Melissa Kirkby, student at Sterling College
Thursday, 15 Jul 1999
Craftsbury Common, Vt.
I am amazed at the quiet beauty of Craftsbury Common. Founded in 1789 by Colonel Ebenezer Crafts, this picture-perfect New England town has a rich tradition of logging and farming. I am intrigued by the history of this village and have been gathering bits and pieces of lore. Today, a walk around the grounds with our Admissions Director John Zaber helps me pull it all together.
As we stop next to the white church at the northwest corner of the common and look out over the Lowell Mountains, I am told that the wooded landscape before me has undergone intense changes. At the time of its settlement, it was fully forested. By the late 1800s, however, 50 percent of the woods had been cleared or harvested. In time, trees returned to the fields and John estimates that now roughly 75 percent of the land is wooded.
We continue on around the common. Students and staff try to gather here for a weekly game of ultimate frisbee. A white post-and-rail fence lines our frisbee field, which also serves as an idyllic setting for brass bands and the local chamber players to hold Sunday night concerts, antique shows, and the annual Old Home Day celebration. John tells me that this field once served as a training ground for the local militia.
Considering the contrast between ultimate frisbee games and military exercises, I begin to think of the history of Sterling College itself. I have discovered that Kane Hall, the administrative building on campus, began its life as an inn around 1840. The student lounge, which we refer to as “the barn,” was indeed a barn — I picture John’s description of visitors’ horses being tended to in the same room where we now retreat for community meetings. Across from “the barn,” their carriages were parked in the building that now houses our bookstore and ping-pong table.
We walk past Sterling’s woodshop, known by my peers for the snowshoe- and canoe-paddle-making projects that are required of all incoming students. Now named Paradise, this was formerly the store of Augustus Paddock. Across the street, the Simpson Classroom building was once Augustus’s home. John tells me he read in a local history book that a windmill located behind the Paddocks’ house was used to pump water up to the first flush toilet on the Common. That windmill is no longer there.
When first looking into Sterling College, I learned that Sterling’s educational history began in 1958, with the founding of Sterling School, a traditional boys preparatory high school. The stories of the old days are filled with forced marches to the Church on the Common for Sunday services, limited contact with local young females, and restrictions on the length of student sideburns. What is now our admissions office once served as the kitchen and dining area for the boys school, our dean and president’s offices served as their dorms, and the “barn” was their student chapel.
In 1974, a decision was made to close the doors of Sterling School. A pioneering group of faculty remained and established the Grassroots Project in Vermont at Sterling Institute. This was an academic year-long program offering physical, mental, and spiritual challenges similar in nature to the programs offered by Outward Bound. By 1983, Sterling had developed into an accredited college offering an Associate of Arts degree in resource management. In 1997, it was accredited as a four-year college and granted approval to award a Bachelor of Arts degree with concentrations in wildlands ecology and management, outdoor education and leadership, and sustainable agriculture.
While I realize that my time here is momentary in the historical spectrum of Craftsbury Common, I am no less captivated by the mental images of those who have come before me, and by the historical picture John has painted for me this morning. The pioneering spirit of the settlers of Craftsbury, the founders of the Sterling School, and the alums of Sterling College have, in a way, helped to shape and guide my present educational experience. I smile at the way history is preserved here, while we move on into the future. The dorms are receiving a new coat of paint today; a student walks towards the Simpson Classrooms wearing colorful clothes; the lawn in front of the old white church is being mowed.