Julia Alvarez on Weybridge, VT

Other towns get more attention says novelist Julia Alvarez, but this is a place where things get done

We don't have a town center, Alvarez says, but we're "rich in characters and talents." (Corey Hendrickson)
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You've heard of towns like ours. The kind of place about which city folks say, "Don't blink or you'll miss it!"

You might as well go ahead and blink, because you are going to miss it. There's no real town center in Weybridge, Vermont, unlike our postcard-pretty neighbor Middlebury. No quaint town green surrounded by shops full of trinkets to clutter up your house and a sweet little gazebo to make you dewy-eyed for the olden days.

Drive down Weybridge's main thoroughfare, Quaker Village Road, and you pass the elementary school on your right; then, a little farther down, the fire department/highway department/recycling center, all in the same structure. Why not? It's an efficient use of location and equipment. We're a no-frills kind of town. Keep going, and if you get to the bridge over Lower Falls, you've gone by the town clerk's office, a two-room white house. Out front, there's a raggedy-edged American flag that we're not going to replace because winter will do the same job on the next one. We have a historic town hall and a Lilliputian library, both used only for the sixth-grade graduations. We haven't torn down these buildings because we respect our history. But we're not fools about it. To make the town hall fit for offices, we'd have to put in a septic system and a furnace and do a whole bunch of costly repairs. We're not the kind of place that goes about wasting money just for appearance's sake.

We're made of sturdier stuff. We've had to be. Even before we got going as a town, we were almost erased—twice. When the settlement first got chartered in 1761, mapmaking and land granting were not all that accurate. The original charter granted 25,000 acres to 64 fellows, but most of that overlapped with neighboring towns with earlier stakes. After a 1774 survey, it looked as if Weybridge might be pushed off the map entirely. But our stalwart ancestors persisted and with a couple of subsequent annexations, some 10,000 acres were left, enough to make a decent-size town with plenty left over for newcomers.

Four years after that near miss, our first settlers were attacked by British soldiers from Canada, with the help of some Indians and Tories. They burned down all the houses and took the menfolk and their older sons prisoners. The women and children hid out in a root cellar, eating nothing but potatoes for ten days (I said we were sturdy), until 10-year-old Rob Sanford walked barefoot for help, meeting up with soldiers from the nearest fort, 25 miles away. (Ever since then we've had a soft spot for our junior citizens.) Four years later, when the imprisoned men were finally released, they returned to their hometown and built it back up again.

So, even though we don't have a town center, we hang together—a strong, vibrant community that knows who it is. Other towns get the attention, but we do the work. Middlebury's main bridge and quite a few of the college buildings were built from our quarries, big blocks we used to cut in the summer and fall, then transport by ox-drawn sledges in the winter. We've spilled blood for our neighbor town, yes sir. Our steam-driven quarry machine blew up one time and killed the operator. After that, we closed the quarry, since no one wished to work there anymore. Now, instead of stones, we supply milk to the college, from our Monument Farms Dairy. We're nourishing youngsters from around the country and the world. Building bones and infrastructure—stuff you don't see, but try moving a muscle without it—that's what we're good at.

Without a town center, you might wonder what holds us together. We've wondered that ourselves. It used to be the weekly get-togethers at the Congregational Church up on the hill, but folks aren't as churchgoing as they once were, and we're fine with that. We've seen religions come and go—Methodists, Wesleyan Methodists, Baptists, Catholics. Quakers were among our earliest settlers. They're how the main road got its name, how we got our pacifist streak. It's fair to say that while we won't walk away from defending a principle (we sent more than 50 men to the Civil War, 8 of whom never came back), in the main we'd rather beat our swords into plowshares. We are, after all, a farm community.

In the 1830s, we had a whopping population of 850, to which we're just now returning (824 in the last census). We had a town center back then, a thriving hub with a couple churches; several stores; a post office; any number of mills; a harness, boot and shoe shop; and even a hotel. Before staying here, though, many a drinking man had the stagecoach stop right outside of this dry town so he could stow his half-finished bottle among the rocky ledges. Where our young farm boys would always find them.

Sheep-raising—Merino sheep, to be exact—was the town's main agricultural livelihood, but as the West opened up, so many farmers moved to larger grazing grounds that we almost bit the dust again, like a lot of other Vermont sheep-farming towns in the late 1800s. But somehow we made the transition over to dairy. Now Holsteins moo where Merinos once baaed.

We're a feisty, independent bunch, but we understand what it means to live in a small community. Pretty near the whole town dips its communal cup in that deep, invisible spring that, for lack of a better word, we'll call service. Most of the town business runs on volunteers. There's the recycling center, open every Saturday morning, and the fire department. On "green-up" day in the spring, half the town hits the roads and byways to pick up trash and litter that's been hidden under all the snow.


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