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Vermont's southwest homeland

02/03/03 12:00AM By Frank Bryan
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Here is how Dorothy Canfield Fisher described the southern entrance to Vermont at the Pownal turn. "No one who has seen it can forget it the complex, harmonious, composition of its two green and smiling valleys, diverging in a V form from below where you stand. Tradition has it 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, 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 don 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."

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.

Bennington was the first town chartered in Vermont and it was there at Fay's Tavern that Ethan Allen formed the Green Mountain Boys. Up the trail in Dorset, Vermont's Declaration of Independence was issued in July of 1776. At the second Dorset Convention held in September, delegates from both sides of the mountains consummated the union that was formalized the following summer in Windsor. It was through these valleys and mountain passes that Vermonters came to do battle with Burgoyne's army and win. Here the stars and stripes flew over an American battlefield for the first time.

From Arlington, Governor Thomas Chittenden directed our early years. From beside Mill Brook in Rupert, Ruben Harmon coned the new republic's copper currency. And what a heritage we - and indeed America - has gained from people like this and those that were to follow.

From Bennington thundered William Lloyd Garrison's anti-slavery "Journal of the Times." From Arlington, Norman Rockwell 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 anti-billboard law. From Dorset cam American's first marble - the stone that built the New York City 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 millionaires, 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; Sunderland's artist and composer Carl Ruggles. From Wallingford came Rotary International; from East Dorset, Alcoholics Anonymous; from Pawlet, 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.

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