Literary history exhibit coming to new Amtrak station
By Lissa Weinmann, Brattleboro Words Project
BRATTLEBORO — A new bridge over the Connecticut River linking Brattleboro and New Hampshire will open in 2024. The old Anna Hunt Marsh and Charles Dana bridges will be repurposed for pedestrians and bikes, a change expected to transform a woefully neglected riverfront in the center of Brattleboro’s historic downtown to something new, beautiful and accessible.
Thanks to a new partnership, audio stories and a new exhibit focused on the area’s incredibly rich history will help animate that transformation.
The Brattleboro Words Trail is partnering with Amtrak to mount a permanent exhibit celebrating the town’s rich history of words on the track-facing exterior wall of a new Amtrak station, expected to open in fall 2024 on the river side of the existing tracks. People arriving in Brattleboro or waiting for a train will be able to listen to stories about sites on both sides of the river from their cell phones. Locals drawn to the new waterfront amenities will deepen their knowledge about and appreciation of their home.
“Stations are at the heart of the communities Amtrak serves, and introducing this new artwork in Brattleboro station will further enhance our customers’ experience while adding to that local community presence,” said Dr. David Handera, Amtrak vice president of stations, facilities, properties and accessibility. “It is a great fit for us to highlight Brattleboro’s unique and rich literary history by including the beautiful, locally created Brattleboro Words Trail murals and maps as part of the design for the new Amtrak station.”
Large ceramic landscape mural-maps created by Cynthia Parker-Houghton, lead designer at Natalie Blake Studios in Brattleboro, for the Words Trail will be the centerpiece of the exhibit.
The award-winning Words Trail is one product of a National Endowment for the Humanities matching grant, which, with local support, continues to engage local citizens in researching and making short audio stories celebrating people and places important in Brattleboro and its surrounding area’s rich history in writing, printing, publishing and all things words. The Project also published “Print Town: Brattleboro’s Legacy of Words,” a richly illustrated, 247-page book that won a national design award last year.
You can download the free Words Trail app on a cell phone, grab a Words Trail map, and listen to over 100 stories as you walk, drive or bike around town. Many of the storied sites are centered around that waterfront area.
The westernmost Anna Hunt Marsh Bridge is named for the woman whose bequest formed the Brattleboro Retreat, one of the earliest mental health “asylums” known for offering humane care at a time when the mentally ill were subjected to “treatments” more like torture. Few people realize that it is thanks to Anna that Mount Wantastiquet is protected today.
The shorter Charles Dana Bridge on the east side of “Hinsdale Island” is named for the remarkable journalist who was Karl Marx’s editor in the United States. Stories on Thoreau’s walk up Mount Wantastiquet, local circus personality Kevin O’Keefe’s account of the circuses that came to “Island Park” and Rich Holschuh’s piece on the native Abenaki language and their use of the river “Kwenitekw” are a few examples of Words Trail pieces that relate specifically to that area.
David Hiler, an owner of The Station brewery at the foot of the bridge, narrates a segment on Robert J. Flaherty, considered the “father of documentary filmmaking” who lived nearby in Dummerston.
Building the exhibit — and the case that will protect it — will also be a community project. “HatchSpace will work with the Words Trail team and local students to build a hand-crafted, durable exhibit honoring the rich literary identity of the area as part of a revitalized waterfront,” said HatchSpace’s Tom Bodett, himself an author featured on the Words Trail.
Even after the Words Trail exhibit opens at the new station’s unveiling next year, the mural maps will continue to grow as each new community-created story gets a ceramic button placed on the murals. More signs and guided tours starting at the May and June Gallery Walks will further orient the community to these words on the water, and beyond.
Lissa Weinmann, is a curious cat, exploring back alleys, public documents and her closets in search of good stories, a few of which actually get nished. She’s co-owner of Brattleboro’s 118 Elliot, a community arts space, directs the Brattleboro Words Project, vice-chair of the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Decommissioning Citizen Advisory Panel and maintains sanity and her edge with daily yoga practice.