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Thoughts on Vermont
by Sinclair Lewis
In answer to the question of what I think of Vermont - I have given the most signal and honest proof of my admiration for the state by buying a second home here. As a native Vermonter of about twelve months' standing, I speak deliberately on why I came here and what I think of the state.
It has not been my custom to spend more than eight months in any one place. I have traveled through thirty-six states and have lived in eight or ten, in addition to visiting eighteen foreign countries, but Vermont is the first place I have seen where I really wanted to have my home - a place to spend the rest of my life. There was nothing to prevent me from making any other state my home, but I have found in Vermont precisely the opposite to that peculiar thing pointed out and boasted of as "very American": the desire for terrific speed and the desire to make things grow.
I like Vermont because it is quiet, because you have a population that is solid and not driven mad by the American mania - that mania which considers a town of four thousand as twice as good as a town of two thousand, or a city of one hundred thousand, fifty times as good as a town of two thousand. Following that reasoning, one would get the charming paradox that Chicago would be ten times better than the entire state of Vermont; but I have been in Chicago, and have not found it so.
I do not want to be so optimistic or so generous as to say that everyone in the state is free from the "quick growth" heresy. I fancy that there are some people in the state who have the get-rich-quick complex, who would be willing to invest $100 in Florida real estate and expect to get back $5000, or, in other words, get something without working for it.
I have found the Vermont hills easier and happier to live in than the Rocky Mountains or even the Alps. Those mountains may be higher than your Green Mountains, but they do not have the quiet beauty of your ranges, and their starkness does not make for contented living. I like your valleys and quiet towns - and Vermont is not yet bisected by cement roads 100 feet wide, lined by hot dog stands.
Not one hundred miles from Rutland (Vt.), a short time ago, there stood a beautiful old house, rich in memories and associations of a hundred years ago. It was torn down to build a bank. Now a bank is a necessary thing for a community and a helpful thing, but it was not necessary to tear down that priceless old house. That sort of thing is what Vermont must stop. One county of Vermont contains more beautiful residences, rich in memories of long ago, than all of the vast acreage of California.
I can see coming to Vermont, people who will establish estates here - doctors, writers and college professors with long vacations. Such people would be driven off by brazen methods of advertising, "snappy advertising" such as is used to sell Wrigley's gum.
Regard Cape Cod. In what used to be a quiet fishing town they now have "shoppes" where one can buy frocks such as could be used for the opening of an opera in London, or polo clothes for Miami, or aviation togs.
In Chatham one would even find a night club, which, however, as yet has not received great support, the inhabitants still desiring to sleep. The day will come when it will be patronized, and the patrons will get a fiftieth rate imitation of New York. Why one should want more than one New York is more than I can understand.
It was not the hurricanes or fruit flies, but enterprising businessmen, who killed Florida - businessmen with the desire for speed and quick growth who discovered its beauty and ruined it.
What happened to Florida can happen to Vermont. Florida was much harder to get to from the metropolitan centers than is Vermont. The natives did not reap the harvest, but little gamblers from the cities did.
Right now I can visualize a great New York syndicate holding a meeting. Someone will mention Vermont. Probably members of the syndicate will say, "Yes, Vermont. Let us go up there and be benefactors - build a 3000 room hotel on Mt. Ascutney - never mind the road, just get the hotel up."
I can visualize the development in Rutland when the syndicate buys up all available property and builds magnificent Spanish gardens and Czechoslovakian beerless beer gardens to clutter up the landscape.
It is hard in this day, in which the American tempo is so speeded up, to sit back and be satisfied with what you have. It requires education and culture to appreciate a quiet place, but any fool can appreciate noise. Florida was ruined by that mania. It must not happen in Vermont. You have priceless heritages - old houses that must not be torn down, beauty that must not be defiled, roads that must not be cluttered with billboards and hot dog stands. You are to be guardians of this priceless heritage and you are fortunate to have the honor of that task instead of being horn-blowers.
As appropriate today as over 60 years ago, these thoughts comprise a speech the well-known author Sinclair Lewis gave to the Rutland, Vt. Rotary on September 23, 1929.