Manchester’s Rich Thorngren is a member of the Vermont 251 Club which has approximately 5,000 dues-paying members. Membership comes through visiting all 251 towns and cities in Vermont.
The club was featured on a fall edition of “CBS Sunday Morning.” With Essex Junction now seceded from Essex, the actual number is 252, but the club retains the 251 number.
New York may have Rome, but Vermont has Peru, Jamaica, Athens and Moscow.
“It’s a lawless club in that there are no rules,” Thorngren explained.” You don’t have to have a photo taken. You can document your visit to a town however you want to. It’s really built on trust.”
In 1954, the year the club was formed, it was a lot harder to get around Vermont. This was before the interstate highways with still many dirt roads. Depending on where you lived in the state it could be quite a trek to get from one end of the state to the other. It’s obviously much easier today. It was formed as a way for Vermonters to get to know their state. The 1954 origin came from an article in Vermont Life magazine.
“I’m a geography nerd and a history buff and the idea of visiting every town in the state I found quite intriguing,” Thorngren explained. “I finally reached a time in my life when I was able to do it. Yes, I’m living here in New Hampshire, but I was getting to Vermont often. I would get out the atlas and make sort of a path of what I was going to do that day or that weekend or whatever time I was going to be in the state. If I was going to visit friends, I would take a circuitous route. It took me five years to visit all 251 locales.”
“Having lived in Burlington, I knew a lot about northern Vermont and the Champlain Valley, but I’d never spent much time in southern Vermont, “Thorngren said. “I learned a lot about southern Vermont. I really like Bennington and Bennington County. There’s very interesting history there. It’s Vermont but It’s where Vermont, New York and Massachusetts come together so there’s a bit of a mix of cultures.
“I really like the border areas of northern Vermont,” Thorngren continued. “You really feel like you’re on the frontier. I like the French-Canadian influence. I love the Champlain islands. One of my favorite places is Isle La Motte because it’s so unique. It has the distinction of being the first European settlement in the state of Vermont in 1669 when the French built a fort there. In many ways, Grand Isle County doesn’t feel like Vermont. It’s not Woodstock or Stowe. There aren’t the cows grazing and the red barn. It’s maritime Vermont and again it’s where cultures come together-Vermont, New York, and Quebec.”
According to Thorngren, the Vermont 251 Club is populated with characters. The annual meeting encourages new inductees to talk about their travels. Texas and Massachusetts have made similar travel rumblings but as of now Vermont formally stands alone.
“I like the farmland of Addison County,” Thorngren continued. “At one time Vermont grew wheat there and it was known as the breadbasket of New England in the early 1800s. The wheat grew well but unfortunately, the soil petered out quite quickly. Intensive agriculture didn’t hold up. Like the farmland of Addison County, the Northeast Kingdom is stunningly beautiful and is the most rural part of the state by many measures. It comes easily to go back in time. Victory and Granby didn’t get electricity until, I believe, 1963.”
“I’d never go back to the town of Baltimore,” our wanderer said. “It’s about the size of this room literally and the town has one thing that says “Baltimore.” I got out of the car and was immediately attacked by the largest swarm of mosquitoes I’d ever seen. I took the picture and ran back to the car with the mosquitoes following me. I’m sure it’s a lovely town but all I can think of is the mosquitoes eating me.”
“I spent 32 years as a flight attendant traveling all over the United States and the world. I suppose parts of Austria and Switzerland can be compared to Vermont. The Von Trapp family settled in Stowe because it looked a lot like Austria.”
“Vermonters are very thrifty but on the other hand, and unlike New Hampshire, they don’t mind spending money to better the community.”