The Interstate highway system radically reshaped the face of Vermont when it first opened in the sixties and seventies. While it brought many conveniences, it also permanently fragmented some communities. A Central Vermont man is documenting some of those changes in a new book.
The National Interstate Project started by President Eisenhower was celebrated as a way to modernize the state and improve the economy. In 1978, Hundreds turned out for a celebration of the opening of the last stretch of highway. Former Governor Dick Snellling addressed the crowd: "The major highways of Vermont are arteries which take the blood of Vermont and distribute it through the body of the state," Snelling said.
But with the progress also came pain. Fifty years ago this week one of the first sections of I-89, from Montpelier to Middlesex, opened to traffic for the first time. Seventy-four year-old David Newhall, a former Middlesex resident, remembers it well. "The family was upset because they cut us off from 240 acres of woodland pastures and sugar woods, with no access to it from any direction," Newhall said.
In his upcoming book, Newhall tells the story in photographs, of I-89s local impacts. The new highway split up four Middlesex farms, including the old Settlement Farm where he grew up. Newhall, who was 22 at the time, used a Brownie camera to take hundreds of pictures of the many buildings that were either moved or torn down to make way for the highway. "They lost 16 taxable buildings from the Montpelier line to the Waterbury line -- the most of any town in the State of Vermont," Newhall said. "It was kind of a cut and dry type deal. They was gonna take it one way or another. I think they paid the fair value for the land they took, but I think they should have done something to offset the land that they cut in two or people couldn't get on to it."
Newhall says what began as feelings of bitterness over the governments land grab, gradually changed over time. "I think there was a lot of resentment, everywhere along the Interstate system, but say 25 years ago that has all changed. It was good for the state cause your getting industries in here, your getting people in here," he said. "But where else were you going to put this road. It had to be down this valley."
Newhall worked with the Vermont Historical Society to help digitize the wealth of photos in his collection. "I tell everybody back in school I couldn't stand history -- now, I can't get enough of it," he said.
Documenting the Interstate highway system's impact on one central Vermont town.
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