BARRE — Paul Heller grew up in Montpelier, but it’s Barre that Heller has devoted much of his life studying.
Heller started writing about Barre in 2009 and in the past two years has published three books, two of which deal exclusively with Barre. “Granite City Tales” released in 2012, and “More Granite City Tales” published in May of 2014, represent a compilation of articles Heller wrote about Barre for the Times Argus and other publications.
“For the past few years, I’ve been writing historic vignettes on the history of Barre,” Heller said. “Barre has this remarkable history. Extraordinary things have happened here and I thought they deserved a retelling.”
The third book, called “The Calais Calamity,” is a collection of non-Barre pieces accumulated over Heller’s years of writing. The book was published in April of 2014.
“In the course of writing about Barre, other topics came onto my radar,” Heller said. “The non Barre pieces added up over the years and they comprise ‘The Calais Calamity.’ It’s named for the first essay of the book about a drowning on Number 10 Pond in Calais in the 1870s. There are four pieces on Calais in the book and more on a variety of other communities.”
Heller grew up in Montpelier and said he didn’t know very much about Barre until he and Marianne Kotch became co-owners of the Maplecroft Bed and Breakfast in Barre in 2000. Heller said that through his experience as an innkeeper he met and talked with a multitude of historians who were researching Barre.
Heller described the historians as some of the foremost in the country and said he was motivated by them to learn more about Barre.
“It inspired me,” he said. “My interest was piqued and I started reading about Barre and I joined the Barre Historical Society.”
Researching a local topic, Heller used local sources, relying on back issues of the Barre Daily Times and Montpelier Argus in the era before the two merged into the Times Argus. Heller also took advantage of resources such as the Aldrich Public Library and Vermont History Center, both of which he said are within two miles of his house in Barre.
“It’s my good fortune to live very close to two great sources for research,” he said. “The library and the history center have incredible collections of primary sources. They’re jewels for researchers.”
Heller said that in his writings, he focuses on historical events in Barre that had national significance as well as local importance.
“For the Barre books, one intent was to point out how these Barre stories relate to the events of the time and what is happening nationally,” Heller said. “Barre has an important political and industrial past. And all this comes together in this community as a remarkable story.”
For example, in his books about Barre, Heller has written extensively about such topics as workers from Barre going to fight in the Spanish American War and the Barre Anarchist Movement.
In addition to his writings, Heller also has another long-term Barre project in the works. He said it has something to do with art, but was unwilling to disclose any more information.
With his collections of articles and other projects Heller said he hopes to send the overall message that Barre has significance beyond Vermont.
“It’s a pretty important place, and I hope I can convey that what happened in Barre has importance beyond the confines of our little city.”
Heller’s books are available at area bookstores, including Next Chapter Bookstore in Barre.MORE IN Central Vermont
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