Tales from the Gown

Somewhere about the middle of the 1700's a group of colonists going north explored the land to the East of Lake Champlain and established a town near the middle of what would later become Vermont. Not being sure how to name it, thay finally struck on the name Middlebury as commonsensical if nothing more. When the territory was entered as a State in l793, the first thing it did was to abolish slavery, next it chartered a University at the north, under the aegis of Harvard's liberal theology. Alarmed by the dangers of loose religion, the community at Middlebury summoned an envoy from safely conservative Yale who guided the chartering in l800 of a college with safe with proper views. The college at this location persisted through the years, remaining a small and undistinguished academy even into the 20th century. The college, barely surviving on limited budgets, was then a comfortable place for students and teachers alike, the pressures of a coming 21st century education had not yet arrived, but the salient traits of the generic Academic Personality were already well in evidence. These stories describe scene from the college as it was in the '70's, a time when teachers could teach and still have the illusion that they were at the center of the college operation.

Stories from the Town

While the College was clothing itself in black robes with serious ceremonial dignity from Convocation to Commencement, the town of Middlebury had its own largely independent life and customs. A bar known to waiting wives as the Alibi was the cultural center of the area, welcoming with ten cent beer before 5 PM an assortment of woodchucky loggers, construction workers, drifters and on occasion a young college professor who preferred drinking a glass of beer to a cup of weak coffee at the college in an unused Mens Room, the nearest thing to a Faculty Lounge. The town had a pool hall and a barbershop upstairs, two cheap movie houses, there was a bar and a diningroom in the Inn, and downtown just a diner, so for anything more sumptuous you had to go to Burlington. Shopping was in an A&P located in a small brick building later used as a florist's shop, but you could get dry goods and canned food in the First National by the Park. Brown's Auto had parts for everything so long as you didn't mention the word Foreign or VW which raised a sneer. People who lived in that area were comfortable with a town where the stores were reputed to roll up the sidewalks after nine. There were few lights after that on Main Street and one police officer strutting the center streets evenings was clearly enough to keep the uneventful peace.

William Harris
Prof. Em. Middlebury College
www.middlebury.edu/~harris