The Preservation Trust of Vermont’s 20th Anniversary Celebration

Remarks by Ellen McCulloch-Lovell
Shelburne Farms, Breeding Barn, Shelburne, VT
September 10, 2000

Thank you Gerrit. Thank you for all you do to keep Vermont’s traditions alive. Senator Jeffords, you are a major steward of Vermont’s resources and it is an honor to be here with you. I’m glad our other great steward, Senator Leahy, is represented by Chuck Ross, his Vermont director. To Alec Webb and Megan Camp: we all are thrilled to be here in this magnificent space and to realize what you’ve accomplished over the years. To all of you, I bring greetings and congratulations from President and Mrs. Clinton.

This is one of those gatherings where every single person deserves to be thanked for what you have contributed to the Preservation Trust and to the vitality of Vermont. I hope you will applaud yourselves tonight – and at the same time challenge yourselves and other Vermonters, as we enter the 21st century.

"Vermont is a place I love…" So begins that famous statement by Calvin Coolidge now carved on a wall of the State House. It says so simply and honestly why we are all together – because we live in this place and love this place. Because it is a home and a history, with a beauty like none other -- we dedicate ourselves to it in that spirit of love and belonging. We are here for a celebration, and also a rededication. For "What will Vermont become in the next millennium?" This question is posed by Jim Carey and Paul Bruhn’s letter inviting applications to the Better Communities for Vermont’s Future program. "Will we still have vital and vibrant village and town centers? Or will our landscape be characterized by sprawl?”

President and Mrs. Clinton asked similar questions of our country when they created the White House Millennium Council three years ago. How can we strengthen our democracy, engage our citizens – especially our youth – in strengthening community life - and harness this time for good? How may we "Honor the Past and Imagine the Future" – and give lasting gifts to those who will follow us?

We selected our motto, because we reasoned that to imagine the future, Americans must know and honor the past – with all of its shared values as well as the lessons we’ve learned from our conflicts. For in our meeting houses, town greens, battlefields and flags, outdoor sculptures, letters, paintings, poems, photos and films, museums, libraries, bridges, and collections of all kinds: in them are written the stories of America, of this clash and amalgam of many peoples, and many cultures – still striving to fulfill the ideals of our own Declaration of Independence and Constitution. It probably will be no wonder to you that the White House Millennium Council’s signature program is Save America’s Treasures: a national preservation program to save our most significant buildings, documents, monuments, and artifacts – those in most urgent need of conservation – so that they tell our story to future generations.

To Save America’s Treasures, President Clinton requested, and Congress agreed, on $60 million over the last two years. We hope that before Congress ends this session, it will approve another $30 million through the National Park Service for next year.

The Millennium Committee to Save America’s Treasures was created by our partner, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, with Mrs. Clinton as Honorary Chair and Dick Moe and Susan Eisenhower as co-chairs. That new private committee of about 100 individuals has raised $50 million. So that’s $110 million more for historic preservation that did not exist before.

Over two years, President and Mrs. Clinton and Vice President Gore have visited 45 historic sites and collections. They announced grants from Polo Ralph Lauren and The Pew Charitable Trusts to conserve the Star-Spangled Banner at the Smithsonian Institution, and a gift from General Electric went to restoring Thomas Edison’s laboratory at his Invention Factory in New Jersey.

We’ve stood in the African Meeting House in Boston – the oldest black church and abolitionist site in America. We were at the Pueblo of Acoma in New Mexico last May and the ancient cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde. We know that our history is not only one of presidents and generals and politicians. It is also the story of Kate Mullaney in Troy, NY – the 19-year old Irish immigrant who started the first lasting women’s labor union. It is Harriet Tubman and Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Frederick Douglas and the anonymous citizens who built our courthouses and factories and railroads.

Save America’s Treasures learned the lessons that the Preservation Trust teaches every day: that the story of preservation is the story of partnerships. Vermonters knew that, as early as 1876, when the General Assembly established the Bennington Battle Association. It was illustrated again when the Old Constitution House Association was formed in Windsor in 1911 to save the Elijah West Tavern.

In 1947, the state created the Historic Sites Commission. This precursor to today’s Division of Historic Preservation articulated these purposes in its first report: "The more that can be done to enlarge upon and dramatize our historic traditions in the shape of well reserved and publicized sites and places, the more and better economic advantage will accrue to all Vermonters."

Sound Familiar? Fifty-three years ago, they were as inspired by their work as you are by yours – saying: "Our lives would be shallow and meaningless without history!"

In that same spirit, the Preservation Trust has thrived by creating partnerships. It is the loyal partner to the Division of Historic Preservation, which exercised its own fine stewardship with state and federal support.

As the Trust asked over 20 years - what do we want Vermont to be and look like? – it answered with the most imaginative array of programs.

A long term grants and technical assistance program - greatly enhanced in partnership with the Freeman Foundation in recent years – has supported 650 community preservation projects. What an amazing array! The Caledonia Grange Hall. The Barre Opera House. Calvin Coolidge’s Memorial. The Vermont State House. The Barnard General Store. The Grafton Church. The Haskell Free Library. Shelburne Farms. Rutland’s Paramount Center. Circus Smirkus.

* Vermont Preservation Field Services, helps over 150 communities help themselves, with the National Trust for Historic Preservation; * The Local Shopkeeper Award, with the Vermont Country Store; * The Annual Preservation Awards; * Better Communities for Vermont’s Future with the Burlington Free Press Foundation; * And one of the most complex partnerships of all – the Grand Isle Lake House.

Beyond that, a steady stream of publications, op-eds, conferences and advocacy – has greatly added to the storehouse of ideas in Vermont – and to the intelligent fight against sprawl.

A 20-year, $40 million investment in Vermont, all with a very small staff and a very active board. But most of all, an investment in Vermont’s values, know-how and people.

Now I’ve quoted a few Vermonters and I’d like to quote one more, just a plain-spoken and heartfelt:

"Historic preservation is not about pickling Vermont … This is about real places being a part of Vermonters’ everyday lives... Our job is to help local communities and organizations do preservation, as opposed to our going out and doing it ourselves."

Paul, we know you truly believe this is communal work – and so it is. But this amount of accomplishment does not happen without leadership.

Paul’s quiet brand of leadership is a force of its own. Paul doesn’t lobby – he "chats." He doesn’t twist arms – he changes minds. Paul’s like the tide – he’s not to be resisted. He shares his vision – so we all see it, and want it fulfilled. Paul, I could not celebrate with you today without thanking you and Christine on behalf of us all.

Let us now, on this beautiful afternoon, after 20 years of work, rededicate ourselves to the place we love.

If we could kindle this spirit of stewardship, sacrifice and service everywhere else in the nation, Americans would not be "bowling alone." That is how sociologist Robert Putman describes a national decline in civic participation. Instead of bowling alone, we would be building together, believing together, being together. So that we never abandon the heartbeat of community – never succumb to the short-sighted convenience that leads to long-term amnesia. So that we pledge ourselves to our visible history, to saving the story that is Vermont. And, in this millennium, may we give our gifts to the future.