Song commemorates Vermonter who lost farm to Interstate 91

  • In this April, 15, 1964 photo released by the Vermont State Archives and Records Administration, farmer Romaine Tenney, left, stands with state agent James Wu on his farm in Ascutney, Vt. The Vermont Agency of Transportation is asking the public for ideas for a permanent memorial to Tenney, who took his life after his farm was seized in 1964 to make way for the construction of Interstate 91. A meeting is scheduled for Oct. 29, 2019, at the Ascutney fire station. (Donald Wiedenmayer/Vermont State Archives and Records Administration via AP) Donald Wiedenmayer

Valley News Correspondent
Published: 11/19/2019 10:13:11 PM
Modified: 11/20/2019 4:24:44 PM

ASCUTNEY — While residents and the state of Vermont continue the discussion of how to honor the late farmer Romaine Tenney, a singer-songwriter who grew up on a Weathersfield dairy farm has already honored the life of Tenney with the October release of his song, Spark.

“I set out to capture who he was and what he stood for,” Ben Fuller said in a phone interview Tuesday from Nashville, Tenn., where he now lives.

In 1964, Tenney, who farmed using no electricity or gas-powered equipment, burned his Ascutney farmhouse and barns and took his own life after the state was seizing his property to make way for construction of Interstate 91.

The seed for the song was planted last summer during an evening of thunder and lightning when Fuller said he was working on a song idea about a farmer who was about to lose his life’s work to the mortgage holder and resorted to robbing a bank to save his family and farm when his father called.

Fuller said he was talking about the song with his father, Weathersfield Selectboard member Dave Fuller, when he learned of Tenney. It did not take long for the younger Fuller to recognize the connection between Tenney’s life and the song he was working on.

Fuller spent the next few weeks reading and researching Tenney’s story to be sure his song accurately portrayed the farmer’s life and death.

“I wanted the song to be absolutely truthful,” Fuller said. “I wanted to picture his life and how he may have felt being overrun by the interstate. All of a sudden, it just started falling out.”

The song has been released as a single and is getting play on some Vermont and New Hampshire radio stations, as well as online outlets like YouTube, Spotify and iTunes.

Before its release, Fuller said he shared the song with some of Tenney’s family and a niece remarked:

“ ‘You have captured his soul.’ It was unbelievable to hear that,” Fuller said.

The title can be heard in the song’s refrain:

He lit up the sky

Like he said he would

Burned up in flames

As the whole town stood

When they crossed that line

For a mile marker sign

Buried his pride under the road

With a spark, guns and bones.

Fuller said the last line refers to the fire’s origin and some of what was found when the flames were extinguished.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at

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