Derby Line, Vermont- A True Border Town

I returned to the United States from my Quebec romp to the great state of Vermont after leaving Canada and answering questions from a border guard who was genuinely curious as to what on Earth I do to have so many different passport stamps (a first, actually).  I needed to stop for gas because it’s significantly cheaper on the American side, and this innocuous reason led me to Derby Line, Vermont, a small community of ~700 souls that I’d read about before but was tickled pink to actually see in person.

Because you see, Derby Line, VT is actually contiguous with another town called Stanstead, QC, which is a rather fancy way of saying the border between the USA and Canada runs smack dab through the center of town.  People who live in the community often have their houses in the USA but enter Canada when they back their car out of the driveway, town meetings are sometimes held in a foreign country, and even the sewage makes a cross-border journey for treatment.  I’ve always thought it must be neat to live there, partly as a symbol of how borders are just lines and we’re all people but mainly because I think it would be cool to travel between two countries whenever I wanted a snack from the kitchen.

Of course such a beautiful system that had worked for hundreds of years was sure to be tampered with by idiots who don’t know a good thing when they see one- namely the United States government- and after 9/11 US Customs and Border Protection decided to tell a town of less than a thousand souls that their undocumented border crossings were a threat to homeland security.  There was talk and outrage because the Powers That Be were interested in shutting down some of the roads to traffic, and this was of particular concern to the community because the library/opera house was built directly on top of the border.  By a dual nationality couple intent on fostering cross-border ties.

Anyway, after such a quirky little story I had to take a look around, right?

There isn’t much “to” Derby Line, but here is a picture of the sacred border that cannot be crossed undocumented.  I stepped back and forth a few times to see if anything would happen, but no Border Patrol agents swept down on me in a heinous manner. (Though I should note I was ready for this just in case with my passport in my back pocket- the only time I can recall getting out of a car for a few minutes’ walk and doing so.) The reason for the quiet was apparent after reading the sign just behind me-

Aha!  It turns out that the streets in Derby Line were never blocked off and cooler heads prevailed, but instead a few signs were just put up informing everyone to be sure to use the next street over when crossing the border.  Problem solved!  I mean I’m sure there were cameras placed around the place strategically or some such but still, it made me ponder just how much illegal immigration we could quench by setting up a few bilingual signs on the US-Mexican border.  Apparently they’re a good enough deterrent for wily Canadians, so you’ll never know if it’ll work down there until you try, right? *wink*

Last but not least, the famous library and opera house bisected by the US-Canadian border, which is a nice little building on the register for historic places.  The way it works is you need to enter from the US side (to the right of the marker in the picture) although most of the building is in Canada proper, but under the current agreement residents of Stanstead are allowed to enter the building without going through the US border checkpoint one street over.  Which if you think about it implies a fair bit about how important border checkpoints are in Middle of Nowhere, Vermont/Quebec, but there we are.

That’s pretty much all there is to the area, though as a final note when I drove back to rejoin the highway I did pass a sign for Get Stuffed Taxidermy whose motto is “whackem’, stackem’, packem’!”  Really.  This is just as true as how the website for this place has a video of a girl wearing nothing but a camo’d bikini holding a rifle telling you information about the business.  I guess the place is there so any Canadians who miss the sign accidentally will know they are on US soil when they come across a business that stereotypical!

7 responses to “Derby Line, Vermont- A True Border Town

  1. I saw this place on that show “How The States Got Their Shapes”, and would love to visit there one day well. We have so many funny little quirks out there with border and such!

    • Neat, thanks for mentioning it- I’ve never heard of the show before but now I’m interested and will look it up, as it sounds right up my alley. 🙂

  2. I was there yesterday & had a similar experience & reaction. I took the exact same photos, but yours turned out much better. Did you see the brochure for the Opera House which states, “All visitors are expected to return to their country of origin following performances.” & cooler heads did not prevail — many of the streets are blocked, and people who live on the American side of the block cannot cross the street & vice versa. It’s ludicrous!

    • Ha! I did not see the brochure but that sounds entertaining. And ugh sorry I didn’t see the blocked streets while I was there, shame to hear about it. 😦

  3. Pingback: 2011: A Year in Review | Where is Yvette?

  4. Carolyn McPherson

    My grandmother–from Derby Line–married my grandfather–from Stanstead (it was called Rock Island then)–and there are many amusing stories I could tell you about this unique locale. Here is an amusing modern-day adventure. The Derby Line/Rock Island community was, as I understand it, intentionally laid out on both sides of the 45th parallel (of latitude), the idea being that it would be an international municipality. But since the advent of GPS, certain national surveying oddities have come to light, including the fact that Derby Line, Vermont, is actually north of the “real” 45th parallel, meaning that all of Derby Line is actually in Quebec. For a time it was possible to google a map of Derby Line and find it obligingly placed inside Stanstead, Quebec. Apparently people–and I don’t know who–have decided to honor the old border, and no Canadian militia have showed up in Derby Line to take it back. By the way, both communities voted to ignore the War of 1812, and there were some funny things that happened during Prohibition. . . .

    • Haha wow, that’s awesome- thanks for sharing! Interestingly I do remember back in the day how when you drive up the highway there you do get the “45th parallel” sign about a minute or so before you reach the border, so the surveyors were rather off. If you look at the history of such things back then though it’s a pretty common thing, so doubt Quebec is taking it back anytime soon. 😉

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