Celebrating Intervale History: Rena Calkins


Celebrating Intervale History: Rena Calkins

Rena Calkins is an iconic figure in the fascinating history of the Intervale. Born in 1900, she lived in the Intervale during her childhood (1908 – 1918 at Riverview Farm, across the street from the current Intervale Center) and again for much of her adult life (1941 – 1991 at the Calkins farmstead, current Intervale Center offices). She is pictured to below in the checkered dress with her family at Riverview Farm, c 1907. 

Calkins Riverview Farm.jpg

She graduated from Burlington High School. In 1918, her family moved to Danville, VT on foot, with their belongings on a wagon and driving their cattle and livestock for a week to reach their destination. There, Rena worked as the chief telephone operator when the first phone system went into effect in Danville. In 1941, Rena moved back to the Intervale with her mother, Ella, to run a dairy farm on Intervale Road. 


telephone operator manual.jpg

Rena was an incredibly hard worker. She spent decades as a dairy farmer and hers was the last working dairy farm in Burlington. Rena was known for giving work and lodging to recent recent prisoners and the poor. She reportedly drove the cows back to pasture in her old Cadillac in her later years. She kept meticulous notes on herbal remedies for various human and animal ailments. 


At 91, supposedly having raked and loaded hay that day, she suffered a stroke and died at five years later in 1996. Her devoted nephew, Paul, took care of her and her land in her last years of life and together with his wife, Rita, donated seven acres of her farmstead to the Intervale Center in 2002 and later, an additional 53 acres in 2005. The recreational trail winding along the Winooski River is now named the Rena Calkins trail, in memory of a compassionate, diligent and determined woman whose legacy lives on through historic buildings and continued agricultural production on her land. 

As the Intervale Center celebrates its 30th anniversary, we honor and remember the woman and farm that came before us. Thank you, Rena Calkins, for your decades of hard work and for passing on your agricultural legacy to us and the many farmers who have worked your land since the 1990s. Burlington was truly changed by you. 

Abby Portman