Celebrating the Village: North Bennington hosts ninth Living History Day


NORTH BENNINGTON -- The village of North Bennington hosted its ninth annual "Living History Day" on Sunday, and paid homage to the one of village's most influential and generous families.

From Hiland Hall, born in 1795, to today, the Hall-Park-McCullough-Scott family has produced two governors of Vermont, one attorney general of California, and two presidents of the Panama Railway. However, on Sunday, the family was honored not just for these significant accomplishments, but for their almost countless contributions to the village of North Bennington.

Bill Scully, a member of the North Bennington board of trustees and one of the organizers of the event, spoke about how Living History Day had first started. "We really started to want to get to know and say thank you to all these people who made North Bennington what it is," he said. Recent honorees on Living History Day have included Bob Matteson, David Monks, and Rachel Schumacher.

Local architect Timothy Smith, who was also among the event's principle organizers, said that many of the past honorees have continued to play a major role in the village. "All of these people continue to contribute to this event and the community," he said.

Smith mentioned that this year, the event's committee had decided it was time to honor the "legacy of generosity" of the Hall-Park-McCullough-Scott family over the years. For the most part, the day's speakers focused on the contributions of thirteen members of the family, across six generations, Governor Hiland Hall; his son-in-law Trenor W. Park; Park's daughters Eliza "Lizzie" Hall Park McCullough and Laura "Lila" Hall Park Jennings; their husbands, Governor John G. McCullough and Frederic B. Jennings, respectively; McCullough's son Hall Park McCullough; Hall Park McCullough's wife Edith Arthur VanBenthuysen McCullough; their children John G. McCullough II and Ethel "Babs" McCullough Scott; Scott's husband William R. Scott; and two living members of the McCullough family, Allen and Angus McCullough, respectively the son and grandson of John G. McCullough II.

"There are other descendents who we did not mention," said Smith, "primarily due to lack of time to research."

The committee invited a number of guest speakers to speak about the family's legacy and contributions, beginning with historian Tyler Resch, who outlined the history of the family, beginning with Hiland Hall, who was one of the primary proponents of building a monument to the Battle of Bennington, and who served as the governor of Vermont from 1858-1860. His son-in-law, lawyer and businessman Trenor Park, in Resch's words, "Made seven fortunes and lost six," but secured the family's financial stability for several generations when he sold his share of the Panama Railroad for $7 million in 1881. In today's dollars, that would equal over $166 million.

Marylou Chicote, administrator of the Bennington Battle Monument, spoke about Hall and his role in making the Bennington Battle Monument a reality. While Hall didn't live to see the monument completed, Chicote said of Hall, "Without Hiland Hall, there might be a battle monument, but none of us would know where it was." After reading a letter from Hall regarding the monument, she said, "I really thank him, without him, I might not have a job today!" which drew a laugh from the audience.

A seemingly endless stream of speakers took the podium, speaking of how the family had played a major role in the founding of their various organizations. Melissa Jackson of the Vermont Veteran's Home, spoke about the history of the home, which had been founded by Trenor Park in 1882 as the Vermont Home for Destitute Women, before becoming the Vermont Soldiers Home in 1886. Barth VanderEls told the story of the Bennington Free Library, which was founded by Park and Seth Hunt in 1865. Christine Graham spoke about the Bank of North Bennington, which was also founded by Park. As each person spoke, the true impact of the family on the history of North Bennington was made more and more clear. Various members of the Hall, Park, McCullough, and Scott families played key roles in the creation of the Sage City Symphony, Mayfest, the North Bennington railroad depot, Bennington College, John G. McCullough Free Library, the North Bennington water system, the Bennington Museum, the stage at Mount Anthony Union high school, the Fund for North Bennington, and, of course, the Park-McCullough House Museum.

State representative Brian Campion spoke about the politican careers of Hiland Hall and John G. McCullough I, who said that while doing research on the careers of the two governors, that he was, "once again reminded how incredibly historic our little corner of the state is, and how it has impacted the history of the United States."

Allen McCullough himself spoke toward the end of the program, which featured free hot dogs, popcorn, and other refreshments for all those in attendence. "The thing that I'm proudest of," he said, "when I look back on the journey my sisters and I took, is that [the Park-McCullough House] is public and being used. Thank you to the Living History committee for setting this up, I came here hoping to learn a lot, and I have learned, especially what happened to the family's money, which is something I've always wondered about." This last comment drew another laugh from the crowd.

The final speaker of the day was North Bennington board of trustees member David Monks, one of last year's honorees, who said, "I'm just as overwhelmed as the rest when I look at all the wonderful things this family has accomplished." He went on the declare, by resolution of the board of trustees, that August 24, 2014 will be remembered as North Bennington's "Legacy of Generosity Day." He officially dedicated the new Lincoln Square fountain, which was set on Saturday but is not yet ready to be turned on, to the Park-McCullough-Hall-Scott family, in thanks for their years of contributions to the village. The newly restored fountain, which originally sat on the property of the Park-McCullough House, is expected to be operational some time next month.

Derek Carson can be reached for comment at dcarson@benningtonbanner.com. Follow him on Twitter @DerekCarsonBB


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