The town of Derby Line Vermont straddles the US/Canada border.The border passes right through the town, even through some buildings and homes. In some cases, a family at home cooks its meals in one country and eats them in the other. Derby Line Vermont is also home to the Haskell Free Library and Opera House, which was purposely built on the border. The opera stage is in Canada, but the entrance to the opera, and most of the stage seats, are in the United States. Because the building straddles the border, it has two mailing addresses, one for the US and one for Canada.
Derby Line Vermont. — Residents of this town and neighboring Stanstead, Quebec, are proud of the elegant granite hall that straddles the border between them. It is their rarest jewel: The Haskell Free Library and Opera House, built a century ago as a symbol of friendship between the United States and Canada and shared ever since by citizens of the two countries.
Canadians and Americans borrow books and watch plays side by side at the library, which was deliberately built half in one country and half in the other. No guards are stationed on the quiet, shady streets around the building, and Canadians who cross into Vermont to enter the library do not need to show their passports at a border station, as they do when crossing for any other purpose. Inside the library, where a strip of black tape on the floor marks the international boundary, patrons wander unchecked between the two countries on their way from the stacks to the birch-paneled reading room.
But smugglers of illegal immigrants have begun to notice the unique features of the neighborhood, say agents from both countries who enforce the border in the area, located less than a minute’s drive from Interstate 91.
Smugglers are taking advantage of three unguarded side streets near the library to ferry human cargo in both directions, border officials say. The streets must be closed to traffic, officials insist, to help them stem a rising tide of illegal immigration.
The plan has provoked an emotional outcry in these two small border towns, where people pride themselves on their easy coexistence. Their countries may be preoccupied with terrorism and the need for tighter borders, but here, many residents say the change would break down their most valued traditions.