August 23, 2017

Memories, Museums, and Moonlight in Vermont

The last of Vermont's seasonal color on a forest road at Hildene.

The last of Vermont’s seasonal color on a forest road at Hildene.

My whole familiarity of Vermont came from Newhart, a popular CBS sitcom in the 1980s starring comedian Bob Newhart as Dick Loudon, an innkeeper in rural Vermont; the 200-year old Stratford Inn becomes the epicenter for illogical behavior and odd characters (like Tom Poston as George Utley; and Larry, Darryl, and the his other brother Darryl).

George Utley: Dick, I cleared out that obstruction in the chimney.

Dick Loudon: Thanks George. What was it?

George Utley: I don’t know but when I woke it up, it ran away.

And given a list of places to travel, the People’s Republic of Vermont was not near the top. However, an opportunity arose earlier this month as dear friends decided to wed there. So before I knew it I was packing my bags with anticipation. And while I have heard that Vermont is scenic, I did not expect Manchester, Vermont, to be a perfect living picture postcard. This post is dedicated to the memories, museums, and Moonlight in Vermont.

Moonlight in Vermont is the unofficial state song. One of my favorite old melodies, it was written by John Blackburn and Karl Suessdorf in 1944; and it is unusual because the lyrics do not rhyme—each verse is haiku.

Pennies in a stream

Falling leaves a sycamore

Moonlight in Vermont

The Equinox Resort, Manchester Vermont.

The Equinox Resort, Manchester, Vermont.

The song ran through my mind the whole trip.

My first exposure to Vermont was indeed by moonlight; I missed my flight out of Houston (I’ve become a flight misser) and arrived into Albany, New York, at midnight with white knuckled driving through the mountain roads by light of moon. My road nerves were not only heightened by the late hour but by the twists and turns of unfamiliar mountain highways, varying speed zones, and by the warnings that so many cars were colliding with deer and moose.  And as a reminder of the wildlife, deer warning signs lined the roads.

I arrived to the Equinox Inn at 2:00 AM, checked into my room, and slept off my stressful journey—I had been underway for 16 hours. And when I awoke I opened the curtains and my eyes fell upon idyllic architecture below tree covered mountains meeting billowing clouds. Hello, Manchester!

Was she haunting my room? Mary Todd Lincoln, [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Was she haunting my room? Mary Todd Lincoln, [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Because Manchester, Vermont, is so picturesque it seems made up. Manchester is a town of approximately 4,000 people—it’s the place where actors Treat Williams and Jonathan Goldsmith (the Most Interesting Man in the World) is from.

But back to the historic inns, as in Newhart’s premise. The Equinox Inn is one of Vermont’s first lodging houses and is the best place to stay in Manchester. It also has ties to the Lincoln family.   A Luxury Collection Resort & Spa, it is also purportedly haunted. Part of this massive hotel is the 1811 House which was once the residence of Abraham Lincoln’s granddaughter; but it is an interesting fact that Mary Todd Lincoln and her children would stay at the hotel to escape the oppressive Washington DC heat.

It is Mary Todd Lincoln’s ghost that is said to haunt the site. Some claim to hear strange whispers and see shadowy figures. And after being a guest, I can understand why… I awoke at 4:00 AM and thought I heard Mary Todd Lincoln’s voice beckoning to me from beyond the grave; but it was only the guy in the next room, snoring. Well I assume it was the guest next door; I guess it could have been Mary Todd Lincoln sawing logs. At any rate, the hotel is very old; it creaks and moans and the walls are thin. I discovered a white noise machine on the bedside table to help drown out the extraneous sounds but being a southerner I just cranked the air-conditioned on fan all night. Mary Todd Lincoln would have to speak up to be heard over the consistent hum of AC—nothing stops a Trane.

Hey Ethan Allen! Sculpture by Larkin Goldsmith Mead (Photographer unknown) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Hey Ethan Allen! Sculpture by Larkin Goldsmith Mead (Photographer unknown) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

The Equinox is also home to two of the best restaurants in town and one of the best bars. The Marsh Tavern is famous for their bread board served with Vermont butter, pepper jelly, and a satsuma; Frank at the Falcon Lounge knows how to shake a mean martini (gin please); and the high end Chop House, in the older part of the hotel, has floors that were once trod by founding fathers and revolutionary patriots including Ethan Allen and his brothers.

The Inn at Ormsby Hill is basically Newhart’s Stratford Inn; it is picturesque, historic, and where many of the wedding guests stayed—wedding guests filled all ten rooms. “Hi, I’m Larry. This is my brother Darryl, and this is my other brother Darryl.” This is exactly the place that comes to mind when thinking of the quintessential Inn in Vermont. It was built in 1764 and is one of the oldest structures in Manchester. During the Revolutionary War, Ethan Allen hid in the smoke room where meats hung to cure. A great place to hide, it also served as a safe house for the Underground Railroad.

The mansion and formal gardens of the Lincoln family's summer home, Hildene.

The mansion and formal gardens of the Lincoln family’s summer home, Hildene.

Robert Todd Lincoln was the oldest son of Abraham Lincoln; and the only son to survive into adulthood.  Robert Lincoln and his friend President William Taft were frequent visitors to Ormsby Hill. In fact Lincoln fell in love with the area and when he became the Chairman of the Pullman Company, the biggest manufacturing corporation of the early 20th Century, he bought the adjoining property to build a summer home which he named Hildene.

Hildene remained in the hands of the only Lincoln descendants until 1975.  It remains almost entirely furnished with Lincoln family furniture, paintings, pictures, and artifacts and is now a stunning house museum (see TroysArt – Hildene, where you visit the Lincolns).

There is plenty to see at the American Museum of Fly Fishing, Manchester, Vermont.

There is plenty to see at the American Museum of Fly Fishing, Manchester, Vermont.

Another important landmark in Manchester is the American Museum of Fly Fishing. Established in 1968, it preserves the history of fly fishing as an important part of American culture and is the world’s largest collection of angling and angling-related items.

Feeding the trout at the Orvis Flagship Store, Manchester, Vermont.

Feeding the trout at the Orvis Flagship Store, Manchester, Vermont.

The museum is set conveniently near the Orvis Flagship Store, the Orvis Discount Outlet, Orvis Fly Fishing School, and the Orvis Fly Factory. Charles F. Orvis opened a tackle shop in Manchester in 1856 which has grown into a family-owned retail and mail-order powerhouse for sporting goods and apparel—the oldest mail-order retailer in America. I even saw the Orvis family monument in the scenic Dellwood Cemetery.

I probably spent more time in Orvis than in the museum next door. There is a pond behind the outlet store filled with enormous trout. There was a guy out at the pond trying his fly rod technique. I bought a box of food and made the fish crazy as I sprayed the water with trout pellets. A few of the trout are larger than 12 pounds.

Fresh baked bread with lunch at the Northshire Bookstore and Spiral Press Café, Manchester, Vermont.

Fresh baked bread with lunch at the Northshire Bookstore and Spiral Press Café, Manchester, Vermont.

For a break from sight-seeing, the Northshire Bookstore is the place to be—one of the busiest businesses in Manchester. It occupies a building known as the Colburn House which was, surprise, an inn for over 100 years before it was converted for books in 1985. The store was not only full of book browsers but also people having lunch, purchased at the Spiral Press Café which is attached. The café is renowned for its baked goods. I had a sandwich made with fresh bread.

Everything is fresh in Vermont. This is not a state typically thought of as a culinary hotspot. Sure we think of cheddar cheese and maple syrup but I had no idea that it was so farm to table. Looking up at all the mountain majesty it is hard to imagine where Larry, Darryl, and the other brother Darryl do their farming. But agriculture has been at the core of Vermont’s culture for hundreds of years, only now with more of a commitment to quality and sustainability. And it is wholesome and delicious. I ate myself into a stupor.

Vermont is also known for fall color—and as a son of the south, aside from the Chinese Tallows, we do not get much seasonal color. And because of the prolonged summer weather, I was fortunate to catch the end of the reds, oranges, and golds of the changing season. The mountains were awash in autumnal tones that delighted the eyes throughout my travels.

Across from my hotel was the a monument to Seth Warner and the First Congregational Church of Manchester.

Across from my hotel was the a monument to Seth Warner and the First Congregational Church of Manchester.

Luckily I missed the snow. And from what I hear, winter is rough. The Vermonters were very friendly and here are a few facts that I picked up about Vermont along the way: There are four seasons—almost winter, winter, still winter, and road construction; formal attire is your finest clothes, best jewelry, and snow boots; sexy lingerie consists of tube socks and flannel; you have more miles on your snowblower than your car; at least twice a year the kitchen doubles as a meat processing plant; everyone has 10 favorite venison recipes; and the biggest church fundraiser isn’t Bingo, it’s sausage making. And that did not just come from Larry, Darryl, and the other brother Darryl.

A bunch of memorabilia which did not interest me at the Norman Rockwell Museum, Rutland, Vermont.

A bunch of memorabilia which did not interest me at the Norman Rockwell Museum, Rutland, Vermont.

On my way out of Manchester, passing through a little town called Rutland, I spotted a big red barn with what I thought said Norman Rockwell Museum. Wait, what what? I did a double take and read it correctly, slammed on the brakes, and made a Highway 654 U-turn! Apparently Norman Rockwell moved his family to Vermont in the late 1930s which coincided with the time his work reflected small-town American life. The museum displays thousands of magazine covers, advertisements, and other memorabilia chronicling Rockwell’s development as an illustrator. But I should have just kept on truckin’. I did not almost kill myself turning around to view a museum full of newspaper clippings—I expected to see paintings! I ran through, chuckled to myself, skipped the collector’s plates in the gift shop, and got back on the road. This museum if more for senior citizens RVing from KOA to KOA. After checking the internet I found that the museum is ranked #4 out of 19 things to do Rutland, which surely puts it way down the list for the whole of Vermont.

I didn't see anything like this at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Vermont. "Painting the Little House", oil on canvas, by Norman Rockwell [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

I didn’t see anything like this at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Vermont. “Painting the Little House”, oil on canvas, by Norman Rockwell [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

I never mind travelling alone domestically—there is no discussion needed upon the decision to do a donut for the Norman Rockwell Museum. Hell, I could pull over and take a picture of the world’s largest ball of twine if I wanted to. I just mapped out my course and enjoyed myself.

Speaking of maps, a funny thing happened along the way. I gave a ride to a one of the wedding guests, a millennial, and when he got into my rental car I moved the map of Vermont/New Hampshire/Maine as he commented, “Wow, I didn’t think they made those anymore.”

Link to Manchester, Vermont

Link to The Equinox Resort

Link to the Inn at Ormsby Hill

Link to Hildene

Link to Northshire Bookstore

Link to American Museum of Fly Fishing

Link to Orvis Flagship Store

Link to Norman Rockwell Museum