By Lani Duke
In the 1880s, trains played a critical role in the development of local industry as well as tourism. Central Vermont’s economic prosperity relied on trains, which carried the state’s maple products, apples, other goods, marble and slate to New York and beyond. The building on Evelyn Street that now houses TD Bank once served as a warehouse for gathering Rutland-area agricultural products before they were shipped south to feed the cities. Until the mid-20th century, visitors arrived in Rutland by train to escape the summer heat of the cities, visit the mineral springs or ski the slopes.
Trains again are poised to play a major role in a new phase of developing the local economy. Two major events in Rutland are planned to bring people together with local foods in a context that railroad enthusiasts will love. An agritourism conference is scheduled for Rutland April 7-8 and the National Railway Historical Society will hold its annual convention in Rutland in mid-June. Both events will feature trains in their historic role in tourism and moving Vermont’s products to expanded markets.
Vermont agritourism conference, April 7-8
The upcoming agritourism conference in Rutland, “Welcoming Customers on Your Farm,” is funded through a Rural Enterprise Grant from USDA Rural Development, with additional support from the Rutland Regional Planning Commission, the Rutland Area Farm and Food Link, UVM Extension Service, Vermont Dept. of Tourism and Marketing, and other players in the tourism and agriculture spheres. This two-day event consists of workshops at both the Vermont Farmers Food Center on West Street and the Paramount Theatre, with tours of Hathaway Farm in Rutland Town, Wellsmere Farm and Larson Farm, both in Wells, and Someday Farm in Dorset, as well as a stop at Green Mountain College to learn about the Farm & Food Project.
The Food Train project
Strengthening the link between Rutland producers and New York City food markets is the intent of the Vermont Food Train, a project Vermont Farmers Food Center president Greg Cox intends to present at the conference.
Still in the planning stages, the Food Train will be a special weekend excursion train out of New York City into Rutland that will run once or twice a year. Market owners and some of their most enthusiastic clientele will board refurbished antique dining cars on the Ethan Allen line at Pennsylvania Station on a Friday night. Rumbling north, the passengers will enjoy the scenery while beginning a gastronomic exploration of Vermont-made foods. They may spend the next day exploring downtown Rutland, visiting the farmers market in Depot Park and attending events such as Art in the Park. Saturday evening will feature another feast of locally-sourced foods, followed by entertainment at the Paramount. On Sunday after a farm tour, they will return to New York aboard the dining cars, enjoying yet another Vermont-made meal.
National Railway Historical Society meet-up,
Although the National Railway Historical Society convention is a couple of months in the future, these visitors are already having an impact on the local economy as they book hotel rooms—lodgings closest to the convention venue are already sold out, with other motels taking overflow reservations. Granted, these are railroad buffs: they come to delight in railroad history, spending much of their time in a series of chartered train rides over the Vermont Railway System, in some cases behind vintage locomotives.