Officially recognized as the 14th state in 1791, Vermont (taken from the French word “vert,” or green, and “mont,” for mountain) has long represented bucolic, comfortable living. Whether you’re considering a vacation or relocation, have a look at some of the area’s most intriguing bits of trivia.
1. It wasn’t always so cozy. The French and Indian War made the territory which would later be known as Vermont a chaotic place of unrest; it wasn't until the arrival of peacetime in 1763 that waves of settlers decided to give it a shot. While they were motivated to populate the area, resources like saw mills were limited; early log houses had bark roofs and flooring.
They had a beef with New York. The neighboring state had tried to claim the land as its own in the 1770s, even escalating the tension to include a small-scale invasion and threats of seizure by brandishing land titles in 1775. The resulting battle, dubbed the Westminster Massacre, left two dead.
3. Bitter over New York’s aggression, Vermont opted to call itself a republic in 1777, electing its own president (Thomas Chittenden), making its own money, and writing a constitution that predated the U.S. version by ten years. By 1790, however, it relented and paid New York $30,000 in silver to get off its back.
4. It tried to abolish slavery early. When Vermont drafted its constitution in 1777, it made slave ownership illegal. While it was an important first step, some of the fine print was problematic: It applied only to adults 18 and over, and many of its citizens were allowed to continue the practice into the early 1800s.
. It once elected a congressman who was sitting in jail. In 1798, brawling politician Matthew Lyons was cooling off in a cell after declaring that President John Adams was fond of “pomp,” or showboating, which was an infraction of the country’s Sedition Act. The misstep did little to sway voters, who re-elected him to the House of Representatives even as he was behind bars.
6. One of its residents led the way in women’s education. Emma Willard was encouraged by her father to pursue studies that were previously only available to men. Moving from Connecticut to Vermont in 1807, she became principal of a Middlebury women’s academy. Leaving to have children, she continued to study advanced textbooks at home and later opened a girls' school out of the same residence. Willard’s ambitions came at a time women were banned from attending college and discouraged from teaching while married.
Cavendish was home to one of the most infamous neurological case studies in history. Phineas Gage was part of a railroad crew in 1848 when a tamping iron propelled by explosive powder shot clear through his brain. Seemingly unharmed, Gage remained conscious, and lived over a decade longer to the age of 36. His personality, however, was dramatically altered: he lost any sense of decorum, swore often, and became a case study in how brain trauma could affect personality.
8. Vermont really embraced the covered-bridge craze. In the 1800s, several states took to constructing bridges with awnings to shield the wood-built crossings from the elements—and later, to make an artistic statement. Vermont has over 100 of them.
9. It wasn’t too hospitable to John Deere. The famous inventor was born in Vermont in 1804 and spent much of his early life mastering the blacksmith trade. After finding that his services weren’t needed in the area and that creditors were going to make his life miserable, Deere headed for Illinois, where he revised conventional soil plows and later became renowned for his farm equipment business.
Your grocery aisles are stuffed with imitation pancake syrup, but it’s Vermont that has the market cornered on the real thing. The state’s genuine maple syrup production adds up to 1.2 million gallons every year, twice as much as runner-up New York.
11. While skiing is responsible for much of the state's tourism, over 30 percent of visitors come during the summer months to check out the parks and campsites, and to visit area lakes.
12. Rudyard Kipling had a vision for all that snow beyond skiing: he invented “snow golf.” The author, who moved to Brattleboro with his wife in 1892, was fond of using clubs or tree branches to swat at golf balls he colored red so they’d stick out in the snow; tees were made from small, packed-down mounds of snow. Today, golf purists desperate for action sometimes take up the practice when courses are snowed in.
14. It gave the U.S. its own version of the Loch Ness Monster. “Champ,” an aquatic beast said to live in Lake Champlain, was once pursued by P.T. Barnum and has been seen by hundreds of witnesses as far back as the 1800s. In 1982, Vermont wryly declared the lake a safe haven for the creature.
15. Its two most famous residents are on a first-name basis with the rest of the country. Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield opened their first ice cream location, Ben and Jerry's, in Burlington in 1978 using $12,000 in seed money. In 1983, they built a 27,102-pound sundae as a promotional stunt. In 1987, the company began giving away all of their delicious waste to Vermont’s hog farmers to feed to their pigs.
Before they become synonymous with ice cream, Ben and Jerry also served up soup and crepes—and peddled pottery—in their original location, a converted gas station.
17. Brattleboro had a public nudity problem. In 2006, the town’s more modest thinkers were up in arms when teenagers began to jog and ride bikes while naked. An “emergency” ordinance was passed to ban the practice in 2007. A vote the following month restored the right to bare all.
18. The von Trapp family depicted in The Sound of Music are proud Vermont residents. Arriving in 1942, the family settled in Stowe and purchased a ski lodge: Johannes von Trapp, the eldest child, still operates the property.
19. Norman Rockwell used it as inspiration. The famed painter moved to Arlington with his family in 1939. It’s said that much of his work in the 1940s reflected the nature of small-town life that surrounded him. He even used residents and landmarks as models.
20. It was the first state to recognize same-sex civil unions. Amid some heated protesting and debates from all sides, the state legalized what it dubbed “civil unions” in 2000. (The term “marriage” was challenged by lawmakers.) In 2003, it was found that 85 percent of those joined together there had come from out of state.
There’s only one area code for the entire state: 802. The number has become a popular designation for tourist gear and residential license plates.
22. They had big problems with margarine. To protect the butter industry at the turn of the century, states like Wisconsin and Vermont insisted that margarine manufacturers dye their white spreads a queasy pink.
Billboards are illegal there. In 1968, legislator Ted Riehle proposed a law banning advertising that would distract from the colorful landscapes. Farmers didn’t love it—it cost them money from advertisers—but the ban stuck. (The state sometimes makes an exception for hand-painted murals promoting tourism.)
25. It’s the second-most peaceful state in the nation. 2012 crime rate statistics by the Institute for Economics and Peace indicated that Vermont suffers just one murder per 100,000 residents and 129 incidences of violent crime in the same population. Maine is number one. Then again, they don’t have to fight over ice cream.