Commentary: Save Yosemite Firehouse, save Chester’s history

By Cynthia Prairie
©2015 Telegraph Publishing LLC

This past weekend Chester memorialized  the late Merritt Edson with a stone monument on the Green.

Edson, a Chester resident and Marine Corps general who won a Congressional Medal of Honor for his service in World War II, was also the founder of the Vermont State Police, which became a model for other state police agencies around the country.

These are significant achievements, and we should celebrate Merritt Edson.

But Chester also is on the verge of losing a 150-year-old monument that reflects on the hundreds of men and women who have served the town and its citizens in the crucial roll of firefighter.

For the past three or so years, the Chester Historical Society has focused its fund-raising efforts on the Edson monument and this past weekend’s small but moving commemoration. At the same time, its president, Ronald Patch, has publicly stated that the historical society wants to be rid of the Yosemite Firehouse, suggesting that among the options would be selling it or maybe having  it moved to the “deep pocketed” Shelburne Museum.

While there may still be tangles in determining who actually owns the firehouse, it is unfortunate that a group that could be cherishing and protecting Chester’s history is so eager to abandon one of our signature buildings.

Yosemite for insideThe history of Chester — and every town — is deeper and more complex than whether George Washington slept there or whether Lincoln traveled through here or whether a battle was fought over there.

The celebration of Chester’s history should also revolve around the everyday people who have toiled to make the town what it is today — a wonderful place to live.

Walk around Chester today and you will meet the people who should be commemorated tomorrow: the business owners, the volunteers, the idealists, the donors, the teachers, the farmers, the movers and the shakers.

Hundreds could fill the pages of a real history of Chester.

Yes, we can tell their stories through books, through documents, through pictures. But one of the best ways to understand and preserve that history is with its buildings and artifacts, the environment that our predecessors walked through and would recognize today.

Consider the industrial monument that is the historic B&O Railroad Museum Roundhouse in Baltimore, Md. It brilliantly tells the story of the men and women who not only created the railroads, but built and serviced the engines and the cars, worked on the trains and lived in the community that surrounds it. They helped build the nation.

And now, one of Chester’s most iconic buildings — a local history monument — faces an uncertain future.

The historical society says that it cannot afford the $1,200 a year needed to insure the Yosemite Firehouse or to raise $90,000 to slow the ravages of age, if not reverse them. Yet it has suggested that it is willing to sell one of the most significant pieces of architecture in town.

To lose the Yosemite Firehouse would mean wiping off the lovely face of Chester a crucial reminder of where we came from: the stories of the firefighters who were also sawyers, teachers, farmers, brickmakers, weavers, talc miners, police officers, lawmakers, preachers, merchants, road crewmen, doctors and bakers; the mothers and fathers and children who created our beautiful and vibrant town.

Let’s shake off the notion that a building or a town is only worth celebrating if someone noted or notorious was born, grew up or visited there. We must stop believing that the only people worth honoring with our monuments carried a gun, earned a medal, invented something or otherwise gained national note.

The Chester Telegraph recently reported about the condition assessment that said that the Yosemite Firehouse could be shored up for only $90,000, but that the building really needs to be moved.

Patch recently told the Select Board, “If you have a project and you work at it, you can do it.” We believe that. Now is the time for Chester to show the world the real reason why we deserve not one but two National Register Historic District designations: Because we can and do cherish and protect our history.

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Filed Under: CommentaryFeaturedTelegraph Editorial

About the Author: Cynthia Prairie has been a newspaper editor more than 40 years. Cynthia has worked at such publications as the Raleigh Times, the Baltimore News American, the Buffalo Courier Express, the Chicago Sun-Times and the Patuxent Publishing chain of community newspapers in Maryland, and has won numerous state awards for her reporting. As an editor, she has overseen her staffs to win many awards for indepth coverage. She and her family moved to Chester, Vermont in 2004.

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  1. Irene Bassock says:

    As a flatlander and second homeowner in Chester, I think that Barre is correct in noting that there is quite a bit of wealth driving though Chester on Rte. 103 to Okemo/Killington.

    While I am not a fundraiser, I think that with the right vision and focused game plan, Chester can harness that wealth.

    Since arriving in 2011, we have often wondered why there are not more businesses in the Depot focused on travelers with deep pockets. Why aren’t there stopping spots with parking and reach-outs to travelers, i.e., signage like “stop here for the best sandwiches,” obviously placed outdoor seating/dining, promoted historical walks/tours that include the firehouse and other sites, signs that announce paths or trails.

    As weekenders, we spent the first two years actively learning about what the town had to offer. It took a while to discover where to buy meat or seafood or buy sandwiches before hitting the ski mountains or unique gifts or to take a walk/hike (there are several places, but you really have to ask around).

    We also had to discover the history of this town by researching it on-line (and through Ron’s excellent column) as opposed to experiencing it by walking the streets of Chester.

    Unfortunately, during those early years, we frequently drove to other towns where you could park the car and spend an afternoon exploring. Not everything that this town has to offer is obvious to outsiders. Seems like you have to stumble upon it.

    This is unfortunate because it’s all too easy to drive through Chester without stopping. It seems that the renovation/restoration of the firehouse should be part of the larger vision.

    Otherwise, Chester will have competing interests and priorities. I am not sure what the next step is, but pulling together that master plan seems imperative to getting anything done.

  2. Alan Dempsey says:

    Nancy and I visit the Chester Fall Festival and stay in town, even if only for an overnight visit, annually. Each year, I take another photo of the old Yosemite Firehouse hoping it will be better than the others. If this classic structure disappears it will be a tragedy. Save it or move it but, please, do not destroy it.
    I am an associate member, not a firefighter, of the South Meriden Volunteer Fire Department, founded in 1908. I understand the differences of opinion when it comes to historical things. Funds are rarely available for “old stuff.” Once they are gone, sadly, they are gone forever.
    Alan B. Dempsey
    South Meriden, CT

  3. Barre says:

    My guess is preserving the Yosemite Firehouse would be a 2 to 3 year $225,000 to $650,000 project depending on what exactly is to happen with it.

    To start, we need people who show an interest like Lynne Cannon to give what ever she can. We need to include folks with a connection to the town, flatlanders — who we love — and to apply for grants. We also need maintenance grants to continue operation if it is to be a working building.

    I have had a very interesting ride as an artist taking pride in working hard and getting by with whatever I had. Much of the time things work fine but when I really need help I have had to get humble to ask for help. The Chester Historical Society is in a position of needing help. It needs to be seen as inclusive too all and be able to seek out and get grant monies. Its needs are not complicated.

    This deal, as with much in life where our wants exceed our means, comes down to getting the money. I would pen a check in a heartbeat if I had it and get the project done. It’s a cool building. Unfortunately I am not in a position today but I would be willing to help as are many others.

    For the historical society to take on the project, it needs a person who would be more like a new CEO at a company. The CEO knows what the business needs but probabley could not do 90 percent of the jobs being done by people in the company. Often the people who start a company or run them for a period of time don’t move them forward. It does not make anyone good or bad. It is what it is. Things change — especially with growth or greater responsibility. To not lose this structure, inclusiveness is key (have I mentioned that already?) along with having the right decisions made.

    No one cares more about Chester and its history than Ron Patch. His articles are colorful and interesting he takes us back to a time forgotten with facts and images no one else could or would take the time to do. How great is it to sit in a local diner with Kathy Goodell, see her dad’s milk truck in a picture in the paper and hear the story from her of how hard her dad worked and how she got to ride in that truck. From there through conversation with friends learn the snow used to be packed down on the roads with big rollers rather than plowed. That experience and many others come about because of Ron’s work.

    I want to apologize to Ron. I really should have talked with him privately and not go into it so harshly with him publicly. A small town is like a family spend enough time together your going to get into it. Also, I have been on chainsaw carving forums for years. We “debate” if you could call it that. I’m sure I have much more experience at it. I would like to move on and get into preserving the Yosemite Firehouse the best way possible. I hope we can work together to achieve that goal.

    If it means making me a figure head so folks who know how to raise money and get grants can get to work at it, I’m in. Keep in mind I don’t know how to dust antiques!

  4. Ron Patch says:

    Barre, I have heard many of your suggestions to the Select Board. Instead of throwing barbs at you, I have a proposal. You seem to know the best use for Yosemite and the Academy Building.
    The Chester Historical Society annual meeting is Thursday, Sept. 24th, 2015 at 7 p.m. at the Academy Building. This is when we elect officers. I will resign on that date if you will become president. I want to see how well you do. I’ll be sure and mention you will be the new president in my next article in the Vermont Journal/Shopper.

  5. Joe Brent says:

    It seems to me that all this back and forth, he said, she said is not productive at all. While Ron did bring the historical society back from the brink and he and many others did wonderful job for Merritt Edson Day it’s time to move on so to speak, regardless of what was or was not reported in the past in the Telegraph. The old firehouse needs to stay here and we all need to help make it happen with our time, donations, and ideas. I’m sure there is someone out there who could write the grants needed to make this happen for all in town and those who move through town and stop and spend their money on their way north. This building is a special piece of history and a landmark well recognized by all that live here or pass through. Let’s have vision, not bickering.

  6. Barre Pinske says:

    It’s a debate! I’m not complaining about my business.

    The issues are around planning, leadership and people being able to work together. As I mentioned earlier, I value the things my friend Ron has done for the town of Chester.  Also, in spite of my occasional criticism of the Select Board, I greatly appreciate their time, effort and willingness to make tough decisions for our community.  

    I think we can do better as, a whole, financially with better ideas, planning and implementation. Then when issues like the Yosemite Firehouse come up, we can take action because we have the resources. 

    My new nick name for Ron is Bad Bad Leroy Brown.  Leroy Brown was the baddest man in whole damn town and ended up looking like a jigsaw puzzle …. I feel the  tone of argument and lack of logic by Ron is … making him look not so big and bad. 

    Chester leaders are like a team of horses all going in different directions.  If the team of horses all move forward together you can have a very beautiful hitch and really get someplace. That’s what I want to see. With a hitch, it comes down to the driver and the lead horse. We need strong respected leadership, not folks picking on one another like chickens in a roost.

    The NE Patriots win because Coach Bill is a leader, Tom Brady is a leader who follows Bill etc. The Red Sox won when they gelled as a team. Unfortunately Ron, who is in a leadership position, is busy putting down other teammates rather than working together with them. 

    I hear over and over taxes this and taxes that. But our ability to afford to do extra things has more to do with residents having extra money to put into causes than it does with taxes.

    There is money all around us. We need to make good relationships with people who have the money and maintain those relationships. I strongly believe Chester could be one of the most stable and interesting towns in Vermont, if we had the right vision and plan. We can and will  be successful if we play our cards right.  I keep suggesting encouraging more people to cast their nets to the other side of the boat with new businesses on 103. 

    I am glad Ron mentioned the economic development money. I believe there is close to $300,000 available from that fund at very low interest rates. I would encourage the use of the money to help businesses grow. That is what it’s there for.  Mom and pop businesses need capital for growth as much as multi-million dollar corporations. 

    I am grateful for my loan – as hard as it was to get. To suggest not using that fund out of some sort of pride is complete ignorance as to its intent and how business works. I was wrong about what I could do with the new milling machine when I made my loan application: The machine can produce twice my estimate. It took 1.5 years for me to get everything working and a mile of very high hurdles that brought me to tears of frustration more than once. But today I can run the machine on my own, designing  products, programming the machine, setting the offsets and producing products. Most companies have separate people for each of those jobs.

    I am certain I can grow my business to the point of needing a light-manufacturing facility hopefully placed on the edge of town in an architecturally significant structure. Nothing would make me happier than to be be able to create jobs and support our community, history and culture.  Businesses like mine can sell things you can’t get at Walmart or Home Depot. It’s a niche market. 

    I have brought many good suggestions to town leaders regarding economic development. Getting more high level artists and craftspeople making a living in this town would bring more people here.  Cultural and environmental tourism is a good business model for our town. I feel like are we fighting over who gets to shoot the few deer in the woods and not working on what will really feed, support us and enrich our lives. There are no limits. 

    He who lives in a glass house should not throw stones. The historical society not having grant writer is its own fault. Not having money to support your venture is your problem to solve. The historical society is located in a very large, very cool building on a very nice piece of land it gets from the town for one dollar a year! It’s only open for two hours 1 to 3 Saturday and Sunday, I believe, in the summer. That’s a total of 100 hours for the whole year unless there is an event in town.  I hate to say it, but it seems to me the Academy building is more like a Spanky and Our Gang playhouse funded by Chester taxpayers.

    The building is a town asset and the town really should have the highest and best use for it in mind, or at least use it in more than one way. I believe I am correct in saying historical society is not under town oversight. It is its own entity. It can do as it wishes with the artifacts. We all need to hope they truly have the best interest and intent of the historical items in mind.

    I’d like to suggest trying to get part of the field next to the Yosemite Firehouse, slide the building back and over, creating parking and safety from the roadway. Restore the building to a level where it could house the historical society, public bathrooms and tourist info.

    The building could be open and used to promote our history and the area like a visitors center. That would free up the Academy Building to be leased out by the town to generate revenue.  I will pledge $500 to the cause and be willing to be on a committee to try to make that happen. I think our first fund raiser could be putting Ron and me in stocks on the Green where we would have to look at each other! That would be tough. He’s not very good looking! Lol People could pledge money per minute we could put that toward saving the building. 

    I appreciate the opportunity to share ideas here. I want to express my true respect to those whose opinions differ from mine. Through sharing ideas we can come up with good solutions that will work. Truly, I want success and happiness for everyone. 

  7. Ron says:

    Re: Barre Pinske. Barre, if so many millionaires are walking into your store why are you always belly-aching? Take their money and donate some of it to the historical society. Also I seem to remember you getting some low interest money from the town. Must be those millionaires aren’t spending their money with you.
    Typical flatlander mentality on your part to criticize our yard sales. I am proud not to take town money as are our members. My leadership brought two Civil War expos to town in 2007, 2008 and Founders Day in 2009. This year was Edson Day. 2016 we will celebrate Chester’s 250th birthday. This will be another positive event for Chester. Many thousands of dollars were spent in Chester as a result of these events. We did not benefit at all financially but did highlight Chester’s history, which we believe is our responsibility.
    Sure grants are available but we don’t have a grant writer. Maybe you’ll volunteer for that position? Perhaps a larger question would be “What would the grant money be for?” The town owns our building so we only need money to pay electric, water & sewer, alarm system and our largest bill, insurance.
    Also when I took over the historical society 10 years ago it was about to fail. I have brought it back with a sizeable membership and a productive group. If you really did care about Chester’s history how come you are not a member? You have never donated a nickel or attended one of our meetings yet you take cheap shots. I didn’t have a nickname for you before but do now. Ron Patch, president, Chester Historical Society

  8. W.D. says:

    “Chester Telegraph is the Jerry Springer of journalism, only reporting (inaccurate at times) negative news.”

    This is an unfortunate and wildly inaccurate statement, bordering on libelous. The Telegraph has been a wonderful and informative addition to our town, often offering stories that simply can’t be found in other formats. They are up to date and much more informative than the other two media outlets.

    This particular “article” happens to be, as the title suggests, a commentary. As Merriam-Webster defines it, “An expression of opinion.” It’s not a news report, and should be a weighing factor before firing off a knee-jerk reaction comment. It is within your rights to offer an opposing view letter to the editor if you disagree with something in the website.

  9. Barre Pinske says:

    If the historical society is running on yard sales with the all the responsibilities they have they are surely missing the boat. There are many grants available and other monies available as shown in neighboring towns. Saxtons River was able to acquire 1 million, I believe, for their art center and a pollution problem. I was at their celebration. The Putney theater is raising $225k or more for their theater. Brattleboro was able to raise 25 million, I believe, for their big building renovation downtown. Bennington has a huge new roadway with a visitor center. The money that cost our state seems like a huge waste to me, but the point is someone in a leadership roll made that happen.

    To suggest an organization in a town of our depth and location has no resources other than yard sales shows an incredible lack of leadership, vision and connections. Some of the richest people in the United States are landowners and homeowners in Chester and the surrounding area. There is so much money traveling up 103 I can smell it over the diesel. It’s crazy why are we not tapped into it better. Its a major failure of all area leadership. Honestly I think 25% of the people who come into my building are millionaires – second homeowners from Fairfield County, one of the wealthiest counties in the US. Median home prices there have to be 350k and probably they have the same on the mountain. Add the new SUV and do the math. They have dough.

    I’m kind of taking the gloves off here but I’m so sick of this concept that we are a poor town. It’s BS. Yes there are a lot of poor people. My neighborhood is an example of that. The point is that our leadership is not connected to the money. Not as friends, not as political allies, not in terms of being able to get grants. Cynthia’s point in her commentary could as well have been written about a man who spent all hunting season trying to shoot a trophy Buck for a mount on his wall when his kids don’t have jackets to wear to school.

    What’s the difference? It all about priorities, culture, the ability to make friends and make things happen. If you need money and you are against the people who have it it’s like being a vegan at a BBQ. If you have ” ideals” or ” principles ” they are your own. Don’t make it everyone else’s problem! Six nice shops or galleries on 103 through the stone village and some cleanup – including my place – and we have a completely different feel here and a lot more folks stopping and spending money, more relationship, more ability to make connections. We need to invite people to our town.

  10. Ron says:

    EDITOR’S NOTE: The first two paragraphs of following response have been deleted because they do not address the issue at hand. The Chester Telegraph encourages debate on issues and events, and we welcome criticism of our work — even unsubstantiated criticism — but we draw the line when comments stray from the topic at hand and become personal. The remainder of the comment is printed below:

    The telegraph is always challenging the town or anyone they dislike. I understand the Telegraph Dollar General appeals and other appeals have cost the town of Chester about $10,000 so far. Maybe that money would have been better spent saving Yosemite.
    As far as the historical society goes, we get no money from the town, state or anyplace else. We raise our own funds through donations for our yard sales. To raise $90,000 would take 15 years of yard sales and that would not include paying our bills. You should also know none of us are paid or reimbursed for gas and other expenses.
    As for new arrivals being treated differently I have to point out many of our members are new arrivals to Chester. I am not taking sides but I do think some transplants to Chester have an “Us against the Natives” mentality. That thinking is doomed from the start. If I moved to Texas I wouldn’t be surprised to meet a Texan. If you move to Vermont you shouldn’t be surprised to meet a Vermonter.

  11. Ron Patch says:

    Re Lynne Cannon. Put your money where your mouth is and write a check for $10,000 or more. We have spent may thousands in 39 years

  12. Lynne Cannon says:

    Let’s not lose sight of the real issue here. Chester will lose an identifying landmark if Yosemite is moved. The town would be poorer without it and who would gain from this loss? How would the funds be used? If the Telegraph hadn’t reported this, we would only know about it after the exchange occurred and the large hole was left in our hearts.

  13. Venissa White says:

    As a member of several small local not for profit organizations I think it’s disrespectful to write such a negative article less than 5 days after the historical society hosted a great event for our community.

    It seems to be a slap in the face from outsiders, “hey you gave us fireworks, a parade, a fly over, we want more!” (Stomping your feet!) And if these small organizations, compromised of usually less than 10 members can’t produce $100,000, we should certainly shame them. Before the media starts calling out volunteers, I might recommend they should join a board, volunteer their time, donate their own money, and then they can tell the rest of us how awful it is that we can’t solve every issue in town.

    It’s a beautiful building and I hope someone can save it from being moved, but to shame the very people who are asking for help and providing for this community is irresponsible and childish. I’ve never had a conversation with Mr Patch or his team of volunteers, but thank you for the countless hours you donate to our community and for a wonderful day. You can’t make them all happy, but please don’t stop trying.

  14. Steve Lavoie says:

    Thank God for the Greatest Generation in the 1940s. Merritt Edson was one of millions who defended this country and saved the world from doom. This monument was for all who served that time of need to remind us what could be.

  15. Barre says:

    I am not sure why I am being drug into this debate. The dog incident was very unfortunate and has been resolved. There are tens of thousands of dog incidents each year, all of which are as unfortunate as was this situation. I was not on my property and left my dog in someone else’s care but I took 100% responsibility for the incident – making restitution and dealing with the dog.

    The dog was very spirited animal unfortunately he put himself above a person who was fearful of him and therefore vulnerable. Dogs need to feel below people in the pack and in this case the dog put himself above a person and acted on it. The same animal rolled over on his back for a special needs individual that came in my gallery weeks earlier which brought tears to the eyes of myself and that persons care giver. The dog recognized something special in the person and rolled over for them submitting with out a word spoken it was a very moving experience. I choose to remember the dog that way and be strong and spirited in my life as he was.

    I want to share how much I appreciate Ron, his love of the history of Chester, his sense of humor and efforts. I have not heard his nickname for me but I am sure he has one. I’m very disappointed he would use such an unfortunate situation as an example of good journalism or to prove a point. I am also disappointed he chooses to take sides against new residents rather than work together to improve our community with our future history in mind.

    I can understand him being upset – especially after his efforts for the recent celebration and being taken to task on the fire house. That being said, nothing good comes out of rehashing something unfortunate. The dog was not a match for the property, I took him in as a favor for a friend not knowing the dog ahead of time and really wanting a companion for my other pet. In retrospect I wish I would had tried to find a home with more open space for him but it was hard to let him go. I hope the community realizes I have made restitution, suffered also losing a pet and suffered having to put him down. I am reminded often of the very difficult choice that I often regret.

    I’m glad people can feel safe walking and biking by my home as its a very popular road for such activity. God Bless Chester looks like we need it!

  16. Cynthia Prairie says:

    FYI: The Chester Telegraph reported a dog bite complaint along Depot Street in our Police Log.

  17. Ron Patch says:

    Respected unbiased coverage of Chester? It was over a year ago when the Telegraph was at a selectman’s meeting. At that meeting there was discussion about Barre Pinske’s pit bull attacking and biting the Wyman kid. The telegraph reported on everything on the agenda that night but didn’t cover the dog attack. The good old boy system. That is not unbiasd. I will give the Telegraph credit for posting my comment.
    Don’t worry about me looking bad, I don’t.

  18. Ken says:

    As a town resident and media professional who has worked locally in the newspaper business for more than 20 years I can assure you that the Chester Telegraph is respected in the industry as the best source of true and unbiased journalism currently covering the Chester area. Clearly Mr. Patch was irritated by the tough questions posed by this editorial. But perhaps he should pause and think before writing such a crass and angry reply. It makes you look bad, Mr. Patch, and by association it makes the Historical Society look bad too.

  19. Ron Patch says:

    As Ronald Reagan said, “Here we go again.” You say we are about to lose Yosemite Firehouse. How could selling it to someone who would use it as a real estate office, art studio or other similar use be a loss? It would still be there and restored. That’s a bad thing?
    Ownership in question? The Town of Chester ordered a title search which clearly determined the historical society does own it.
    You say we are eager to abandon it. For 39 years we have been the caretakers, expenses have risen dramatically in recent years. We just don’t have the money. The Springfield Historical Society sold the building this summer for the same reason. These old buildings require more money than a small group can afford.
    You seem to want to blame us because we can’t afford $1200 a year for insurance and $90,000 for needed repairs. How much have you donated to the historical society?
    Chester Telegraph is the Jerry Springer of journalism, only reporting (inaccurate many times) negative news.
    It’s time for a 501-C-3 to step up to the plate and take ownership of this property. If no one steps up it will be sold.

  20. Rick says:

    Maybe it could be relocated to the Pizza-Mini-Mall and used to house some sort of dollar store. Hard to argue against the architecture . . .