Before Your Time
Talk about the weather

Talk about the weather

July 25, 2018

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."

More than books

More than books

June 20, 2018

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. 

Knitters, weavers and “women’s work”

Knitters, weavers and “women’s work”

May 16, 2018

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.

The Land of Gin and Whiskey

The Land of Gin and Whiskey

April 12, 2018

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.

From Communes to Commerce

From Communes to Commerce

February 14, 2018

The 1970s are often remembered in Vermont as the decade that thousands of new transplants made the state their home. While the country grappled with scandals like Vietnam and Watergate, back-to-the-land communes offered settlers an alternative path.

The counterculture valued self-reliance over profit. And as the movement spread, Vermont finished its long transformation from one of the most conservative states in the country to one of the most liberal.

But the decade was also good for business. While back-to-the-landers worked to build sustainable cooperatives, profit-driven businesses thrived. Huge companies like Burton Snowboards and Ben & Jerry's got their start, while inventors and artisans found major markets for their goods.

In this podcast, hear from three entrepreneurs who found Vermont in the 1970s to be the right place at the right time. Hinda Miller, one of the inventors of the sports bra, turned a personal hunch into a product that changed sports forever. Duncan Syme, co-founder of Vermont Castings, built a wood stove business that served natives and newcomers alike. And Fred and Judi Danforth, of Danforth Pewter, managed a sought-after product line while working to preserve their artisan roots.

Selling Vermont

Selling Vermont

January 17, 2018

Decades before the advent of skiing, Vermont was a destination for outdoor recreation during warmer months. The ski resort industry filled the gap: it made Vermont a four-season state for travelers. On this podcast, we’ll hear about how it defined a certain era of our history, around the mid-20th century, when Vermont transformed the way it sold itself to outsiders. And how that shift in identity changed the state’s landscape, too.

A Green Mountain Mixtape

A Green Mountain Mixtape

December 6, 2017

In the late 1920s, a state panel called the Vermont Commission on Country Life asked Helen Hartness Flanders, a well-connected socialite from Springfield, to document Vermont's traditional music. Like an Alan Lomax for the Green Mountains, Flanders traveled the state with a Model T full of recording equipment, calling on everyday Vermonters to sing into her microphone.

Flanders accumulated a cache of one-of-a-kind recordings that mainly captured the sounds of European settlers and their descendants. But she's just one of a long line of Vermonters who have dedicated themselves to preserving the sound of our state, believing that Vermont music tells us something about who we are.

In this podcast, we talk to Middlebury College special collections curator Rebekah Irwin and performer Linda Radtke about Flanders' collection. Plus, documentarian Mark Greenberg and Big Heavy World founder James Lockridge show that there's more to the history of Vermont music than English ballads.

Vermont’s Great Flood

Vermont’s Great Flood

October 25, 2017

A rugbeater is a simple tool, made of wood and thick wire, that Vermonters once used to beat dust out of rugs hung on clotheslines. One rugbeater in the Vermont Historical Society's collection was used to clean up after a historic mess.

Ninety years ago, a rainstorm that swept across the eastern United States caused massive flooding in Vermont. The waters destroyed farmland across the state. Thousands of animals drowned. Eighty-four people lost their lives, including the state's lieutenant governor.

To this day, the 1927 flood is considered the biggest natural disaster in Vermont’s history.

But the flood was an even bigger turning point. The rebuilding process set in place some of the infrastructure that we still use today. And right before the Great Depression and the New Deal years of the 1930s, it focused the federal government’s attention – and some of its money – on a state that had never really asked for it.