A JUG OF WINE, A LOAF OF BREAD - AND THOU
Theatre or theater? In Bread Loaf, Vermont, it doesn’t really matter, since the home of the oldest writers’ conference in America also has a sister campus in Oxford, England. (And there’s one in Santa Fe, New Mexico). But, as you can well imagine, this is not the term that attracts the most attention from visitors but rather, the unique and lovable name of the mountain that looms on the horizon.
The tremendously expansive grounds of the Bread Loaf School of English owe their origins to the purchase and subsequent endowment of about 30,000 acres of forest and farmland in 1915 by Joseph Battell to Middlebury College. This makes for a lot of green fields dotted with bright, mustard-coloured edifices throughout the campus.
from The First Thirty Years by Theodore Morrison 1976 and Whose Woods These Are by David Haward Bain and Mary Smyth Duffy 1993
The first writer’s conference was held in 1926 at the urging of poet Robert Frost and novelist Willa Cather, among others, who found the surroundings inspiring. Since then, it has drawn hundreds of famous and almost famous attendees to the intensive workshop that takes place during the month of August.
The School of English runs a summer institute and as a parallel, professional members of the Bread Loaf Acting Ensemble perform narrative, poetry, nonfiction, and plays in classes for student interpretation. The Ensemble then stages a major production at the Burgess Meredith Theatre.
There is just one thing: the danger of thoroughness with a lovely poem. It's as dangerous as handling a butterfly...
Down a winding road, about 12 miles away, is the town of Middlebury, one of four villages established as part of the New Hampshire Grants in 1761 (including Salisbury, New Haven, and Cornwall.)
In the period of peace that followed the French and Indian War, citizens were seeking either good investments or places somewhat less populous than rapidly developing New England. Several large families settled in what was then the town centre. Others cleared land at the confluence of Middlebury River and Otter Creek. However, many of these original townspeople became caught up in the Revolution and most of their cabins were destroyed by raiding parties when they had to leave their properties. The only exception, due to the greenness of the wood used to build it, was a barn owned by John Chipman.
Much of the architecture remains unchanged, including a wood-shingled inn (1861), an enormous barn equipped with a fieldstone fireplace, and many residences characterized by vast porches and Adirondack chairs. Beyond the property, the forest stands guard.
Gamaliel Painter, after a convoluted struggle with erroneous land claims, finally found success in the construction of sawmills on Otter Creek and near Middlebury Falls. His rival, Daniel Foot, did the same on the southern side of the falls. Since the only connection between the two sides was an upstream ford and briefly, Hop Johnson's ferry, Foot resolved to build a bridge. The existing structure, built in 1892-1893, replaced several previous iterations that were destroyed by floods and fires. With massive stone arches, Battell Bridge is modeled on the Ponte Sant’Angelo across the Tiber in Rome (135 CE).
The citizens of Middlebury take their history seriously, and it can be seen in the meticulous preservation of its ancient architecture. Additionally, much of the success of this tiny metropolis from the past can be traced to its construction around and over the river and falls. Industry grew arm in arm with the political infrastructure and educational institutions, due in large part to the pride, drive, and hard work of the same group of speculators who initially cleared the land.