Haskell Free Library and Opera House – Derby, Vermont - Atlas Obscura

Haskell Free Library and Opera House

Derby, Vermont

This unusual building straddles two countries. 


Derby Line, Vermont and Stanstead, Quebec are more than just neighbors—for generations they have operated as one community, with free passage from one side of the Canadian/U.S. border to the other.

As a sample of community solidarity, the Haskell Free Library straddles the border, with a border line painted down the middle of the library. The entrance is on the U.S. side of the border, and the books are on the Canadian side. The opera house stage is in Canada, and the seats are in the U.S. It is referred to as the only library in the U.S. with no books and the only opera house with no stage. 

The building was created by American sawmill owner Carlos Haskell and his Canadian wife Martha Stewart Haskell for use by the people of both countries; profits from the opera house were originally intended to support the operation of the free library.

The opera house on the second floor was rumored to be modeled after the old Boston Opera House in a somewhat scaled down fashion (it seats four hundred), but the Boston Opera house was built afterwards. A painted scene of Venice on the drop curtain and four other scenes by Erwin Lamoss (1901) and plaster scrollwork complete with plump cherubs built in Boston ornament the opera hall and balcony in this historic building, which was constructed with 2-foot-thick (0.61 m) walls built of granite from Stanstead.

In a quirk of international fate the border between the two towns has been closed and fenced off. The result is that the once singular and placid community is now divided and becoming estranged. Estrangement aside, you can still walk from country to country by going to the library.

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April 24, 2013

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