Local historian remembers a past era in the history of Route 7


BENNINGTON -- Visitors to the Bennington Museum on Sunday took a walk down memory lane -- or more accurately, down historic Route 7.

Speaking for about an hour, Ted Bird presented a collection of historical photographs of Route 7 in Vermont from Pownal to Manchester, coupled with Bird's own photos of what the sites look like now. The talk, which took place in the museum's Ada Paresky Education Center, was put on by the Bennington Historical Society and was entitled, "Route 7, Then and Now."

According to Bird, he tries to do one presentation at the museum every year. In the past, he has spoke on such topics as Bennington's Missing persons, the Changing Face of Main Street, the Ku Klux Klan in Vermont, and the story of the Bennington Opera House/General Stark Theatre.

The event was very well attended, with audience members outnumbering seats in the hall by a considerable margin. A sign was placed outside about 15 minutes prior to the talk beginning announcing that the parking lot was full and alternative parking could be found at nearby Monument Elementary.

"One thing you'll notice," said Bird, early in his slide show, which featured photographs from the 1930's through the 1960's, "is that there are gas stations everywhere."

The stretch of Route 7 covered by Bird's presentation has changed considerably since the photos were taken, with the moving of the Route in Pownal in the 60's and the construction of what is currently known as Route 7 between Bennington and Dorset in the late 70's and early 80's. The road that had previously been Route 7 became known as "Historic Vermont 7A."

The photographical tour began in Pownal and continued north geographically, although Bird apologized that he had only managed to find one picture from Sunderland. Audience members reacted strongly to both the before and after shots, reminiscing about long-gone establishments that served them "the best burgers around" and ice cream when they were children, and expressing dismay when Bird showed that a historical homestead had become a Friendly's, or that there was nothing left at all.

One of the historical photographs that drew the largest reaction from the audience was the original building of St. Joseph's Business School in Bennington, which also, according to some audience members, had also housed a convent. Today, a Rite-Aid sits on that plot of land. St. Joseph's, meanwhile, moved in 1974 relocated to the Everett Estate and became Southern Vermont College.

Bird said that photographing the "now" shots was often very difficult, as there was often no evidence left of the buildings in the historical photos. Bird collected the historical photos from a number of sources, but he said that most of them were the result of reaching out to members of the community.

In the question-and-answer session after the presentation, many audience members asked Bird why he had excluded certain landmarks. For some, Bird said, it was because he couldn't find a picture. "I could probably do another one of these without any duplicates, because there are so many establishments that aren't there today," said Bird.

Bird also showed pictures of the Arlington Post Office, now the Town Hall, and the hotel used by the Arlington Refrigeration Company (ARCO) to house executives. ARCO went bankrupt, along with a lot of other businesses, in 1929. In 1939, Mack Moulding moved into their building, which is just off of Route 7A. He also told the story of the building currently housing Second Chance Animal Shelter, which started as a restaurant.

The Bennington Museum, located at 75 Main Street in Bennington, re-opened last Saturday with several new gallerys and exhibits, including "Faces of Bennington, 1972-1978: Photographs by John Hubbard," and a gallery of works by Anna Mary Robertson "Grandma" Moses, the largest collection of her paintings in the world.

When asked how he found himself doing yearly presentations at the museum, Bird said that studying local history was a hobby of his. Bird's parents moved to Arlington in 1937, and opened a movie theater, after stopping in Arlington on a trip up Route 7 to Canada. The building Bird was born in was featured in the presentation. "It's just something that interests me, so I study it," Bird said.

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


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