A Brief History of the fictional town of Shirley, VT

Annie Baker HeadshotThe Shirley Community Center (in the play Circle Mirror Transformation), Shirley State College (in Body Awareness), and The Green Sheep coffee shop (in The Aliens) are three unique and intimate windows into the world of Shirley, VT. The richly detailed fictional town comes from the imagination of playwright Annie Baker. Below, she shares highlights of Shirley’s history.


  • Shirley is a town in Windsor County, Vermont. The population was
    14,023 in the 2000 census.
  • Shirley is home to Shirley State College, and it hosts the annual Vermont Gourd Festival.
  • Once a fishing place for the Abenaki tribe of the Northeast, Shirley was settled by the English in 1754 and named for Lord Henry Shirley, the man who was eventually responsible for one of the first acts of biological warfare in North America. In response to various Native American uprisings in the 1760s, Shirley approved a plan to distribute smallpox-infected blankets to the Indians, whom he referred to as “an execrable race.”
  • Shirley has never moved to a mayor-council or council-manager form of government; instead, it has maintained the tradition of a town meeting and select board.
  • In 1853, pure spring water was discovered near Shirley’s Plum Brook, and for the next few decades the town was home to the Shirley Hydropathic Institute and became a curative health resort destination until 1882. Now the former Hydropathic Institute is home to the Shirley School, a small preparatory school for dyslexic students.
  • Public nudity was legal in Shirley until 2008, and for years the town’s Saturday Morning Farmer’s Market was a destination point for nudists. But in 2008, by a narrow margin, the town banned nudity “on the main roads or within 300 feet of any school or place of public worship,” and the face of the Farmer’s Market (always held in the parking lot of the Unitarian Church) was forever changed.
  • Notable historical residents have included Gilbert Rosebath, astronomer; Edwin Hunt Lessey, reed organ maker; and Elizabeth Collins, poet.
  • In the 1980s and ’90s Shirley became home to a small community of Cambodian refugees who were fleeing the Khmer Rouge regime. The community is still thriving, and now all Shirley public school newsletters are distributed in English and in Khmer.

– Excerpted from an interview with Annie Baker
by Adam Greenfield, Playwrights Horizons, 2009

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