Grant will help Retreat Farm expand outdoor offerings

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BRATTLEBORO — Retreat Farm is receiving a $40,000 Historic Places planning grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. The grant will fund the planning for permanent interpretive outdoor walking paths and interactive museum exhibits that teach people the many stories of human life as it has evolved over thousands of years on this iconic landscape. It will allow Retreat Farm and its advisors to research the vast history of the property and determine how best to share the stories of the land with the public.

"We're thrilled to have the support of NEH as we delve into the fascinating history of this land, from its geological significance to the Abenaki inhabitants to the massive scale of food and fuel production for patients and staff of the Brattleboro Retreat," said Buzz Schmidt, Retreat Farm's executive director.

The project is led by Jan Albers, award-winning author of "Hands on the Land: A History of the Vermont Landscape," who has said, "The Retreat Farm's beautiful site, where the West River flows into the Connecticut, has many stories to tell us of how people in northern New England have lived on the land. From millennia as an Abenaki homeland, to contested ground in the French and Indian Wars, to over a century as a model subsistence farm for a mental hospital, it has so much to teach us about the lives that can be lived in Vermont. These stories furnish many guideposts to how we can share a healthier earth in the future."

Three primary history paths will tell the stories of life on the Abenaki homeland, agriculture on the iconic farmstead, and the Vermont landscape narratives of European settlement, landscape degradation and the creation of a healthier approach to our environment. A subsequent phase will include a museum with interactive exhibits telling more in-depth stories and teaching everyone how to make better choices for the earth in the future.

U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said, "This NEH grant will help visitors appreciate the natural beauty and rich history of Retreat Farm, and work to preserve it for future generations. This is the type of project that benefits all of us, and it illustrates why, as Vice Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, I will continue to support funding for these efforts. Congratulations to Retreat Farm's staff and advisors on being selected to receive this highly competitive NEH grant."

A group of advisors will help shape the project, including historians Jill Lepore of Harvard and Kathryn Morse of Middlebury College; Chief Roger Longtoe and Rich Holschuh representing the Elnu Abenaki community; UVM geologist Paul Bierman; former Vermont Agriculture Commissioner Roger Allbee; and two librarians, Paul Carnahan of the Vermont Historical Society, and Starr LaTronica of the Brooks Memorial Library, Brattleboro.

The public will soon get a preview of the stories to come when Retreat Farm installs interpretive signs on its nine historic barns in mid-August. The Farm will also be unveiling and honoring a new marker reclaiming the Indigenous name for Wantastegok, more recently known as the Retreat Meadows, on August 13, from 4 to 6 p.m. The signs will join a range of arts installations, new trails, and gardens that are available for everyone to enjoy for free.

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