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Rosenfeld: Pulse of Vt in Newport

08/15/12 7:55AM By Paul Rosenfeld
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(Host) Earlier this year, as part of a digital storytelling class, Middlebury College students Paul Rosenfeld of Saint Louis, and Tik Root of Ripton, decided to explore Vermont's Route 100 - stopping along the way to meet people and learn about life in contemporary Vermont. All this week during Morning Edition, we're hearing about what they discovered in their travels. 

Route 100 stretches from the Massachusetts border in the south all the way to the Canadian border in the North. The communities that it passes are widely diverse, offering Root and Rosenfeld a variety of opportunities to take the pulse of life in small-town Vermont. 

Close to the Canadian border in Newport, Paul Rosenfeld recalls meeting Jen Degre, who runs an auction house with her husband. 

(Rosenfeld) Intrigued by a sign reading Antiques, Ammo and Auctions, we decided to stop in for a visit. Inside we met Jen Degre. During our visit, Jen told us the odd ways in which she discovers items for her auction. 

(Degre) In Glover, we found in a whiskey barrel out in a shed. It was rolled up and they opened it up and it was a steel engraving of the declaration of independence. And there was a picture on the bottom of it with the names of everybody. But I knew it was strange because it wasn't like a pencil drawing, you touched it and it was all bumpy and then I found out that the steel engraving was done by the guy that engraved all the money for the United States. So a coin collector bought it... I don't know... you find a lot of weird stuff.

(Rosenfeld) While Jen and her husband now co-own the Auction house, until 2004 they were dairy farmers. But as economy of the region worsened Jen and her husband, like many other small Vermont farmers, were forced to sell their holdings and start new occupations. It's a trend that has drastically changed Jen's hometown. 

(Degre) Newport used to be a booming, booming city when I grew up. There were stores everywhere. Friday nights everybody from all around the whole area would go to Newport and socialize... I don't know. Newport there's so much history in that town and it's just sad. There was Newberry's, and Grants, and Fishman's, and Penny's, and Montgomery Ward's, and there were two hotels. 

(Rosenfeld) Ironically, despite Jen's affection for the town's history, part of her job is to dismantle, repackage, and then auction off its antiques. See, Newport was a flourishing town until the 1950's, and with the boom came large and elegant homes, but as the city began to lose its importance people began to move out and sell off old property. Nowadays, Jen makes a good part of her living sifting through old homes. She finds pictures, knickknacks, and novelties and auctions them off for a profit. 

(Degre) In order to live up here you have to fend for yourself and diversify; you can't do just one thing, cause there's nothing up here, there's no industry. There's nothing. 

(Rosenfeld) Newport is located in Orleans county, home to one of the highest unemployment rates in the state. If you don't work in tourism, logging or carpentry opportunities for work are few and far between. But though the region has been experiencing hard times, it hasn't lost its Vermont feel. And despite the hardships, Jen wouldn't want to live anywhere else. 

(Degre) People talk to you at the grocery store and say hi how are you. And they don't do that apparently in the city. They don't do that. They walk by you, they don't look at you. And it's beautiful here. People genuinely care. It's just who we are. 

(Rosenfeld) Jen would appear to be right. In Vermont , despite economic hardships, it really is possible to find people who are not only willing to lend a good story, but also a helping hand. 

Taking the Pulse of Vermont along Route 100, I'm Paul Rosenfeld. 

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