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The Little City Celebrates Heritage And Its Citizens
photo by Cookie SteponaitisF. Ann Sullivan, her family and Vergennes Mayor Mike Daniels, officially declaring August 28th as F. Ann Sullivan Day.
photo by Cookie SteponaitisNot to be outdone by its neighbors, the towns of Waltham, Ferrisburgh and Panton all awarded proclamations to Ann Sullivan for touching their communities in numerous ways. Seen here is Panton Selectman Viskup who quipped that, “ since Panton was a town and didn’t have keys, they decided to award her a special engraved pitchfork with the full knowledge that she would now how and when to use it.”
photo by Cookie SteponaitisWhether it is running the Little City Race, counting all of the civic organizations present, eating great food, or seeing people and crafters, the weather and the events welcomed and pleased all who attended the Vergennes Day Celebration on August 28th.
Tuesday August 31, 2010
By Cookie Steponaitis
August 28th has been marked in red on the calendar of the Vergennes mayor’s office since the same time last year. It is the annual celebration of Vergennes as a community, a place that is important in American history, and a unique community steeped in commitment, caring and Vermont traditions of ingenuity, community and service. Each year on that day, the town is transformed into a day filled with events that begin with pancake breakfasts at the local firehouses and continues with 5k races, horse drawn wagon tours, vendors, farmer’s market, music, and celebrations of life in the Champlain Valley and the last days of summer. Gathering in the green beneath the memorial to Commodore Thomas McDonough and the famous building of the fleet and victory in the critical Battle of Plattsburgh, and on the bandstand dedicated to longtime VUHS music director Susan O’Daniel, the town paused to pay tribute to one of its own with the reading of a proclamation by Mayor Mike Daniels.
This year the proclamation sang the praises of Vergennes historian, teacher, Justice of the Peace, moderator, and community leader F. Ann Sullivan and officially proclaimed August 28th as F. Ann Sullivan Day. Reading a proclamation that stated, “Whereas, F. Ann Sullivan has served the people of the Little City with her heart and soul; and has held positions for decades in capacities that include teacher, community member, historian, orator, Justice of the Peace, child advocate, civic organization member, parade announcer and Whereas, it is appropriate that all Vergennes citizens support and honor her roles as High School Teacher, Gifted & Talented Coordinator, Assistant Principal, Athletic Director, English Department Chair, Graduation Coordinator, Speech Teacher, Justice of the Peace, Local Historian, Member & Director Otter Creek Choral Society, Bixby Memorial Library Board of Trustee, American Legion Ladies Auxiliary Member, Panton Moderator, Choir Director, and to give special recognition to her skill as a storyteller and guardian of local history as well as a Voice and gift of spoken word that places her in a class by herself,” Mayor Mike Daniels presented Ann with the key to the city and a plaque. Ann responded with sincere thanks to the Little City and treated the assembled crowd to her unique combination of wit, oratory and historical knowledge that has made her not only the voice of the Memorial Day parade but civic gatherings for decades. Ann went on to comment to the assembled crowd of hundreds on the qualities of Vergennes, the surrounding communities, and the people that make it such a wonderful place to live and to raise a family. “It could literally be one of hundreds of people up here today, getting this honor,” she remarked. “Not one of us needs recognition of a plaque for what we do. It is just a result of living in a wonderful area like this and the people that make it so. If I have touched lives and helped people to see that, then that to me is what is special.”
The history of Vergennes is not only closely linked to the land and the lake, but also to the development of the nation as a whole. Established in 1788, the city is not only the oldest in Vermont, but the third oldest in New England. Located 7.7 miles inland from Lake Champlain and down the Otter Creek, the city is also situated at a juncture of an old Indian trail that went from Canada to Long Island. The first documented saw mill was located on the falls as early as 1764 and had a strong economic and historic impact on the region even then. By 1783 the population was expanding rapidly and businesses on the Vergennes Falls had grown to include a mill and other operating establishments. The area was incorporated on September 29, 1788 and was named for the Count de Vergennes, a major contributor to the American Revolution cause with the donation of his fortune and the use of his home and properties in France as collateral for the struggling colonies. The suggestion came from Ethan Allen and was accepted by the city dwellers.
With the increasing economic prosperity that developed in Vergennes, it again was center stage at the beginning of the War of 1812. By then the businesses at the falls included the Monkton Iron Works, nine forges, blast and air furnaces, a rolling mill and a wire factory. Due to its protected location upriver from the main lake, the site was chosen by a young captain in the U.S. Navy who had just been assigned the task of building a fleet to defend Lake Champlain from the British. Thomas McDonough moved into Vergennes and brought in a boat builder from New York named Noah Brown, who turned the falls into a work site that produced in record time the 26 gun flagship Saratoga, the Eagle and the Preble. The ships served McDonough well in the Battle of Plattsburgh where he was able to defeat the British fleet led by the 37 gun flagship Confiance on September 11, 1814. The American fleet was constructed by over 300 laborers from standing timber to battle ready in just over thirty days. The battle has been documented as one of the most significant battles in U.S. naval history.
While Main Street has changed over time, key to the celebration of Vergennes Day is the sense of history and connection the people feel to the area, town and community involvement. Vergennes, like many Vermont towns and cities has a network of civic and volunteer organizations, many that have been in existence for over one hundred years and continue to play a key role in the day to day running of the city. Whether it is the Eagles, Lions, American Legion, Masons, Rotary, Fire Department, Rescue Squad, Ferrisburgh Historic Society, Vergennes Partnership, local farming organizations or others, Vergennes’s pristine streets, small shops and businesses all join together to offer the resident or the visitor a unique blend of community, history and a window into the Vermont spirit and Yankee ingenuity.
As the town celebrated and the normal population of 2,600 increased exponentially for the day, there was a festive atmosphere for all who attended. Children played, got their faces painted, enjoyed scoops of homemade ice-cream, while the adults toured the town, caught up on news with people they hadn’t seen in awhile and tapped their toes to the musicians that came to celebrate the music and culture of the area. Glancing around the green it was easy to imagine a day 100 or 200 years ago when the town gathered to do the same, celebrating life, community and the heritage of the Champlain Valley, linking past to present, present to future and Vergennes to its place in the community and the hearts of its citizens.
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