(Host) Some places in Vermont seem truly untouched by time — at least by the last hundred years or so. Commentator Tom Slayton says that one of them is enjoying some fresh — and protective — attention.
(Slayton) The 21st century has made very few inroads at Kent’s Corner, now a quiet crossroads ten miles north of Montpelier; only an occasional passing car interrupts the hamlet’s rural calm.
And this is somewhat misleading because Kent’s Corner was once a bustling center of 19th Century enterprise. In addition to the big brick Kent Tavern, which dominates the crossroads, Kent’s Corner in the mid-1800s boasted a tannery, a sawmill, a general store, a blacksmith shop, and a shoe factory — all overseen by the entrepeneurial Abdiel Kent.
The inn was a prosperous stagecoach stop for about 10 years, but in the 1840s progress, in the form of the railroad, came to Vermont, and Abdiel Kent’s little ridgetop empire began to dwindle. The old hotel closed in 1848, and things in Kent’s Corner got quieter and quieter.
However, a little after the turn of the century, a cultured Boston writer named Louise Andrews married into the Kent family and in the 1930s began writing a newspaper column as “Mrs. Appleyard.” Her career blossomed, and Louise Andrews Kent began her lifelong work of preserving and promoting the virtues of Kent’s Corner.
And here the history of this rural crossroads becomes more complicated — because Louise Andrews Kent was part of the New-England-wide Colonial Revival movement, which not only revered the past, but to some degree romanticized it, buffed it up, and made it quaint.
The busy, slightly grubby reality of Kent’s Corner became a pastoral mini-Eden, and the life on the farms around — which after all regularly involved hard work, failed hopes, and large quantities of manure — was made, in her prose, pleasanter and more genteel.
Mrs. Appleyard lovingly restored the big brick building and gave the property to the Vermont Historical Society in 1953. The Historical Society ran it as a museum for 40 years and turned it over to the State of Vermont in 1993. It has been closed ever since, once again bypassed by the frenetic mainstream of contemporary life.
It will take $400,000 or more to restore the old hotel so it can reopen as a museum. But a vigorous and commited group called Historic Kent’s Corner hopes not only to preserve the beauty of the area, but to restore some of its history as a working hamlet and to recognize some of Mrs. Appleyard’s genteel vision as an important historic chapter in the place’s history.
Earlier this fall, Kent’s Corner celebrated a milestone when the old Robinson Sawmill sprang back to life for the first time in 100 years. After nearly seven years of painstaking mechanical restoration by a group of local citizens, water surged through the penstock, the saw turned, and, as it sliced out a fresh new beam, the nearly 200 people gathered for the event shouted and cheered.
That cheer was an expression of one town’s genuine sense of place, in all its wonderful complexity. But it also felt like a cheer for all of Kent’s Corner and its amazing story.
And ultimately, it felt like a cheer for Vermont.
Tom Slayton is editor of Vermont Life magazine.