The Shires of Vermont (September 9 – 16, 2019)

On Monday, September 9th, we left Biddeford, ME and drove 218 miles to Pownal, VT where we spent a week at Pine Hollow Campground. Pownal is one of 17 quintessential Vermont towns and villages referred to as “The Shires.” Pownal is located in the SW corner of Vermont, a few miles north of the Massachusetts state line and a few miles east of the New York state line. Bennington, the closest big town, is six miles north of Pownal.

The campground was arranged around a small pond and was beautifully landscaped. Since only their back-in sites had full hookups, we had reluctantly reserved a back-in. Fortunately there was an empty site in front of ours, making it relatively easy to get lined up before backing up. We were also fortunate to get one of only three sites that were satellite-friendly. After our last three weeks in Maine without satellite, we were glad to have more options for our evening entertainment. With the start of the NFL season, Phil was especially glad to be able to watch Monday Night Football.

On Tuesday, we drove to Williamstown, MA and hiked the 3.8-mile out-and-back Pine Cobble Trail. The trail, rated as moderate, was quite a workout. The elevation rise to the summit was 1,200 feet and, given that the hikes we had done in recent weeks in southern Maine had been fairly flat, this trail left us quite tired. The views from the summit, in both direction, were very scenic.

We spent Wednesday exploring a number of Bennington attractions. Our first stop was at the Apple Barn and Country Bake Shop, a large red barn packed with Vermont products and souvenirs as well as delicious-smelling baked goods.

We then drove to Bennington’s downtown and strolled along Main Street, examining the many storefronts and visiting a few. We spent quite a while at Bennington Potters, one of the largest work craft potteries in America. Before entering the store, we took a self-guided tour of the pottery factory. Unlike volume-based pottery businesses, Bennington Potters is organized around individual stations where carefully orchestrated handwork is completed on less than 800 pieces each day.

We next drove through the campus of Bennington College and then visited three covered bridges built in the 1800s.

Our last stop for the day was at the Bennington Battle Monument. This monument, completed in 1891, was built to commemorate the Battle of Bennington. This Revolutionary War battle, which occurred on August 16, 1777, was a major victory for the Continental Army over the British and is considered to be a turning point in the war. The monument stands 306’ tall. We rode the elevator up 189’ to the observation deck where we could view scenic vistas of Vermont, Massachusetts, and New York.

The weather forecast for Thursday called for rain all day so we decided to visit a couple of museums in Massachusetts. Our first stop was at the Norman Rockwell Museum on an estate outside of Stockbridge, MA. We spent a couple of hours examining many of his works and learning about career. We also visited his studio that was moved from downtown Stockbridge to the museum campus in 1986, eight years after his death. We participated in two presentations in which the gallery guide told us about his life and pointed out many of the details in his works that we wouldn’t have noticed. We learned about the many steps and meticulous planning that went into each work before beginning to paint the final drawing, such as selecting the models, arranging the photographs, creating the layout, doing charcoal drafts, and selecting the colors.  Although he used professional models in his early years, he started using people he met around town in later years.

Norman Rockwell had a fascinating career. He knew he wanted to be an artist from an early age. We learned that, when Rockwell began his career, illustrators were revered like the rock stars of today, due to the large number of people who were limited in their ability to read. He enrolled in art classes at age 14 and dropped out of high school two years later to study art at The National Academy of Design. While still in his teens, he was hired as the art director of Boy’s Life, the official publication of the Boy Scouts of America. At age 22, he painted his first cover for The Saturday Evening Post. Over the next 47 years, another 321 Rockwell works would appear on the cover of the Post. He was also very successful as an artist for magazine advertisements. In 1943, inspired by President Franklin Roosevelt’s address to Congress, Rockwell painted the Four Freedoms painting. These works toured the United States and, through the sale of war bonds, raised more than $130 million for the war effort.

After leaving the Norman Rockwell Museum, we drove to Dalton, MA and toured the Crane Museum of Papermaking. The Museum opened in 1930, making it one of the oldest corporate museums in the country. We arrived with less than an hour until closing time. Despite this, a retired long-time mill worker spent time helping us learn the history and processes involved in papermaking. Stephen Crane was the first in the Crane family to become a papermaker, in 1770, and the museum has a ledger showing the sale of currency-type paper to Paul Revere, who printed the American Colonies’ first paper money. In 1801, Crane Currency was co-founded by Zenas Crane. In 1806, Crane began printing currency on cotton paper for local and regional banks, before officially printing for the government. In 1844, Crane developed a method to embed parallel silk threads into banknote paper to denominate notes and deter counterfeiting. In 1879, Crane won a contract to produce U.S. currency paper. Today, Crane is the sole supplier of U.S. currency paper and this is 99% of their business, with the balance being used for other U.S. official documents, such as passports. Over the years, they have introduced many highly-secretive processes to deter counterfeiting, although our guide would not share the production process with us.

After learning about the history and process of currency papermaking, we were passed to another retired mill worker who gave us a hands-on demonstration of how cotton-based paper was made in the 1800s. U.S. currency paper is made from 90% cotton and 10% flax.  We learned that, until recently, U.S. currency paper was made from old rags, largely sourced from the garment industry. They now use off-grade cotton fibers from cotton gins, rather than rags, since there is so much spandex in the rags these days and spandex would cause the paper to be rubbery. We also learned the process for paper marbling, in which patterns similar to smooth marble can be transferred to paper. We got to make our own marbling artwork.

Due to our late arrival, we didn’t have time to view the various exhibits but very much enjoyed our time at this museum.

On Friday we hiked the 5-mile Hopkins Memorial Forest Trail in Williamstown, MA. The forest contains of over 2,600 acres that originally consisted of small farms that were consolidated between 1887 and 1910 by Col. Lawrence Hopkins, for whom the forest is named. His Buxton Farms were considered the agricultural showplace of Williamstown. In 1934, his widow gave the land to Williams College which today uses the property as their Center for Environmental Studies. The hike consisted of a figure-eight loop on a wide path through the forest. Although the trail was rated as moderate and was over a mile longer than Tuesday’s hike, it was much easier than the previous hike.

On Saturday, Sept. 14th, we visited a variety of venues. Our first stop was at the Farmers’ Market in Bennington where we picked us veggies and soup bones. We then continued north to the small town of Arlington, VT. We first visited the Arlington Green Covered Bridge, just down the road from where Norman Rockwell had his studio from 1939-1953. Later in the day we visited the Chiselville Covered Bridge.

While in Arlington we stopped at the Sugar Shack and Norman Rockwell Exhibition. The Sugar Shack sells a variety of VT food products. All of their pure VT maple syrup is produced in the onsite sugar house. The Norman Rockwell Exhibition, in a wing of the Sugar Shack, focuses on Rockwell’s work during the years he lived in Arlington. His use of over 200 local people as models for his work is a centerpiece of the attraction. There are remembrances of many of the people he used along with the pictures they were in.

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Outside of the Sugar Shack
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Some of the remembrances of locals used by Rockwell in his paintings
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Some of the Rockwell covers for Boy’s Life
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The 1948 Christmas Homecoming cover, including family and friends as models
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One of Rockwell’s April 1st covers for The Saturday Evening Post

Another stop was at The Chocolatorium & The Village Peddler in East Arlington, VT. We watched a 15-minute video dealing with the history of chocolate and the process for making it. We also watched a video showing how chocolates are made in their small-batch shop. In addition to several exhibits, they had numerous large chocolate animals and a chocolate village. One of the owners spent time chatting with us about their business. Of course we had to purchase some chocolates and fudge before leaving.

On Sunday we drove to North Adams, MA and hiked the 3-mile out-and-back Cascades Trail. This was an easy hike until we reached the end of the trail where the trail turned sharply uphill next to a waterfall. After climbing up and down this steep hill, we spent time climbing on the rocks at the base of the waterfall. The rest of the day was spent getting ready to get back on the road on Monday.

 

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