A massive wooden printing press made in the mid-17th century has a place of pride in the Vermont History Museum, and not just because it’s old. It represents both the history of written law in the state, and the crucial role that journalism – the press – plays in a democracy.
Plenty of Vermont’s historic buildings are exactly the traditional homes, churches, and meeting houses commonly associated with small New England towns. But as the state changed in the 20th century, its architecture did too. Now, experts are looking more closely at buildings that look nothing like what came before — and in some cases, look nothing like buildings anywhere else.
People have raced cars in the Green Mountains since 1903. There were racetracks in every corner of the state: at fairgrounds, in farmers’ back fields, and finally at dozens of dedicated racetracks. Thousands of Vermonters have been drivers, mechanics, track officials, and spectators at those tracks over the past 115 years. The Vermont Historical Society recorded their stories for a new oral history collection as part of their latest exhibit, Anything for Speed: Automobile Racing in Vermont. On our latest history podcast, learn about the state's racing scene from the people who created it.
Many of Vermont’s cemeteries date back multiple centuries. They’re filled with worn-down stones that may only offer glimpses of the personal histories of the dead. But these cemeteries still hold lessons for the people who visit and research them today.
Many Vermonters felt a sense of liberation during the nation’s first “bike boom” in the 1890s. Bikes became cheaper and easier to ride, eventually revolutionizing personal transportation and recreation.
Vermont's early bike clubs were the province of elites: mostly wealthy, white men. But underrepresented groups took up the new technology soon after, and today's bicycle groups provide mobility and community to a wide range of residents.
Vermonters love weather. They love bragging about it, complaining about it, hiding inside from it, and playing outside in it. It’s a topic of conversation across the state.
One expert believes that's due to Vermont's constantly changing conditions.
"Weather can be pretty extreme," says Roger Hill, a forecaster who runs Weathering Heights and appears on Radio Vermont stations. "There's a sort of normalcy bias that we all have that we carry with us. We don't realize that it can be really off-the-charts extreme."
Hill says Vermont's position halfway between the tropics and the poles contributes to that variability. And it's caused many of the state's most historic weather events.
In this podcast, Roger Hill describes the past and future of Vermont's weather patterns. Amanda Gustin and Eileen Corcoran examine an antique weather station. Steve Long shows how a landscape tells the story of the Hurricane of 1938. And Larry Coffin recounts Vermont's "Year Without a Summer."
Vermont's 183 public libraries are icons of the state's history. But they're also centers of civic engagement for modern cities and towns.
When most of these institutions were first built, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, they had a simpler purpose. "It was bathrooms and books," says Bixby Memorial Library director Jane Spencer. Farmers would stop off to use the public restrooms on visits to town, and nearby residents would supplement their education by reading for pleasure.
Libraries were a common way for Vermonters who made fortunes out-of-state to honor their hometowns with function and style. The Bixby, for example, occupies an ornate Greek revival building in Vergennes.
"These buildings were significant structures in the towns," says Paul Carnahan of the Vermont Historical Society. "People had a lot of pride in those buildings."
While some have traded in their filigrees for more modern touches, they're still key to town life. And in an age when books are losing their primacy as sources of information, local libraries have adapted to house more than just bathrooms and books.
On this podcast, preservationist and historian William Hosely describes the architectural significance of Vermont's libraries. Joy Worland, from the Vermont Department of Libraries, talks about how the state's decentralized system is unique. And the Bixby Library's Jane Spencer and Paula Moore discuss how their institution has evolved.
Vermont today has no shortage of knitters, crocheters, rug hookers, silvers, sewers and felters. Some are avid hobbyists, and some make a living from their craft. But all are part of a long history of fiber arts in Vermont.
Household production across New England spiked in the late 18th century. In Vermont, a state-sponsored silk production initiative brought women into a new trade. In the years since, innovative artisans like Elizabeth Fisk and Patty Yoder have reinvented traditional crafts — and in the process, redefined what’s sometimes been dismissed as “women’s work.”
On this episode, the Shelburne Museum's Katie Wood Kirchoff and Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich discuss New England textile artisans who blurred the lines between art and business. The weekly knitting group at Montpelier’s Yarn store talk about finding community through fiber arts. Plus, Amanda Gustin and Mary Rogstad explore an exhibit at the the Vermont History Museum that reveals the psychology of silk production.
Visitors who come to Vermont seeking artisanal alcohol may not realize that it used to be one of the driest states in the nation: Prohibition lasted longer here than almost any other part of the country. But some experts say that dry spell may have led to today's booming alcohol culture. On this episode, an old homemade grappa still leads us on a tour of taverns, lost apples, stone dust, boarding houses, and back-to-the-land homebrewers.