Friday, August 8, 2008

The latest installment of "Going Down the Road," this one from New England

"Vermont, a State of Mind" is the subheading for the latest in the NYT series that recalls the Great Depression Era travel guides. Apparently, the "state of mind" comment was one made in the 1930s by writers who visited Vermont and documented life and lifestyles there. It is picked up in today's story, which is headlined, "Eccentricity Fuels a Revival of Vermont's River Towns." Eccentricity is indeed a theme of the story, which indicates various ways in which the southeastern sliver of the state, along the Connecticut River, both reflects -- but also defies -- rural stereotypes. Here's an excerpt from Pam Belluck's story, which begins with the perspective of the 1930s writers:

“Vermont apologists have defended this attitude as the very essence of liberty . . . Outside observers have considered it as a consistent manifestation of unenlightened perversity.”

Revisiting some of the river towns nowadays finds them trying to rebound from factory closings, farm consolidations and fading Main Streets by again embracing idiosyncratic ideas, and drawing on the bedrock that once made these towns vibrant: the river, the railroad and a hardy independent streak.

Farther into the story is a discussion of how Vermont defies rural stereotypes, and how that defiance is moving the southeastern part of the state forward in this age of rural restructuring:

Easy to reach from urban centers like New York but unspoiled enough to feel remote, these towns beckoned unconventional types. Unlike other parts of New England, where “people from away” never really become equals, newcomers here are woven into the fabric — like the ’60s back-to-the-landers who set up communes, learned farming from books and weathered winters so harsh no mail was delivered.

* * *

These days, a back-to-the-river movement hopes to reinvigorate the region with boating, fishing and other activities, said David L. Deen, a Democratic state representative who was out rowing recently. For decades, the river was “a sewer, and the smoke from the mills filled it up,” said Artie Aiken, 95, of Westminster, who worked the railroad, drove “four horses on a tater digger” and risked his life saving a farmer’s cows in a 1936 flood.

Among the river revitalization plans is an eco-resort called Liberty Mills. It is expected to include a kayak race course, a skate park, and a pool, along with compost toilets and geothermal power. The town manager of Rockingham, which includes Bellows Falls, is quoted as saying, "When I first heard about it, I was flabbergasted that anyone could think they could pull that off [but] the community here always says 'just go for it.'"

Don't miss the story's interactive feature here.

As I write this on Friday night, August 8, about 24 hours after the story first appeared on the paper's website, it ranks 5th among the most emailed stories.

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