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Two Vermonts by Paul Searls

Author: Paul Searls
Title: Two Vermonts: Geography And Identity, 1865-1910
Paperback ISBN: 1584655607
Published: 2006 by University of New Hampshire Press
Rating: 4.75 / 5.00

As part of the Revisiting New England series from University Press of New England, Two Vermonts succeeds not only in painting a vivid portrait of Vermont identity in the past, but in the present as well. Searls identified a geographic difference while in search for the identity of Vermonters. Most Vermonters' identities in the late nineteenth century could be divided up into two distinct personas based on their geographic location. Farmers tended to settle "Up Hill" from rivers, streams, ponds, and lakes to prevent flooding whereas "Down Hillers" settled in the valleys where water was needed to power mills and tight settlements encouraged business and commerce. The two perspectives on how best to use the land and how best to live in, operate, and govern Vermont clash frequently in this history and sow the seeds for future issues and disagreements.

Many issues seem not to have changed in the past one hundred years. Most strikingly amongst those issues involve the emigration of Vermont's youth (especially those with valuable educations) out of Vermont while folks immigrating into Vermont are never truly considered Vermonters. Downhillers attempted to dictate how Uphillers should live and work in the best interests of the state launching the tourism industry which continues to maintain a delicate balance between marketing Vermont as something different and special while also encouraging growth and development.  Downhillers seek to preserve what Uphillers want to maintain, exploit, and develop. The two factions seem to never see eye to eye and talk different languages.

The case of who is a Vermonter seems to boil down more to ideology and desire rather than a birth rite. Of course, as a transplant, I am biased towards that perspective as is the author who clearly hides his own bias behind evenly made arguments stating the case on both sides of the issue. After reading the book, I was actually unsure if Searls was native or not, which speaks well to his ability to remain impartial towards history. But the history presented does make the case that the state of a Vermonter is more about the mind and less about a birth rite. A great read for anyone interested in either the history of Vermont as well as those interested in current events in the state.
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