Stephen A. Douglas Birthplace, Brandon
Stop by the Stephen A. Douglas Birthplace on Route 7 in Brandon village and you’re likely to find a host and visitors relaxing on the shade porch, just as folks have for 200 years.
Three years ago, the tiny building was shuttered and shabby, barely noticed by the world passing by its doorstep. Today, restored and upgraded with the help of a state grant and private contributions, it houses the Brandon visitor center, a community meeting room, and two bright and airy rooms filled with artifacts and museum-grade panels that merge the life and times of Stephen A. Douglas with the surprising and vibrant history of Brandon as one of the first chartered towns in Vermont, later an industrial hub and center of both anti-slavery and religious sentiment.
Built in 1802 and owned by the Daughters of the American Revolution since 1917, it had become a white elephant. At the same time, the Brandon Chamber of Commerce recognized the need for a visitor center. Interpreter and former elementary school principal John Dilts comments that the DAR was “foresighted enough to say what can we do so that the story continues to be told?” and adds with a chuckle, “The planets were aligned on this one.”
The project has been a homegrown effort from the beginning. Twenty-five knowledgeable and dedicated volunteers are drawn from the community. Panel texts were written by Brandon residents, including Kevin Thornton, a UVM history professor, and Blaine Cliver, historic preservationist and architect. The overall design was carried out by Shadows & Light Design out of N. Ferrisburg, who specialize in museum and interpretive installations.
Janet Mondlak, executive director, says that the vision was for “a little museum in words and images.” One innovation is the focus on cultural memory and oral history. The museum scans old photos for its digital image library and has just purchased a digital recorder to capture the oral histories of Brandonites who drop by. The Douglas Room will eventually include videography of the antislavery movement and Douglas’ career, including the Lincoln-Douglas debates.
The building also fulfills a long-felt desire to meet the needs of the community and the traveling public. The rear ell, which once contained the kitchen and woodshed, has been transformed into a bright, energy-efficient meeting hall. The visitor center component offers wi-fi, public restrooms, a picnic table, and brochures announcing attractions, events, and resources.
The visitor center is open all year, 8 am-6 pm daily. The museum is open daily, 11 am-4 pm, from mid-May to mid-October or by appointment. Admission is free.
To get there:
For more information, contact: firstname.lastname@example.org or go to www.brandon.org or call 802-247-6401.
The Douglas Birthplace is located at the intersection of US-7 and VT-73 (west), on the west side of US-7 just north of Brandon village center. If using GPS, enter “4 Grove St.”
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