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Eminent Domain in Ascutney, Vermont | I Will Not Leave

Eminent Domain in Ascutney, Vermont | I Will Not Leave
13 votes, 4.23 avg. rating (84% score)

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.

Emerson “just aged terribly after that,” Joan said. “You could almost see his hair turn white.” Rosemary agreed: “You did see it in his eyes.”

No one in town had ever seen anything like the huge earth-moving machines that were building the highway. They could be heard wherever you went. In the summer heat, in the grip of a long drought, windows were shut against the dirt drifting everywhere.

The town had just lived through another huge project. A few years before the Interstate arrived, the Army Corp of Engineers had built a large flood-control dam and reservoir, submerging for all time Lower Perkinsville. When they put the reservoir in, they took six farms, four covered bridges, and 40 houses.

Spaulding didn’t understand Romaine’s decision at the time of the fire–he was only 24–but as he grew older, he saw that this had been “a traumatic time [for the area] … It seemed to be upheaval there for four or five years, with jobs, the Interstate, the dam. What in the heck [was] going on here?”

When Romaine killed himself, some neighbors and friends felt guilty that he’d been left alone to fight for his land; others were angry with the state for not finding a way to accommodate him. “You can’t treat all old men the same,” Deputy Sheriff Gale noted. “They don’t make old men like machines. Each old man is different. You can’t just move him out like you would a younger man. They didn’t have to do it. Think of it: Here’s a highway that’s costing a million dollars a mile, and they can’t find the money to take care of an old man.”

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.

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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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