The Man Who Gave Birth to the Northeast Kingdom – George Aiken
By Scott Wheeler
How did the Northeast Kingdom get its name? Without a doubt this is the question that I’m asked most often by residents and visitors to the region. Although most people with strong ties to the Kingdom take pride in the region, a region that encompasses Orleans, Essex, and Caledonia counties—a mass of about 1,313,710 acres of land and water—many people don’t know how the region received the romantic sounding name.
Vermont governor turned U.S. Senator, George Aiken, is credited
with coining the phrase, “Northeast Kingdom”.
By most accounts the first time that the phrase, “Northeast Kingdom,” was uttered in a public forum, and possibly at all, was in 1949 during a meeting in the stately Darling Inn on Depot Street in Lyndonville. The man credited with giving birth to the Kingdom, or at least its name, is one of Vermont’s most beloved politicians, Vermont Governor turned U.S. Senator, the late George D. Aiken.
The coining of the name came at a good time for a region struggling to find an identity and to market itself to the rest of the world in an attempt to bring tourists and businesses to this historically poorest section of the state. According to Lola Aiken, the late senator’s widow, a woman who I respect tremendously, the phrase simply rolled off her husband’s tongue at the meeting and was not a preplanned publicity stunt for the region. Instead, she said, her husband was moved by the rugged, yet beautiful, environment of the Northeast Kingdom.
By most accounts, George Aiken first uttered the phrase, “Northeast Kingdom”, in 1949 while attending a meeting at the Darling Inn on Depot Street in Lyndonville, Vermont.
“He said it just came out of his mouth one day,” Mrs. Aiken explained. “After he thought about it, he thought the name was perfect for the area.”
The Vermont farm boy, who was born in Dummerston, Vermont, but grew up in Putney, Vermont, grew up to become governor of Vermont and later a U.S. senator. He was one of this country’s most powerful and respected leaders. Fiscally conservative but socially progressive, the Republican earned the respect of world leaders. The recognition never went to his head, Mrs. Aiken said. Even after he became a U.S. senator he preferred the title “governor”.
George Aiken in his earlier years
“He liked being called ‘Governor’ because he liked being the governor more than he liked being the U.S. Senate,” Mrs. Aiken explained. “It wasn’t that he didn’t like being in the Senate, it was that he didn’t like being away from Vermont. He never forgot that he was a Vermonter.” And, she said he never lost touch with the average Vermonter.
Tired from weeks of work, during Senate recesses, she said it wasn’t uncommon for him to come home to Vermont, grab his fishing pole, and head to the Northeast Kingdom.
“The Northeast Kingdom was just one of his favorite places in the world,” Mrs. Aiken said. “He always loved the people up there. He used to say that many of the people didn’t have much of anything, or have big jobs, but they were always happy. They didn’t complain as other people would complain in the same situation. They just made do with what they had. The people up there didn’t put on “airs” and they always welcomed you.”
When Governor Aiken decided not to run for office in 1974, Mrs. Aiken said the reason was simple. “He knew it was time to come home to Vermont”. He lived out his remaining years in Vermont, the land of his birth, and the land his love and heart never left. The governor turned U.S. Senator died in Putney, Vermont, on November 19, 1984. He is interred at West Hill Cemetery in Putney.
The governor’s widow, Lola Aiken, is a remarkable woman who works to keep her husband’s work and memories alive
Governor Aiken was a remarkable man, but he was one remarkable man with an equally remarkable wife, Lola Aiken – a true gem to the state of Vermont and to the nation.