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251: Bringing the History of Tiny Granby to Life

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Rod Noble and Connie Quimby in the schoolhouse where both were students in the 1940s and 50s - ANNE WALLACE ALLEN ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Anne Wallace Allen ©️ Seven Days
  • Rod Noble and Connie Quimby in the schoolhouse where both were students in the 1940s and 50s
A brother and sister who graduated from Granby’s one-room schoolhouse in the 1950’s hope to teach visitors about what has happened over the centuries in their once-bustling town. Its population peaked at 300 residents around 1890 and once hosted several farms, orchards, sawmills and creameries.

Connie Quimby, 78, and Rodney Noble, 80, are part of a group that is raising money to refurbish the 1885 schoolhouse, which closed in 2007. The hilly, forested Northeast Kingdom hamlet is now home to about 80 people.

“There is no school teaching the history of Granby anymore,” said Noble, who graduated from the eighth grade in Granby in 1955 and moved to neighboring Concord for high school. Noble, now of Lunenburg, taught school in Island Pond and then Waterford for decades. “It’s going to be lost without a place for people to come to. Even people who live in town now, some of them don’t really know.”



Granby became a town around 1760, after early settlers arrived from England to claim its land, according to the town history that several local residents published in about 1990, titled, Thru the Woods... Down the River... Over the Hill: Granby, VT.

By 1811, Granby had a Grand List that townspeople voted to raise by one penny on the dollar in order to buy the town powder, lead and flint. Townspeople could also pay their taxes in those items, instead of currency.
This Granby schoolhouse, built in 1885, was once one of many in town. - ANNE WALLACE ALLEN ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Anne Wallace Allen ©️ Seven Days
  • This Granby schoolhouse, built in 1885, was once one of many in town.
A “general stampede” out of Granby after a particularly cold set of winters from 1813 to 1818 left just three families in residence, according to town history. But by the late 1800s, Granby was again bustling with orchards, beekeepers, blacksmiths and a logging operation so large that a railroad once ran into town to transport lumber to market.

The local history book tells of eventful times, including Civil War heroism by local resident Ethan Shores at the Battle of Cedar Creek in 1864 in Virginia. A century before that, two soldiers who were part of Rogers’ Rangers, an elite group of British soldiers, were killed by wolves and buried in Granby. A plaque commemorating that event will be dedicated next year, Noble said.

"There were grist mills, a lot of lumber sawmills, and of course everybody had their own farm and produced interesting products, like wheat and tobacco," Noble said. "There were cobblers and blacksmiths and just about anything else the community needed."

When Noble and Quimby attended the school, a librarian from St. Johnsbury would pull up outside the school with books in the back of the car. A music teacher came in once a week; a nurse came once a year with inoculations.  At its largest, the school had 17 students.

More recently, Granby and neighboring Victory earned a measure of fame as the last two towns in Vermont to be connected to the electrical grid. Local residents created a group called Holiday in the Hills to raise awareness of their plight and held annual festivals, inviting politicians and the media. One year, the festival crowd  numbered 6,000, said Noble. Electricity finally reached them in 1963.
The student body in 1947. Rodney Noble is in the front row, second from right. - COURTESY OF HOLIDAY IN THE HILLS ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Courtesy of Holiday in the HIlls ©️ Seven Days
  • The student body in 1947. Rodney Noble is in the front row, second from right.
Quimby and Noble are part of the Holiday in the Hills group, recently revived as a nonprofit to raise money for the schoolhouse. To that end, on November 13, the group will raffle off a newly purchased muzzleloader rifle with a scope. An engraved plate of the gun stock bears the Holiday in the Hills emblem.

When Noble and Quimby were students at the Granby School, they had four siblings, and their father was a school director. They all took turns sweeping the floors and tending the furnace. Their mother was very active in the school and in the town, and the two have warm memories of growing up in the cocoon of family and neighbors.

“I think every town should have their own little schoolhouse,” said Quimby, who served four terms in the Vermont legislature, ending in 2020. “You hear the same information for eight years, you’ve got it learned by then.”

In the early 1980s, the town started sending its seventh and eighth graders to schools in neighboring towns, and in 2006 it closed altogether. The building has been empty ever since, and Quimby expects that fixing the original windows and readying the place for visitors will cost many thousands of dollars.

Locals have pledged artifacts, such as farm equipment and spinning wheels, to use as exhibits when the group is ready to take donations.

In the last few years, traffic has picked up considerably a couple of towns over in East Burke, which is home to the Kingdom Trails bicycle network. That nonprofit was drawing an estimated 100,000 visitors a year before the pandemic. New businesses have opened in the area to serve them, including nearby East Haven's Dirt Church, the only brewery in Essex County.

But the growth from East Burke hasn’t reached Granby, and that’s fine with Quimby. Local residents do see the occasional tourists hiking in town, which is also fine.



She doesn’t expect the museum will ever be open more than once a week. The message she’d like visitors to take away from the museum is that Granby is a special and peaceful place where important lives have been lived.

“You don’t need to be big to be successful and have a history,” she said. Even in a town as quiet as Granby, “you can accomplish great things.”

251 is a series of on-the-road stories, coming soon to a town near you.