Vermont Tourism: How it all Began

by Renee-Marie Smith

As a transplant to the state and current student at the Community College of Vermont (CCV), I decided to take a course on Vermont History to get to know my new home a little better. I’ve only been in Vermont since 2004, but I absolutely love it, and wouldn’t want to live anywhere else!

    For this week’s assignment, I chose to answer question 4: “This chapter details the origins of Vermont’s tourist industry. Do some research into how your community has benefited or suffered from its involvement in the tourist industry in the last 250 years? Would you encourage or discourage more or less of it in the future? How? You might look into the history of any local hotels that may have been built to cater to the mineral springs visitors among other things. You might look into the building of ski-area housing developments. You might look at the “touristification” of certain towns like Manchester or Woodstock or Stowe.”

    The reason I chose this question is primarily because of my experiences working with the company Vermont.com. Vermont.com is a privately-owned web portal, providing information about everything in the state, but primarily for the tourist from out-of-state. Because this company’s primary business comes from advertising Vermont businesses such as hotels and resorts, I felt that I would understand my research a bit better than if I had no exposure to this kind of information at all, and I would be able to possibly take my research with me to the office and make it of some use. I apologize for the length of this paper as there is such a wealth of information on this topic.

    Tourism in Vermont actually began in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s, but didn’t really become a major part of the state until after the Civil War ended, closer to the turn of the century. Prior to the Civil War, tourism “revolved around mineral springs, especially those at Clarendon Springs (the first significant one, established in the 1770’s), Highgate Springs, Sheldon Springs, Middletown Springs, and Brattleboro” (Klyza 107). During the Civil War, travel decreased, especially from patrons of the south, and there wasn’t as much interest in “water cures” as there had once been. A new form of tourism began to develop after the Civil War, focusing on the picturesque landscape as noted by many painters and literary works. But, in the beginning of this new form of tourism, Vermont didn’t fare as well as the rest of New England. Most tourists would visit the White Mountains of New Hampshire, the Adirondacks of New York, or the Atlantic Coast of Maine. “Vermont’s Green Mountains were dismissed by some as green hills. Nonetheless, many tourists did come to visit Vermont’s scenic features, and large resorts developed nearby” (Klyza 107).

    The idea of promoting Vermont’s scenery to tourists was first thought of as early as 1845 by the state geologist. Years later, “[i]n 1858, the first summit house was opened at the top of Mount Mansfield, and twelve years later a road up the mountain was completed” (Klyza 107). Many other summit houses were built on mountaintops, but all were closed by 1900. During the 1880’s, efforts to “sell Vermont’s pastoral landscape” (Klyza 108) began. Advertisements started to appear in railroad schedules and travel guides, and photography of this scenery began to take dominance over pictures of the mountains. One of the major reasons behind the idea of promoting Vermont to tourists was the steady decline in population and number of farms.

    “With the railroads in the state, the Board of Agriculture developed advertising to promote Vermont as a place for urban residents to get away from urban problems and to recover rural values such as virtue and simplicity, as a place to rediscover one’s past”(Klyza 108). One of the first ways Vermont started its public advertisement to attract out-of-state people was in 1891 when “the Vermont Board of Agriculture tried to find new uses and new owners for abandoned uphill farms by publishing a series of pamphlets” (Sherman 337) describing the virtues of owning property in Vermont. Another way to attract those from out-of-state was the celebration called “Old Home Week” where those who had left the state could have an excuse to come back and visit. This idea was first invented in 1899 by New Hampshire Governor Frank Rollins, but Vermonters quickly adopted as their own special holiday, connecting it with the celebration of “Bennington Battle Day” making it a traditional Vermont summer holiday. “The shift of emphasis away from attempting to find new farmers to the goal of encouraging seasonal residents demonstrated the growing awareness of Vermont’s potential as a destination for summer travelers” (Sherman 337).

    Vermont was the first state to create a Bureau of Publicity, in 1911, to help publicize the state as a tourist destination (another Vermont first!). In 1946 “the Vermont Development Commission founded – and funded – the Vermont Life magazine to promote tourism and Vermont generally” (Klyza 108). The efforts to publicize Vermont worked so well that “[a]ccommodating vacationers rapidly became Vermont’s second most profitable economic activity…” (Sherman 337). Advancements in transportation continued to bring more tourists from out-of-state via highways and interstates, which eventually led to the expansion of tourism throughout the mountains of Vermont with the coming of various ski areas… but the ski industry has a history of its own, so I won’t go into too much detail on that topic. It is safe to say, however, that “… the major recreational catalyst to tourism in Vermont involved winter sports” (Klyza 108).

    In addition to researching the history of tourism in Vermont in general, I researched a little on the history of tourism in Manchester, and the Equinox Hotel.

    “The first known reference to Manchester as a summer resort was published in London in 1797: ‘In summer there is such an equal serenity of weather at Manchester that one has scarce the power of wishing for a change; it is neither too hot nor too cold and even in July and August which are here the most sultry months in the year, the kind of breezes which whisper among the trees and press between the mountains, refresh the weary traveler and render this place, if I may venture to use such an expression, the habitation of the zephyrs’” (Bort 259).

    Manchester’s location was (and still is) an ideal spot for travelers passing through to stay for a night or a weekend. This is primarily because of the junction of roads going North and South, East and West, connecting Canada, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and New York. The construction of the railroad in 1852 also helped attract tourism. Eventually some of the people who came to Manchester as tourists decided to come back and buy summer homes. It is noted by the editor of the Journal that the demand for furnished houses was very high as of 1883 and he commented: “If it were certain that it would continue, new cottages would be built and furnished” (Bort 261).

    In 1886, the part of Manchester known as “Factory Point” decided its name was preventing many tourists from visiting because the name would be associated with noise, smoke and dirt, the opposite for what tourists were generally looking for. After the businessmen of Factory Point sent a proposal to the US Post Office, the name was quickly changed to “Manchester Center” (Bort 261). This is just one way in which Manchester tried to attract travelers to the area. “… the Manchester Development Association formed on February 23, 1901 to promote Manchester as a summer resort and to advertise its virtues as a permanent dwelling place” (Bort 262). With the creation of this association, the slogan, or trademark, “Manchester-in-the-Mountains” was adopted and used in many brochures and other advertisements that were mailed to hotels in New York, Baltimore, and Chicago for distribution for several years.

    The Manchester Village and Center Improvement Associations were created in 1912. The primary goals for the Center Improvement Association were for sidewalks in their part of the town while the Village Improvement Association wanted not only sidewalks, but also improved education and recreation facilities, as well as a district nurse. The Depot Association also wanted sidewalks. These associations held several events to raise money for their improvements. Each improvement was designed to attract people to the area. Another event designed to help attract people to the area was a “Spring Clean-Up Day” in 1916, sponsored by the Village Improvement Association. During this day, the children of the Village “…were offered ten cents per hundred to tear down tent caterpillar nests” (Bort 263). Vermont’s statewide “Green-Up Day” was created 50yrs later.

    The Manchester Board of Trade was created on February 21, 1918 and in 1922 it began working towards some of the recreational facilities that the Improvement Associations wanted including a skating rink and swimming pool. In 1931, skating was available “…through the generosity of a couple of householders, and the next year, a modest fee was charged to cover the costs of maintenance and lighting of these backyard skating rinks” (Bort 264). The Board of Trade decided that if the local people were willing to pay for these services, then perhaps they could advertise Manchester as a winter destination in addition to a summer destination and still make money. “They asked the town for contributions in order to advertise” (Bort 264).

    “At about the same time (1935), Mrs. George Orvis, Fred Pabst, and Robert Orvis met and encouraged the formation of the Manchester Outing Club which, in addition to providing for skating at the Equinox’s Carsden Inn, constructed some ski slopes and a bobsled run. Winter tourism was launched” (Bort 264).

Again, the ski industry has a history of its own, so I won’t go into detail on that topic.

    The Equinox Hotel is today where the old Marsh Tavern once stood. In 1769, the Marsh Tavern, one of Vermont’s first lodgings, was built in Manchester. The tavern became a popular spot for local gatherings and is a famous location during the Revolutionary War by visitors including the Green Mountain Boys. In 1780, a new owner, Thaddeus Munson, expanded the tavern by adding an inn next door, and over the course of the next two centuries the tavern underwent a total of 17 major architectural changes. The Marsh Tavern is part of the Equinox Hotel today as a restaurant.

    “The name ‘Equinox’ first emerged in 1853, when owner Franklin Orvis opened his own hotel, the ‘Equinox House,’ in his father’s home next door to the Marsh Tavern. The hotel’s reputation as a ‘premier summer resort’ was solidified in 1863, when Mrs. Abraham Lincoln and her two sons vacationed there” (EquinoxResort.com).

    While guests enjoyed a lavish stay at the Equinox Hotel with four meals a day, breakfast included in the price of the room, but the “Equinox Sparkling Water” was extra. This water was “…a natural, mountain mineral water advertised for its ‘health maintaining properties’” (EquinoxResort.com).

    The Equinox continued to operate through 1972 when it was declared structurally unsound and had to close. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places on November 21, 1972 and was saved from destruction. “A scale from the period, uncovered during the 1980s renovation, was used to weigh guests at the end of their stay to ensure they had put on a few pounds! To attract the well-heeled at our premier choice among New England luxury hotels, an 1856 advertisement offered this dramatic cost-cutting slogan: ‘children and servants half-price’” (EquinoxResort.com).

    The Equinox still exists today and is considered one of the most luxurious resorts in the area with a new Avanyu Spa as of 2003, and further renovations and improvements planned for the future.

    So, would I encourage or discourage more or less tourism in the future? I don’t think I would encourage anymore than what we have now. The only reason I could see increasing our tourism would depend on how our “competition” is doing (New York, New Hampshire, etc). If we did do more advertising for tourism, I think it would have to be in such a way that wouldn’t disrupt the natural balance of nature, nor disturb the people who actually live and work here 365 days a year. I remember my first winter here in Londonderry; I was shocked at how busy the local grocery story was because of all the tourists coming to ski. I honestly felt a little angry that there were so many people coming to MY town, and disrupting MY way of life. All-in-all, there has to be some sort of balance made, or it’s just not worth it to stay here, just vacation.

Works Cited

Bort, Mary Hard. Manchester: Memories Of A Mountain Valley. Marshall Jones Company. Manchester Historical Society. 2005.

Klyza, Christopher McGrory and Stephen C. Trombulak. The Story of Vermont: A Natural and Cultural History. Middlebury College Press. University Press of New England. Hanover, NH. 1999.

EquinoxResort.com. History. Retrieved October 28, 2007. http://www.equinoxresort.com/about_equinox/history.cfm.

Sherman, Michael, Gene Sessions, and P. Jeffrey Potash. Freedom and Unity: A History of Vermont. Vermont Historical Society. Barre, VT. 2004.

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