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Eminent Domain in Ascutney, Vermont | I Will Not Leave

Eminent Domain in Ascutney, Vermont | I Will Not Leave
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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.”

Please Note: This article 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.

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2 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.

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