Vermont Public is independent, community-supported media, serving Vermont with trusted, relevant and essential information. We share stories that bring people together, from every corner of our region. New to Vermont Public? Start here.

© 2024 Vermont Public | 365 Troy Ave. Colchester, VT 05446

Public Files:

For assistance accessing our public files, please contact or call 802-655-9451.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

McCallum: Rebuilding In Cavendish

My town of Cavendish was hit pretty hard by the fury of Tropical Storm Irene. Wind and rain roared through this small town on the Black River and turned its main artery, Route 131, into a crater the size of a football field, earning it the name Cavendish Canyon.

Downtown Proctorsville lost huge chunks of its center when Depot Street washed away and left overturned cars and floating propane tanks in its wake. And the tiny Episcopal church in the eye of that destruction had its sanctuary flooded and the church hall next to it collapse into a pile of cinderblock rubble and roofing. But this isn’t the retelling of a yarn about ruination. It’s a story about turning lemons into lemonade.

The Gethsemane Episcopal Church is tiny enough that if you blink while driving by you’ll miss it. The simple wooden structure might hold one hundred small souls if they sat really close together in the red cushioned pews. Church records from 1886 stated that “prospects for growth are quite promising,” and built the sanctuary in 1890. By the time Irene came to town in 2011, the congregation had dwindled to less than a dozen each Sunday, including the organist. But while the numbers haven’t grown, the church’s mission has.

With the Black River in its backyard, church fathers wisely decided over a decade ago to carry flood insurance. And that made all the difference. Seeing the detached church hall reduced to a pile of debris, windows cracked in the main sanctuary and its basement flooded, members embarked on a campaign to repair and rebuild. Several months later, after tsunamis of paperwork and countless construction ups and downs, the church reopened atop a foundation two feet higher and with a brand spanking new church hall attached to the back. And thus was born a venue for cultural events.

Once the little church got back on its structural feet, local groups embraced the idea of having a performance space in town beyond the elementary school cafeteria. Thanks to Irene, teachers of Reiki, Pilates and Tai Chi can hold regular classes in the new church hall. The town historical society uses it for its potluck meetings and a group of film buffs screens a series of classic black and white movies there during the winter. Raising the church to its new flood resistant height gave birth to the idea of a monthly music series called Raise the Roof Concerts. The sanctuary with excellent acoustics has had its rafters filled with the beat of African drumming, keyboard blues, a cappella singing and cowboy bluegrass.

The congregation is still small and on Sunday mornings there's still plenty of room left in the parking lot. But the church has picked up the pieces after the passing storm and welcomed in a whole new community. The old yellow cinderblock church hall that had stood next to the church for more than fifty-five years had served its purpose. But when it was leveled by Irene, one of the church elders declared its destruction to have been "a blessing.”

Mary McCallum is a freelance writer and former prison librarian who now works with Vermont elders.
Latest Stories