Robert McBride, founder of the Rockingham Arts and Museum Project (RAMP), will be honored by the Preservation Trust of Vermont.
Robert F. Smith/The Commons
Robert McBride, founder of the Rockingham Arts and Museum Project (RAMP), will be honored by the Preservation Trust of Vermont.

June events will draw hundreds to Bellows Falls

Two major conferences on arts and economic development, Pride Month, and the Bellows Falls Festival headline a month packed with activity

BELLOWS FALLS-This June is going to be quite a month for Bellows Falls, and it starts off with a bang.

Bellows Falls has been chosen to host Vermont's Downtown and Historic Preservation Downtown Project Conference of 2024 on Wednesday, June 5, and on Thursday, June 6, the village will host the Vermont Arts Council's Creative Convening Summit.

The two conferences will bring hundreds of visitors to the village.

Also on Wednesday, June 5, at 5 p.m., there will be a public dedication of the recently installed Robertson Paper Mill Historic Interpretive Kiosk on Island Street, at the site of the former paper mill, presented by Bellows Falls Area Development Corporation (BFADC) and the town of Rockingham.

Then, on Saturday, June 8, the second annual Bellows Falls Festival will be held at the Waypoint Center from 1 to 10 p.m. Sponsored by the Wild Goose Players and the Rotary Club of Bellows Falls, it will feature seven live musical acts ranging from the Milkhouse Heaters, to headlining bands the Gaslight Tinkers and the Chad Hollister Band.

Also on June 8, Bellows Falls will be a stop on Amtrak's "Pride Ride," intended to celebrate diversity and the LGBTQ community.

The two conference events on June 5 and 6 will include awards ceremonies, workshops, lectures, walking tours of various parts of the community, train rides, a visit to the Rockingham Meeting House, and more.

The week's events actually kick off Tuesday evening with an invitation-only pre-conference dinner at the Ciao Popolo restaurant in downtown Bellows Falls. At that event, longtime BF booster Robert McBride will be presented with a lifetime achievement award from the Preservation Trust of Vermont.

Why Bellows Falls?

It is no accident that Bellows Falls was chosen to host both state conference events back-to-back. They are intended to draw attention to the village and what the community has accomplished in revitalizing itself over the past several decades.

"Bellows Falls is the star of the show. It has one of the most dynamic and interesting downtowns in Vermont," said Ben Doyle, president of the Preservation Trust of Vermont. He said the town has great energy and "people doing great work," with a willingness to share their stories with other towns.

Gary Holloway, the downtown program coordinator for the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development, echoed those sentiments. He said his agency wanted to bring the conference to a community "that's doing a lot of good work and can share its story."

Holloway listed a number of past and future projects happening in Bellows Falls, including the recent addition of 27 new housing units in the Bellows Falls Garage building.

Together, these projects are revitalizing and opening up the Island part of downtown for development, restoring the historic train depot, creating the Riverfront Park, restoring the Miss Bellows Falls Diner, and revitalizing the village's downtown commercial area.

"Bellows Falls has a remarkable history," Holloway said, "from the time of the [first] Western Abenaki living there to the revitalization of the polluted brownfields created by the paper industry. And today it is the epicenter of the creative arts in the region."

Susan Evans McClure, executive director of the Vermont Arts Council, said that her group chose Bellows Falls for the Vermont Creative Network's 2024 Creative Sector Convening "because we wanted to highlight a Vermont downtown where creativity is at the core of its redevelopment and success. That's true in many towns across the state," she said, "and especially in Bellows Falls."

The fact that Bellows Falls is a very walkable village was also a factor.

"We also wanted a downtown where the town could be the campus of the event and where we could visit several locations and experience what makes the location special," McClure said. "Bellows Falls fits that bill perfectly and we are happy to highlight the incredible creative spirit of the community."

She also noted that "Bellows Falls has a unique spirit, and dedicated creative people who are committed to building a thriving community for everyone."

From its artist studios and performance spaces to the theater company with downtown headquarters, to housing redevelopment, "there are so many success stories in Bellows Falls that we think the rest of the state can benefit from hearing," McClure said.

"We often say that the work of building a creative economy is about putting creativity at the heart of community and economic development work, and Bellows Falls really understands that and has done it so well," she added.

Despite previous revitalization efforts and economic struggles, Doyle said, the village "has always remained authentically Bellows Falls," which makes it a particularly special place in Vermont.

Kudos for McBride

Robert McBride first came to visit Bellows Falls in the early 1980s. He fell in love with the community, bought a house there in 1981, and moved permanently to the village in 1994.

He created and still runs the Rockingham Arts and Museum Project (RAMP), which has helped carry out his goal of fostering economic development through the arts. It has been instrumental in dozens of arts projects throughout the greater Rockingham region.

RAMP has sponsored several public arts projects, promotes affordable housing for artists, hosts quarterly artists' town meetings, and has acted as a fiscal agent for other start-up arts groups.

McBride's efforts have also been felt around the state.

Through RAMP, he has served on nearly a dozen other boards, ranging from Friends of the Vermont State House to the Vermont Creative Network and the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

"Robert has been so influential statewide," Doyle said. "He's just been involved with so many great projects. It felt so natural to pick him for this award. It's really important to acknowledge the great things he's done."

Holloway said he has worked with McBride for several years, including on the Arts Council.

"I've really enjoyed getting to know Robert," Holloway said. "I can't think of a more fitting person to get the lifetime achievement award. He cares for the creative community all over Vermont."

Other June events

• The Greater Falls Farmers' Market begins on Friday, June 7, and will run through Sept. 27 every Friday, from 4 to 7 p.m., at Hetty Green Park.

• The Rockingham Development Office and Bellows Falls Downtown Development Alliance will unveil a model unit at the Hotel Windham in the Bellows Falls Square, from June 7 to 12.

• The room, furnished by Ethan Allen, is made possible by funding in part through Vermont Council on Rural Development and the Southern Vermont Economy Project as well as a group of local concerned citizens. They are offering private tours on those days by appointment. Email [email protected] for booking information.

• Bellows Falls Alumni Weekend takes place from Friday, June 14 to Sunday, June 16, with the Bellows Falls High School and Bellows Falls Union High School Alumni Parade at 1 p.m. on Sunday.

• June is Pride month and Bellows Falls will host several Pride events, including classic film Wednesdays at the Bellows Falls Opera House, concerts, discos, and book reading events. A full list of events can be found at

For more on these events, visit the Bellows Falls Downtown Development Alliance page on Facebook or its website.

This News item by Robert F. Smith was written for The Commons.

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