by Phil Dodd
(This is part one of a two-part series. Part two will cover residents who are leaving Montpelier.)
It didn’t take Kate Belcher long to decide she wanted to return to Montpelier after having moved away last year to help take care of her granddaughter. After six months away, “I missed Montpelier a lot,” she said. “It’s a unique town with great people.” Today, she is back in a Montpelier apartment and has found a job just one block away.
By contrast, Erin Aguayo, her husband, and two young children moved here almost by chance. When the long-time Texas residents, who were living in Spain, found they had to move on very short notice, “the only person willing to take us in was my sister, who had moved to Montpelier, and who has a finished basement.” The family eventually decided to stay here and bought a house on Kemp Street a few months ago.
“For a place we had never intended to be, it might be everything we’d been searching for,” Aguayo said. “The school is wonderful, the winter is cold and unwelcoming to a lifelong bike commuter, the spring is breathtakingly gorgeous, the people are unusually well educated, determined, and involved in their community,” she said.
The stories of why people move to Montpelier (and also why they leave) are diverse and interesting. For this article, we talked to a half-dozen people who had recently moved here, tracking them down through Front Porch Forum postings or word of mouth. For the next issue we’ll talk to some folks who decided to leave, either full- or part-time.
One trend that became clear is that there are a number of people who move away but eventually choose to come back to Montpelier, such as Belcher. She is single and had lived in this area since 1980. She said she feels safe in Montpelier and is a big fan of Hubbard Park.
Not that she feels life here is perfect. “The job market in Vermont is not that good,” she commented. Belcher also said this past winter had been a tough one for herself and others. “I heard some people here say they can’t take another one like that,” she said.
Maggie Burke, 30, never lived in Montpelier, but spent many years in Vermont before heading to Crested Butte, Colorado, for four years. She recently got a job with Vermont Adaptive Ski and Sports and is currently looking for an apartment starting July 1 in either Montpelier or Waterbury. “They both seem like up-and-coming towns,” she said. “I like hanging out at the Three Penny Taproom.”
Burke went to college in southern Vermont and lived in a few different towns before moving west. “I lived in Burlington and felt like it was too big,” she said. “Then I moved to Waitsfield, which seemed too small. I ended up in Waterbury and thought it was about the right size.”
A subcategory of those moving back to Vermont or Montpelier consists of young adults who actually grew up in Montpelier, such as Bibba Walke Kahn. She spent several years away before returning with her husband, Harry, and small daughter to buy a house in Montpelier a year ago. The daughter of Judy and Stephen Walke, Kahn teaches French at Montpelier Middle School; her husband works at Keurig Green Mountain in Waterbury.
After graduating from Middlebury College, Kahn spent time in Baltimore, Paris, Brattleboro, and San Francisco. “But I always knew I wanted to return to Vermont eventually. I love the community, the people and the town itself.”
Kahn said Montpelier has been developing a new vibe that is attractive to young people. “Montpelier has come into its own,” she said. “There is more going on, more music venues, more things that appeal to people in their 20s and 30s. Another big attraction for me is a that a huge contingent of my friends left Montpelier for other places and then came back to Montpelier.”
Jill Pralle did not live nearly as far away as San Francisco when she decided to move to Montpelier. She lived in Marshfield for 15 years and her husband, Trevor Tait, had lived there for 25 years before they made the move to Montpelier this year. Pralle is gallery manager at Artisan’s Hand.
The motivation to move to town was twofold, she said. Tait’s parents had moved to Montpelier from Connecticut two years ago, and Pralle and Tate wanted to be closer to them. They also thought living in Montpelier would be more convenient. The two had looked into building a house in Plainfield to be a bit closer, but crunched the numbers and found it would be too expensive. Finding the right house in Montpelier took the pair took a fairly long time. “But we ended up in a great neighborhood, and we are very happy,” she said.
Family was also a factor in the move of Katie Craig, a soon-to-be 29-year-old who moved here after four years in Denver, Colorado. Last fall, her brother and his wife, who live in Underhill, announced they were having their first baby. “I’m very close with both my brother and sister-in-law and excited to be part of my niece or nephew’s life,” she said. “I had been thinking about moving back to New England for the past few months, and this announcement was the catalyst I needed to make it happen.”
Craig found a job at a nonprofit that seemed ideal and started her job in Barre a few weeks later, moving into a small apartment in Montpelier March 1. Her partner came to Vermont in mid-April. Craig has college friends who live nearby, and she is also meeting new friends. “We are finding many folks with whom to go rock climbing and hiking,” she said. “Yoga classes, Three Penny Taproom, and the trails in town have been great places to meet new people and feel like a part of this great community. Oh, and Front Porch Forum — what an awesome tool!”
Tom Aloisi grew up outside Burlington and stayed until 2001, when he decided he wanted to leave the state at age 35. “Since I knew Boston, it made sense to look for work there,” he said. “I was convinced winters there would be easier. I was completely wrong, and had to endure several blizzards, which are less fun in Boston than in Vermont!”
Aloisi eventually headed to Washington, D.C., for a job, but was laid off after seven years. After being unemployed for several months and applying for 100 jobs, he looked at the state of Vermont website on a whim and found the perfect state job. “I knew I would apply, and get it, and move back to Vermont — none of which had been a consideration just 10 minutes earlier,” said Aloisi, who moved here in 2013.
“I always said that if I ever moved back to Vermont I would want to live outside of Burlington to get the FULL Vermont experience. And I always liked Montpelier with its hippie vibe. I am single and will be 50 tomorrow,” said Aloisi. But he is not bothered by the big birthday: “Vermont is a very old state. In D.C., I felt old. In Vermont I feel young!”