Wesleyan –> Vermont: History By Accident

In which I stumble upon my first presidential site by accident, and don’t know how to feel about it.

It’s been a month—a few days more, if you’re keeping track—and this project has officially become a parody of this project.

Let me explain. I made the drive yesterday from Middletown to Vermont, where I expect to see birthplaces of Presidents Arthur, Coolidge (where it all started, and where I plan to attend this birthday parade), and Pierce (in Hillsborough, New Hampshire). I’m blogging from Winhall, population 702.

But even on the road, I can’t get away. Presidential history is tailing me, relentless and wild, through the scenic trails of southern Vermont.

First came hip, charming Brattleboro, just off I-91 on the border of Vermont, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire.

Not that the quietly bustling college town came as a surprise. I’ve been here countless times. Of course I was going to stop through. Of course I was going to get my frequent buyer card stamped at Turn It Up, window-shop at Twice Upon a Time, browse Latchis Theater showtimes before driving the 30 or so miles north to Bondville. (Here is an image of me with a brother and a friend in Brattleboro. Here is an image of my dog, Vermax, in Brattleboro.)

Brattleboro’s brief flirtation with presidential history is about as wild (and fiercely left-leaning) as you’d expect from a town that permitted public nudity until 2007. In early 2008, the Brattleboro town council approved a ballot initiative demanding the indictment of Bush and Cheney on crimes against the Constitution. What’s more, the petition called for the Brattleboro police to “arrest and detain George Bush and Richard Cheney in Brattleboro if they are not duly impeached, and prosecute or extradite them to other authorities that may reasonably contend to prosecute them.” Guess which one state Bush never visited during his eight years in office?

“This is a matter of war crimes,” explained Rich Garant, who serves on the town’s Selectboard and voted for the petition. “No one should be above the law.” (Garant realizes that Bush’s Secret Service probably won’t let him be arrested should he ever roll through Brattleboro. A man can dream.)

In March of that year, 2,012 townspeople walked into a Brattleboro Union High School voting booth and passed the aforementioned articles by a reasonable majority.

“Town people would be much better served by elected officials who sought to solve problems rather than create them,” commented Blair Latoff, a spokesperson for the Republican National Committee. President Bush, whose birthplaces lies just 120 miles south at a hospital in New Haven, never made it to Brattleboro. Personal suspicions suggest Ms. Latoff never made it town, either.

* * *

After Brattleboro, things get scenic—fast. Rest stops turn into cows, gas stations into general stores, with signs advertising “cheddar cheese, maple syrup.” So long, I-91. Hello, Route 30. Backwoodsy establishments with names like Rick’s Tavern and The Dam Diner, a family favorite just a mile or so past the Townshend Dam.

I continued north through Townshend, an eighteenth-century hamlet of just over a thousand residents, 97.82% of whom are white. That’s where I passed a Vermont historic marker and pulled over to investigate.

And that’s how I stumbled into the Taft Homestead Site in Townshend, VT.

Were I traveling around the country visiting presidential parents’ birthplaces, this would have been a hell of a find. William Howard Taft’s father, Alphonso—Secretary of War and Attorney General during the Grant administration—was born here in 1810. You can read the inscription yourself.  But you’ll have to imagine my face when I realized I had stumbled into my first accidental presidential historic site.

* * *

And then I pulled into the Bondville Post Office. And then I dropped a letter into the UPS slot. And then I noticed the plaque glaring at me from beside the door.

And I am cast in a cosmic practical joke.

Vermont, you are too much to handle. You are where this project began, and you are full of treasures. Stay classy, Vermont.

* * *

Pertinent Brattleboro Sources:

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