Photographing Historic Villages on Cloudy Days

Posted on by Kathie Fife

I’m not sure why I am drawn to photograph historic villages. The familiar architecture is striking in contrast — the stark white painted boards, the weathered barn wood, the architect’s intricate plans created by talented artists making a statement.

historic village of Granby, Vermont.

A cloudy fall day in the historic village of Granby, Vermont.

Maybe it’s just the feeling I get when I come across an old meetinghouse, with its four pointed cupola that stands stoic in New England’s valleys and rolling hilltops.

Granby, Vermont. October 12, 1761.

Granby, Vermont. October 12, 1761.

Maybe it’s because these little villages have an old cemetery and moss covered headstones with the etchings barely discernible from the acid rain wearing away at the surface. I squint to read the names. Who were these people? What did they do? How are they related to each other? Is the family still here and carrying on the stories of the people who made this village?

The old cemetery and meetinghouse of Granby, Vermont.

The old cemetery and meetinghouse of Granby, Vermont.

Autumn is an excellent time to travel and explore, especially before sunrise. The air is usually cool and crisp, and the warm sun is rising up over the hillsides, illuminating the sky in blue, pink, and gold tones, that bounces off the red and yellow foliage. The scene forces me to stop breathing for a moment.

And then there are the days when there is nothing but clouds. A thick soupy low hanging cloud cover. These conditions scream boring landscape shots. Now what? Try again another day, or make the most of what you’ve got to work with. Both, if I can.  I’m here now, so I shoot some frames with an idea of what the images will look like post-process. I choose the lens that will compliment this little town, and I look through the view finder. I become more intimate with this place. I feel it on a different level. The angles, the uneven walkways, the old trees with grey lichen clinging to thick bark, and the pitted weathered stones. I imagine a community gathering in the 19th century; the farmer’s wife carrying a basket of warm fresh bread, blackberry jam and sugar cookies, the children are running and laughing, and the elders are offering wisdom to foolish young hearts. I feel my own heart beating again. And, then I lower the camera. My work is done. A moment of time forever imprinted in megapixels.

The Historic Village of Granby, Vermont

The Historic Village of Granby, Vermont.  Same image as above only processed in black and white which was an alternative way to photograph the scene on a cloudy day.

The little historic village of Granby, Vermont is a cutey. I don’t know much about this town center. I wish I did. It has a little country store, no bigger than a walk-in closet, a post office the size of a refrigerator, a town hall with an odd sculptured railing, a meetinghouse set on a stone foundation next to a big sugar maple and an old cemetery, and down the hill around the corner is a one-room schoolhouse.

Granby Vermont one room school house

The one room school house in Granby, Vermont

In it’s prime, Granby, a district of Berlin NH, was a functioning mill town, population 400. But when the hillsides were stripped bare of trees with nothing left to cut and manage the population dropped to 52 by 1970. Driving down the sinuous road to neighboring Victory it is evident that the new generation of forest is young but manageable. The small clear cuts create openings to view colorful peaks. A half dozen cars passed by me as I photographed the village. One car stopped at the post office, which is only open two hours a day, an hour in the morning, and again in the late afternoon. Today, the population of Granby is 88. What will the village be like in 50 years?

Granby, Vermont.

Granby, Vermont.

To find the historic village of Granby, Vermont travel 93 to Littleton, take exit 44, follow Rt 135 towards Lancaster, NH. Cross over the Mt Orne covered bridge to Lunenburg, Vermont, go north several miles until you reach the town of Guildhall, take a left onto Granby Rd. You will pass by a private water mill on a farm that sells pumpkins and fresh veggies, soon after, the tar fades into a dirt road that meanders through sections of nice views until you reach a sharp corner the wends around to a stonewall lined road in the historic village of Granby.

Click here to view a gallery of images taken this fall along The Back Roads of Vermont and Vermont Covered Bridges.

I love living in northern New England. In a full day, it’s possible to drive to another state – or two, and explore the back roads and discover these little gems.


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