The Brattleboro Area Middle School Local History classes have ended for the first semester and the students wanted to share a few stories they were working on that included interviews with folks in the area.
Governor Hunt House
Students interviewed Vernon Town Clerk Tim Arsenault by phone in order to ask questions about the Governor Hunt House. He was very helpful and passed on some interesting stories. It is clear that he loves his home town.
We learned the Governor Hunt House was built in 1779 by Jonathan Hunt. He never became Governor of Vermont but was the Lieutenant Governor from 1794 to 1796. Jonathan and his brother, Arad, were successful land speculators during the early years of Vermont. They purchased tens of thousands of acres of land and later sold the land for large profits. Jonathan Hunt also donated thousands of acres in northern Vermont to benefit the University of Vermont and his brother did the same for Middlebury College.
It is believed the Governor Hunt Mansion was built by Jonathan as he was preparing to wed his second wife, Lavinah Swan from Boston. At the time of its construction the house was thought to be the finest mansion in the area.
Jonathan Hunt’s daughter, Anna, married Perley Marsh in 1793. They moved across the Connecticut River to Hinsdale, N.H. At the time, Vernon was known as Hinsdale, Vermont. In 1802 it was Lavinah Hunt who recommended the town change its name to Vernon. The Vermont Legislature had suggested naming the town after former Lt. Governor Jonathan Hunt, but he declined and his wife came up with the name “Vernon.”
Anna Hunt Marsh had married a financially successful doctor and they lived in a mansion on the New Hampshire side of the Connecticut River. When Anna Hunt Marsh died in 1834 she left money to open a “hospital for the insane in Windham County.” This was the beginning of what became the Brattleboro Retreat. Anna Hunt Marsh also left money for the “preaching of the Gospel in Vernon.” According to Mr. Arsenault she was concerned about the religious well-being of Vernon residents because she could see the “heathen” working in their farm fields on Sundays. Each year Bibles are purchased with the money she bequeathed the town almost 200 years ago.
The Governor Hunt House, and many of the 1,731 acres that came with it, left the Hunt family in 1833 when Jonathan Hunt’s son died and the house and much of the property were sold to William Heard.
Community College of Vermont
Zach Young, an academic advisor at Community College of Vermont, visited the Local History class a little while ago. Students interviewed Mr. Young and learned about the programs available through the local college. The Duel Enrollment Plan and Early College programs were explained and the eighth-grade students learned how they could begin studying with CCV during their high school years.
Mr. Young explained how professional certificates could be earned and college credits towards two- and four-year degrees could also be obtained. CCV has its roots going all the way back to 1970 when Governor Deane Davis signed a bill aimed at giving more Vermonters access to education beyond high school.
In the 1980s CCV expanded to 12 locations throughout Vermont. For many years it was located at Landmark Hill off Putney Road. In 2014 CCV of Brattleboro moved to the renovated Brooks House and took up residence on Main Street.
The Vermont Legislature passed Act 77 in 2013. Act 77 allows high school students to pursue “Flexible Pathways to Graduation.” This includes duel enrollment programs to get both high school and college credits. Many students at the high school are finding the Duel Enrollment and Early College Programs very helpful as they begin to plan for their futures.
‘The Magic Closet’
A few weeks ago Mary Linney gave Local History students a tour of the Brattleboro Union High School Costume Loft near the auditorium. Ms. Linney has been the BAMS librarian and BUHS costume director for more than 20 years. The visit to the Loft was a walk into the past.
The area was untouched by the building renovations completed earlier this century so a visit to the Loft is like walking back in time to the 1950s. Bob Kramsky became the drama director in the 1970s and that is when the Costume Loft really began to grow. Mr. Kramsky accumulated countless boxes of donated costumes and props throughout the years.
From cowboy costumes to police uniforms to Roman togas, the closet has gained all sorts of fashions from people who decided to donate their clothing instead of throwing it away. Clothes line the walls and many racks in this loft. They are separated by a wide variety of timelines, colors, and length. One of the clothing racks has a timeline that starts in Biblical times and travels through the 1920s.
Another area is organized into stacks of boxes. The labels on the outside of the boxes tell the story. Some of the many labels are “teen angel capes,” “spats,” “long underwear,” “western,” “animal masks,” “hooded monk robes,” “metallic wigs,” “stomach pads” and “tunics.”
Props also line the walls, populate the shelves and mingle with the clothing. One shelf is set aside for phones through the years. A hundred years of technological innovation can be found on that shelf. Next to the phones are candelabras and tableware. The far wall is an area set aside for hats. Many sequels of the children’s book “Caps For Sale” could be inspired by the number and variety of hats found in the Costume Loft collection.
COVID has had a large impact on the performing arts. We miss the music, song, plays and public performances. When the eighth graders first saw the Costume Loft they named it “The Magic Closet.” It reminded us that performing arts can spark the imagination, heal the heart and cause the soul to soar. The Costume Loft is full of the magic that comes from the arts. Let’s hope this magic will soon be released again on an appreciative live audience.
Thanks to Tim Arsenault, Zach Young and Mary Linney for sharing their stories with us. That’s how history gets passed from one generation to the next.