If you’ve known me for more than say, a few days, you know that I’m quite proud of my home state of Vermont. My parents shipped me maple syrup in care packages during college. I own a Vermont-shaped cookie cutter, and I use it. My roommate a couple of years ago was born and raised in Texas, and we had a kind of ongoing state-pride showdown.
I recently found this 1961 issue of The Saturday Evening Post at a thrift shop in Alexandria, Va., and you might guess why I bought it.
Sandwiched between a fiction piece called “Too Many Suitors” (“She had a tough time deciding among three. And now there were four.” — !) and a feature on an electronic telephone switchboard (“automatically transfers calls anywhere”!), I found “Vermont: Last Stand of the Yankees.” Here’s the lede:
“Like a Puritan beset by the temptations of the flesh, Vermont is painfully examining its own soul in a struggle to decide whether being the last of the Yankee states is worth the sacrifice it entails. The alternative is to give up on its independent ways, an emotional wrench to a generation weaned on the dill-pickle philosophy of a distinguished native, the late Calvin Coolidge.”
The article describes the state’s sometimes uneasy shift from a farming and agricultural economy as it opened more to tourism, ski resort development and employers like IBM. It’s a time capsule from the year when — according to the writer — Vermont’s human population had just barely surpassed its dairy cow population. The state’s portion of the Interstate Highway System had just begun to be constructed, and Vermonters were weighing its implications to their way of life.
The politics were different in 1961, too — Vermont had elected Republican governors and supported Republican presidential candidates in every election since the 1850s. The Post writer adds an important caveat:
“Since the state votes Republican 99.9 per cent of the time, this has made it the mistaken darling of a good many right-wing outsiders, who equate fiscal with political conservatism. The state’s politics in fact are liberal, tending on radical.”
This was just before the influx of newcomers from out of state in the 1960s and 1970s, as the New York Times’ Nate Silver recounts in a blog post about Vermont’s political leanings. Today, of course, Vermont leans strongly to the left in presidential elections.
The Saturday Evening Post writer is clearly enchanted by the state, noting with pleasure that Vermonters could approach the governor on the streets of Montpelier to ask about milk prices, for example. And his love for the Vermont landscape — and adjectives to describe it — seem inexhaustible:
“For indeed Vermont is charming, a Yankee Glocca Morra compounded of green meadows, forested hills and craggy mountains with villages nestling beneath them. The state is laced with shadowy valleys into which new generations of explorers are constantly advancing with happy cries of discovery….
“[The Northeast Kingdom] is a land that time forgot and the colonials shunned, with dense spruce forests, gleaming lakes like those of Minnesota, and tiny villages with no pretense at neatness and no money to make it possible.”
But my favorite passage in this article might be the section about the village of Derby Line, at the U.S.-Canada border:
“Derby Line and Rock Island, Quebec, are one long village street. The Canadian side is indistinguishable from the American. The customhouses sit back from the road, and many an innocent tourist has shot through, only to be whistled down. The Rotary Club for both towns is in Rock Island; the fire department in Derby Line. The international boundary runs through half a dozen houses and the barbershop, where customers wait on the American side and are shaven and shorn on the Canadian side.”
The laxness at the Canadian border, by the way, began to change after Sept. 11; the New York Times published an article about increasing border security in Derby Line in 2007.
This is the kind of thing I read in my spare time, and it was certainly worth $2 at the thrift shop. I’m looking forward to returning to the Burlington area next week — which, for all its franchise stores, outlet malls and traffic, has managed to retain some of the independent heart and country charm that makes this 1961 article feel so familiar. I’m homeward bound!