(Host) As VPR continues to explore Great Thoughts of Vermont, commentator Frank Bryan reflects on a single-minded Vermont visionary who became a pioneer in environmentally responsible tourism.
(Bryan) High on the cold end of Vermont there once lived an exceptional woman. She had an exceptional idea and the guts to see it through.
Yes, guts is the right word. For Hortense Quimby lived in a time and place where men ruled, and they were as tough as the land, and the land was (and is) as tough as there is in Vermont.
Near the Canadian border in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont a little ridge separates two famous woodland lakes, Forest Lake and Big Averill Lake. Although they are less than a mile apart as the crow flies, the waters of one flow north (as Howard Mosher would say) into the Saint Lawrence and the North Atlantic, while the other drains south, down the Connecticut to Long Island Sound.
It was at the junction of these historic watersheds that Hortense Quimby by the middle of the last century had transformed what was originally a hunting camp for men into a precursor for the modern family “destination” resort. In doing so, she and her “Quimby’s” lodge became a legend of the north country. Robert Pike, who understood the north woods better than any author of his time, describes what she did in his 1959 classic Spiked Boots:
“She built the place up all alone, all the cottages and tennis courts and boats and saddle horses, without the help or encouragement of anyone. It’s hard work though. It must have near broke her heart more than once, but the tougher the sledding, the harder she pulled. She never quit.”
When Earle Newton published hishistory of Vermont in 1949, he singled out Quimby as “…an ardent conservationist and one of the state’s best businesswomen. (who has) developed Quimby’s into a family resort, with facilities for the care of children, and guides for the adults who find the wilderness around the Averill lakes a paradise for hunting and fishing.”
Hortense Quimby’s idea made her a pioneer in the field of destination tourism. Writing for the Vermonter magazine in 1938, Frank Howe of Bennington advised that Hortense Quimby’s resort should become “…a school for the summer business.”
Hortense Quimby was a woman of vision and strong will. She found a way to survive and make a living in a hard place by giving others the opportunity to enjoy the land she loved. A conservationist, she kept her dream on a human scale. To be at Quimby’s was to be with the Kingdom, not simply in the Kingdom.
For this great lady of the north woods carried the Kingdom where it belonged – in her heart. Today’s developers and resort planners would do well to be guided by the spirit of Hortense Quimby.
This is Frank Bryan in Starksboro.
Frank Bryan is a writer and teaches political science at the University of Vermont.