The Pownal Valley, reputed to be one of the most beautiful in all of Vermont, was selected by the UN as symbolic of peace and its photo featured on the cover of the September 30, 1946, United Nations Bulletin. I’ve been known to have one or two complaints about this town where our gallery is located and we now call home, largely due to the Appalachia-style accumulation of castoff debris in yards, meadows and wetlands; but, in truth, Pownal is one helluva stunning place, and it has a very interesting history. I think the community was just worn down by marginal farming, the loss of factory jobs, and the closing of the Green Mountain Race Track. As the jobs left, those who had a glimmer of opportunity elsewhere followed suit.
Frank Vincent DuMond, impressionist painter and Art Students League co-founder, found the valley so striking he brought students, including Robert Maione, John Marin, Frank Mason, Georgia O’Keeffe and Norman Rockwell, to summer at the Mountain View Inn formerly a part of the same farm as our barn. Others would follow, boarding at one of the hotels or with local residents. In the 1962 photo of Pownal Center, the inn – locally referred to as Bartel’s Lodge, is the building complex in the center of the image and the barn in the lower right quarter is now the center section of our building. One of my “older” customers recalls as a child watching Norman Rockwell painting the valley village of Pownal Center from a point nearly directly across the street from where we now stand.
About the same time that DuMond probably started visiting Pownal, Lewis Hine, a photographer working for the National Child Labor Committee also visited Pownal. In 1910 Hine photographed child laborers working 12-hour days, 6 days a week in a textile mill in North Pownal. The fourth girl from the left staring intently at the camera would become the poster child for the abuses of child labor practices in the US. National attention was now focused on the abuses of child labor, and Hine’s photograph of a Pownal resident, 11-year-old Addie Card, standing bare-footed and filthy, next to an enormous spinning machine became the subject of an US postage stamp in 1998 commemorating the passing of Federal regulations governing child labor practices. Hine’s work was largely responsible for the passing of those laws. Local award-winning author Elizabeth Winthrop was inspired by the photograph of Addie who became the basis for her book, Counting on Grace. As the book was going to press, Elizabeth discovered Addie’s real name and author / researcher Joe Manning tracked down Addie’s descendants living in nearby New York State. The rest of her story can be read at http://www.morningsonmaplestreet.com/addiesearch1.html
In those early 20th-century times residents could travel via trolley to neighboring towns in Massachusetts, New York, Vermont and even Connecticut. The trolley passed right in front of our barn, from 1907 – 1929, but apparently wasn’t enough of a distraction for the cows as the property remained a farm. The trolley’s historic presence is still evidenced by the brick power house located just north of our location. It is documented that efforts by the auto, petroleum and related industries were responsible for the eventual closing of scores of trolley lines to encourage the use of automobiles, but I haven’t been able to verify that was the case here. As the depression hit and residents couldn’t afford to buy cars, that closing must have been devastating, especially for the high school students who depended on the trolley to get to school in Bennington. What became of the trolleys? Scrap metal from the cars themselves was salvaged and sent to a company in Springfield MA to be made into cables for the Golden Gate Bridge. And the rails, long covered over by asphalt in most cases, were dug up in 1943 due to wartime metal shortages.
Historically, Pownal settlers were early supporters and even members of Ethan Allen’s Green Mountain Boys, having disputes, often physical, with the neighboring “Yorkers”. A few were with Allen at the Battle of Ticonderoga even though Vermont wasn’t a member of the Continental Congress and didn’t become a state until 1791, long after the Revolution. The town also contains the oldest house in Vermont dating back to the days when land along the Hoosic River was clearly part of Rensselaerswyck Manor indicating that New York probably had a legitimate claim to at least the southwest corner of Pownal. Two presidents – James Garfield and Chester A. Arthur – taught school in Pownal, but though the location is rarely cited, It surely wasn’t one of the eleven neighborhood schoolhouses that were scattered throughout the countryside.
In the mid-60s Pownal VT was again a happenin’ place. US Route 7 had just been widened and mostly relocated to the old trolly bed, and a thoroughbred race track opened at the southern end of town. Farms traversed by the relocation had to repurpose their dairy barns to offset farming loss, by catering to the swelling tourism trade. This activity increased US Route 7′s reputation as THE route to experience New England from Long Island Sound to Canada. (We’ve been told that the main Pownal attraction was actually an “adult” store just over the border from Massachusetts in the once lawless Vermont!) In 1992 the race track which had abandoned horse racing in favor of greyhounds closed abruptly after an animal rights organization successfully raised awareness of that sport’s cruel and inhumane practices.
Likewise, as part of that early transition from farming to tourism, our barn was expanded and turned into a gift emporium featuring – what else – local cheeses, maple syrup, other foodstuffs, furniture and local crafts – and referred to by all the locals as Quadlands. It is said that when the Quadland family converted our barn for retail, they acquired the three glass cases I now use for jewelry from another local family whose shop along the old Route 7 was a casualty of the relocation. Local legend has it these cases were castoffs from the original Madison Avenue Brooks Brothers. I didn’t believe it for a minute until I had a visit from the grand-niece of the man who actually brought those haberdashery cases to Pownal!
This community, with it’s commanding views of spectacular, softly rolling, limestone mountains, but dotted with blighted housing, abandoned or deteriorating trailers, and piles of debris people can’t afford to dispose of properly, is still proud of it’s past and hopeful of its future. Affordably priced homes and building lots with incredible views are attracting retirees, second-homers, and families who’s livelihood isn’t dependent on the local economy. This past year was the 250th anniversary of the the chartering of Pownal by then New Hampshire governor Benning Wentworth and named for the then governor of Massachusetts Thomas Pownall. Many local organizations produced fascinating commemorative events, including a house tour (by the Pownal Valley Affordable Housing Committee of which I am a member) that emphasized how energy developments and costs have affected architectural design through the past two and a half centuries. The final home on the tour takes advantage of many recent technological developments in energy efficiency and has a total energy bill of under $70 per month. Here, in the mountains of Vermont! In that same vein, two companies have started the permitting process to build alternative energy installations on the site of the former race track, now called the Southern Vermont Energy Park. Perhaps Pownal is on the verge of once again becoming a happenin’ place!
PHOTO CREDITS IN ORDER OF APPEARANCE
0. Postcard photographed by Gustav Anderson, vertical version appeared in FAIR IS OUR LAND by Samuel Chamberlain, People’s Book Club, Hastings House Pub., 1942, and subsequently on the cover of UN Bulletin.
1. Painting by Frank Mason
2. Now a private home referred to as the Love House, ©Palmer Kane LLC
3. Stylized Treatment of Photo from Early 1960s travel pamphlet.
4. Photographer and date Unknown
5. Photographed by Lewis Hine, courtesy Library of Congress
6. Photographed by Louis Hine, from Library of Congress
7. Photograph by Louis Hine, ©Random House
8. Photographed by Kinsley Goodrich, Bill Volkmer collection
9. Photographed by Gabe Palmer, © Palmer Kane LLC
10. Photo courtesy unknown customer
11. Photo courtesy Bill Volkmer Collection
12. Photo courtesy Vermont Historical Society
13. Postcard 1909 published by W. B. Hale, Williamstown, MA
14. Photographed by Gabe Palmer, ©Palmer Kane LLC, courtesy Jean and Gary Dickson
15. Courtesy of Mary Louise Mason
16. Photo courtesy unknown customer
17. Photo courtesy John Armstrong, owner Pownal View Barn
18. Photographed by Alden Pellet, AP Photo
19. Unknown photographer, courtesy The Studio Club ArtWorks!
20. Photographed by Alois Mayer, Mayer Photo-Graphics,circa 1970
21. Photo by Gabe Palmer, ©Palmer Kane LLC
22. Photo courtesy of Joe Manning
23. Painting by unknown artist
24. Photographed by Gabe Palmer, ©Palmer Kane LLC, used courtesy of Designer-Contractor Pauline Guntlow