- Historic Sites
Vermont Vs. New Hampshire
They border each other, they look alike, and most outsiders have a hard time separating the two. Yet residents know the differences are enormous.
April 1992 | Volume 43, Issue 2
Both states also claim to have played the primary roles in various battles that either strengthened or actually saved the Union. At Bunker Hill, New Hampshire’s troops outnumbered the combined totals of Massachusetts and Connecticut, and Washington himself said the “bravery and resolution” of New Hampshire soldiers “far surpassed the other colonies.” Vermont points to its role at Gettysburg almost ninety years later. Historians seem to agree that the actions of Stanhard’s Vermont brigade were critical in repulsing Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg. Furthermore, Vermont can truthfully say it suffered more casualties in the Civil War, per capita, than any other state.
The most significant single reason for all the present-day differences between these two brother states, however, has nothing to do with political history. It has to do with the characteristics of the ground each inherited—the actual soil. Mark Twain said, “In the South, the people define the land and in the North, the land defines the people.” Vermont’s land has always been well suited for farming, while New Hampshire’s has not. With the exception of parts of the Connecticut and Merrimack river valleys, New Hampshire’s soil consists mainly of glacial hardpan strewn with rocks and boulders. Thus, when the rural populations of both states were lured West by the discovery of gold in California, easier farming, and just plain Yankee restlessness, New Hampshire’s lost population was more than made up for by immigrants, who, instead of battling with all those New Hampshire rocks, went to work in the growing factories and mills.
Except during the Civil War decade, New Hampshire’s overall population steadily increased during the nineteenth century. Vermont, the region of New England least touched by industry, not only remained rural and agriculturally oriented, but its population declined during most of the same period. Even today Vermont has legally chartered towns, like Avery’s Gore, Warner’s Grant, Lewis, and Ferdinand, that remain virtually uninhabited.
In 1911, concerned by this loss of people, Vermont began its now-famous tourist industry—currently the number-one money-maker in the state—by sending out the first state-sponsored tourist brochure. It was a profusely illustrated booklet of eighty pages entitled Vermont, Designed by the Creator for the Playground of the Continent.
Fourteen years later New Hampshire followed suit, although since the turn of the century it had been conducting Old Home Day celebrations designed to bring back Western wanderers for at least a day. Its first tourist brochure was more modestly entitled The Summer Playground of America. Apparently that was more effective than Vermont’s: the summer tourist business in the Granite State, luring people to huge hotels in the White Mountains and Lake Winnipesaukee region, grew by leaps and bounds while Vermont’s increased much more slowly. There are those residents of New Hampshire today who wish it could have been the other way around.
The two states remain different. “You can feel the difference the minute you cross the Connecticut River,” people say. But like brothers who tend to come together when threatened from outside, they face the future with similar concerns. The difference is in how they rank them. New Hampshire, alarmed by its recent economic slowdown after a decade of incredible growth fueled by its high-tech industries, is still afraid some political sleaze will eventually succeed in getting a state income tax passed. But economic and development pressures and the resulting changing character of many of its communities are growing concerns as well. Steady pressure to increase controls statewide , flies directly in the face of the historic home-rule philosophy, which placed the responsibility of decision making mostly in the hands of individual towns.
Frugal New Hampshire pays legislators two hundred dollars every other year, plus mileage.
Vermont is afraid of economic and development pressures too. In fact, that’s its primary concern. But it’s a concern that goes further than being apprehensive, as New Hampshire is, about the changing character of its individual communities. To most Vermonters, these pressures threaten, as they put it, “our way of life.” As the only New Englanders (with the possible exception of some in Maine) who actually live the New England image, they want to continue to do so.
However, there’s a new type of pressure growing steadily in Vermont these days, and it’s not without some irony. It is made up of Vermonters who adamantly oppose anything that could result in higher taxes and who want Vermont businesses (like IBM and the Digital Equipment Corporation up in the Burlington area, for instance) to expand. “Vermont is on the extreme end of environmental issues,” said Dick Tanch, former general manager of the Mount Mansfield ski area, recently, “and it’s detrimental to our economic health.”