Floridians are Flocking to the Green Mountain State

Floridians are Flocking to the Green Mountain State
By Michael Strauss

While driving down Route 7 in Manchester, Vt., several years ago, over to my right I saw a small pond about the size of a tennis court with about 20 men and women standing around its perimeter holding fishing rods in their hands.

“That pond sure must be loaded with fish,” I noted to myself. “I have to find out what’s going on.” And so I entered the adjacent Orvis Sporting Goods Shop to inquire.

“What you’re seeing is one of our regular flycasting classes,” said a salesman. “We get students from all over the East to learn or improve their technique. Our firm specializes in fly rods and other fishing tackle.”

Before long I was speaking to the company’s vice president, the late Wes Jordan, who had gained national fame for the bamboo fly rods he had made by hand. I wasn’t an angler so Jordan’s name meant nothing to me then. But it does now, because many of his handmade rods have become museum pieces.

“Where do the people in that class come from?” I asked Jordan. “We have some out there from Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts. And do you know two of them came all the way here from Florida? They’re the first Floridians we’ve had.”

That was 15 years ago. Now many Floridians seem to be flocking to Vermont in the summer with a fervor reminiscent of the gold rush days. Where do they usually head? For Vermont’s ski areas which are otherwise vacant.

“It’s a great deal for me,” a senior citizen from Boca Raton told me one summer afternoon at an auction held in front of Bus Mars’ long barn in Pawlet. “We’re paying $500 per month for a neat condo up on Bromley Mountain near Manchester. And it has everything. The only thing we had to bring was our clothing and toothbrushes.”

Just how popular the Green Mountain State has become to Floridians was brought to our attention last summer at the Killington ski resort just east of the city of Rutland. My wife and I were attending a presentation of Show Boat at a summer theater on the ground floor of the area’s huge base lodge.

At intermission we suddenly heard a band of musicians at the far end of the lodge playing Klezner music, East European folk dance music. We decided to investigate because we never had heard that type music in Vermont before. (Now even the Klezner music comes to Palm Beach. The Klezner band from Boston was a feature at the Palm Beach Festival this past winter.)

When we reached the room we found several hundred people, many of them dancing.

“What’s going on?” I asked a middle-aged man who was sitting out the dance with his wife. He explained that he was from Delray Beach and was renting a condominium at Killington for the summer.

“All the way from Florida?” I questioned.

He laughed. “This region is loaded with Floridians. I understand we have about 400 couples from Florida right around here. They’re people who come mostly from Palm Beach and Broward counties. And we’re all having a great time. Those musicians you see are from upstate Vermont and they play this kind of music all over the state.”

Harold Braun, a resident of Royal Palm Beach who has been acting as one of the rental agents in Florida for the Sugarbush ski area at Warren, estimated that last summer more than 4,000 Floridians spent at least two months in the Green Mountain State.

“It’s a development that’s working out to the mutual benefit of all,” said Braun, who also spends his summers at Sugarbush. “Quite a few of our ski-minded condo owners were thinking of selling out until recent years, because keeping their places going up there had become too expensive. Now because of the sudden demand for their places in the summer, more and more of them are holding on to their property.”

“As for the Floridians,” said Braun, “you have to remember that many of them sold their northern homes when they bought in Florida. In many cases, they didn’t realize how hot it can get in South Florida in July and August.

“Where to go? They couldn’t return to their former homes. They had sold them. Vermont’s ski area condos provided an excellent solution.”

“Now Floridians are beginning to come to Vermont in droves,” said Braun. “Up near Sugarbush almost all of the license plates — scores of them — are on cars from Florida.”

Costs at the different ski resort condominiums vary. But most are reasonable, certainly when compared to their wintertime prices or motel prices. Braun, who has been renting as many as 40 units per year in the Sugarbush area, reports that housing is available from $700 to $1,000 a month. All of these units offer cable TV, a fireplace, laundry room and usually two bedrooms and two bathrooms.

“Floridians stay generally from June 1 until the middle of September,” he explained. “Actually they should stay into October and catch the breathtaking foliage panorama that at that time of year can be found in every direction.”

Jack Dudley of Equinox, Inc., in Manchester, had 10 to 15 units available at the end of winter for $1,800 monthly. At Quechee, near the community of Woodstock, two bedrooms last spring were being priced at $1,400 per month.

But at Burke Mountain in the state’s northern precincts it was possible to obtain a one-bedroom unit for $330. Mary Weniorski of Burke Mountain Condos maintains that her repeat business is mostly from Floridians. Lofty Bolton Valley, within a short driving distance of the state’s biggest city of Burlington, also has been playing host to couples from Florida. With 108 units available, the costs there run from $1,200 for one-bedroom units to $1,500 for two bedrooms. About 40 couples from Florida stayed there last summer.

Sara Widness, marketing director for Vermont’s rapidly growing Hawk Resort in the Killington area reports, “During Hawk’s 22-year history, we have played host to warm weather stays by Floridians in our single Hawk homes. This will be the first summer that we have a condominium collection to offer. At our Sunrise Mountain Village complex we have been engaged in an aggressive campaign because 72 out of a planned 554 units are completed. We know that the Florida market is good for the Killington region.

“This first summer our main offering will be especially luxurious accommodations in two-, three-and four-bedroom units in highly private surroundings near a new golf course and other summertime amenities. I would point out that Hawk, in 1984, was only one of four international resorts and hostelries singled out for a grand award from the prestigious Hideaway Report. The other properties were overseas. Hawk has an extraordinary collection of rustic but elegant, privately owned stone and timber dwellings.”

Killington and Sugarbush are only two of the Green Mountain State’s centers catering to Floridians who have been making the journey to Vermont from such Florida communities as Boca Raton, Delray Beach, Boynton Beach, Lake Worth and Jupiter.

Also popular among Floridians for summer occupancy have been such ski centers as Bromley, Magic and Stratton mountains and Mount Snow in the state’s southern precincts, Okemo Mountain near Killington in the central part of the state and Bolton Valley, Smugglers Notch, Jay Peak, Burke Mountain and the well-known Stowe resort community to the north.

In addition to seasonal renters, many Floridians also own Vermont property that they enjoy during the summer. “I’ve been living in Delray for the better part of 25 years,” said Helen Hummel, who for years was a member of Manalapan’s La Coquille Club and who now belongs to Highland Beach’s highly regarded Sea Gate Club. “And I’ve been living in Dorset, Vt., for about the same length of time.

“I have a neat little home up there and am close to the Dorset Playhouse — a summer theater — a museum and a nicely landscaped scenic golf course. Dorset, pitched in a lush mountain valley, is lovely in the summer. The weather is cool and the quiet environment relaxing. There, I’m a member of the Dorset Field Club and the Ekwanok Country Club in Manchester because it’s good to be in touch with others. I’m happy that other people from Florida are finding Vermont an excellent place to spend their summers.

“Having summer places available represents a happy marriage for the condo owners and the Floridians,” said a retired banker from Palm Beach who spends his summers at Quechee, just west of the prestigous Woodstock community. “Floridians come to Vermont and find cool weather, lovely mountain scenery, plenty of lakes on which to boat and fish, summer theaters galore, scenic golf courses, lots of modern tennis courts and country-style auctions by the score.”

The old-fashioned auction remains as much a part of Vermont as the orange grove in Florida. Almost any Friday and Saturday morning auctioneers up and down the state can be heard saying “going, going, gone.”

These auctioneers offer anything from shirt buttons to formal attire and from silver dimes to sparkling white diamonds. In between, auctioned off by a hammer or by a wave of the hand, is glassware, pottery, and china from some of the finest factories, good paintings and poor ones, farming tools, furs, rifles, furniture, old television sets, dry sinks, kitchenware, maple syrup, jars of jam, old postcards, used musical instruments, second-hand sporting goods and you name it.

At many of these auctions — all corners are welcome — visitors are expected to bring their own lightweight chairs. Inspection before the sale of the articles to be offered is routine. Items are disposed of at a rapid pace.

Most Floridians find visits to these auctions fun. The sales provide some of that old-time Vermont flavor — the same type that was prevalent back in the horse and buggy days. Bidders arrive at the sales wearing anything from country club best to home-sewn farm clothes. Many native Vermonters come, not to buy, but to watch. They consider an auction an inexpensive entertainment.

The auctioneer, in many cases working in his shirtsleeves and ev…[PAGE MISSING?]
…fine cut crystal candelabrum, the first ever had seen at a Vermont auction, and a highly appealing old sap bucket with a spread eagle across its front painted by Vermont’s well-known artist Tom Fitzsimmons, no less.

When we think back to the 1960s and the low price of $14.5 we paid for an old hat rack, $42 for a large desk with pigeon holes and $50 for an 1870 vintage square grand piano, its hard to believe the prices that existed at that time. But even today, it isn’t unusual to buy a box of assorted items in a big cardboard box from Bus for only $2 and find that it contains a few pieces of china or an antique kitchen gadget.

Bus Mars’ style is so special that he once was commissioned to run a country auction at the Smithsonian before a distinguished crowd in Washington D.C. His first trip to the District of Columbia proved a big success and was triggered by a feature article about him that appeared in The New York Times. His style is definitely early Vermont. North of Rutland, there’s an auctioneer whose approach is a little different. His spiel goes something like this:

“All right boys, listen up,” he intones, although his audience is made up of men and women. “I’ve got an oak furniture four-drawer dresser here, looks to be 100 years old, maybe 125 years old. What’ll you bid, boys? Let’s start at 50. Now, I’ve got 50. Do I hear 55? Fifty-five anyone? This is a mighty pretty piece of oak and it’s going awful cheap. Now, I know you’d like to have it back home. Fifty-five? Fifty-five? Sold to the lady in the third row for $50. And you made a very nice buy indeed.”

Anyone seeking things to do in Vermont finds it an easy chore with little direction. Advertisements announcing auctions, theaters and concerts appear on Thursdays in all the state’s newspapers. An important agency for the visitor is the Vermont Travel Division, a state bureau located in the capital city of Montpelier at 134 State St. (ZIP is 05602). The Travel Division has a pamphlet with a list of summer events from May right into September.

Because I’ve met a few Floridians in Vermont who said there was too little to do, at random, I’ve picked some activities. For example, on July 6 there was a rodeo at Castleton, an antique show at Dorset, International Highland Games at Essex Junction, an auction at Halifax, a craft fair at Ludlow, a performance by the Burklyn Ballet Theatre in Lyndon Centre, a peasant market in Middlebury, a block dance at Poultney, a polo game at Quechee, a country fair at Waitsfield, an air show in Warren, a library and bake sale in Wells and an air show at West Dover.

July 6 was part of the Independence Day weekend, you may say. Well, let’s take Aug. 3 — no holiday weekend. But even on that day, there are a dozen events listed ranging from a fiddle contest and dowsing demonstration at Ferrisburg to an Old Home Day Parade in Sharon.

Interested in historic places? Vermont has its share. Among them are the birthplaces of Presidents Chester A. Arthur and Calvin Coolidge, located in Fairfield and Plymouth respectively. There’s a magnificent Battle of Bennington Revolutionary War obelisk in Old Bennington. General Ethan Allen’s burial place — he of the Green Mountain Boys fame — is in Burlington while the Revolutionary War battlefield of Hubbardton is situated between Rutland and Castleton. Also deserving of prominent mention is the Shelburne Museum, a world-class display in which there are 35 buildings on 45 park-like acres. And not to be forgotten is the famous Bennington Museum with its American paintings, sculpture, silver and furniture among the many items of interest.

All of the extra advantages that Vermont offers, starting with its refreshing climate, serve to captivate Floridians. They soon find that a taste of old New England awaits them. In addition to the wealth of activities, there are such other possibilities as the Morgan Horse Farm at Weybridge, a wildflower farm, lakes for swimming, fishing or crossing by ferry, a ride up or a slide down a mountain, a marble exhibit at Proctor and maple sugar and syrup available all over the state.

Vermont has one activity few other states can offer. It’s wandering. The state provides the perfect backdrop for that. Villages exist that look like they belong to a time past and cities are to be found that evidently were not constructed with the future in mind. Farms and forests and mile after mile of country roads crowded on both sides with scenery that just begs to be looked at. Vermont wandering is compelling. You can wander on foot, on horseback, on bicycle, in cars, on buses or even canoes.

For Floridians, it is evident that good restaurants are important. Vermont has a good supply of fine ones. In the Manchester area alone, there are 80 restaurants. These vary from Hamburger Hex on the Bromley Mountain road to such fine eating places as the Reluctant Panther and the Toll Gate Lodge.

The Lodge is on a back road along a rippling stream. It is owned and operated by John Donahue.

Donahue? Of all things! He lives in South Palm Beach and is the head chef at Palm Beach’s highly regarded Colony Hotel.