(Host) Recently, writer, educator and commentator Bill Mares found a rich lode of Vermont’s diverse historical influence at a busy intersection in downtown Burlington.
(Mares) I love the history you find at the corner of Willard and Main Streets in Burlington. It’s almost as good as learning that the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were signed in the same room in Philadelphia.
One of those distinct green and gold Vermont historic preservation signs announces that in the sprawling brick Victorian home lived William Wells, a Civil War general who won a Medal of Honor at the Battle of Gettysburg. He came home to be Adjutant General, to serve in the Legislature, to be president of the Burlington Trust Company, the Burlington Gas-Light Company, and the Burlington Board of Trade. He also built up a successful patent medicine business whose signature product was Paine’s Celery Compound, one very active ingredient of which was 20% grain alcohol. Before the Food and Drug Act stoppered the tonic’s bottles, Wells became a wealthy man.
If you walk around that sign you’ll see an inscription on the reverse for Dr. Horatio Nelson Jackson, a physician who married Wells’s daughter Bertha. Jackson’s claim to fame was that he made the first cross-country automobile drive in American history. In 1903, he was playing cards in San Francisco with some friends who were skeptical about the future of the horseless carriage. Impulsively, Jackson bet them $50 – $1200 in today’s money – that he could cross the country in 90 days. He did this even though he didn’t own a car, had practically no driving experience, and had no maps to follow. Maybe he was mimicking the hero of Jules Verne’s still famous saga of “Around the World in 80 Days.” In any case, he completed the trip in a 20 horsepower Winton car with a mechanic named Sewell Crocker and a pit bull named Bud, through sagebrush, sand, tarmac and dust – in 63 days.
Now walk 50 yards further south on Willard, and you stand in front of the yellow brick house where John Dewey was born. Dewey was a giant of philosophical pragmatism, progressive education and civil society. Many of his ideas are commonplace today.
Dewey argued that because education and learning are social and interactive processes, school itself is a social institution, through which social reform can and should take place. He believed that students thrive in an environment where they can experience and interact with the curriculum – and that all students should be able to take part in their own learning.
The headstone of Dewey’s grave, next to UVM’s Ira Allen Chapel, reads: “The things in civilization we most prize are not of ourselves. They exist by grace of the doings and sufferings of the continuous human community in which we are a link. Ours is the responsibility of conserving, transmitting, rectifying, and expanding the heritage of values we have received that those who come after us may receive it more solid and secure, more widely accessible and more generously shared than we have received it.”