A Visit to Wilmington

If you’re a preservationist in Vermont, you know Wilmington for the 2012 Historic Preservation and Downtown conference and the 2011 flooding of Tropical Storm Irene, among other reasons. If you’re an out-of-stater, you probably know Wilmington as a ski town; Mount Snow is just up the road. And maybe you’ve all heard about Dot’s Restaurant (The NY Times reported on its reopening last December). Wilmington is a beautiful small town in southern Vermont with a good stock of architecture, amenities for visitors and pleasant streets. Take a look (side note: click on the photographs to enlarge, and see them with better clarity). 

Wilmington is currently filled with giant chairs.

Wilmington is currently filled with giant chairs.

Ascending front gables on South Main Street.

Ascending front gables on South Main Street.

The 1898 Crafts Inn.

The 1898 Crafts Inn.

Route 9 & Route 100. Check out those brackets!

Route 9 & Route 100. Check out those brackets!

This building is undergoing renovations (still, post flood). It is the 1930 Parmalee & Howe Drugstore.

This building is undergoing renovations (still, post flood). It is the 1930 Parmalee & Howe Drugstore.

The intersection of Route 9 and Route 100 features a beautiful pocket park.

The intersection of Route 9 and Route 100 features a beautiful pocket park.

Looking for more history? Read the entire National Register nomination here. It’s now available online thanks to the massive digitization effort by Vermont Division for Historic Preservation (our SHPO office). And it’s almost leaf peeping season, followed by ski season. Enjoy Vermont if you’re coming for a visit!

Love to Colorado

Dear Colorado, 

Here in Vermont, we send our love, support, sympathy, empathy, and help to those of you affected by the recent flooding. Tropical Storm Irene struck us in 2011. It’s tragic and shocking and something none of us would wish on anyone, anywhere. To see your homes destroyed; your roads washed away; to see your family, friends, even strangers in your own state suffering – it’s unlike anything else. It’s something that none of us understand until it’s our own backyard.

Once the shock fades, recovery begins (well, sometimes it’s concurrent), but you will survive because you are strong. We are Vermont Strong. And you are Colorado Strong. You do what you have to do. Take it hour by hour, day by day, task by task. Join with your neighbors. Accept help. Offer help. Take a deep breath. Know that everything you do is getting you closer to recovery. You will recover. It will take time, and for a while there might not be a light at the end of the tunnel. But you’ll get there. We promise. We know, because we’ve been there. It was two years ago, and there are still lingering recovery tasks, but overall we’re  a stronger state.

And you can lean on us for support. Our state officials and state agencies are already connected and talking about immediate response, followed by long term recovery. We’re two states so far away from one another, but we want to help. We feel your pain. Everything will be okay. You can do this.

Love, Vermont

Irene: Two Years Later

August 28, 2011 was a day that many Vermonters will never forget. It’s etched in memory, vividly due to its recentness and yet vague in the sense of lifetimes ago. Tropical Storm Irene changed the landscape of Vermont and altered the lives of communities and individuals. Rain fell all day as Irene worked her way north. A snowy winter and wet spring left the ground overly saturated, unable to handle the incredible amounts of rain flowing in the mountains and into our rivers and streams. By nightfall, Irene had slammed and flooded more of the state than anyone imagined. Vermont’s villages and towns are settled in linear fashion along waterways and in valleys. The terrain is such that we have thousands of bridges in such a small state. While beautiful, the landscape leaves Vermont vulnerable to flooding. Irene took advantage of that fact, flooding towns, overtopping river banks, filling houses with feet of muddy water, washing away entire roadways and sweeping bridges off their abutments. It was devastation on an enormous, unbelievable scale, surpassed only by the flood of 1927 (history and photos).

This was the type of event that you see in the media and cannot possibly imagine it being your own town or home. That is, until it is your town and your home. And even then, your first reaction is: what in the world are we supposed to do now? What do you do when your house is flooded with river mud, sludge, and dirt? Well, you let the water subside and then pump out the rest of the water. And then cleanup begins. River mud is disgusting; it gets in every nook and cranny. Unless it’s a completely washable object, you might not want to keep it. Dried mud – dust – flies through your windows and the dust settles on everything. After dealing with the flood cleanup, I never wanted to be dirty ever again, nor swim in the Winooski River.

At the time of the flood, I lived in Waterbury, which was one of the hardest hit towns in Vermont. And my house was one of the least flooded in town, but the basement still filled with seven feet of water. The streets were covered in this heavy mud and garbage that people had to remove from their homes, with buckets and shovels. It was backbreaking work. Walking down the muddy sidewalks was an obstacle course, only not a fun one. The week following the flood was a week of cleanup for the entire town. I’ll never forget the volunteers (kind-hearted souls who were not flooded and could help others) who drove around food and drinks to those of us cleaning our homes. Green Mountain Coffee and Ben & Jerry’s, two big businesses in town, provided food and ice cream to the residents. It was a week of togetherness. People joined forces, organized and helped one another, even long beyond that first week. This was not unique to Waterbury; stories like this can be heard about almost any flooded town in Vermont.

Aside from the togetherness (Vermont Strong!), I will remember, always, the heavy-hearted feeling that I had as I traveled the state for work. My job included documenting the damage of historic bridges across the state, which took me to all of the flooded towns, seeing the aftermath of Irene at such a fresh, unique, sensitive time. Cleaning my house and dealing with my own matters seemed minimal compared to what others had to deal with, perhaps because they were in communities without as many resources or as much help, or because their entire house was destroyed. Driving through the Mad River Valley and the Route 100 corridor was difficult emotionally. Even though towns were recovering, the process was long, seemingly too long in some places, and it was heartbreaking. Slowly, most everyone visibly recovered, but even today there are empty, flooded properties with no occupants. It’s a visible reminder of the devastation for all. It’s still hard to see these places, knowing that some are still recovering and some people have yet to receive help, or just never knew what to do. And others were left without a home.

Thankfully, there are good stories to share, such as the reconstruction of the Bartonsville Covered Bridge and the businesses and residences that have been improved and are better than before the flood. Irene tested the strength of Vermonters, whether longtime residents or new residents, and we all came out stronger. We  all found friends and neighbors who opened their hearts and gave us time and care. Or we were inspired by the generosity and faith of others. I’m sure that I am not the only who learned that you do what you have to do, and that everything will be okay. Irene was cruel, but there was no option other than to get to the other side and recover. The process continues everywhere, but people and communities have come so far.

It’s been two years, and I might always cry when I hear Grace Potter’s Mad Mad River or watch the Rebuilding Waterbury film, but the tears are two-fold: heartbroken for everyone who suffered, but proud of Vermont for being so strong and inspiring, and proud to live here.

Preservation Photos #167

The Bartonsville Covered Bridge under construction, December 2012.

The Bartonsville Covered Bridge under construction, December 2012.

On Saturday January 26, 2013, the reconstructed Bartonsville Covered Bridge opened for traffic. The community gathered in the chilly but sunny morning hours for a ceremony and then at a local restaurant to enjoy the long awaited occasion. The Bartonsville Covered Bridge is the famous bridge from Tropical Storm Irene, which washed downstream and was filmed by local resident Sue Hammond. Here’s the VPR story.

Love to Long Island

The memories of Tropical Storm Irene of August 2011 are all too familiar here in Vermont, so when the mid Atlantic was struck by Hurricane Sandy, Vermonters knew exactly how people felt. Roads washed out or blocked, infrastructure damaged, homes washed away, entire towns flooded, people stranded, people wondering what to do, communities coming together – yes, we do know how you feel. I remember being more worried about Long Island than Vermont before Tropical Storm Irene, and this time praying that both places would be spared. Fortunately Vermont was spared. Not so fortunately, Long Island and the entire tri-state area was pummeled. Having lived through a flood and worked personally and professionally through the aftermath of the storm’s destruction, I can say it is a long road to recovery. But everything will be okay.

Sadly, this time, my favorite place in the entire world flooded – Point Lookout, NY, about which I’ve written many times. As with many other homes, my family’s home flooded. Though an old house, it is not historic; it’s significance to us derives from family memory and emotional importance rather than characteristics of historic integrity qualifying it for the National Register. Though, to us – to our family history – it might as well be a national landmark. So when you say your house or that place is important to you, significant to you though not historically significant on the local, state or national level, I completely understand what you mean.

And our house will be fine in time, though it’s going to require complete renovation. The silver lining is that we were eventually going to get to that point.

If you or anyone you know was affected by Hurricane Sandy, I share your pain and I lend my support. Historic or not, we can all appreciate that every place matters to someone. Historic preservation isn’t only about historically significant buildings; it is about your community and having pride where you live and being a part of the greater story. Stay strong everyone and lend a hand to those in need.

Two Weeks Post Irene

It has been two weeks and a few days since Tropical Storm Irene ran across Vermont, taking a path of destruction. Whether affected personally, professionally or both, in a small or large magnitude, Vermont is overwhelmed and consumed by the aftermath. For the past two weeks, I’ve thought over and over that when you see such a disaster on the news or in pictures your heart goes out to those affected; it’s tragic. However, you cannot imagine how someone feels or how it really affects you unless it happens to you – unless your town is covered in mud, dirt and dust with debris on the curb, the smell of oil in the air, people wearing masks, houses evacuated and businesses closed. It is tremendous. Working in the world of transportation, the devastation is reinforced and real beyond the bubble of one’s own town. Travel is still slow going on some roads, sights are unbelievable, and resources are in need of documentation, recovery and protection. Recovering from this natural disaster will take years for some people, businesses and for the environment.

While property and roads and belongings have been lost, there is so much good that has come of this. Needs varied across the state; some towns like Rochester and Wardsboro were shut off because of road washouts. Residents needed water and food and prescriptions filled. Others were washed out of their homes. They needed a place to stay. Some needed help cleaning. Others needed someone to talk to.  Fortunately, some people were not affected – even in towns where others were devastated – which allowed them to help the flood victims. Monday morning, immediately after the night of flooding, people were already mobilizing relief efforts. The feeling of community across the state was nothing short of heartwarming and amazing.

My town was hit particularly hard by the flood, but it was wonderful to see everyone lend a hand in time of need. During that first week after the flood, most everyone in town  worked on flood cleanup. The streets were crowded and messy, and everyone seemed to be home. And amidst the chaos, volunteers and emergency services organized. Those unaffected brought water, food, and supplies to anyone working in town. Ben & Jerry’s drove around with free ice cream cones for all. Green Mountain Coffee donated free coffee to everyone. The local grocer donated hotdogs. Community dinners were frequent and free for flood victims. The generosity and citizenship exhibited were absolutely astonishing.

Yesterday I went for a run through town for the first time in a while, and found some streets to be deserted. I ran down one street on which no house seemed to be lived in right now. The river flooded the first floors of these houses. People are still working intensely on cleanup  there. Walls have been stripped to the studs. Dumpsters line the street. The sound of generators is frequent. On a street that was always filled with kids playing outside and neighbors talking or taking a stroll, it is eerily quiet. I wonder how long until people can return to their homes. That I cannot imagine.

There isn’t much more to say beyond this: Vermont was devastated (some places and people more than others); community and generosity is strong here; recovery will take time; people will need help for a long time. What you see in the news is no exaggeration.

Life is getting back to normal for me and my house; I was lucky with only a flooded basement and not a flooded house. I aim to be posting regularly again. And I will share what I’ve learned about disasters, preparedness and cleanup (albeit, some of it the hard way). After all, I don’t have options except to learn from this, to count blessings, to evaluated what I’ve learned and to carry on so I can help others who are still in need.