‘Buffalo soldiers’: Local sites added to African American Heritage Trail

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Located outside the Elley-Long Music Center in Colchester, one of the African American Heritage Trail’s newest additions honors the first all-black, post-Civil War regiment stationed at Fort Ethan Allen from 1909-1913. (Photo by Tom Marble)

Just over 100 years after its Fort Ethan Allen assignment ended, the U.S. Army’s first all-black post-Civil War regiment will be honored with two historic markers on Vermont’s African American Heritage Trail.

Dubbed “Buffalo soldiers,” the Army’s 10th Cavalry was stationed at the Colchester fort from 1909 to 1913. The plaques are posted at the intersection of Route 15 and Ethan Allen Avenue in Essex and in front of the Elley-Long Music Center in Colchester.

“Black history is Vermont history,” said Curtiss Reed, executive director of the Vermont Partnership for Fairness and Diversity. “They are intertwined. We think this is a great opportunity to celebrate that history and broaden the general public’s knowledge.”

Although the message on each marker differs slightly, both highlight the professional and decorated service the Army’s 10th Calvary delivered during the Spanish-American War – traits it was known for during its four years at the fort.

The inscriptions also tout the regiment’s noteworthy involvement and popularity in the community.

“They brought their panache working with horses and equestrians. And they brought a different type of culture to Burlington,” Reed said. “Some of them stayed afterward, and there are some descendants of some Buffalo soldiers still in Vermont.”

The trail’s network of historic landmarks, memorials and museums stretches across the state, highlighting the eras, people and events significant to African-American culture in the Green Mountain State, according to its website.

Formed four years ago with 10 sites, the Heritage Trail was an initiative of the Vermont Partnership for Fairness and Diversity in collaboration with Vermont Division for Historic Preservation, local museums and historical societies.

Today, Vermont’s African American Heritage Trail has 22 sites. A third location – the Clemmons Family Farm in Charlotte – was also added last month.

The 148-acre farm is one of the oldest and largest African American-owned farms in Vermont, and includes six historical farm buildings, according to a press release.

“It highlights the fact that we have this tourism as a resource and an educational tool,” said Hilary DelRoss, a heritage and recreation specialist at the Vermont Department of Tourism and Marketing.

Last fall, before the signage was officially added to the trail, a collaborative effort between the organizations brought the historic signage to fruition in front of the Colchester music center.

About a week ago, the same partnership was responsible for erecting the second marker at the Route 15 intersection before both became a part of the network at the end of April.

Additionally, the two organizations worked with St. Michael’s College, which owns Elley-Long Music Center, to place the marker in Colchester and with Essex municipal manager Pat Scheidel regarding the Route 15 plaque.

“They did really a fabulous job with getting a consultant to do research and the applications,” = state historic preservation officer Laura Trieschmann said. “For the most part, they went in as proposed.”

Since the beginning of the historical marker initiative in 1947, the state has helped create 237 plaques, Trieschmann said. Each marker is allotted 765 letter spaces, and funding, half of which is used for maintenance, comes from capital construction funds.

L to R: Dr. and Mrs. Jack and Lydia Clemmons pose next to Rev. Arnold Thomas, a Vermont Partnership for Fairness and Diversity board member, and Curtiss Reed, executive director of the VPFD. (Courtesy photo)

Having two markers that memorialize similar events or historical figures so close like these is rare, Trieschmann said, but the state and the VPFD saw enough difference to create two within walking distance, she said.

“We are looking for sites where we can tell stories and where people might not see a physical remainder,” Trieschmann said. “In both cases, I think the markers were perfect.”

As the African American Heritage Trail continues to grow, Reed said his organization is also focused on expanding the educational opportunities that come with the historic network, including lesson plans and interactive multimedia on the trail website.

The partnership is also developing a mobile application in collaboration with Champlain College’s Emergent Media Center that guests can interact with along the trail. The prototype needs $15,000 in funding to come to fruition, Reed said.

Both organizations are also preparing for the official historical marker inauguration ceremony at Fort Ethan Allen on July 2.

Gov. Phil Scott, who declared February 2017 Vermont African American Heritage Trail month, along with several black philanthropic motorcycle clubs, were invited to attend the unveiling.