Preservation Trust’s 25th

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(HOST) Vermonters are fortunate to have many historic buildings still standing and in use. Commentator Tom Slayton says that’s due in large part to twenty five years of sustained effort by Vermont’s Preservation Trust.

(SLAYTON) You had to live in Vermont 35 or 40 years ago to realize how much the state has changed – both for the better and the worse – in that time. Like all Vermonters, I worry about some of those changes, like the loss of dairy farms and open land.

But there are encouraging things happening also. And one of the most encouraging is the vigorous resurgence of many Vermont villages and downtowns. Towns like Vergennes, Brandon, and Bellows Falls, which were depressed and down at the heels, have had an amazing turnaround. Villages that were quietly decaying have recovered their vigor and renewed their spirit.

The current catchphrase for the force behind this recovery is “the creative economy.” But there’s another reason as well, something so basic, it’s easy to overlook.

You could call it “creative infrastructure.” Or you could call it historic preservation.

Whatever you call it, it has been supported, encouraged, and to some degree financed by an organization many Vermonters have probably never heard of: The Preservation Trust of Vermont. It has literally changed the face of Vermont, for the better, in the last quarter century.

Think of the historic buildings you know and love – the Vermont State House, Richmond’s Round Church, the Monitor Barns on Route 2 in Richmond, Old First Church in Bennington, the Latchis Theatre in Brattleboro, the Paramount Theatre in Rutland… In every one of those buildings – and dozens more – the Preservation Trust of Vermont has been an important player. Usually they work with local groups to accomplish what local people want to make happen.

The organization, for many years, was one person – Paul Bruhn, who grew up in Burlington and founded the Preservation Trust in 1980. He’s proud of the historic buildings he’s helped save – they’re part of the fabric of Vermont, after all. But, even more, he’s delight- ed to be saving them for a purpose: community revitalization.

Vermont is changing and will change more. But the essence of Vermont can still be seen in its working landscape and its villages. And a village works only when its most vital parts – the general store, the post office, the town offices – are kept downtown. It works only when Vermonters meet and cross paths and interact face to face as they do their daily business.

The post office that stays downtown, the local hardware store that remains open and brings people together in the center of town helps keep those downtowns vital and functioning. It’s what I meant earlier by “creative infrastructure.”

For 25 years, the Preservation Trust of Vermont has been helping to preserve Vermont’s built environment – its creative infrastructure. It has kept the essence of Vermont alive – and given Vermont something unique to share with the rest of the nation.

They deserve a big “Happy Birthday,” from all Vermonters.

Tom Slayton is the editor of Vermont Life magazine. He spoke from our studio in Montpelier.

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