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Visiting Fairfield: Rural Vermont Locality Famous — or Not so Famous — for Its Various Acclaimed Historical Figures

Updated on February 28, 2020
State flag of Vermont
State flag of Vermont | Source
Fairfield, Vermont
Fairfield, Vermont | Source

Deep into the mists of Vermont's and the United States's past; challenging the 'fleshpots' of patronage?

Vermont is a special place. Having entered the Union in 1791 — never having been a colony — its roots lies in the Republic of Vermont which existed from 1777 until its accession to the United States.

Within Vermont, Fairfield is a special place. Even in 2010 a town of only 1891 inhabitants in strongly rural surroundings, Fairfield is famous for its various political figures — all born in the 19th century — who gave Fairfield as their birthplace.

Vermont's Lieutenant Governor Consuelo Northrop Bailey (1899-1976) served in that office from 1955 until 1957, having previously served as Speaker of the Vermont House of Representatives from 1953 until 1955. Elected as a Member of the Vermont House of Representatives from 1951 until 1955, she also served as a Vermont State Senator from 1931 until 1933. A lawyer by profession, prior to her political career she was admitted to the Vermont Bar in 1925, serving as a prosecutor in Burlington and practising before the Vermont Supreme Court from 1926. In national politics, Consuelo Northrop Bailey also served successively as Vice Chair (from 1953 until 1957) and Secretary (from 1965 until 1973, i.e., right up to the Watergate era) respectively of the Republican National Committee. This native of Fairfield, Vermont came from a farming family background.

U.S. Congressman Bradley Barlow (1814-1889) was elected from Vermont's 3rd district to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1879 until 1881. Interestingly, Congressman Barlow ran successfully for office with the particular support of the 'Greenbackers' (see also photo, below), the organized movement opposed to the gold standard for the U.S. dollar — here, farming interests were particularly strong. Bradley Barlow also had extensive business interests, particularly — and somewhat controversially — as a mail contractor; he also served as President of the Vermont National Bank in St. Albans, Vermont, near the border with Canada. This bank was to fail owing to the financial difficulties of South Eastern Railway of Canada (1), which had relied to a significant extent on cross-border finance. This failure caused significant economic difficulties in Vermont as a result.

Greatly contrasting with his rural birthplace Fairfield, Vermont, is the city of New Orleans, Louisiana, of which John Fitzpatrick (1844-1919) served as Mayor from 1892 until 1896. A protege of Senator Randall Gibson, he had previously served a clerk of Louisiana's First District Court and subsequently as Criminal Sheriff, as well as being elected to the State Legislature. Following election as Mayor of New Orleans, John Fitzpatrick had to grapple with challenging issues such as the state of the City's finances and the engineering aspects of the expansion of the Port of New Orleans; he also played a significant role in the founding of the City Library. More controversially, he was also perceived to be close to corrupt figures; and issues relating to railroad financing gave rise to strong criticism during his mayoralty tenure (2).

And last but most certainly not least, 21st President of the United States Chester A. Arthur (1829-1886) gave Fairfield, Vermont as his birthplace; I have already elsewhere described his replica birthplace which is a State Historic Site, some miles from the centre of Fairfield (and also attempted briefly to discuss some of the nuanced issues relating to his origins; I will thus not seek to multiply words here). While close to reputed machine politicians during the Gilded Age, Chester Arthur managed successfully to project impressions of personal reasonableness and honesty; and he notably introduced merit-based competitive examinations for civil service posts. He also built up the strength of the United States Navy. Having succeed assassinated President James A. Garfield in 1881, he served as President until 1885.

Curious, that little Fairfield, Vermont, should have been in the 19th century the birthplace to these various historical figures.

Why, indeed? Perhaps in at least some of their cases it was something to do with their rural background in the mountain State of Vermont, which, never a colony, has its roots in the Republic of Vermont.

Perhaps the title 'A Puritan in Babylon' of a biography of Calvin Coolidge — another Vermont-born President of the United States — says a lot (3).

February 29, 2020


(1) Another interesting fact to note as side issue is that traditionally in the 19th century Canada's Dominion (or Federal) Government — as a practitioner of oblique political hardball with its Royal Prerogative led by long-serving Prime Minister Sir John Macdonald — used the failure of railroad interests in order to advance its political authority. Both the admission of British Columbia in 1871 and of Prince Edward Island in 1873 to Confederation revolved around the Dominion Government's none too disinterested management of railroad subsidies. The Right Honourable John N. Turner — Prime Minister of Canada in 1984 — could say tellingly: 'Canada was built on subsidies'. Were Bradley Barlow's business interests in Canada simply an example of a reasonable seeming deal gone sour? or an instance of an 'entangling alliance' which blew up to the detriment of Vermont's economy? Even today, through the mists of history, a truly neutral, disinterested viewpoint here is hard to ascertain. What is unassailable is that in the late 19th century, even as American investors sought many deals in Canada, British plots were being pursued in the United States to entrap minority activists of whom British leaders disapproved. Canadian Prime Minister Sir John Macdonald's spychief Judge Gilbert McMicken was active in Baltimore, Maryland with the purpose of attempting to organize the entrapment of Irish dissidents through the enlisting of the favours of women spies deemed suitable for this purpose; thus, indeed, what was a century later almost the blueprint of G. Gordon Liddy's dubious Baltimore-based Gemstone plan in 1972, prior to the Watergate burglary, was a British creation. (See also: Peter Edwards, Delusion: The True Sory of Victorian Superspy Henri Le Caron, Toronto, Ontario: Key Porter Books, 2008. ISBN-10: 1552639673)

(2) See also: John Kendall, History of New Orleans, published by The Lewis Publishing Company, Chicago and New York, 1922, chapter 32;*.html

(3) William Allen White, A Puritan in Babylon: The Story of Calvin Coolidge, Patterson Smith, 1938; 1973, ISBN 0844631736 (ISBN13: 9780844631738)

Some sourcing: Wikipedia

Series of 1862 $5 "Greenback" United States Note, 10 March, 1862
Series of 1862 $5 "Greenback" United States Note, 10 March, 1862 | Source
Grand national Republican banner 1880.
Grand national Republican banner 1880. | Source

Also worth seeing

In Fairfield itself, in addition to the Chester A. Arthur State Historic Site (a replica of the 21st President's birthplace), a local attraction is its Covered Bridge, dating from the mid-19th century, more recently restored.

St Albans , Vermont (distance from Fairfield: 8 miles / 12.9 kilometres), situated on scenic Lake Champlain, it is the location for Vermont's annual Maple Festival.

Montreal , Quebec, Canada (distance: 78 miles / 125.6 kilometres) has numerous visitor attractions, including fine, ecclesiastical architecture, Mount Royal and the former Olympic Stadium.


How to get there:

Plattsburgh International Airport (distance to Fairfield : 67.1 / 108 kilometres), where car rental is available, is served by a variety of airlines, including US Air, which flies to Boston, with many North American connections. I-87 and I-89 extend to the US- Canada border on the New York and Vermont sides of Lake Champlain respectively. The I-89 has an exit at nearby St. Albans, Vt. Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information. You are advised to refer to appropriate consular sources for any special border crossing arrangements which may apply to citizens of certain nationalities.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.

Map location of Fairfield, Vermont
Map location of Fairfield, Vermont | Source

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