Research on the history, education and magic of costumes | Community News


Brattleboro Area Middle School local history classes are over for the first semester and the students wanted to share a few stories they were working on that included interviews with people from the area.

Governor Hunt House

The students interviewed Vernon’s clerk Tim Arsenault over the phone to ask questions about Governor Hunt’s House. He was very helpful and passed on some interesting stories. It’s clear he loves his hometown.

We learned that the Governor Hunt House was built in 1779 by Jonathan Hunt. He never became governor of Vermont but served as lieutenant governor from 1794 to 1796. Jonathan and his brother, Arad, were successful land speculators during Vermont’s early years. They bought tens of thousands of acres of land and then sold the land for big profits. Jonathan Hunt also donated thousands of acres in northern Vermont to benefit the University of Vermont and his brother did the same for Middlebury College.

Governor Hunt’s mansion is believed to have been built by Jonathan as he prepared to marry his second wife, Lavinah Swan of Boston. At the time of its construction, the house was considered the most beautiful residence in the region.

Jonathan Hunt’s daughter Anna married Perley Marsh in 1793. They crossed the Connecticut River to Hinsdale, NH At the time, Vernon was known as Hinsdale, Vermont. In 1802, it was Lavinah Hunt who recommended that the town change its name to Vernon. The Vermont Legislative Assembly had suggested naming the city after former Lieutenant Governor Jonathan Hunt, but he refused and his wife proposed the name “Vernon”.

Anna Hunt Marsh had married a financially successful doctor, and they lived in a mansion on the New Hampshire side of the Connecticut River. When Anna Hunt Marsh died in 1834, she left money to open a “lunatic hospital in the county of Windham”. This was the start of what became the Brattleboro Retreat. Anna Hunt Marsh also left money for “Gospel preaching in Vernon”. According to Mr. Arsenault, she was concerned about the religious well-being of Vernon residents because she could see the “pagans” working in their agricultural fields on Sundays. Every year, Bibles are purchased with the money she bequeathed to the city nearly 200 years ago.

Governor Hunt’s house, and much of the 1,731 acres that accompanied it, left the Hunt family in 1833 when Jonathan Hunt’s son died and the house and much of the property was sold to William Heard.

Vermont Community College

Zach Young, an academic advisor at Community College of Vermont, visited the local history class some time ago. The students interviewed Mr. Young and learned about the programs offered by the local college. The Duel Enrollment Plan and Early College programs were explained, and eighth graders learned how they could begin studying with CCV during their high school years.

Mr. Young explained how professional certificates can be obtained and college credits leading to two- and four-year degrees can also be obtained. CCV has its roots dating back to 1970 when Governor Deane Davis signed a bill to give more Vermonters access to education beyond high school.

In the 1980s, CCV expanded to 12 locations throughout Vermont. For many years it was located at Landmark Hill near Putney Road. In 2014, CCV of Brattleboro moved to the renovated Brooks House and took up residence on Main Street.

The Vermont Legislature passed Bill 77 in 2013. Bill 77 allows high school students to follow “flexible pathways to graduation.” This includes dueling enrollment programs to earn high school and college credits. Many high school students find the dueling and college enrollment programs very helpful as they begin to plan for their future.

“The Magic Closet”

A few weeks ago, Mary Linney showed local history students around the costume loft at Brattleboro Union High School near the auditorium. Ms. Linney has been BAMS Librarian and BUHS Costume Director for over 20 years. Visiting the Loft was a walk down memory lane.

The area was untouched by the renovations to the building completed earlier this century. A visit to the Loft is therefore like stepping back in time to the 1950s. Bob Kramsky became the theater’s manager in the 1970s and that’s when the Costume Loft really started to grow. Mr. Kramsky has accumulated countless boxes of donated costumes and props over the years.

From cowboy suits to police uniforms to Roman togas, the closet has gained all sorts of fashions from people who have decided to donate their clothes instead of throwing them away. Clothes line the walls and many racks in this loft. They are separated by a wide variety of timelines, colors, and lengths. One of the clothes racks has a timeline that begins in biblical times and runs through the 1920s.

Another area is organized into stacks of boxes. The labels on the outside of the boxes tell the story. Some of the many labels are “teenage angel capes”, “gaiters”, “long underwear”, “western”, “animal masks”, “hooded monk robes”, “metallic wigs”, ” stomach pads” and “tunics”.

Accessories also line the walls, populate the shelves and mingle with the clothes. A shelf is reserved for telephones over the years. One hundred years of technological innovation sits on this shelf. Next to the telephones are candelabra and crockery. The back wall is an area reserved for hats. Many sequels to the children’s book “Caps For Sale” could be inspired by the number and variety of hats found in the Costume Loft collection.

COVID has had a big impact on the performing arts. We miss music, song, plays and public performances. When the eighth graders first saw the Costume Loft, they named it “The Magic Closet”. It reminded us that the performing arts can spark the imagination, heal the heart and soar the soul. The Costume Loft is full of the magic that comes from the arts. Hopefully that magic will soon be beamed back to grateful live audiences.

Thanks to Tim Arsenault, Zach Young and Mary Linney for sharing their stories with us. This is how history is passed down from one generation to the next.


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