State-Approved Grants to Preserve Vermont History

America, while young for a nation, has perhaps more history than most other nations many times its age. We fought a revolution to form the nation, a war to end slavery, went to the moon, and have myriad other high—and low—points that make us who we are. While some of this history is a bit on the unsavory side, to put it lightly, other history is just pure Americana, like Washington County, Vermont, and the East Calais General Store. When it shut down in late 2019, residents were disappointed that a part of their history was going away.

Jan Ohlsson, of the East Calais Community Trust, stated that “[The store has] been here since 1850...we've lost a sense of...being....[it] was instrumental” to the community. This is why members of the trust went to work after the store closed in 2019 and by June of 2020 had come up with a $900,000 budget to renovate and reopen the store for the community.

The Community Trust is not only preserving this piece of state history; they're revamping it and making it look brand new. They're redoing the exterior and the windows, and other aspects of the store. It's also again a functioning store, not simply some landmark to look at.

This was just the beginning of the project, however. As word spread and politicians and organizations began to witness what an important part of history this was, many different grants started to pour in. 13 projects in total received grants to revamp the store, totaling over $204,000.

Of course, this project had kicked off at a time where they weren't allowed to get started right away. Closing in December of 2019 in Washington County, by the time anyone could process what was happening and do something about it, Covid-19 had already swept the nation and governments were busy locking everything down they could. “Two weeks to slow the spread” turned into an entire year of on-again, off-again shut-downs and lock-downs and business closures and terminated projects. It was a mess all over the nation, though especially in heavily-Democratic places like Washington County, where people weren't walking into their own front yards without masks, and where very few businesses had the luxury of staying open and being branded as essential.

With a new year, and a new President, suddenly Vermont isn't that worried about a Covid-19 that doesn't seem to be going anywhere. One can make of that what they will; the point is that the project is finally getting off the ground, and more grant money for more projects is expected to roll in, as the East Calais General Store is set to be rebuilt and reopened, and residents are hoping it stays that way this time.

“This is our history,” Ohlsson said as part of her larger statement. Many people are there doing what they can to ensure that this history isn't destroyed. Though for America in its current state of “dam the torpedoes” regarding history, Vermont is the overwhelming exception and not the rule.

A Tale of Two Americas

We really are living in a tale of two nations here. 2020 was a year of much destruction in terms of statues and schools and monuments that depicted “old white men,” to quote a founding member of the Black Lives Matter organization. One can understand the visceral stance against Confederate generals and those who owned slaves. Many people are against this sort of history being done away with, but everyone understands why many would want to. The issue here is that organizers and protesters did not stop with Civil War generals or historic slavers. They went on a rampage against Lincoln and Roosevelt and even Frederick Douglas was attacked!

What started out as a seeming push to rid America of its unsavory past turned into a campaign to destroy the past altogether. Good, bad or indifferent, if it was part of earlier America, it had to go, and statues and monuments to George Floyd and Brianna Taylor were taking its place.

No value judgments; no opinions about its efficacy or usefulness; just a pure factual notation that, yes, these things were happening in many places throughout America, while other places were working hard to preserve their local history.

The stark contrast here is not something that's lost on Washington County's residents. It's a big part of the reason why they're fighting so hard to preserve their local store, as they know full well that a group could show up at any moment to tear everything down in the name of “justice.”

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