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Eminent Domain in Ascutney, Vermont | I Will Not Leave

It was an extremely hot fire, so hot that it melted the plastic light on top of the fire chief’s car, which was parked about 80 feet away. “With our little engine with only 100 gallons of water on it, we couldn’t do a thing,” Spaulding recalled. The nearby town of Windsor had also sent 10 men and an engine, but it was no use. The firemen rounded up the cows and spent a half-hour reviving one calf. Neighbors would take the cows and Spot; Romaine’s niece Rosemary would take his other dog, Prince.

Almost 50 years later, that night still upsets Spaulding: “It’s a terrible, helpless feeling. Been through it a couple of times. It’s just terribly hopeless. You go because that’s what we do, and you get there and there’s nothing you can do.”

On the solemn morning after, Romaine’s family stood by the smoldering ruins with hundreds of others. They had been there all night. “‘This can’t be true. This can’t be true,'” Rosemary recalled thinking. “I didn’t know where the animals were. I didn’t know where he was. It was just a total, total loss. And this beautiful farm and this beautiful man and those animals loved him as much he loved them. And it was gone. All over a ridiculous highway–which could have, and should have, taken a big old turn.”

She had seen Romaine just hours before, around midnight. She and her sister, Joan Newcity, and her brother Ron had gone over to the farm with her father to move some of his things to their house. They thought he was going to move in with them. Romaine and her father always took a long time to part, chatting by the car. “That night Romaine cried,” Rosemary recalled. “I remember him saying, ‘I didn’t even milk the cows today.’ He was very emotional.”

“Don’t worry,” Emerson had told him. “We’ll fix you up. There’s got to be some way out of this.”

The firemen searched the woods for Romaine all night and the next day, hoping that he was “sitting up in the back somewhere,” having a good laugh. Rolly and Lois also thought he might be hiding. They put food out in the woods: “We hiked all over the area, calling his name and telling him that there was food and where it was.”

Joan kept seeing Romaine in her dreams. She would dream that he was hiding in a small cavelike space among the ledges up behind the house, where they used to play: “We used to crawl in. In my dreams he was in there, hiding. I always used to think that.”

“For the longest time,” Rosemary said, “we all just expected him to come out of the woods.”

He had said that he was going to burn down his farm. “I was born here and I will die here,” Romaine had said. When his closest neighbor heard the fire siren, she knew: “He has done what he said he was going to do.” Rolly had offered him big boxes to pack his things to move. Rolly was on the school board, and they had just gotten a shipment of new desks that had come in big cardboard cartons. “Well, yeah,” Romaine said slowly after a minute, “and if I don’t use them for that, they burn well.”

He had said goodbye many times, but no one had really believed him. “Toward the end, you’d ask him how he was when you saw him, and he’d say, ‘Living now, but I won’t be living long.’ But it was hard to know if he meant it,” said Deputy Sheriff Gale, who’d known him well. “One minute he spoke like that, and the next he’d be joking and laughing.”

On Friday night, in his last hours, Romaine had visited one of his sisters, Lena Simpson, in Claremont. “You won’t be seeing me anymore,” he’d told her. He’d said the same thing a month earlier to Emerson’s oldest son. Rod had gone off to college and the Army. He was home on leave in August, and he went to see Romaine with his father: “His closing comment was: ‘This will be the last that I see you.’ At that time I said, ‘Oh no, I’ll be back, in six months or so, and I’ll see you then.’ But it was the last time I did see him.”

“Maybe none of us knew him as much as we thought we did,” Spaulding said. “We didn’t know just how he felt about progress.” It was like watching someone drown close to shore.

All weekend, thousands of people drove out to the farm. They stood silently, staring at the smoking ruins, and then drifted away. The state fire marshal arrived on Sunday. Spaulding and a few others worked in the cellar hole all day, carefully moving bricks. Emerson sat nearby on a brick wall, chain-smoking. The fire marshal would pull some bit out of the rubble and hold it up to Emerson, asking, “Know it?” Then he’d return to the grim task.

“In the afternoon we came across an iron bed with a rifle that had been fired, and underneath the iron bed we found some bones,” Spaulding said. They wrapped the blackened bones in brown paper and put them in a metal box, to be sent to the state pathologist.

“How do you know why he would do such a thing?” Emerson said in answer to a reporter’s question. “Pride,” he said. “Progress.” That was the collision.

Please Note: This information was accurate at the time of publication. When planning a trip, please confirm details by directly contacting any company or establishment you intend to visit.

Updated Sunday, March 31st, 2013

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8 Responses to Eminent Domain in Ascutney, Vermont | I Will Not Leave

  1. Carl Rachel September 6, 2014 at 8:29 pm #

    This story about Romaine Tenney’s stand against the State of Vermont is a masterpiece of writing. As a writer, myself, I know the challenges. Howard sculpted a perfect aura for a personality that stands tall in the legends that Vermont has to offer.

    Just last month, I made a spontaneous trip to Vermont for a few days. One of the main reasons was to visit Exit 8, I-91 South. It was early afternoon when I arrived at the Park & Ride lot that now stands quite indifferently on what was sacred ground. Sacred to a man who knew the value and blessing of that very spot.

    As I walked the perimeter of that bland commuter lot, southbounders on I-91 roared by in ceaseless drone, unaware, most of them, that they were flying across precious history.

    I spotted what I’m quite sure is that lone standing remnant that Howard mentions: The 36-inch Tenney Maple. It was there that I spent an hour in meditative trip back. And, yes, and takes very little in such a state of mind to detect the spirit of one of Nature’s own patriots. Romaine is still very much there. And I am happy about that.

    As I left, I turned around and picked up a piece of aged bark that had fallen from that massive, elegant maple, along with a few small branches, and a glittering piece of what likely was a ledge stone that Romaine walked by, daily. They are here on the desk as I write this. Romaine lives. As we all do when our passion lifts our spirits to a level only truth admits.

  2. Sharon Heitz September 16, 2014 at 4:36 pm #

    What a wonderful story of Romaine Tenney. The end of his life was sorrowful but all the years before he spent doing what he loved best.
    I was 13 years old when Mr. Tenney died. He was my neighbor. He gave me lifetime memories of sliding and skiing on his hill in the winter and I learned to skate on the ice ponds. In the summer my friends and I hiked his hills and had picnics with beautiful views. He was so generous to all of us.
    I truly regret that I never told him thank you and that he was such a big part of my childhood.

  3. Debra Harris March 10, 2015 at 8:28 am #

    The story of Romaine Tenney pulled at my heart strings for soo many reason’s. I too have wonderful childhood memories of summer’s spent on the ole family homestead (W. Rutland) running up & down hills, feeling the cool grass beneath our bare feet, the animals that came to feed at night, the fresh veggies out of the garden, the family reunion in ’75. But, unlike Romaine Tenney, my family homestead in still in our family, and my cousins now live in the house where my great grandparents lived when they migrated from Poland. A home that once had no electricity….no running water (my mother now owns the old pump from the kitchen) a home that had a two seater out house (we were high class) and when I took my children there when they were little, it made my mother’s heart sing w/joy to see them run ‘n play and enjoying the same adventures & discoveries I once did as a child. Soo, my heart breaks for Romaine Tenney, I totally understand his love of the land, and his desire to continue to live the simple life till he died a natural death. I know progress is necessary, but at what cost? This is a wonderful story, and one that needs to told over ‘n over least we forget the joy of a simpler life, and the love one man had for his home, the land and his animals. On my next trip “home” (I currently reside in Fl) I will be going by Exit 8 on I-91 S (never did I know this when traveling there before) and I will stop to pay homage to a genteel man and a gentler time now long gone……God Bless Romaine Tenney and his family.

  4. Jeannette Shields March 10, 2015 at 1:09 pm #

    WOW! No words, just WOW. What an amazing article. It really puts life into perspective: hold tight to what you love and believe in, no matter what.
    Thank you for putting this on Facebook so I could read it.

  5. Mary Coughlan March 10, 2015 at 11:05 pm #

    When I was young we used to go to Vermont in the summer. I remember it used to take us 8 hours before the highway was built and it was all country roads from White River Junction. I remember seeing a working farm near a road, a boy and an older man working around a barn. A few years later, the highway went forward, but you still had to get off and the farm was still there. The next year, the farm had disappeared, and we zoomed right through. I remember thinking about the boy and the man who used to farm on that very spot, and wondered where they were, what happened to them. It was so sad. We saved a couple of hours on our trip but the real treasure of a Vermont life and landscape was compromised. I’m pretty sure it was exit 8 on 91. God bless Mr. Tenney……..

  6. Roger Winnicki March 12, 2015 at 9:55 am #

    In so many ways the similar painful episodes play out currently in a large monetary concept gobbling up the lives of wonderful people, their lives and our history. Difficulty in owning land , loving time on it and the beautiful simple things it provides keeps slipping away as the article indicates. It struck home as I am certain it did with many.Mr. Tenney was not only a Vermonter, he was an American with character, strength and determination.A man many of us would like to have known.

  7. Brandon Tenney Sr October 24, 2015 at 1:37 pm #

    Just wanted to say that that was a great article and as a relative I am always around I love that land its peacefulness and beauty yes alot has changed but I still love it here

  8. wayne johnson May 22, 2016 at 4:09 pm #

    I remember Mr. Tenny well as well as the dreadful day his house burned. And don’t care what is said today. I still believe it was foul play. He was a good friend of my grandfather whose land was also cut in half we lived just up the road from him and often stopped to chat or take him over town to buy his grocery’s

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