Monday, May 4, 2009

Ric Cengeri on Vermont's 251 Club

First it was covered bridges. Then poutine, followed by general statewide wanderlust. These are the things that motivated me to drive to and fro across Vermont to see as much as I could of this lovely state. Now it's the goal of visiting all of Vermont's 251 cities and towns as a member of the Vermont 251 Club.

My first visit to Vermont was in 1994 as I hunted covered bridges in Arlington, Springfield and Weathersfield, among other locales in southern Vermont. What I love about hunting those wooden spans from a bygone age is that they run quite slowly and are incredibly photogenic. To date, I've photographed approximately 650 covered bridges in Vermont and elsewhere (although I'll confess to losing count around 400).

After moving to Vermont in 2003, I continued to stalk the wooden behemoths, but then my stomach took over when I discovered poutine. This French fry, cheese curd and gravy concoction is more beloved in Quebec, but there are restaurants around Vermont that serve the saucy dish. And I was determined to find and sample them all.

That was followed by a directionless wander around Vermont, happening upon "new" towns rather randomly. Then I remembered a friend mentioning something called the Vermont 251 Club. The general idea was to visit all of the state's cities and towns.

Back in the Summer 1954 issue of Vermont Life Magazine, Dr. Arthur Peach suggested in his "At the Sign of the Quill" column the creation of a club for people who visited those 251 cities and towns. The Vermont 251 Club was born and is still going strong today. The Club's website ( notes that there are just under 600 members today from 169 different Vermont towns and 20 states.

When you visit the site, you can join the club and then check off the Vermont towns you've already visited, either from an alphabetic list or on a state map. The hardest part is determining exactly what constitutes a visit. The Club states that to visit "means not to 'just drive through,' but to linger a bit, talk to someone who lives there, visit a store or the post office, take notes for a diary, perhaps stay overnight." So, there have been some towns (like Salisbury on Route 7) that I've driven through but never actually visited until recently.

Following the 251 Club mantra made me turn off the main thoroughfare and actually find the town center itself. What a difference that makes. Granted there are some towns, like Berkshire, that don't have much there. I'm not sure where you'd stop to get a taste of the town. On the other hand, East Berkshire (which is not on the list) was a quaint little place.

Thus far, there have been three towns I hadn't visited before that have absolutely won me over: Isle La Motte, Orwell and Proctor.

Isle La Motte is a treasure, with its St. Anne Shrine, quarry, pre-historic reef and apple orchards, visited by the likes of Samuel de Champlain, President William McKinley and Vice President Teddy Roosevelt (he was staying here when he learned of the assassination attempt of President McKinley).

Proctor is a town of marble. Be sure to drive into town to see the marble bridge, sidewalks and museum. And to drive outside of town to take in the spooky, yet gorgeous, Wilson Castle (haunted tours are conducted around Halloween).

And then there's Orwell. I don't think I'd ever heard anyone even mention this town before I drove into it. It's virtually untouched by 20th century development. The town hall, bank, church, library, country store, town green and gazebo appear to be replicas from someone's train set. Too perfect to be believed until you visit.

I have just over 100 Vermont towns to visit to become a PLUS member of the 251 Club - a level achieved once you've made it to all of the towns. I believe that's when you learn a secret handshake, go on long speaking tours and earn the undying respect of anyone who has ever attempted to visit all 251. So far, what I've found is that my love for Vermont grows exponentially with each town that I visit.

I'll post updates on my travels here on the VPR Blog. I hope you'll check back as I visit one town after the next in my quest to touch them all.

Vermont Edition has been doing a bit of 251-ing of its own. Visit our website for our series of audio postcards from Vermont towns, and nominate your own town for a future visit.

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