composer and painter who lived in Sunderland and Arlington and taught at Bennington College.


And there you have it: beauty, history and the arts, the three essences of this exquisite land -- the land of Equinox and the Battinkill, the southwest homeland where Vermont was born


The first town chartered in Vermont by New Hampshire’s Royal Governor Benning Wentworth was appropriately called Bennington. It was at Fay’s Tavern in Bennington that Ethan Allen formed the Green Mountain Boys. It was at Kent’s Tavern in Dorset from which Vermont’s Declaration of Independence was issued in July of 1776. It was at the second Dorset Convention held in September that delegates from both sides of the mountains consummated the union that was formalized in the following summer in Windsor. It was through these valleys and mountain passes that Vermonters came to do battle with Burgoyne’s army, validating the ill fated, British general’s earlier worry that “Vermont abounds with the most rebellious race on the continent and hangs like a gathering storm on my left.”


It was in Vermont’s southwest homeland that Governor Thomas Chittenden directed operations for the Vermont republic from his farm in Arlington. It was from beside Mill brook in the town of Rupert that Ruben Harmon coined the new republic’s currency – copper coins produced at a rate of about 45 a minute.


And what a heritage we and indeed America has gained from Vermont’s southwest homeland.


From Bennington thundered the anti-slavery rhetoric of William Lloyd Garrison’s Journal of the Times. From Arlington’s Norman Rockwell, the nation’s most popular artist, sketched Roosevelt’s four freedoms for a nation racked by depression and war. From Shaftsbury traveled Colonel Fairfax Ayers to Montpelier to lobby incessantly for Vermont’s famous and unique anti-billboard law. From Dorset came America’s first marble – the stone that built the New York Public library. From Manchester came the American science of fly fishing, from Shaftsbury the first American carpenter’s square.  In Mount Tabor lived Vermont’s first millionaire, lumber king Silas Griffith.


Clarendon’s mineral springs. Manchester’s Hildene estate. Arlington’s Viola Knapp Ruffner, who taught Booker T. Washington how to read. Rupert’s Moses Sherman who designed Los Angeles. East Poultney’s Horace Greeley.


From Wallingford came Rotary International. From East Dorset came Alcoholics Anonymous. From Pawlet came Oberlin College.


And finally there is Robert Frost, the poet of the Vermont spirit who lies buried behind the Old First Church in Bennington along with five of Vermont’s Governors. He asked his inscription read. “I had a lover’s quarrel with the world.”


So too it seems have we.


And the love affair began where Frost now lies. In the Southwest Homeland of Vermont.


This is Frank Bryan in Starksboro.