By Kate Barcellos
POULTNEY — On the second Saturday of every August, East Main Street in Poultney comes alive.
“There’s something about this town,” said Melanie Kingsley, vendor and owner of Mel’s Place Hair Salon in Poultney. “I don’t know what it is, but this town is like Hallmark. It’s just an awesome place to be.”
Almost every lawn on either side of the normally quiet street that Saturday was decorated with various knick-knacks for sale, welcoming cars from all over New England and beyond to the small town’s annual summer celebration.
The 83rd version of East Poultney Day arrived on a cool, cloudy day that threatened rain, but that didn’t stop farmers and minstrels, jewelry makers and bread bakers from hoisting their tents and arranging their wares. They served waves of customers who gathered on the wide green surrounding the United Baptist Church of Poultney to celebrate the roots of the western Rutland County town.
The green welcomed local bluegrass ensembles Spruce Knob Uprising and the Not-Quite Brothers, and a giant bouncy house drew crowds of local children.
In one tent gleamed platters with doilies pressed into the clay, berry bowls, flower vases and mugs with braided handles, which are the ceramist’s signature creation.
“You know, my hands are small, but they’re so strong … I can palm a basketball,” said Victoria Whitney, owner of the North Granville Pottery Company. “It’s all about strength.”
Whitney, who has been “throwing” (creating pottery) for 15 years, studied ceramics and pottery in Delft, Holland, and continues to paint in the styles she learned, while always trying to fill what she calls a “functional void.”
East Poultney Day originated in 1935 when the second Saturday in August was reserved to honor town residents who served in the Battle of Bennington, and the “Valiant Thirteen” women who fled their homes after the Battle of Hubbardton before British army officer John Burgoyne could reach them.
“Poultney used to be separated into districts, like North Poultney, West Poultney, East Poultney and South Poultney,” said event organizer Jamie Lerner. “The districts had to walk everywhere. (East Poultney Day) is to celebrate Poultney as a whole.”
The theme this year was “Poultney On the Move for Two and a Half Centuries,” and in honor of the occasion, the restored 1896 Poultney Schoolhouse became the home of a large HO model train that was donated to the Poultney Historical Society by the family of Milt McWithey, who was born in Poultney in 1928 and passed away in 2017. A career engineer, Navy and Coast Guard veteran, and member of the Poultney Rescue Squad, McWithey was also a nostalgic tinkerer. It was in the garage behind his home where he decided to recreate Poultney on a miniature scale, with help from the artistic talents of his wife, June, and other members of his family.
Now, thanks to Saratoga miniature train expert Don Buesing of Legend Layouts LLC, and 80 hours of work, the scene has come alive.
The little train, which represents the Delaware and Hudson Railway freights that once provided the only major route into Poultney, chugs its way through a 15-foot layout of the town as it looked in the 1920s — all the way from the southern railroad bridge across the Poultney River to the Borden Creamery, a slate quarry and a farm in the north part of the village.
It also represents a town that cherishes where it came from and keeps its stories alive on the second Saturday of every August.