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A visit to the Pawlet Library

10/31/02 12:00AM By Tom Slayton
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If you're hurrying along on Route 30, you could almost miss the little village of Pawlet, which straddles Flower Brook at the head of the Mettawee Valley in southwestern Vermont. And that would be a shame.

That's because Pawlet is one of the places where you'll find the traditional Vermont spirit alive and well, just as strong today as when the town was founded in 1761. The 1,300 people who live in Pawlet think of their town as the center of the Universe. And they may be right about that; it certainly is a place with a lot of Vermont soul.

I recently attended a special celebration there: the grand opening of the newly renovated Pawlet Public Library, which has just been moved into expanded quarters in the village's restored Schoolhouse. It was the culmination of a four-year struggle to save the 1911 grade school building - a classic turn-of-the-century schoolhouse. And despite a rainy Saturday afternoon, it looked like half the town had turned out for the official opening. There were jugs of cider and plates of home-made cookies, and the event was one of those occasions that reaffirm your faith in Vermont and Vermonters, the kind of day that just makes you feel good all over.

First, there was the fact that the town's library, which had been housed for years in the town hall, now had lots of clean, attractive space in which to house its books and programs. Public libraries are vitally important because they are a direct expression of democracy, places where books and culture can be shared by everyone, not just the favored few.

Further, the restored Pawlet Village School is beautiful in its own right, a symmetrical colonial revival school building with a nice sense of form and proportion, the kind of woodwork and trim that is too expensive to add to public buildings nowadays, and lots of light streaming in through tall, multi-paned glass windows.

The building is doubly important because it is one of the visual anchors of the Village of Pawlet. It stands just opposite the Town Hall and lends character, some open space and an air of order and refinement to the little village. It's part of Pawlet's sense of place and had it been lost, part of the town's identity would have been lost also.

It would be misleading to say that Pawlet saved its grade school all by itself. The biggest single grant for the building came from the State of Vermont's Housing and Conservation Fund, and there were grants from many private foundations and individuals as well. But none of the money would have been raised without the dedication and hard work of dozens of Pawlet citizens.

Vermont - the Vermont we all love - is worth fighting for, and even more important, working to save. Here, in one little schoolhouse, the people of Pawlet have given all of us a darned good example of how it can be done. Community is a pretty abstract word, until you see it in action. And I was fortunate enough to see it in action, embodied and in the flesh last week in Pawlet, where the Vermont dream still lives.

Tom Slayton is editor of Vermont Life magazine.
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