As a state with a smaller population than at least a dozen U.S. cities, a ban on billboard advertisements and the only capital city in the country without a McDonald's, Vermont would seem to be doing a decent job of fending off threats to its bucolic way of life.

But not good enough for the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which last week placed the state on its 2004 list of the most endangered historic places.

Blamed by the trust for remaking the state was the retail behemoth Wal-Mart.

"This small slice of America has come under tremendous pressure from the onslaught of big-box retail development," the trust says on its Web site. "The distinctive characteristics that define Vermont -- historic towns, villages and rural landscapes -- could be lost if sprawl-type development is allowed to occur in a haphazard, out-of-scale, land-consuming manner."

Vermont was the last state to hold out against Wal-Mart's steady expansion into every corner of America. But the Bentonville, Ark., giant, known worldwide for low prices, arrived there in the mid-1990s and now has four stores.

"To put a whole state on the list is a bit dramatic," said Mia Masten, Wal-Mart's community affairs manager for the Eastern Region. "It ignores what we do bring to Vermont, like additional convenience, jobs and tax revenue."

-- Jonathan Finer

The National Trust for Historic Preservation said that Vermont's rural character has been altered by the opening of several Wal-Marts, such as this one in Williston.