At ‘This Place in History’ we’re in Charlotte with Executive Director of the Vermont Historical Society Steve Perkins.
“A beautiful farm. It’s one of the only African-American owned farms in the state of Vermont and has been for a long, long time. We’re going to go inside and talk with the owners, Dr. Jack and Lydia Clemmons. We’re going to talk about their history here and a really fascinating future for this property for all of us in the state of Vermont,” introduced Perkins.
Dr. Jack and Lydia Clemmons first came to Vermont in the early 1960s after attending a job fair in Montreal. Dr. Clemmons was offered a position in the pathology department at UVM Medical Center and Lydia began a career in nursing. The search then began for a place to put down roots.
“All I can remember is us being told that the way to go out to the farm was to follow the main road going south. I walked all the way out here and right on the front steps, there was a man talking with about four or five young men. He told me he was in the process of thinking about selling this place. He pointed out the barn, the house down below, and I said that’s an awful lot of property. He said yeah, I realize that. And as he talked about it and what he wanted, I realized, I told him we would be very interested in purchasing it,” explained Jack.
He continued, “To get here many times, the transportation out here was difficult. You could get a bus or something else, but the wait would take quite a while. So I ended up walking out here. I can’t think of another black family at the time, particularly in farming, that I could have any contact with when we came here.”
“When we first came here, nobody locked their doors. They just walked in and I would come home and there would be flowers on the table, baked goods, baked bread. Welcome to Charlotte, welcome to Vermont,” said Lydia.
“At the time I was interested in schools and in town I had been on the school board. I got to know the people in town. They were rather glad to have someone from the outside to introduce new things to them. So I had a very good support of people and knowledge of them. It was very easy, as if I was one of the community just by working largely through the schools,” said Jack.
The Clemmons Family farm became a multi-faceted celebration of heritage. Jack and Lydia labored on the land with their growing family over the decades.
“It’s a matter of what you’re doing and what you see if you do farming. You can be out there to see a field that’s nothing, but you go and say mow it, bail it, and then look and see what happened to it after a period of time, and you’re proud of what you’re doing. So as a family, we all made tremendous effort and accomplishment in terms of changing this from a place that was just about to run down with the buildings and also the land, to which people will enjoy and which we have enjoyed,” explained Jack.
After a trip to Africa, Lydia’s vision for the 148 acre farm expanded. It became a cultural hub for art and collectibles from across the globe.
“My business started when we went to Kenya and we saw a lot of people standing in line to buy something. We stood in line because we wanted to see what they had. There was a woman there, a native from Tanzania, selling those beautiful straw bags. I was going to buy one or two from her and she said she’d like a nice American family to help her because her tribe had wanted her to get more business abroad . So we had a very happy relationship. I ordered the bags and when I came back to Vermont, Vermont was so supportive of especially women in business,” said Lydia.
Now in their 90s, Lydia and Jack are excited for planning the future with daughter Dia. They are transforming the privately owned historic farm to an African American Heritage and Multi Cultural Center.
“I think it’s very important because I think our eyes are all open now to the kind of world we live in. It seems we have just jumped ahead to a different kind, all of a sudden. So now it’s very important that all people of all races are recognized and respected. The only way you’re going to get some recognition and respect is to have done something positive. So I think from that standpoint, it’s very important that we have this in Vermont and in the United States,” concluded Lydia.
For more information on the Clemmons Family Farm, click here.
To view a map of Vermont’s roadside historic markers, click here.
For more from our ‘This Place in History’ series, click here.