A Town Without A School: Guildhall, Vt

IMG_20181215_105434445.jpgSince the late 20th century, there just haven’t been many schools in Essex County.  The four biggest towns, Concord, Lunenburg, Brighton, and Canaan, all have their own schools.  And until the last decade, two small-town schools remained, one here in Guildhall and one in East Haven.  Most of these late 20th century schools have been elementary only, with middle and high school students tuitioned out–the two exceptions were Canaan and Concord.   A few years ago, after several protracted and quite bitter citizen battles, the high school in Concord, Vermont closed.  One high school remains in the entire county, in Canaan, a town in the furthest corner of northeast Vermont, abutting Quebec and New Hampshire.

Essex County’s most recent school closure was here in my little town of Guildhall, the county’s shire municipality.  (East Haven closed its elementary school in 2011).  In 2015, voters elected to shut down our K-5 two-room school built in 1957, and at the end of the 2016 academic year,  the school shuttered its doors forever.   This was an emotionally wrenching decision for Guildhall citizens.  Although most hated the idea of losing our school, all understood that a budget of close to $800,000 for educating 20 elementary school kids and about 9-10 other high schoolers, just wasn’t sustainable.

Guildhall Elementary School, 1957-2016 (now a residence)

Just 20 kids in the school!   But Guildhall’s educational system, for much of its history, had been far more extensive, populated, and robust.  Starting in 1789, the Town founders established the first school at the Block House near the Village.  Through the remainder of the 18th century and spanning the 19th, the school districts, schools, and school teachers divided and multiplied to serve Guildhall’s much-larger population of children who had to walk to school.

According to Patricia Rogers’ The History of Guildhall, Vermont, there were as many as 8 different school districts within the town, with six different school buildings, by the late 19th century.    District #4 was located in Guildhall Village and known as the Essex County Grammar School.  When the school districts all consolidated into one in 1957 (with a newly constructed, modern building), the Village School was conveyed to the county.  It became the home of the County Extension Service, underwent a major restoration, became the new home of the Essex County Sheriff’s Department, and also now houses (on the 2nd floor) my satellite law office!


By 1957, the multiple school buildings and districts scattered throughout Guildhall had closed and consolidated, with all students enrolled in a single district, in a newly constructed building, which consisted of two rooms, a kitchen, and a large playground.  At the new site, the school remained a stable constant, albeit with a steadily declining enrollment, until voters decided in 2015 that something had to give.  (The first year after closure, the total school budget dropped by about 50%, a dramatic savings).   There was a profound sense of loss when voters took this momentous step, and it has changed our town and added to the overall sense of decline.

Even though the school itself closed at the end of the 2016 academic year, the Guildhall School District has remained intact and meeting regularly, largely to oversee its own dissolution, by entering into a merger with a unified school district (the NEK School Choice District), consisting of 10 other Essex County municipalities.  With the new unified district (NEK Choice), each participating town gets one representative to that entity (with the exception of Kirby, which gets two reps).  That person is elected at Town Meeting for a three year term, and represents the interests of our kids and parents at regular meetings.

On December 13, 2018,  the Guildhall School District met at the Town Office for the last time. It was a rather solemn session, and not well-attended.  Present were two out of the three school board members (Patty Brown and Karen Caron), the Guildhall Town Clerk and Treasurer George Blakeslee, a representative from the supervisory union, and oh yes, I was there.   Although I was once the School District Treasurer, I have no official role now, and showed up exclusively for the historic occasion.

Patricia Cassady Brown (L) and Karen Caron (R), Guildhall School Board Members

At the meeting, the board members discussed the new governance system, finalized and signed off on the documents transferring the school district’s assets to the new unified district and then formally dissolved itself. (The school building itself by this time had been sold off to a private owner).   I asked the board to memorialize, in the minutes, that the 200-year old archives of the school district, including old enrollment and attendance records, be preserved where they are now, and not disposed of.  (They sit in two old vaults at the Town Clerk’s office now.  Some day, time allowing, I will pore over them.)

I took some pictures and then the meeting was adjourned.  End of an era.





The 2018 Down and Dirty

Bethesda Fountain, Central Park

In January, Vermont legalized possession (but not purchase and sale) of marijuana.  We still don’t have the more sensible, tax-and-regulate system that states like Colorado, Oregon, and now Massachusetts do, but the Vermont legislature appears to be headed in that direction, maybe even in the 2019 session.

We celebrated St Patrick’s Day by hosting a gathering of the Essex Co Democratic Committee, at our house in Guildhall.  About 15 of us read Irish revolutionary poetry, listened to Irish music,  talked politics long into the evening with fellow Dems, and the wonderful Terje Anderson, Chair of the Vermont Democratic Party, took the trouble to come out to remote Essex County, which impressed us to no end!

I became licensed to practice law in New Hampshire in 2018.   Had to take 4 days of continuing legal education down in Concord,  pass the Character & Fitness eval, pay quite a bit of money,  and go down to the New Hampshire Supreme Court to get sworn in.  A few months later, I was also admitted and sworn in to federal court in NH.  (At a reception after one session, I had the good fortune to meet former U.S. Supreme Court Justice David Souter.  He’s a delightful person.  We talked about hiking the 4,000 footers of the White Mountains, because he has done them all.  I’ve only done about 65% of them).

28947895_10156307178332276_1052955947950653900_oThis year, the Vermont legislature passed a series of modest, common-sense gun control measures.  (S.55)  We outlawed bumpstocks, limited the acquisition of certain high capacity magazines, expanded background checks, and raised the age to purchase firearms to 21 (with certain exceptions).  The passage of S.55 here in Vermont was difficult and wrenching, as Vermont, until now, has had the fewest gun restrictions in the nation.  Here’s a photo of me on the Vermont State House lawn, at a pro-S.55 rally.



I stumbled across and bought a beautiful antique, oak desk for my law office.  I know it’s a little thing, but it has made a huge difference in my work environment.

A new brewery/restaurant came to Lancaster, NH!  My friend and neighbor Mike Holland finally fulfilled his long-time dream to open a craft brew establishment.  Next time you are in the North Country, visit the Copper Pig Brewery.  You won’t regret it!

My mom and I went on a day-long walking tour of a quaking bog, in New London, New Hampshire.  I’m fond of bogs, and this is a particularly fascinating one.

Edward and I spent an extended Memorial Day weekend in and around Central Park, in Manhattan.  For some time now, we had been thinking about a trip organized around the “theme” of exploring Central Park.  We stayed in an AirBnb on the West Side edge of the Park, spent our days walking inside the Park itself (mostly the northern section,  visited the nearby Museums, and went to restaurants and clubs on the periphery of the park.  (But we needed way more time than we had!)  Edward and I both love public art and Central Park is full of some of the best examples of it in the world.

We marched with our dog Django in the St Johnsbury Pet Parade.

In July, my mom and I drove across the stateto take the Green Mountain Champlain Dinner Train from Burlington down the eastern edge of Lake Champlain to Middlebury. There was a full dinner with wine on the train and some of the views were spectacular.  The next day, we had brunch on the Ethan Allen Cruise Ship,  on Lake Champlain with great views of the Adirondacks. (I find Lake Champlain to be one of the most romantic, dreamy spots in New England),

In late July, I ran in the Lancaster 5K Road Race.  It’s a race I haven’t done in a couple of years, so I worried I might have lost my mojo, but I finished, and my time was decent!

A second-great cousin of mine, Ben Eklof visited us in Guildhall this summer.  He is one of the children of my great-aunt Edith Cyr.  He’s a scholar of Russian history and lives and teaches in Bloomington, Indiana, with periodic research trips to Russia for research and scholarship.   We had a blast over lunch, meeting for the first time, and talking about our family history.

38796563_10156663618642276_417796886498377728_oIn August, in conjunction with the county prosecutor and the bar association, I organized two Expungement Clinics at my office here in Guildhall, for residents of Essex County.  This was a great opportunity to clear certain criminal convictions from one’s record!  We will probably do more of these sessions in the year to come.

For my birthday, we went to the Von Trapp Family Lodge, in Stowe, Vermont.  We ate at the fabulous restaurant, toured the brewery, and hiked around the gardens and trails.

In late August, we trekked up to a local, little-known gem:  The Cite Ecologique, in Colebrook, New Hampshire, for Permaculture Weekend.  We spent the day touring the grounds, learning about gardening, permaculture, and sustainability practices.  (We also had the best vegetarian meal ever in my life, I do believe)

In September/October, we traveled to Italy!  This was my first time in that country, so it was an exciting venture for me.  We flew to Rome and spent two days wandering the city and having a private guided tour of the Vatican Museums.  We then took a train to Perugia, in the province of Umbria.  It was a lovely train ride.   We stayed in Umbria, at a villa on a hill surrounded by olive trees, for two weeks, with friends from the U.S., Hungary, Mexico, England, and France.   On some days, we hung out at the villa, but on many days, we took day trips to various walled cities in the region, including Assisi, Deruta, and Perugia itself.   Then we took the train back to Rome, for more exploring and sight-seeing.  We were particularly taken with the Jewish Quarter, where we spent a full day in the Hebrew Museum, the Synagogue, and had the best meal (kosher) of the entire trip.

42658401_10156784596172276_6698124725018689536_oThis was the worst political nightmare of the year, on the national scene.

I had my first appeal at Vermont’s Environmental Court, and won the case!

We spent Thanksgiving at our house in Lunenburg, Vermont with a group of 9, including our friends Jackie and Shaunna Shaw, of Guildhall and my friend and law colleague Eugene Levine.

For Christmas, Edward got me a Bodhran, a special Celtic drum I’ve been wanting for years.  I even have some online lessons for learning it!

Finally, we closed out 2018 by taking a spur-of-the-moment short trip down to New Bedford and Fall River, Massachusetts.    One branch of my family immigrated from Quebec to Fall River in 1877 to work in the textile mills.  My great-grandmother Marie Louise Doucet was the 8th child of the emigrating family, and the first one born after emigration.  We visited gravestones, stood in front of the church where my great-grandparents married in 1903, tracked down addresses and houses where my extended descendant family lived, and I stopped in at the Fall River Historical Society.  I took pictures of everything, as I’m working on a forthcoming blog post about my immigrant family.   We stayed overnight at a hotel near the New Bedford waterfront and ate at a couple of great restaurants.  It seemed fitting to close out the year with an homage to my ancestors.

Happy New Year!