Commonly chosen routes for getting north are the cemented highays, U.S. 7 on the west...known as the Ethan Allen Highway, and for all its length it has associations with the Green Mountain Boys and the early history of Vermont. The gateway is at Pownal...and after a lung-filling and eye-filling view from the Pownal road you are soon in Bennington...Charles Edward Crane

Last week I found myself one warm, sunny morning driving across the southern border of Vermont, thinking about how my nineteen year old son would soon be walking across the same state line with a sixty pound pack on his back. I had just dropped him off at the start of the Long Trail in Williamstown, Massachusetts, where he was setting off for a three week, 270 mile trek along the ridge of the Green Mountains all the way to Canada. The Long Trail is the oldest long-distance hiking path in the U.S., and was the inspiration for the more-famous Appalachian Trail.

Like so many Vermont (and American, as Alexis de Tocqueville noted) enterprises, the Long Trail was conceived, built and maintained by visionary volunteers. The original dreamer was James P. Taylor, who one morning in 1910 while waiting for the mist to clear from the top of Stratton Mountain had the rather crazy idea of a path that could run through the Greens from the top to the bottom of Vermont.

The state's peaks had been largely unappreciated and unused for recreation until Taylor decided to help "make the Vermont mountains play a larger part in the life of the people." His dream took its first step towards reality at a small gathering of outdoor enthusiasts in Burlington, the first of a hundred years of meetings (and subsequent trail clearings) by the Green Mountain Club.

So while my son began his adventure ten miles behind and a thousand feet above me, I drove into the Pownal valley, and as usual when coming back to Vermont felt myself slip a bit back in time.

When I used to drive from Washington to Lake Champlain for summer vacations, I usually crossed into Vermont on Route 7, and I remembered the area for the creepy greyhound race track that was visible from the road. It's been vacant for over ten years now, though plans for some interesting commercial development (including a farmer's market) are in the works.

Now you can see vestiges of the tourism industry of our grandparent's time. I always covet these little guesthouses that are still settled along rivers all over the state, and want to take one up to our back acres, a retreat for mini-vacations at home.

Pownal has a long and complicated history, settled first by native Americans eons ago, then claimed by the Dutch in the late 1600's and finally passing later that century into English hands. By the Revolutionary War, settlers began arriving to the town (named for the head of the Massachusetts Bay Colony) from the more crowded Southern parts of New England. Their claims set the stage for a brewing war with wealthy New Yorkers who thought they'd been granted the same Vermont acres by England, a simmer that was to come to a full boil during the Revolutionary War when towns like Pownal split between Tories and Green Mountain Boys. Guess who won!

An itinerant minister was less than impressed with free and independent Pownal when he came over the mountain for a visit in 1789: “Pawnal ye first town, poor land – very unpleasant – very uneven – miserable set of inhabitants – no religion..." That was HIS opinion, anyway; the Pownalers would have probably answered him disdainfully with a pithy retort about private beliefs and personal responsibility.

By the 1900's Pownal did have churches, plus ten schools, textile mills (a Lewis Hine image of “Anemic Little Spinner in North Pownal Cotton Mill" helped inspire the first child labor law), and a Berkshires to Bennington electric railroad. The mills are gone forever, but maybe the train will be back.

Until then, to visit the town of Pownal take a short detour from Route 7 to Route 346, which will also allow you to see North Pownal (look sharp or you'll end up in New York) and best of all, drive the back roads to Bennington.

More about Pownal


  1. Wow what memories this brings back to me... I grew up in Mt Vernon NY and every summer for what seemed like forever.... starting when I was only months old... we would drive up Route 7 to Burlington, then on up to Grand Isle...
    We traveled all over the state and up to Canada each year....oh I could go on forever...but not to bore you....THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES!!! gingir

  2. God, I love the painting!

  3. Thank you, I'm glad I helped bring some of those good times back for you. Childhood trips are such intense, wonderful memories. I'll be continuing up Route 7, so stay tuned...

  4. I like this painting probably as much as, or more than, any others you've done. It speaks to me, probably because I spent a good deal of my childhood (and most of my early adulthood as well) living in trailers. It feels like home in a way I can't explain. Amazing work!

  5. Susan,
    I,like another one of your posters, think this is
    one of your best. The lilacs and the mobile home
    are not quaint nor is this image in any way condescending, it is heart-felt and honest, deeply human. Thank you!

  6. Oh, I love this painting! I agree w/ the comments above, and the composition is just so interesting...the whole blog is making me happy.
    I love the places you see. I drive around Vermont a lot for work, and I see them too. The last time I went through Bethel that grain elevator just popped out at me, and I had to go back and look at your painting from the same spot. Thanks.

  7. Thanks, John and Susan, for your comments. I'm really enjoying all aspects of this project, and it's making me look at my adopted home with fresh (and more analytical) eyes. I'm busy with commissions now (John understands this, as he's a bit frenzied at the moment too, probably, with his "Art of Action" photos) and my postings are a bit sporadic lately--but I plan to keep this blog going until I see and report back on all 251 towns!

  8. Hi Author
    Thanks for this post. I love Vermont, I think that is paradise of earth.

  9. 1 only just discovered your work - and it is beautiful & inspirational. my fathers goal was to paint every village & hamlet in the northeast kingdom (www.robertmklein.com) am i correct in assuming you have a goal to paint and drawing all 251 towns? that would be quite wonderful. christina