Vermont is known as the Green Mountain State. But come autumn, its mountain slopes are anything but green. As the leaves turn red and yellow and orange, picturesque towns turn into tourist hotspots.
Loretta Cruz and Aaron Agnew aren’t your typical leaf peepers – they’ve come to the town of Waterbury on their honeymoon … sort of. When these Vermonters got married back in 2020, the pandemic forced them to cancel the trip they’d originally planned and stay closer to home instead.
“We had to think about, well, what are we going to do for our honeymoon?” said Cruz.
Correspondent Conor Knighton asked, “Go to every town in Vermont was the answer?”
“Go to every town in Vermont, that’s right!” replied Agnew. “And that extends the honeymoon. It’s more than just one trip.”
At this rate, the honeymoon period could last for well over a decade. They’ve been taking trips whenever they can get away, and taking tips from the many members of The 251 Club, a group dedicated to exploring all of Vermont’s towns and cities.
At the group’s annual meeting, they gather together to talk about their journeys.
One woman asked, “Are there rules? Tim is very competitive, so he feels there should be rules.”
But there aren’t any rules.
Mike Leonard, who is on the board of the 251 Club, laughed, “I’ve heard it said that we are a lawless organization! But kind of the only rule is that you have to love Vermont and want to explore it.”
The 251 Club has maintained its name, even though Vermont now technically has 252 towns. Like he said, the rules are loose.
When he was 20, Leonard hit the towns on a road trip with two of his pals: “I took it on as a challenge to really explore what it does mean to be a Vermonter.”
Esther Farnsworth didn’t start her quest until she was 90: “There are a lot of places in Vermont that I haven’t seen, so I just decided I’d go.”
Now 93, Farnsworth made it through the list in two-and-a-half years. “Some of the towns, you know, only had five or six people in them!” Now, she said, “I know the best places in Vermont to get ice cream. Ben and Jerry’s isn’t the only one, you know. There are some others, too!”
The 251 Club was first proposed in a 1954 issue of Vermont Life magazine. Poet Arthur Peach wrote that “Vermont from the beginning has been a state of towns … and in them only can the real Vermont be found and seen.”
In the town of Thetford, you can see the Vermontasaurus! In the town of Glover, you’ll find the unattended Museum of Everyday Life, devoted to ordinary objects, like to-do lists, paperclips, and house dust. Just turn the lights off when you leave.
In a single afternoon, you can travel from Peru, to Jamaica, to Athens. But as every traveler knows, it’s not always about the destination.
Shaina Casper did the journey with her dad, Keith. They visited the final towns on their list together on Father’s Day. “Driving around talking, it’s been, yeah, definitely been really good, like father-daughter bonding time, especially after the pandemic,” she said.
Whenever you complete your quest, there’s no grand prize. The club doesn’t make you prove anything. But according to Vermont Congressman and proud 251er Peter Welch, “What happens is, your heart opens up when you finish, because you get to see how much commitment is in each of those tiny little towns that are out of the way places. But people LOVE them!”
That deep sense of pride and sense of place is perhaps best summed up by the Vermont State Song, which Esther Farnsworth insisted I couldn’t leave the state without hearing:
Let us live to protect her beauty
And look with pride on the golden dome
They say home is where the heart is
These green mountains are my home
For more info:
Story produced by David Rothman. Editor: Remington Korper.