Firehouse sign, crafted by Killington founder Preston Smith, is on display along with video about its making
By Karen D. Lorentz
Saturday, Feb. 10 at 11 a.m. —KILLINGTON— While change often brings major improvements, it sometimes comes at the expense of losing a connection with the past and/or a sense of community.
That’s not the case in the town of Killington where on Saturday, Feb. 10 at 11 a.m. the Sherburne Memorial Library will present a program celebrating the history of the Sherburne Volunteer Fire Department (SVFD) through the preservation and display of the sign that graced their first firehouse.
Steve Finer, past fire chief and a volunteer SVFD member for 40 years, had been concerned about the sign’s safekeeping when the town’s new Public Safety Building was constructed. Coincidentally, he learned from Leslie Smith that her father, Killington Resort founder Preston Leete Smith, had made the sign.
“It was like a light bulb going off. I asked her if she could video her father telling the story of how the sign came about,” Finer said, adding that because Smith had made it, “it became even more important to save the sign and display it somewhere that the public could see it and have access to the video.”
“Steve Finer came to us at the library with the idea to move the sign from the public safety building to here because we are also the repository for the Sherburne Killington Historians,” said Library Director Jane Ramos.
Agreeing, Ramos contacted Fire Chief Paul Ginther and the fire department donated funds for the display and setup.
The sign was hung in the library meeting room along with a sign from Station 2. The library was also given photos from the SVFD, which were reframed and hung in the meeting room.
“Several things came together to make this event possible. The recent revitalization of the Sherburne Killington Historians, the anniversary of the resort, and knowing that Pres was the one who made the original sign, we thought it was important to preserve the history,” said Ramos said, referring to Killington Resort turning 65 on Dec. 13. “We were gifted a video of Pres talking about the creation of the sign and have purchased a museum quality kiosk to house a tablet that will allow visitors to the library to hear Pres in his own words. The kiosk will also house a video of opening day at the resort in honor of its recent anniversary,” she said.
In the 6-minute video, Smith relates that he had previously made some trail signs for the Killington Ski Area. “I chose redwood because it routed very easily. I routed the letters on the trail signs so that they could be repainted by anybody who was not particularly skilled, and therefore, they would last for years, as redwood lasts forever.”
He further explained his own innate graphic design ability and enjoyment of art and artistic expression, noting, “Lettering is not just spacing the letters a half inch apart or some specific number. It has to do with the size of the letter in relation to the size of the next letter, and the space in between. To create a properly reading sign, those spatial relationships between letters have to be assessed by an eye that can judge the quality of the space between the lettering, and I happen to be able to do that.”
(This artistic side of the ski area entrepreneur is not so well known, but it might resonate with anyone who remembers Killington’s futuristic looking “Stealth Cats,” which sported glow-in-the-dark graphics on all black re-contoured grooming machines or the Dec. 9, 1994 debut of the Skyeship with its cabins featuring colorful designs for an “art gallery in the sky” effect.)
Smith also was a volunteer member of the Sherburne Volunteer Fire Dept. but was not able to actively participate as he was busy operating the ski area, which was growing by 60% a year, he said.
“All the local people who had been working to build this new firehouse were nearing bringing it to completion, and I decided I needed to do something in support of the fire department,” Smith explained of his motivation to make a sign for the building.
He located a 16-foot long piece of clear pine and proceeded to use his drawing tools to set out the lettering. Speaking from his Florida home, Smith acknowledged that “Sherburne Volunteer Fire Department is quite a long series of words and the challenge was to have it look right. I had eyeballed it to make sure the spatial relationships were correct, and then I got out my router and I routed all the lettering.”
He painted the board plank white and used red paint for the lettering. With the paint barely dry, he drove the sign to the firehouse where volunteers installed it.
Pleased that the sign fit perfectly and that he had been able to contribute, Smith was surprised when inquiries came in from other volunteer fire departments wanting signs. He had to decline due to being busy operating Killington, he remembered.
While Smith will always be remembered for his legacy of developing the East’s largest — and one of the nation’s most successful — ski resorts, thanks to the work of history-minded volunteers, the story of the sign and an early piece of Sherburne Volunteer Fire Dept. history will live on at the library.
That is a source of satisfaction for Smith, who fondly remembers the many individuals who made the fire department an important part of a growing community. Expressing his gratitude for Finer’s efforts to preserve the sign, Smith also appreciates having been able to be part of a “great community.”
Ramos said several old photo albums/memorabilia will also be on display and the public is welcome to attend the event on Saturday.
The Sherburne Memorial Library in Killington is showcasing the history of the Sherburne Volunteer Fire Department (SVFD) through the preservation and display of a sign made by its founder, Preston Leete Smith.