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Slayton: Building On The Past

12/13/10 7:55AM By Tom Slayton
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(HOST) In recent years, we've learned that Vermont's downtowns and villages are just as important to its sense of place as its fields and mountains. Tom Slayton has some thoughts about a little-known organization that has helped reinvigorate those places.

(SLAYTON)  In Vermont, the present happens in the midst of the past. History surrounds and shelters us here, even as history is being obliterated in dozens of other places around the country.

And, ironically, it’s because of Vermonters’ love and respect for their past that Vermont’s future sometimes seems very bright.

Think of the places where exciting things are happening, and almost universally you find, at the heart of their hope and success, a couple of things:

One, a commitment to their town’s historic buildings, its downtown streets and stores and public spaces. And two, a belief in the value of the community life that happens there. In other words, there’s a commitment to the past, combined with a belief in the future.

Part of this is just the way Vermonters are and part of it is due to an organization that you don’t hear much about because it so successfully flies under the radar of public notice.: the Preservation Trust of Vermont, now quietly celebrating its 30th year. This year, the National Trust for Historic Preservation honored the Vermont group with its Award for Organizational Excellence.

Stephanie Meeks, president of the National Trust said it would be impossible to catalogue the impact that The Preservation Trust of Vermont has had on nearly every town in this state. "This group’s passion, innovation, commitment and creativity have helped Vermonters keep their state a special place," she said.

The organization is best known for its work to save Vermont’s most significant public buildings: the Old Round Church in Richmond, the Latchis Theatre in Brattleboro, the Haskell Opera House and library in Derby Line, and many, many others - more than 1,500 historic buildings at last count.  But Paul Bruhn, founder and executive director of the Preservation Trust of Vermont said recently that their work isn’t just about saving the past - it’s about saving the present as well - by helping to build community spirit.

In Hardwick, for example, a village that was chronically depressed, the Preservation Trust sensed there was still plenty of hope and energy around and provided some of the funding necessary to open a downtown restaurant - Claire’s - that is at the center of an agricultural revolution that has revitalized the town.

Bruhn is quick to point out that it was Hardwick’s own entrepeneurship and community support that turned things around. But he was glad that the Preservation Trust of Vermont was able to help.

Nationally, Vermont’s success in building on its past is getting noticed. For the second time in recent years, National Geographic Traveler recently listed Vermont as the best place in the U.S. to visit - in part because of its work in conserving its historic landscape and downtowns. And Vermont’s downtowns have been selected by the World Travel & Tourism Council as one of the three top travel destinations in the world, because of their small-scale beauty and authenticity.

History isn’t dead here in the Green Mountains. It’s part of our lives, and our future. And we owe the Preservation Trust of Vermont a vote of thanks for helping us keep it so.

(TAG) For more commentaries by Tom Slayton, go to VPR-dot-net.
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