It’s So Easy Being Green
It’s no wonder Vermont’s name, from the French, means “Green Mountain.” Vermont is mountainous, and green. (Mountains run the entire length of the state.) Hell, even the state’s license plates are green.
Hailing from Washington, the Evergreen State, I thought I knew green. Perhaps Vermont is no more green than Washington, but with far less populace, that leaves more green space. It’s common on interstates for the next exit to be six or more miles away. There are less than three quarters of a million people in the entire state of Vermont. It is the 49th least populated state in the union, second only to Wyoming. There are even fewer people in Vermont than Alaska, or North Dakota.
My Love Affair With Vermont’s Covered Bridges
Sure, other states are green, and yes, other states have covered bridges. But there’s just something about Vermont’s covered bridges – not the least of which, the sheer number of them!
Whenever I explore a new area or visit another town, I stop at any covered bridges nearby. Pedestrian only, public, private, preserved, falling down, relocated, at a museum or still used as a daily thoroughfare – I love them all. I look forward to seeing more in southern Vermont.
(Contrary to popular belief, bridges were not covered to keep them free of snow; wood bridges just last longer under shelter.)
It’s All About The Lake
In northern Vermont, Lake Champlain dominates the western border, separating Vermont from New York. It is the sixth largest lake in the United States. It even has its own monster, Champ, whose likeness is sprinkled around the area.
(Burlington’s Oakland A’s affiliate is The Vermont Lake Monsters.) Reportedly Champ likes to hang out at the north end of the lake, where depths can be up to 400 feet. The Lake Champlain Islands, near the Canadian border (Montreal is only two hours from Burlington), are picturesque and serene, worthy of a vacation in and of themselves, with all sorts of nooks and crannies on Isle La Motte, North Hero, Grand Isle, and South Hero. If you’re short on time, they make for a beautiful Sunday drive.
I heard tell that Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, Connecticut residents, loved to hang out there.
Underwater, Lake Champlain makes me want to learn to scuba dive. The lake contains countless shipwrecks dating back to the 1700s. The state maintains 10 underwater historic sites for scuba divers, including the Horse Ferry, the Phoenix, the Coal Barge, the General Butler and the Diamond Island Stone Boat.
In a state settled by farmers, where the majority of the land is still farmland, this is the place for maple syrup,
beef and cheese,
ice cream (a Vermont Creemee is a rich, often maple-flavored improvement on soft serve), beer, and spirits.
The Burlington Farmers’ Market, held each Saturday in front of City Hall, is bursting with color and flavor, mixed with the sweetly overpowering smell of Linden trees in bloom overhead.
Over at Hen of the Wood (locations in Waterbury and Burlington), the farm-to-table model is in good hands, with delicious dividends.
One constant there is the mushroom toast, with house-cured bacon and a poached farm egg.
Winters in Vermont may be made for skiing, but summers are made for every other outdoor sport. Biking is king, with Burlington alone having miles and miles of bike paths. Walking is also encouraged, with a free Burlington shuttle that runs from the college to the waterfront, and the Church Street Marketplace, a shopping and dining, pedestrian-only Mecca in the center of town.
Even a city girl like me could not help but get out into nature in Vermont. I viewed Lake Champlain and the Adirondack Mountains from Mount Philo State Park – Vermont’s oldest State Park – in Charlotte.
I finally got to meet blog follower Rosemary, who hails from Canada and read I would be in the area; in Ripton she and I walked the Robert Frost Trail, a mile-long loop with his poems posted along the way, in honor of the 23 summers he spent in the area.
(Thanks for driving down from Hemmingford, Rosemary!)
Burlington: Vermont’s Largest City
Burlington, home to three colleges, sits on the shores of Lake Champlain and is the best kind of hippie dippy.
The McDonald’s downtown went out of business. Dogs are welcome almost everywhere; there are three off-leash dog areas within two miles of the campground at North Beach.
If you want organic, locally sourced, farm to fork, small batch, artisanal this and that, Burlington is the bomb. This is where Ben and Jerry’s got its start, and you can tour the factory in nearby Waterbury.
On my first day in Burlington I took a Segway tour of the town, led by fresh-faced college students who attend the University of Vermont.
None of them could tell me why exactly the university is known as UVM instead of just UV, or even UVT.
One of the tour guides pointed out a tiny rock formation in the lake: Rock Dunder. According to Wikipedia, “At the height of the Battle of Lake Champlain, a British vessel mistakenly fired on the rock, then obscured by fog. When the officer discovered his mistake he is said to have cried out “It’s a rock, by Dunder!”, earning the place its name.” All I could think was that tale would be far less charming if he had said, “Fuck me! It’s a rock!”
Burlington is a special kind of quirky.
There are flying monkeys on some of the buildings – statues left by an out-of-business, Oz-themed mattress company, so the town put the art to good use.
The band “Phish” got its start at Nectar’s in Burlington.
Burlington is also home to the World’s Tallest Filing Cabinet, rising out of the weeds in a rather industrial and loveless part of town.
I was told it is not illegal to be completely nude in Burlington. Thankfully I did not learn this from personal experience, as it seems to me the people most likely to be nude in public are the people no one wants to see anyway.
Shelburne – Playground Of The Rich, Gift To The Public
In nearby Shelburne, a 15-minute drive down the Ethan Allen Highway (U.S. Hwy 7), the village is blessed with fruits of the labor of the uber-rich.
Shelburne Farms is a nonprofit, 1,400 acre working farm, forest and national historic landmark. From 1886 to 1902, William Seward and Lila Vanderbilt,
sister to George (who built the Biltmore in Asheville, North Carolina) bought 32 farms on Shelburne Point on Lake Champlain and created a 3,800 acre agricultural estate.
Landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted divided the farm into three spaces: farm, forest, and parkland. There are 20 miles of carriage roads on the property. New York architect Robert H. Robertson designed the coach barn,
the farm barn,
and the family home, which is now an Inn.
Electra Havemeyer Webb, the Domino Sugar heiress, married one of Lila’s sons. When asked if she would preserve and display the 90 carriages and sleighs owned by her father-in-law, Electra took on the challenge, then made preserving art and history, especially folk art and Vermont history, her obsession.
In the 1950s she saved the steamship Ticonderoga (now a national historic landmark),
a covered bridge,
and many other buildings from the wrecking ball. Your admission ticket is good for two days, but it is impossible to see it all. There are carved cigar store Indians, printing presses, quilts – you name it. A recently renovated building on the property houses nothing but duck decoys!
When Electra died in 1960, her children built a memorial to her at the Shelburne Museum – a Greek revival building, in which six of her 18 Park Avenue rooms were dismantled and reassembled. The Electra Havemeyer Webb Memorial building provides a peek into Electra’s life and is chock-full of impressionist paintings.
Perusing in the museum gift shop, I overheard a high pitched, nasally female voice say to the clerk: “I’m from New York. I read this museum was good, and I figured ‘good’ by Vermont standards, but I was blown away! I plan to tell everyone about it on Trip Advisor!” Thank goodness for her; otherwise, we might never know about a world-renowned museum with a 70-year tradition of preservation.
A Visit To The State Capital
Montpelier is the least populated state capital in the United States, but it has a beautiful capitol building. The Vermont State House is 150 years old, built after the last one burned down. The house and senate chambers are the oldest in the country and retain their original 19th century look.
It is the only state capital with a dome in the country that does not have a corresponding rotunda; those pragmatic Vermonters did not want to waste the space.
Speaking of McDonald’s earlier, I recently learned that Montpelier is the only state capital in the United States that does not have one.
It’s no wonder that Vermont calls like a siren to staunch individualists, the most famous of whom is Ethan Allen. Many areas of New England lay some sort of claim to Ethan, including that Connecticut furniture company that co-opted his name, but Vermont is where Ethan rose to fame, and Burlington, Vermont is where Ethan eventually settled, and died.
Hearing Allen described on various tours, I was reminded of that “Big John” song by Jimmy Dean. Whenever I encountered Ethan’s likeness, I heard Mrs. Shirley on the telephone to the police in “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation,” describing Cousin Eddie: “He was a huge, beastly, bulging man.” At 6’5″, it was reported Allen could grab two men by the scruffs of their necks and drag them about as he pleased.
Ethan came from a Connecticut farm family, and like other Vermont settlers, they purchased their farmland from the King of England, through his emissary, the Governor of New Hampshire. Then, the landed gentry of (New) York laid claim to the parcels, trying to force the farmers to pay again. Ethan raised up a militia, known affectionately as “The Green Mountain Boys,” to protect the farmers from the Yorkers, and they were quite successful. During the American Revolution, Ethan and the Green Mountain Boys were pressed into service by the Continental Congress to take Fort Ticonderoga from the British, which they did, with the help of a still-loyal Benedict Arnold. (I veered off to New York to tour the fort on my way to southern Vermont today. Turns out I’m not forted out after all!)
Vermont has been welcoming eccentrics ever since, such as the Theater Group, “Bread and Puppet.”
Founded in New York in the 1960s, Bread and Puppet Theater makes huge papier-mâché puppets to perform their liberal-leaning opera. After the performances, they serve home-baked bread and aoli.
In 1974 Bread and Puppet moved to Glover, Vermont, where I sojourned on a sunny Sunday for a performance in a grassy field. The performers live in a communal setting,
and the rusted hulls of buses are roadside stands and sleeping quarters.
There are outhouses.
A 140-year-old barn serves as museum, containing puppets going back to the troupe’s inception.
The lawyer in me assumed there are no housing ordinances or building codes in Glover. The mama bear in me wanted to wash all the performers’ dingy, grass-stained, once-white clothing. The liberal art lover in me delighted at the performance, the faces of the spectators, and the dog in attendance who barked in unison with the applause.
Artists abound in Vermont, where they can be left to their own devices, in peace. There is no better example then the Von Trapp family, yes, THAT Von Trapp family, who after fleeing Austria and singing on the road, settled in Stowe, Vermont. Their familial home evolved into a lodge, which is still in operation today.
While the lodge is a bit dated, down the hill the new beer hall is serving tasty drafts and Bavarian-inspired cuisine.
Vermont In Extremes
Whatever your taste, you can find what you’re seeking in Vermont. Soon after I arrived I attended a dinner showcasing Vermont cheesemakers at the Round Barn Farm in Waitsfield.
Representatives of Yankee Magazine and the PBS series “Weekends with Yankee” were in attendance. There were passed hors d’oeuvres during the cocktail hour. At dinner I sat with a representative of the governor’s office and her husband, both attorneys, and a lovely couple from Long Island; he was a retired Brooklyn detective. The food was delicious, the French wine paired beautifully, and the conversation was at times intellectual, lively, and stimulating.
A few nights later, I checked out the stock car races at Thunder Road in Barre (pronounced “Barry”).
Vermont governor Howard Dean was not nominated for president. Neither was Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. Perhaps there is a curse, given Vermont’s unique history: The state has produced two presidents, but both were vice presidents who ascended to the office upon the deaths of their runningmates.
A 1953 replica of Chester A. Arthur’s humble beginnings childhood home stands at the head of a dirt road in Fairfield, Vermont. During “Chet’s” campaign for the Vice Presidency in 1880, “birthers” alleged he was born in Canada. I guess everything old is new again.
Arthur succeeded to the presidency after James Garfield was shot in the back less than three months into office. Arthur was a rather reluctant president. His wife died before he became Vice President, so in office he lived as a dandy bachelor, even hiring Tiffany himself to redo some rooms in the White House.
Arthur suffered from kidney disease, but kept it a secret from the American public, saying, “I may be president of the United States, but my private life is nobody’s damned business.” Spoken like a true Vermonter. He did not receive his own party’s nomination to run for a second term, and most historians believe he was relieved. He died in 1886 at the age of 57.
I will visit Calvin Coolidge’s boyhood home while in southern Vermont, at Plymouth Notch.
“Vermont is a state I love. I could not look upon the peaks of Ascutney, Killington, Mansfield and Equinox without being moved in a way that no other scene could move me. It was here that I first saw the light of day; here I received my bride; here my dead lie pillowed on the loving breast of our eternal hills. I love Vermont because of her hills and valleys, her scenery and her invigorating climate. But most of all, because of her indomitable people. They are a race of pioneers who have almost beggared themselves to serve others. If the spirit of liberty should vanish in other parts of the union, and support of our institutions should languish, it could all be replenished from the general store held by the people of this brave little state of Vermont.”
— President Calvin Coolidge, address at Bennington, September 21, 1928
The other night I stumbled upon the blog of a recently retired, full-time RVing couple, who are visiting 50 states in 50 weeks. I might be able to grasp that if they were merely taking a year-long sabbatical, but crimine, otherwise, what’s the rush? Oh well. Each to his or her own. As for me, this summer I am staying in each New England state for an entire month or a little more, but even four to five weeks is too short. I am coming to the end of my month in Vermont, and it wasn’t enough.
My respect for Vermont only grows the longer I stay. Did you know Vermont was an independent nation for 14 years? While Vermont may be in New England, it is not one of the original 13 colonies; Vermont was the 14th state admitted to the union, in 1791. They had their own constitution, their own currency, and about 85,000 people then.
Did you know that the vast majority of Vermont was deforested due to the overharvesting of timber? As it turns out, removal of all those conifers helped the deciduous trees grow, including the prized sugar maple, from which Vermont maple syrup is made. Vermont leads the nation in maple syrup output, producing half the nation’s syrup and more than twice that of New York State, the second largest producer.
As you drive along Vermont back roads you will see evidence of sugaring in the trees if you pay attention – a series of tubes from tree to tree, eventually leading to a holding tank, where 40 gallons of sap are then boiled by wood fire to make one gallon of maple syrup. (Some sugar shacks still use the old bucket gathering method, although that’s pretty rare nowadays.)
Vermont learned from history’s blunders. Forests and farmlands are protected and/or held in trust. No billboards may be erected in the state, and no mountainsides may be clear cut or marred by development. People come to Vermont for the green, and by golly, that’s what they’re going to get. (Soon vacationers will get a new kind of green; marijuana is now legal in Vermont, and with such an agrarian culture it should be a success and a much-needed windfall for Vermont’s coffers.)
Did you know about the devastation caused by Hurricane Irene in Vermont in 2011? Somehow this was completely off my radar at the time. It feels almost silly to talk about hurricanes in Vermont, but the inland New England states are not immune to Atlantic tropical storms. In Vermont, a state crisscrossed by rivers and streams, too much water quickly becomes a dangerous thing.
Irene, downgraded to a tropical storm and then a cyclone, dumped 11 inches of rain on Vermont in August 2011. Almost every river and steam in Vermont flooded, creating a firehose effect. More than 2,400 roads, 800 homes and businesses, 300 bridges (including historic covered bridges) and railroad lines were destroyed or damaged. Six years hence, you can still see the scars left by raging waters along the roadside in Rutland and Killington, and locals talk in hushed tones about when the water was as high as that bridge over there.
The Simple Pleasures Of Central Vermont
The universe takes such good care of me. Here I was, concerned at the beginning of my New England journey that I might get a little lonesome. I didn’t know a single soul out here. But then, blog followers began to say hello, as did people at campgrounds, including Margot & Barry.
While at the North Beach Campground in Burlington, I received an email from Barry: “I read part of your website and intend to read more. It looks fascinating. In the meantime we are your neighbors at Site 111 North Beach. We typically start happy hour at 5 and would like to invite you over.”
Have you ever known me to refuse an invitation to happy hour?
Thus began my friendship with Margot & Barry, who live in Rutland, in the center-ish of the state. They went home after their Burlington camping weekend, and when I relocated to Bennington they invited me to Rutland for dinner and a tour of the area.
What a wonderful day! We drove to the top of Killington Peak, where Margot is a ski instructor, meandered through Pittsfield and Stockbridge, then went to Tozier’s in Bethel for my first ever maple creemee – delicious!
We stopped at the Joseph Smith birthplace monument in Royalton – the world’s tallest granite shaft, mined in Barre – dodging proselytizing Mormons attempting to lure us into the visitor’s center.
Back at the house in Rutland, we had a scrumptious dinner, sitting outside on the deck enjoying the evening and the company. I’m a pretty darned charmed and content chickadee.
As you drive through the villages and shires of southern Vermont, town after town’s welcome signs proclaim, “Est. 1761.” When I noticed this, I knew there had to be a story behind it.
Benning Wentworth was that New Hampshire governor I wrote about in the last installment, who sold land to people from Connecticut, which was later claimed by New York, spurring formation of The Green Mountain Boys militia. In 1749, in what is now southern Vermont, Wentworth chartered townships six miles apart in the wilderness between the Connecticut River and a line 20 miles east of the Hudson River, known as “The New Hampshire Grants.” (Settlers started arriving in 1761.) It’s because of him that, even to this day, you will come across a small village every six miles or so. Bennington was the first town to be chartered, which he named after himself.
Central to the history and identity of Bennington is the 1777 Battle of Bennington, fought in … wait for it … New York. Hold up – what?
The battle was fought near Walloomsac Heights, New York – five miles northwest of Bennington. A tour guide at Fort Ticonderoga rather cynically proposed that this influential battle was “given” to Bennington because no major revolutionary war battles were fought in Vermont, and Vermont “needed one” for historical tourism and state pride. Of course, Ticonderoga is in the state of New York, and I assume this gentleman is a “Yorker.”
Bennington is proud of the battle with the eponymous name.
The Battle of Bennington Monument (1887 – 1891) rises 306 feet above the shire, made of blue dolomite, and cost nearly $100,000 to build.
It was completed in 1891 for the Vermont centennial and was designed by John Phillip Rinn. I love it when something built to commemorate history becomes part of that history. The obelisk can be seen from virtually any vantage point in Bennington.
There are some beautiful views from the center of the structure.
OK, I’m going to talk about the battle a little bit. Don’t worry, it won’t be too long. I’m not much for military maneuvers and who outflanked whom. But, I do love a good story. If your eyes glaze over when you read this sort of stuff, there will be a marker at the end where you can pick up again.
— Begin War Stuff —
While the battle may not have been fought in Bennington, it was fought for the prized supplies stored there. British General John Burgoyne and another guy named Baum were on the march to Albany with Red Coats, German mercenaries known as Hessians, Canadians, Indians, and American loyalists. In need of food, ammunition, and horses, they learned of a supply depot in Bennington.
As Baum approached from the north, refugees from towns on their march flooded into Bennington, foreshadowing their arrival. The people of Bennington called out for help to New Hampshire and Massachusetts, and a New Hampshire militia of 1,400 men commanded by General John Stark arrived. Stark had fought at Bunker Hill and the Battle of Trenton. Ethan Allen was imprisoned in Britain, but the Green Mountain Boys, under the command of Seth Warner, were encamped in neighboring Manchester. Stark decided to head off the advancing British troops rather than defend the Bennington supply depot.
I visited the Bennington Battlefield in Hoosick Falls, New York.
There was not another single human soul there, not even so much as a park ranger – only deer and squirrels. I tend to succumb to melancholia at battlefields, imagining the screams and the roar of artillery and smoke and dirt and blood, thinking of all those lives lost in what is today serene, even picturesque, surroundings. (General Stark himself described this engagement as “one continuous clap of thunder.”)
On that battlefield on August 16, 1777, Stark famously rallied his troops,
“There they are, boys! The enemy are ours, or this night Molly Stark sleeps a widow!” Isn’t that just about the grandest battle quote you’ve ever heard? Molly never stepped foot in southern Vermont, but schools, parks, streets, byways, taverns, motels, and just about everything you can imagine are named for her in these parts.
Joined by militias from Massachusetts, New York, and the newly-established republic of Vermont, General Stark had approximately 2,000 men in all. With a two-to-one numerical advantage, Stark handily defeated the Brits right away. However, his forces became scattered. While chasing defeated British soldiers, a small group stumbled upon another British force and quickly withdrew, calling for help from the Green Mountain Boys. Colonel Seth Warner rolled in with 500 men, who fought mostly in homespun field clothes, for the second engagement.
During the Revolutionary War, there was plenty of heroism to go around.
Following the battle, Burgoyne wrote, “The New Hampshire Grants in particular, a country unpeopled and almost unknown in the last war, now abounds in the most active and most rebellious race on the continent and hangs like a gathering storm on my left.” Burgoyne lost over 1,000 troops. Historians believe that the British loss of men, morale and supplies at the Battle of Bennington set the stage for their defeat at Saratoga, which turned the war in the Americans’ favor when France joined on their side.
— End War Stuff —
There’s More To Bennington Than A Battle
Old Bennington is awash in colonial history. Just down the street from the Bennington Monument is the site of the Catamount Tavern, where the Green Mountain Boys often met to discuss defending their property rights against New York.
Here’s a Polaroid of Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Isaac Tichenor, Captain Elijah Dewey, and Governor Moses Robinson meeting at the tavern in June 1791. (Painting: Leroy Williams, 1938)
It was the dispute over the New Hampshire Land Grants which spurred the people to form their own republic in 1777.
Tavern owner Captain Stephen Fay is buried just a little farther down the way at the Old First Church, as are many of the founding fathers and mothers, faithful patriots, governors and dignitaries of Vermont.
Old First Church was the first church in Vermont dedicated to the separation of church and state.
The Reverend Lemuel Haynes was the son of a White mother and Black father. In the Bennington Museum is an oil on canvas painting, “Preaching in the Old First Church,” by William Tefft Schwarz, (1938) depicting Haynes, the first ordained Black Congregational minister, preaching to a White congregation in the church.
I love this church.
I especially love this church’s cemetery. I have been to a lot of cemeteries in my travels, and this cemetery ranks right up there as one of the best. Summaries of the lives and times of notable individuals are posted next to graves.
There are excellent way-finding signs, including the path to Robert Frost’s grave,
with one of the greatest epitaphs ever (“I had a lover’s quarrel with the world”), and a poem posted graveside. (In the nearby town of Shaftsbury is the stone house where he penned “Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening,” at the kitchen table in summertime. The house sits directly on a now much-busier Highway 7A than it was in the 1920’s, and cars go whizzing by every 30 seconds or so. I wonder if Frost could find such peaceful inspiration there now.)
Fascinatingly, directly across from the Old First Church on the Village Green is the Walloomsac Inn (circa 1764), which has fallen into grave disrepair. It’s most famous guests were Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. It is rumored that descendants of the family who acquired the property in the 1800’s still live there, and a will somewhere down the lineage stipulated no repairs be made to the property. It is in such a state of glorious and hauntingly beautiful decay that it reminds me of a haunted house at Disneyland or on the back lot of some movie studio.
Bennington is also known worldwide for its pottery, and a trip to Bennington Potters is well worth the visit, even if you’re like me and not buying breakable stuff.
It’s still very pretty to look at, and photograph.
If you’ve ever shopped for a classic car, or owned one that needed parts, you know about Hemmings Motor News, headquartered in Bennington. Hemmings keeps a small museum of classic cars which were fun to peruse.
On a special evening in North Bennington I dined at Pangaea, where a pop up dinner was being held in honor of farmer Lisa MacDougall at Mighty Food Farm. Lisa was there with her boyfriend, with the rest of the long table made up of local food fans, and moi.
Chef Nick greeted me warmly and commented he saw me earlier that day at the coffee shop. Small world! At dinner the topics of conversation ranged from farms and farming to the heroin epidemic that swept through Bennington a couple of years ago, to the now crumbling and decrepit high school on Main Street for which there is no buyer or investor.
Oh, man, if I only had a few million dollars laying around!
While its Main Street may be slowly revitalizing, Bennington has a world-class museum in the Bennington Museum, housed in the town’s first Catholic Church down the hill from the Old First Church.
Grandma Moses’s one-room childhood schoolhouse was relocated to the museum grounds from New York, only a few miles away, and many of her works are displayed at the museum.
A current exhibition compares Moses’s work to modernists like Warhol, Cornell and Frankenthaler. I visited the Moses homestead and great-grandson Will Moses’s gallery in New York the day before going to the Bennington Museum, so it was a thrill to see in person Anna Mary Robertson Moses’s paintings of the homestead and surrounding area.
Covered Bridges Galore!
I saw so many more covered bridges in southern Vermont! Squee!
Bennington is proud of its three covered bridges – the Henry Bridge, the Papermill Bridge, and the Silk Road bridge.
The Bennington Center for the Arts houses the Covered Bridge Museum, located in a replica covered bridge adjacent to the Center.
A little over 100 covered bridges remain in Vermont. It is said that at one time they were over 600 in a state of 9,200 square miles.
Vermont was well suited for covered bridges. There was inclement weather and ample timber in the Green Mountains, and wood bridges were covered to make them last longer. As I previously mentioned, covering the bridge protected it from all the elements, not just snow. In fact, people would “snow the bridge” during sleigh season, covering the bridge deck with snow for easier passage.
The museum has a small library documenting the covered bridges in other states.
A plaque at the museum best sums up the history of and my fascination with Vermont covered bridges.
Over in Arlington, within a stone’s throw of a covered bridge over the Battenkill River, sits the home of Norman Rockwell.
Rockwell lived in Arlington from 1939 to 1953, often using his Arlington neighbors as models.
The Battenkill Gallery at the Sugar Shack in Arlington is little more than some old poster boards in a tourist trap of dusty trinkets, but it was fun to read the stories of the local subjects in Rockwell’s work.
It was in Arlington that Rockwell completed his series of iconic paintings, “The Four Freedoms.” I will catch up with him again at the museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.
The Molly Stark Trail, Route 9, winds its way east along the southern edge of Vermont, 38 miles from Bennington to Brattleboro. I am in the Green Mountain Forest, on Prospect Mountain, east of Bennington on Route 9 in Woodford – the highest village in Vermont, at 2,215 feet.
At night it is so dark and quiet at the campground, except for the occasional sound of semi engine brakes from Highway 9 reverberating against the mountains.
Speaking of dark, my only pet peeve about Vermont is how far flung activities can be (at least 45 minutes by car for everything, it seems), and how dark it gets on the drive home. Highbeams on, highbeams off, curves, watching for deer – it’s exhausting! Then, don’t get me started on the typical Vermont driver, who drives under the speed limit. I swear, every road in Vermont needs both the maximum speed and the minimum speed posted. Even when the speed limit is only 35 mph, you’ll putter along behind someone doing 25. And no, that person is not elderly, or driving a tractor. It’s quite the phenomenon.
Brattleboro, 32 more miles east of Woodford, is one of Vermont’s largest towns, on the Connecticut River overlooking New Hampshire. It was the site of the first permanent English settlement in Vermont – Fort Dummer, in 1724. The town was chartered in 1753 and is the oldest town in Vermont.
Dubbed “The town where Vermont begins,” North/South Interstate Highway 91 runs through Brattleboro and all the way up the state, making it more of a hustling hub than Bennington. Brattleboro’s downtown has shops, a movie theater, and restaurants.
It was the hottest day in Vermont so far when I visited Brattleboro, so I boarded the dogs at the local vet’s office for a few hours. First I was off to Naulahka, a home built and occupied by Rudyard Kipling for four years, during which time he wrote “The Jungle Book.”
I thought the house would be a literary museum, but instead it is available for private rental. The house and grounds sit on Kipling Road, a dirt thoroughfare only two miles from the busy town streets, but seemingly worlds away.
Brattleboro is the headquarters of the Holstein Association USA, and each year in early August they celebrate the Strolling of the Heifers, when cows lead a parade through town.
Brattleboro is the site of world-famous Grafton Cheese,
where patients from the asylum up the hill once worked as part of their therapy. Founded in 1834, the first institution for psychiatric disorders in the state of Vermont, that asylum is now known as Brattleboro Retreat, which continues to treat mental disorders and addictions.
There are some beautiful old buildings on the grounds adjacent to the West River, and the campus is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
There are many hiking trails on the 1000-acre property, but I could not find the trailhead to the tower and graveyard.
The tower was built in 1887 by the patients, some of whom unfortunately then used it to jump to their deaths. Many of the markers in the cemetery merely have numbers on them, or state “Unknown.” Apparently all the ghost hunter shows have been there. I’m so sorry I missed it!
Lake? Who Needs A Lake?
Without Lake Champlain as a glorious distraction, southern Vermonters find their summertime fun in little out-of-the-way fishing holes and swimming holes and ponds and lakes for kayaking and canoeing. Look out your window as you drive along a river, or peek under a covered bridge, and you’ll see people floating downstream on innertubes.
The Dorset Marble Quarry, abandoned after hundreds of years of mining, filled with water from a nearby stream and became a popular swimming hole in the 1920’s.
Thanks to the Internet, it is now a see-and-be-seen spot with teenagers and young people.
Little Towns And Villages, Big Scenery And Art
Manchester: While Manchester Center has succumbed to outlet stores, you won’t get any quainter than Manchester Village, with beautiful inns and the Equinox Hotel. Manchester is where outdoor outfitter, Orvis, got its start, and where the Orvis School of Flyfishing and the American Museum of Flyfishing are located. Also in Manchester – Hildene, the summer home of Robert Todd Lincoln for 20 years, where he died;
and the Mount Equinox Skyline Drive, a toll road 5.2 miles and 3,848 feet to the top of Mount Equinox, maintained by Carthusian Monks (order established in France in 1084). Mount Equinox is the highest peak in the Taconic Range, and from the top you can see Vermont, New York, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and on clear days, Montréal’s Mount Royal.
I capped off my day in Manchester at Ye Olde Tavern, in continuous operation as an inn and tavern since 1790.
Woodstock: Natural beauty is a given in southern Vermont, and a fine example is the Woodstock/Quechee area. Woodstock is the quintessential charming Vermont village, with the Village Green, country store, and covered bridge.
With Margot as tour guide, we visited the Simon Pearce Glass Factory, the second most visited tourist attraction in Vermont, where they have glass blowing, pottery making and Irish weaving.
The grounds are situated next to a covered bridge spanning a dammed portion of the Ottauquechee River, which makes for some pretty stunning surroundings.
At Quechee Gorge, “The Grand Canyon of Vermont,” you can overlook the 165 feet deep gorge from the Vermont Highway 4 Bridge.
Weston: As ubiquitous as covered bridges, general stores abound in Vermont. Some are modern tourist trinket sellers, but many still serve the function of community meeting place, post office, gas station, and purveyor of a little bit of everything, from candy to quilts to shovels.
The Vermont Country Store is an amalgam of those special places. The original location, established 1946, is in Weston.
Have you ever browsed their catalog? They carry vintage and hard-to-find items. You can spend hours in there!
Weston is also known for the Weston Playhouse, Vermont’s longest-running professional theater. It is an acclaimed, award-winning company, going strong for 80 years in a town of 500 people. The playhouse sits on the village green overlooking a mill and waterfall. (Photos Weston Playhouse)
The Weston also produces shows at “OtherStages,” specifically, the Weston Rod and Gun Club, down Highway 100 outside of town. It was there that I saw the Rosemary Clooney story, “Tenderly.” The two-actor show was deliciously good, and proof that a stunning performance can occur in the dumpiest of spaces. In a way I am glad I saw the show there; in September Otherspaces will close, and the brand new Weston Playhouse Theater Company’s Center for the Arts at Walker Farm will open.
Dorset: In their 1960’s performance at the Royal Albert Hall in London, John Lennon of the Beatles suggested that instead of applause, the audience members could “just rattle your jewelry.” That’s the way it feels in Dorset, Vermont. Dorset is a charming, expensive hamlet of historic buildings, including the Dorset Inn (1796),
where Margot and I had brunch before taking in a matinee at the Dorset Theater Festival.
For over 30 years, from June to September, there are four main stage productions with some of the most talented playwrights, actors and directors in the country. For example, this season, siblings Tyne and Tim Daly appeared on stage together for the first time.
Vermont In Hollywood
About a year after I graduated high school, Diane Keaton’s romcom movie, “Baby Boom,” was released. I remembered it fondly, and it was my only notion of Vermont until I came here. With the recent news of Sam Shepard’s death, it was time to watch it again, as he played her love interest – the veterinarian from Vermont. The scenes of Manhattan are of course dated (no phones!), but I found the movie as charming as ever. Diane does her market research at the Bennington library. As she pedals her homemade baby food, road signs point to Dorset and Manchester. (The town dance was filmed in Manchester, and other scenes were filmed in Peru, Vermont.)
Another movie filmed in Vermont was Chevy Chase’s “Funny Farm.” I never got around to watching it when it came out. What a disappointment! First of all, no one can play Chevy Chase’s wife except Beverly D’Angelo in my book. Second, the movie just wasn’t funny. There was only one scene that resonated with me, given my covered bridges fascination; delivery guys are staring at a rather decrepit covered bridge, wondering if they will make it across in the delivery van. The passenger says to the driver, “That’s not a bridge! That’s termites holding hands!”
Plymouth Notch And The Coolidge Family Homestead
Plymouth Notch is a village founded by Calvin Coolidge’s father. The grounds are not a museum; cars drive by on the local roads that wind through the village, and Plymouth Cheese is still made there.
Little Calvin was born and grew up here, learning to do everything from milking cows to carrying water and quilting and sewing.
As Vice President, vacationing at home in August 1923, Coolidge received word that President Warren Harding had died. His father, a local notary public, swore him in by the light of the kerosene lamp in his boyhood home, which looks exactly the same as it did on that night.
Coolidge is the only president born on the Fourth of July. In 1924 he established the “Summer White House” in a Dancehall over the general store in Plymouth Notch.
His father then finally capitulated, allowing the installation of a telephone.
It is said that all the light went out of Calvin Coolidge when his teenage son, Calvin Junior, died of an infection from a blister that developed while playing tennis. This was 1924, before antibiotics. Such a shame. Coolidge did not seek reelection. He is buried with the rest of his family in Plymouth.
A Final And Fitting Farewell To Vermont – Dog Mountain
My last stop in Vermont was en route to the White Mountains of New Hampshire – Dog Mountain, in Saint Johnsbury, Vermont.
You know artist Stephen Huneck’s work as soon as you see it. In the 1980’s his wood block prints of dogs, especially his black Labrador Retriever, Sally, became famous.
Next door to Stephen’s gallery is the Dog Chapel, which he started in 1997 and took three years to complete.
He said of the chapel, “It is a place where people can go and celebrate the spiritual bond they have with their dogs. It is the largest artwork of my life and the most personal.”
A sign in front of the chapel welcomes all breeds and creeds, but “no dogma.”
Human companions from all over the world have come to leave notes and tokens of affection for their departed canine family members. I left a remembrance for Miss Olive.
The simplicity, sweetness, and innocence of Huneck’s work and passion are in such sharp and devastatingly sad contrast to his life, which he took in 2010. Three years later, his wife followed suit. A foundation has been formed to try to keep the property afloat.
I left a donation while I was a Dog Mountain. Would you consider doing the same?
Next Stop: New Hampshire