What Keeps Vermont Vermont? Sustainability, Creativity, Teamwork…

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This spring and summer we are looking beyond the excellent micro-brews and fabulous local foods into some of the more tangible characteristics of Vermont that make it (and keep it) such a wonderful place to live and breathe. Namely the beautiful land and a hardscrabble determination to keep it as it is.

We enjoyed an excellent example of what keeps Vermont Vermont on a recent tour of Birdseye Building Company‘s latest project. It’s a 130 acre property on Lake Champlain, basically the point between Arnold Bay and White Bay in Panton. John Seibert, one of the founders of Birdseye, describes it as a dream come true project. As we drive along the entrance road, it’s easy to see why. The place feels like Shelburne Farms.

It is a case of historic reclamation meets land and shoreline preservation. Here is the bird’s eye view of the project (sorry I could not resist):

  • 130 acres on Lake Champlain consisting of open fields, trails, woods, cliffs, and tall pines. A parcel of this size, and on the lake, preserves a good chunk of our Green Mountain State.
  • A recreated 1803 timber-frame barn using salvaged posts from a 200-year-old barn in Shoreham and historic English-style joinery.
  • Two guest houses made of an 1860’s Greek revival farmhouse that was on the property, divided and moved to become guest houses one facing Arnold Bay, the other facing White Bay. All (or most) of the material from the original is being reclaimed and reused in the new buildings. The Arnold Bay house will be more contemporary – glass gables facing the bay, polished concrete floors. The White Bay house will more closely recreate the Greek revival. Both houses will include details like original mahogany doors, slate roofs (with snow hooks!), original flooring, and stone foundations.
  • A caretaker cottage will be moved from one side of the property to a spot closer to the lake (we did not see this on our tour).
  • The shoreline stabilization work is extensive and exquisite. Birdseye stayed within the shoreline protection act guidelines to create something beautiful and well, stable! This work included an ice road used to bring in the Panton stone slabs from the local quarry (of course we are thrilled that is sunny and May, but this would have been great to see!).
  • The main house is a 1920’s colonial that includes multiple wings, bay windows, original moldings and trim, 4 fireplaces, black marble lintils (that reveal fossils and ancient nautilus), and Panton stone steps down into Lake Champlain.

The magnitude of this two-year project is gob-smacking. But on a more fundamental level, the project represents the very essence of what keeps Vermont Vermont. A collaborative design-build effort between Birdseye and TruexCullins Architecture, the creative output of the project is greater than the sum of its parts. The 43 Birdseye employees, the design team,  the property owners, the landscapers, carpenters, and stone masons work together seamlessly in what feels like a modern barn raising.

To a person, the craftsmen on the site look happy! Not the dancing-in-the-street kind of happy, but the whistle-while-you-work kind. From the guys resurfacing the timber posts to the guys cutting the Panton stone and trimming out the windows, everyone is smiling. Maybe it was the sweet May weather that made them all happy? After such a gripping Vermont winter, I’m sure that this is part of it. But really I think it is a shared joy of the purposeful hard work of Vermonters keeping Vermont Vermont.