Providing For Our Community
Martha Canfield's historic house was left to her niece, the well known author, Dorothy Canfield Fisher, who set many of her stories in Arlington. Both aunt and niece used the property in many ways, each providing a variety of community services for our home town. When she died, Dorothy Fisher gave it to the Community Club, so Arlington would always have a place where the town as a whole could grow and help one another.
Early in the Community Club's history, town improvements (such as gas street lighting, providing sidewalks, or "oiling the town roads") were planned; then money was raised to implement these plans that benefited all of Arlington. The house was used for concerts, movies, Victrola parties, and sewing classes. Residents would gather here to roll bandages or to assemble packages for "our boys" during both World Wars. Funds were raised to provide for war orphans. Arlington and the surrounding area took in 53 child refugees after World War II, an undertaking spearheaded by Mrs. Fisher. The barn was used for a boy's gym; a tennis court was built, and the house even held a playschool before kindergarten was common. Nurses would come and teach skills, care for patients and perform well child care checks. There was a Street Fair each year to raise funds for the many services the house provided. The house was open to all during Town Meeting Day and provided a dinner for all, back when Town Meeting was "an all day affair". Arlington was home to several well known artists, including Norman Rockwell, Mr. Rockwell held sketching classes at the house for young people; one would pose and the others would sketch, mentored by the famous artist himself. If there was an educational or humanitarian cause in Arlington, it always had a home at the community house.
This location housed Arlington's first library for many years. Around 1900 Martha Canfield, (or Mattie as she was known) began storing and loaning books to area residents alongside her work for the Village Improvement Society, later known as the Community Club. Additionally the Russell Collection, the personal collection of local history and documents gathered by a local physician was first housed here, with funds raised for the needed east addition through the sale of Mrs. Fisher's book on her memoirs of Arlington. Dr. George Russell was a town doctor, who's office was at the corner just down the road. Dr. Russell is forever memorialized in several Saturday Evening Post covers by Norman Rockwell. Martha's book collection, which started in various attics of area homes, then resided in the north wing and basement of the house, has now grown into the Martha Canfield Library which is currently located next to the town's schools. The Russell Vermontiana Collection is now housed on the top floor of the library. This legacy lives on still at the house in Martha's Books, a bookstore which helps support the local library. Thus, the community house served as an incubator for these public services, and even had the first bookmobile in the state, with books being delivered to and picked up from those with no easy access to the library.
It was Mrs. Fisher's desire that the house continue to support the people of Arlington. She was asked many times by the Community Club's first president, Terry Riley, as to why she was giving the house to the Community Club and not to the library. "Terry," Dorothy would say, "there will always be a library in Arlington, but without this building there will not be a community center." Historically, it has provided support for many local endeavors. By providing free meeting rooms, the ACH has historically been used by many non-profit organizations as a place to meet, hold fund raisers, or in other supportive roles. The house has been used in the past by many non-profit organizations as well as by individuals for birthdays and bridal or baby showers. Burdett Commons provided youth services on site. The Arlington Community House is a treasure which has been accomplishing Mrs. Fisher's purpose, providing for the community of Arlington, Vermont.
- Jessica Twardy Roberts
"Our generation has the ability and the responsibility to make our ever-more connected world a more hopeful, stable and peaceful place."