Vermonters like to think of themselves as unique, but in at least one respect — names of towns — the state sounds a lot like other places. Burlington, for example, has two prominent echoes in North America: one in Iowa, the other in Ontario. Colchester shares its identifier with towns in England and Connecticut. And, while our Charlotte may have a distinctive pronunciation, there are plenty of other Charlottes in the U.S. and the Caribbean.
Brattleboro, however, does appear to be the only town in the world with that name. Calling it unique would still be an exaggeration — and one especially unappreciated by residents of Brattleboro Avenue in Des Moines, Iowa.
That thoroughfare runs through a neighborhood developed by a group of businessmen who called themselves the Vermont Syndicate, according to the Des Moines Public Library website. They named the local streets for Vermont towns, so it still seems reasonable to accept Brattleboro’s claim of being one of a kind.
Brattleboro is not the only place in Vermont staking a claim to singularity. “There’s only one Essex Junction,” proclaims a historical plaque mounted in that village’s Amtrak station.
In any event, Brattleboro is named for Col. William Brattle Jr., the first grantee listed on the town charter issued in 1753. Brattleborough, as the name was originally spelled, was officially changed to its Americanized form in 1888.
The Windham County community isn’t shy about its special status. The local Chamber of Commerce has fashioned an all-out marketing campaign, complete with neon advertising in Times Square, that boasts of Brattleboro as “The One and Only.”
Chamber chief Jerry Goldberg says he hatched the idea in 2009 when the town’s economy was reeling with a hangover from the Great Recession, which had hammered the nation the previous year. “We needed to put feet on the street,” Goldberg says, recalling downtown’s somnolent scene. “We needed to show the chamber’s members we were at least trying to do something.”
The slogan caught on right away, boasts Goldberg, 74, who had a previous career in the marketing department of the CBS television network. “It was an instant get. And now it’s becoming institutionalized,” he says.
Few experiences in his working life can compare, Goldberg muses, to the thrill of seeing “Brattleboro: The One and Only” flashing last year at scurrying New Yorkers and gawking tourists on the Great White Way. The ad blinked on for five seconds, 120 times a week, on each of two mega-screens sponsored by ABC and MTV, respectively. In theory, at least, one million people witnessed it. Goldberg declines to say how much the chamber paid for such colossal exposure.
Brattleboro proclaims itself extraordinary in respect to more than just its name.
The town hosts the Strolling of the Heifers every June as Vermont’s answer to the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, Spain. Local boosters also remind prospective tourists that the Brattleboro area was famous long ago for its hippie communes. The ’60s counterculture has had “a lasting influence on the town’s character and values,” a chamber blurb declares.
Brattleboro is likewise proud to have retained a disproportionately large number of bookstores. That fealty to the printed page is consistent with the town’s impressive literary tradition. A list of big-name authors who have lived in or frequented Brattleboro begins with Rudyard Kipling and includes Robert Frost, Sinclair Lewis, Pearl Buck, Grace Paley and Jamaica Kincaid.
Two additional fun facts help make Brattleboro such a standout place. First, Bratt is home to a strain of rat used in labs all over the world because it’s unable to produce a hormone essential to kidney function. And it was there that the U.S. gummed postage stamp was first produced — in 1847 — and, we assume, licked.