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The Cup of Coffee That Started It All

Phil Dodd. Courtesy photo.
In 1993, I was involved with a small Montpelier advocacy group called Montpelier 2000, a name that seems charmingly archaic today. We published an occasional newsletter about planning issues, and in one of them I asked whether anyone might be interested in starting a more regular newsletter or newspaper covering all aspects of Montpelier. I felt there was a lot more going on in Montpelier than was being covered by other media and that Montpelier had a lot of talented people who might be willing to get involved in such a project.

Someone told Nat Frothingham about my query. He called me, and we agreed to meet for coffee at the old Horn of the Moon Café. That’s where we hatched a plan to put up posters around town looking for volunteers to attend a meeting about starting a newspaper. Ten or twelve people showed up and we were off and rolling. As I recall, the name for the paper was suggested by the late Don Pfister, who in those days had a Vermont license plate that said “POET.” The Montpelier Bridge moniker was meant to both recognize the large number of bridges in the city but also serve as a metaphor for connecting our community.

That first year we only published four issues, but the frequency of the paper’s publication increased over the years and has settled in at two issues a month. In the beginning, we were all volunteers, but within a few years, many participants — myself included — found they needed to cut back their involvement to focus on jobs or young families, so ownership of the paper was turned over to Jake Brown and Nat Frothingham, who expanded the scope of the paper to include coverage of nearby towns and shortened the name to The Bridge. Eventually Nat became the sole owner and did a fantastic job of keeping the paper alive through recessions, embezzlement, and the rise of the internet. 

Today, of course, The Bridge publishes not only a free newspaper mailed to all households in the 05602 ZIP code and available on news racks throughout the region, but a robust website at montpelierbridge.org that carries stories from the paper as well as breaking news, such as the timely article on and remarkable photos of the recent rk Miles fire. All of this is only possible because of the hard work of our small but talented paid staff. 

I got involved with The Bridge again after my retirement, about the time ownership shifted from Nat to the state nonprofit Bridge Community Media. At that time, many other volunteers joined in as board members, writers, and copy editors. After we were finally approved as a federal 501(c)(3) nonprofit this year, the “ownership” (same board, same staff) changed again to Capital Region Community Media. The designation means we can now merge the Friends of the Bridge, which has been a separate 501(c)(3) fundraising vehicle, into the new nonprofit, simplifying operations and clarifying things for donors. 

One thing we have learned over the years is how important fundraising is to the survival of The Bridge, whether in times of crisis like the pandemic or the flood, or just to help offset the general decline in print advertising that is causing newspapers across the country to close their doors. Thank you to the hundreds of community members who have contributed the funds that have allowed us to stay in business.

Thirty years on, I am amazed and gratified to find The Bridge still publishing compelling and important articles. Nat, thanks again for that phone call and cup of coffee.

Phil Dodd is president of the Friends of the Bridge and co-president, with Greg Gerdel, of Capital Region Community Media.