Maria von Trapp: A place called Vermont

Credit: Trapp Family Singers-Metropolitan Music Bureau, New York. Photo by Larry Gordon.

by Lou Varricchio

(Republished from the March 5 Sun Community News, an Addison County community newspaper)

STOWE | Many readers probably know the famous story of singer and musician Maria von Trapp through the inspiring 1965 musical-film “The Sound of Music” starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer (who died Feb. 5). Andrews lovingly portrayed a stylized Maria which continues to captivate viewers 56 years later.

The story of the music-filled lives of the von Trapp Family Singers, their performance at the Salzburg Music Festival, how Maria met Capt. Georg von Trapp and his children, and the family’s escape from Nazi-annexed Austria in 1938 (just before war erupted), is well known. The family’s eventual relocation to the USA is also frequently recounted. But what few know is how the Von Trapps came to call Stowe, Vermont, their new home.

According to Maria von Trapp biographer Candice F. Ransom, Maria was smitten by Vermont in 1941.

Just before Pearl Harbor, and after their fifth U.S. concert tour, a friend offered the family a vacation getaway in Stowe, Vermont. The Von Trapps had visited Vermont on an earlier tour, but now was a time to break from work, relax, and tour the little New England state.

“Maria remembered the beauty of Vermont and the mountains that had reminded her of Austria,” Ransom writes in her biography, “Maria von Trapp: Beyond the Sound of Music“. “The Von Trapps decided to pack their two automobiles and drive north (from their first American home in Pennsylvania).”

That brief summer season, the family spent an idyllic time hiking, swimming, and picnicking in central Vermont. They even held an impromptu concert, under the stars, for federal workers housed at a nearby Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camp.

“Maria thought they never sounded better in concert,” according to Ransom. “She dreaded the day they would have to leave. If only they could buy a place in the country.”

They soon returned to Pennsylvania, but in 1943, Vermont was back in the picture.

In 1943, the family returned to the Green Mountain State and visited a small mountainside farm-for-sale near Stowe.

“The place that captured Maria’s heart wasn’t exactly perfect. The farmhouse and outbuilding were falling down, Georg pointed out… But the view: from the sunbathed peaks, they could see three valleys lying placidly between ancient mountain ranges… the open sky reminded her of Austria,” Ransom noted.

The couple signed on the dotted line and became the newest, most famous of 20th-century Vermonters.

“It was March 1943 when the family moved to their farmhouse in Stowe,” Ransom added. “Snow lay in deep drifts… with the help of a carpenter, Georg, young daughter Maria and son Hedwig tore off most of the roof… then a blizzard struck. What was left of the roof crashed to the cellar under the weight of snow. It was clear the old house just wouldn’t suit.”

Georg and Maria asked an architect to design them a new home, in the style of an Austrian alpine chalet. When the chalet was completed by the mid-1940s, the family also leased the CCC camp, where they performed in 1941, as an income-producing summer camp.

The Stowe summer campsite, eventually purchased by the family, was expanded to become today’s beautiful, Trapp Family Lodge resort; it is a beloved, four-season destination that retains all the magic and heritage of the world-renown “The Sound of Music” story.

Georg died in Stowe, at age 67, in 1947; Maria lived on until, at age 87, she passed away in 1987.

Today, many Von Trapp family members embrace the family’s musical talents and traditions — and they still call Vermont home.

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