Robert Frost arrived in Vermont 100 years ago and stayed, in various locations, until he died in 1963. He bought an old stone farmhouse in South Shaftsbury just north of Bennington in 1920, and he wrote “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening” there one summer morning in 1922. He had stayed up all night writing another poem, “New Hampshire,” and when he slipped outside as day broke, “Stopping by Woods” came to him, he said, “like an hallucination.” Frost’s presence in Vermont is the subject of a special exhibition at the Bennington Museum (The Museum is open Friday through Monday, 1p.m. to 6 p.m., with extended hours until 8 p.m. on Fridays, but the Robert Frost exhibition has been postponed until next year) and his house has been turned into the Robert Frost Stone House Museum (open Thursday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.), now under the auspices of Bennington College. You can visit his gravesite, too, behind the beautiful Old First Church in Old Bennington. (The Church is currently closed, but the graveyard may be open.)
The Bennington Battle Monument, a 306-foot limestone obelisk commemorating a pivotal Patriot victory of the Revolutionary War, dominates the landscape from its perch at the top of maple-lined Monument Avenue. The Bennington Museum devotes a room of its rich and eclectic collections to the Battle, and an adjacent gallery is home to the largest collection in the world of paintings by “outsider artist” Grandma Moses (Anna Maria Robertson). If you bring children, be sure to take them into the transplanted schoolhouse where the artist learned her ABCs in the 1860s; it’s meant to be played in as well as learned from.
In the 19th century Bennington emerged as an important and innovative industrial center, a heritage it still proudly continues. Timber frames, airplane components, snowshoes, craft beer, jewelry, and stoneware from famous Bennington Potters are among the many products manufactured here. The Potters’ funky-elegant retail store is located right next to where its wares are made (self-guided tours are available if you want to see the potters in action). This season, the Potters’ physical store is closed but the online shop is open. But you can still shop in person for fine Vermont jewelry and crafts at Hawkins House on North Street in Bennington. Open Monday to Saturday 10 a.m. – 5:30 p.m., Sunday 11 a.m .to 4 p.m.
A major downtown redevelopment is now in progress. In the meantime, a scattering of fun shops and restaurants keeps things interesting. The classic Blue Benn Diner has changed hands and will reopen in the fall. This classic 1940s railcar diner was great for breakfasts and had a menu for all tastes. For lunch, Sunday brunch, or dinner, the Mt. Anthony Country Club offers locally sourced seasonal dishes and beautiful views. The restaurant is open daily, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., for indoor and outdoor dining and takeout.
The Vermont Arts Exchange has temporarily suspended its public events schedule, as has Bennington College, although the college will be welcoming students back on campus in the fall. Oldcastle Theater Company, now in its own building near the center of town, has cancelled its 2020 season but expects to be back next year. And if you like covered bridges, Bennington has three of them. Scoot right through them all (one car at a time) on the way to North Bennington, if you’re willing to meander across the Walloomsac River three times.
North Bennington was writer Shirley Jackson’s home for the latter half of her life, but the natives insist that the village was not the setting for “The Lottery” (Raising Demons and Life Among the Savages, her hilarious accounts of child-rearing in the 1950s, are another matter). The fanciful Park-McCullough Historic Governor’s Mansion in North Bennington was built in 1865 with money made in California and Panama by an attorney who had grown up in the modest town of Woodford just east of Bennington. The trails in the adjacent McCullough Woods are a popular spot for walking. While the mansion’s grounds are open daily, “The Big House” will be open for self- guided tours from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. And the Appalachian Trail crosses through Woodford on its way up the spine of the Greens. The Vermont section, known as the Long Trail, was the inspiration for the AT, in fact. Robert Frost and his family were among the first to hike it when it opened in 1922.
Arlington, above Shaftsbury on Route 7, is home to the woodsy West Mountain Inn, the stately Arlington Inn, and the recently reopened Rockwell’s Retreat; the painter Norman Rockwell lived and worked in a house and studio near a covered bridge over the Battenkill before moving south to Stockbridge in the 50s. All inns and restaurants in Vermont are following strict state guidelines for COVID-19. Check the rules before reserving.
Old meets new: Joshua Sherman’s Old Mill Road Recording, a new state-of-the-art destination recording studio in East Arlington, received the prestigious TEC AWARD from the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) for Best “Studio Design Project” in January of this year; the studio is housed in a gristmill built by Remember Baker of the Green Mountain Boys in 1764.
Once a summer retreat, Manchester is now a four-season leisure and shopping destination. Hotels, inns, and B&Bs abound, all following state COVID guidelines, led by establishments like the Mt. Equinox Resort and The Inn at Manchester. Some, like the Wilburton Inn and the Barnstead Inn, also host fun musical events. A range of restaurants caters to visitors and locals alike, from the tavern-style Firefly (choice of locals) to tonier establishments like the Copper Grouse inside the Taconic Hotel.
Robert Todd Lincoln’s historic home, Hildene, perched on an escarpment, overlooks the Valley of Vermont; don’t miss the deeply moving President Lincoln exhibit upstairs or the fully restored Pullman car, queen of the railroading era and a stop on Vermont’s African American Heritage Trail, a short walk from the main dwelling. The grounds, some buildings/exhibits, as well as The Museum Store (limited capacity, masks required) are currently open to guests. Please consult details on Hildene’s Hours and Admissions page.
And then there is shopping. Charles F. Orvis got it started in 1856 when he opened a store dedicated to fly-fishing and accessories for the great outdoors. The flagship store is still there, and it has the distinction of being the oldest still-operating mail order business in America. Manchester Designer Outlets are home to many leading clothing brands, whose easy-to-get-to stores make bargain hunting a pleasure. The Outlets are open; please check individual stores for hours and procedures. For books and gifts, there’s the well-stocked Northshire Bookstore in the center of town, open daily 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., which, in non-COVID times, hosts frequent readings by leading writers. There are also stores for cooks, for wine-lovers, art-lovers, antique-hunters, and for sports enthusiasts of every stripe.
In nearby Dorset, in the fateful summer of 1776, the idea of Vermont as an independent republic was born in Cephas Kent’s tavern. In today’s Dorset, the aura of the 18th century lingers. The tavern is no more, but the splendid Dorset Inn has dominated the town green since 1796. If you’re “from away” and are thinking of buying and running a Vermont country store like the wonderful 200-year-old Dorset Union Store (and bakery) on the green, read Ellen Stimson’s Mud Season first; she bought and ran that very store and lived to write (and laugh) about it. Currently, Dorset Union Store is offering curbside pickup and delivery only Tuesday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and will be closed on Sunday and Monday.