‘Tales Told in Newsprint’

Williston Whistle co-founder Louise Ransom chronicles town’s evolution

Dec. 8, 2011

By Luke Baynes

Observer staff


Louise Ransom (left), the co-founder and former editor of the Williston Whistle, was joined Monday at Dorothy Alling Memorial Library by her former reporter, Ruth Painter (right). Ransom presented a copy of her book, ‘A Town in Transition: Tales Told in Newsprint,’ a compilation of Whistle articles and editorials from 1985-1994. (Observer photo by Luke Baynes)

If you’re new in town, you might not know that the Williston Observer was once called the Williston Whistle.

Founded in 1985, the Whistle began as a monthly publication of humble origins.

“The electronic world has descended into the newspaper business, but back in 1985, there wasn’t all that stuff,” said Louise Ransom, the Whistle’s co-founder and former editor. “Actually, spreadsheets hadn’t really come in for layouts, so we cut and pasted our layout. A pingpong table was our layout table, and we had a monstrous and marvelous copy machine.”

Ransom, who is now 90 years old and resides in the Wake Robin Life Care community in Shelburne, returned to Williston on Monday to present a copy of her new book, “A Town in Transition: Tales Told in Newsprint,” to the Dorothy Alling Memorial Library. The book, a compilation of articles and editorials from Ransom’s 10-year tenure as Whistle owner and editor, tracks the changes in Williston as it grew from a small farming community to a budding commercial center.

“(Williston) was literally in 1985 a small, rural, agricultural town. We had 18 farms in 1985, and in 1994 we were down to eight,” Ransom said. “As I went back over all 10 years of the issues to see what was in them, it was just so evident that (the town) was one thing in 1985, and it was something else in 1994, so I thought that was worth documenting.”

The original staff of the Whistle consisted of: Ransom, editor; Elaine Park, layout and design; Ruth Painter, reporter; Diane Goodrich, advertising director; and Sally Bryant, business manager. The early issues were put together at Park’s house (“She was the only one of us who owned a word processor,” Ransom recalled), but they later moved to an office space located in the Williston Community Coffee House building on Williston Road.

Ransom said she agreed to speak at the library event in part because she wants the town to purchase the former coffee house property.

“Because (the former coffee house) building is back on the market, I am extremely interested in promoting the town’s interest in buying it,” Ransom said. “It’s in a perfect location, right across the street from the library, two doors away from the Town Hall, next to the armory, and I had it designed to fit into the requirements for that part of the town.”

Although “that part of the town” has remained largely unchanged over the years due to its designation by the town as a historic village, Ransom’s book chronicles the transformation of the town’s growth center, as Taft Corners continued to develop, and Wal-Mart and Maple Tree Place moved closer to their eventual constructions.

“We had enormous activity, because this organization called Citizens for Responsible Growth developed with the threat of Maple Tree Place first, and then Wal-Mart,” Ransom said. “I wrote several articles that said that Wal-Mart brought in some of the best lawyers in the whole state — some were in the Supreme Court — and CRG could only afford one very good environmental lawyer. Actually, Burlington city was very threatened by the fact that there might be two malls in Williston, because that would take a lot of business away from Burlington, and so they produced legal help, and all that’s in the book.”

In hindsight, it’s fitting that Ransom’s tenure as the Whistle’s owner/editor ended during the height of the controversy surrounding the construction of Wal-Mart; for that was arguably the tipping point in Williston’s transformation from a rural farming community to a retail nexus.

Ransom sold the newspaper in 1994 to the Observer’s current publishers, Paul and Marianne Apfelbaum, who shifted the paper’s focus to reflect the community’s new dynamic.

Yet flipping through Ransom’s book, one comes across an item from 1987 that considers the relative merits of the still debated Circumferential Highway project.

Some things never change.