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Greene: Brattleboro's Stephen Daye Press

Vermonters sometimes take for granted our state’s cachet as a hub of enlightened rural living.

We can boast both good schools and lushly forested countryside. And when the Stephen Daye Press, or SDP, was founded in Brattleboro by Marion and John Hooper in 1932, its goal was to highlight specialties of the region.

The press was named in honor of Stephen Daye, America’s first Colonial printer, who printed Vermont’s first newspaper, The Vermont Gazette. The label Stephen Daye Press had previously been used by the Vermont Printing Company in its fine typography department directed by Vrest Orton, who later went on to found the Vermont Country Store.

At the time, the business model for established publishers was to organize around subjects: fiction and nonfiction divisions, for example, or well-known authors. Prospective authors would query these mostly urban houses with book projects. But while traveling as a textbook salesman, Hooper had developed a keen sense of New England, so he decided his company would concentrate on place and nostalgia.

According to eldest son, John S. Hooper, his father perceived that the Depression had created a nostalgic yearning for many traditions found readily in rural New England. The timing was perfect for a regional publisher.

The Hoopers scouted the countryside first for subjects, then the right person to produce the book. Maple sugaring, covered bridges, old houses, and scenic places were featured.

In 1933, Mt Washington Reoccupied was the press’s first big success. Written by a weather forecaster named Robert Monahan, known for his articulate, humorous dispatches, it went on to sell more than 10,000 copies, a bestseller in those days. In ten years, with a very small staff, the press published an astonishing 120 books - or one per month.

John Hooper remembers the division of labor as “Mom on the inside, Dad on the outside - very unstructured, opportunistic, innovative and entrepreneurial”.

In 1939, Hooper senior took a job editing The Brattleboro Reformer, leaving Marion to run the press. But in ’42, after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hooper enlisted. The country's need for scrap metal inspired the Hoopers to donate the copper, brass and lead used in printing press plates, and type - and the business closed.

But it left a cultural legacy that continues to inform our appreciation for slow living and the sense of place that we enjoy today.

Stephanie Greene is a free-lance writer now living with her husband and sons on the family farm in Windham County.
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