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Report From The Vermont Frontier

Covered Bridge We used to own Vermont.

I'm speaking here, of course, with the royal "we." Back when New Hampshire was a British province, our good friend King George II deeded us the whole darn place.

You see, Georgie was wicked peeved at the powerful stodgy Puritans who controlled most of Massachusetts and Maine. The king was running out of friends and Portsmouth, wedged between the two Puritan enclaves, was a refreshingly loyal Anglican oasis. So when NH and Mass started sniping over their borders, Georgie decided to teach those high hats a lesson. In March 1740, by royal decree, New Hampshire was granted all the land west as far as New York. Since no one really knew where New York started, the grant kicked off a real estate free-for-all.

At the top of the real estate pig-pile was our new royal governor, Benning Wentworth. (Remember him? He lived right down the street here in a 50-room mansion and, at age 60, married his 20-something housekeeper. Shocking!) Unable to pass on an easy buck, Benning quickly chartered 130 towns in the new Vermont area. Like Scrooge McDuck, he spent hours just counting his money as he sold off the Vermont forests. One for Georgie, one for Benning. One for Georgie, two for Benning. How did you think Bennington, Vermont got its name?

Now I rarely can find a reason to leave the Seacoast, but since Vermont, like Barrington and Rochester, used to be part of the New Hampshire "frontier," I figured it was okay to take a little trek out into our former back yard. I can report to you, with certainty, that it was a very big back yard.

Seacoasters always brag about how close we live to Boston, Portland, the White Mountains and the NH Lakes, but it ain't that far to Vermont neither. Just two hours, I reckon, and that's in an old Toyota. I hear people in Montana drive that far for a pack of smokes. Of course, it's possible to make five or six tours of our entire seacoast in the time it takes to reach the Green Mountains. I was getting homesick by White River Junction.

Except for the ocean, most things in the Seacoast are pint-sized. But I can report to you that in Vermont they have fields the size of towns and barns the size of malls. Even our mighty Garrison Hill in Dover (640 feet above sea level) cannot compete with the rolling mountains of Vermont.

For no reason I can muster, we set out for a town named Brandon which is distinguished as the birthplace of Stephen A. Douglas, the "Little Giant" of the Lincoln Douglas debates. His little house was closed, but there was note he door saying a woman in town had the key, and would open up for a subzero tour if anyone requested. No thanks.

In Vermont, that's about as historic as history gets. Other state celebrities include presidents Chester A. Arthur and Calvin Coolidge, and don't forget religious iconoclasts Brigham Young and Joseph Smith. It's hard for a state like NH that touts Franklin Pierce and Horace Greeley to throw stones. But we do have Christa McCauliff, John Paul Jones and Alan B. Shephard. It's a tug of war no side can win.

Vermont still wears its rustic tackiness like a flag. Tourist maps relentlessly push cheddar cheese, baskets, maple syrup, cider, folk art, foliage and covered bridges. You'd think Ethan Allen, Gramma Moses and Norman Rockwell were still local trendsetters. The towns really are laid out like tidy model train villages at the foot of a little boys bed.

One lunch place was open in Brandon. Judging by the warm hue of the lacquered knotty pine and the scent of rich tomato sauces, I guessed it was an Italian spot. A cluster of locals hunkered over the bar watching football. The wall was decorated in fishing rods and nets, rifles, powder horns, antlers, a moose head, a pheasant and pictures of wide-eyed forest varmints. A monster hornet's nest dangled precariously over my seat. The menu included peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I got the chicken salad. It was divine.

Like I said, I rarely leave the Seacoast. This was my first time out since web sites became all the rage, and I must admit that the new superconnectivity is a bit unnerving. Sleepy little Brandon, it turns out, has its own web site. And yes, there's a page for the Stephen Douglas House. I can even show you my room at the Lilac Inn. Just click here. It's the one with the four poster bed with the custom-made oak armoire. Only the Brandon Inn was open for dinner that night. The next day my companion and I toured up to Middlebury College for a little shopping. We eschewed the ski crowds at Killington in favor of some quiet snowshoeing at lovely and very isolated Blueberry Hill. On the way home we stopped in picturesque Woodstock, Vermont and toured the Stephen Huneck Gallery which has this clever animal furniture I wanted to show you. Are you clicking along?

See what I mean. Who needs Polaroids when the whole world is already on the internet? Even hick Vermont farmers like Fred Tuttle have their own websites. His is called "spreadfred.com." There was nothing left to do but spit off the Quechee Gorge, "Vermont's Grand Canyon," and head home.

We lost Vermont back in 1782, if we ever had it at all. The increasingly independent towns spawned by Portsmouth land grants even threatened to break off and side with the British. There were border skirmishes. We came darn close to losing Hanover and a cluster of nearby NH towns. It took a clever move by George Washington himself to smooth out the borderline It took the Supreme Court to finalize it in 1934.

So I can report, with authority, that our old back yard is doing just fine on its own. As if any place will ever be alone or independent again, thanks to the internet. Okay, the frontier is gone, but look at the bright side. We may have lost a back yard, but we've gained a planet.

© 1997 SeacoastNH.com. All rights reserved.

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