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Weybridge captures its 250 years of history in a documentary

WEYBRIDGE — Weybridge residents on Friday will celebrate their town’s 250th birthday with dessert and a sweet new movie chronicling their community’s history through vintage photos and testimonials from some of their most venerable neighbors.
“Weybridge Past and Present: 1761-2011” features 85 minutes of interviews with four of the community’s most noted historians — former longtime town moderator Kelly James; Millicent Rooney, the daughter of Monument Farms Dairy’s founders; Ida Washington, author of “The History of Weybridge, Vermont”; and Jan Albers, chairwoman of the planning commission and former executive director of the Henry Sheldon Museum of Vermont History.
Residents George Bellerose and Lexa deCourval are producing the movie, which will be screened at 7 p.m. at the Weybridge Elementary School. 
Bellerose said the idea germinated earlier this year during a meeting of Middlebury Community Television (MCTV) board, a panel he had recently joined. MCTV had completed a successful documentary on the construction of the new Cross Street Bridge.
“(MCTV Executive Director) Dick (Thodal) said, ‘This is something we should be doing more of,’” Bellerose recalled.
That encouragement prompted Bellerose and deCourval to bring the movie idea to Weybridge’s 250th anniversary planning committee.
It was an easy sell.
“Everyone loved it,” said deCourval.
Bellerose and deCourval then spent several weeks planning the framework of the movie, and decided to give it four distinct parts. They would try to evoke, through interviews and photos:
• What makes Weybridge, Weybridge?
• A representation of the town’s early years, including details about the charter; the blossoming of an agricultural economy, including quite the herd of sheep; and town settlers’ transition from geographic isolation to participation in a global economy.
• The future of the town, including maintaining a rural identity, contending with declining student enrollment, and trying to ensure the community does not become identified as a place largely populated by affluent retirees.
• Footage of past town celebrations. Resident and author Julia Alvarez provides a voice-over read of her Smithsonian Magazinepiece, “Weybridge: My Kind of Town.”
Bellerose and deCourval hunted through the Sheldon Museum, Middlebury College and University of Vermont archives for images to include in the movie. They were pleased to find a wealth of photos of old schoolhouses, farms, the UVM Morgan Horse Farm, public gatherings and other visual clues to the town’s past. Also helping the cause was a previous Weybridge commemorative video done in 1991 to coincide with Vermont’s bicentennial.
“What we wanted to do was step into the rich history of our past while highlighting some of the areas that are really still the heart of our community today,” deCourval said.
Each of the four interview subjects provided around two hours of commentary, Bellerose noted. And the quality of the commentary was so good, the filmmakers had a tough time deciding what would make it into the movie. Fortunately, the entire eight hours of interviews will be available through MCTV and on compact discs through the Weybridge town clerk’s office, Bellerose said.
“There was some fascinating stuff,” Bellerose said. “The goal is to make this material as accessible as we can.”
Interviewees provided some great insights and quotes during the film:
• “Every new family member that comes in gives a new outlook on life,” James said.
• Rooney, on the loss of local clubs and associations that gave townspeople a forum in which to meet: “If you don’t have children in school or if you don’t belong to the fire department, you don’t have any community feeling.” Rooney also noted the current trend of people socializing and shopping outside of town.
• Washington points out that it is, ironically, often newer residents who push for Weybridge to embrace its history and older customs, while the old-timers are thirsting for modernity and life outside the town’s borders.
“It’s not fair to a community to try and push it back into its history,” she said.
Bellerose and deCourval are proud of the movie, which they said features a global “thank you” in the end credits, because so many people helped make it possible.
“We would basically would have to thank everyone in the whole town,” Bellerose said.
He stressed that MCTV officials deserve a special thanks.
“This would not been possible without their expertise and guidance,” Bellerose said.
Both filmmakers hope “Weybridge Past and Present” will be played by residents during future community celebrations.
“We hope that with each generation, there will be people who will want to preserve the past,” deCourval said. “The only way to really do that is to talk to your community and have them summarize what it was like to live when they were growing up in the place and what makes it special.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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