The Nicest Place in Vermont: Barre City

"The Granite Capital of the World"

Most people don’t want a drug treatment addict as a neighbor. In this town, they’re met with open arms.

They used to call it “Scary Barre,” a nickname that caused locals embarrassment and kept other Vermonters away. But over the last five years, things have started to change, and what used to be considered “scary”—the presence of folks struggling to overcome addiction—is being viewed with compassion.

Opioid abuse is a Vermont problem. Barre, a blue-collar town of 10,000 built on the long-offshored granite industry, is part of the solution. Three years ago, staff at the local hospital were receiving training on how to identify addicts and get them into treatment, and they realized that they didn’t know what programs were available locally. So they organized a monthly meeting so groups could coordinate and share resources, much like the local churches band together to provide warming centers and hot meals for the homeless in winter.

Fast-forward three years and Vermont has become a model for getting addicts the help they need. The federal government approached the state to conduct a trial program designed to help get folks into treatment faster. State authorities then approached Barre.

“Washington County [where Barre is located] is the most organized region of the state when it comes to overall response to identifying and supporting people who need treatment and recovery,” says Bob Purvis, director of the Turning Point Center of Central Vermont, which helps individuals with substance abuse. He says that the program, known as RAM (Rapid Access to Medication-assisted treatment), has been running for a year and has a 90 percent success rate of people following through with treatment.

Just as important, the community embraces such efforts. Turning Point is looking for a new location, and neighborhoods all around town have offered to welcome the group. Ordinarily, folks are hesitant to have addiction recovery programs as neighbors, but not in Barre—not anymore.

“The Barre of my youth is very different from the Barre of today,” says Steven Pappas, the editor-in-chief of the Barre Montpelier Times Argus, citing new downtown development and streets that feel safer and more welcoming.

—The Editors

The Nomination

Beautiful scenery, cute town, nice people, incredible library, churches serve daily breakfast, friendly ma and pa shops, local musicians perform together every Sunday afternoon, and an incredible history.

barre city vermont nicest placeCourtesy Rachel Nelson
Granite built this town. Now the locals are sustaining it, against the odds.

The owner of the floral shop (and others) just held a drive to ensure prom dresses for young women. The local business owners get together to provide Christmas activities for children, including decorating their own ornament, making reindeer food, writing letters to Santa, and riding in a horse-drawn carriage. They also hosts trick-or-treat events annually. This same florist, along with the owner or Whimsy, and others, created a Petal-It-Forward event, giving flowers to people downtown. The “Teen Librarian” hosts special events for teenagers and the “Children’s Librarian” dresses up, plays the bagpipe, and hosts many events. The members of five different churches work together to provide community breakfasts daily—some of these volunteers are more aware of certain needs within the community and provide bus fare or rides to others. Volunteers started and maintain a garden at the local elementary school, for their cafeteria—and to teach the children. Members of the community associated with the rotary club volunteer to clean up litter around town. We have a gardening club that works to beautify the town with cheerful flower gardens. Local musicians meet to play in the bagel shop weekly, certain musicians also volunteer at some of the care facilities and community centers. Even members of our community who attend our community breakfasts out of need spend time driving patients to medical appointments.

Barre City is known for granite, Barre Gray Granite specifically, but it has a beautiful history of helping with Worker’s Rights, Katherine Patterson wrote a story on this—the children of millworkers were sent to be cared for in Barre during the Strike of 1912. Families did all they could to care for these children as needed during this time. I believe Barre City is responsible for this same attitude of social responsibility today. Everywhere you go, you will meet people who volunteer with multiple organizations—the hospital, the community health care facility, the churches, the library, scouting programs, care facilities, the school, the Masonic Temple or the American Legion or the Rotary club…you name it, they’re doing it! Members of the community post online at Front Porch Forum to give away items they no longer need, for free, or to help search for a neighbor’s missing pet—anything they can do to help.

The craziest thing? There’s no road rage. Drivers here stop for all pedestrians, to let others in from driveways and cross streets, and to let others turn off the road instead of impeding traffic. My husband and I joke that everyone is so polite that there is no right of way here, because no one will take it. There’s a very real “oh no, after you” attitude. It’s trippy.