titleist polo The Journal Pioneer
President Abraham Lincoln. Built in 1905, it remained in the Lincoln family until 1975. One of these places can be found in southwestern Vermont along a lush valley that’s squeezed between the peaks of the Taconic and Green mountains.
Historic Route 7A runs down this valley from East Dorset to Bennington, and although only 46 kilometres in length, it requires a day or two to explore even a portion of what it has to offer. This is quintessential Vermont: a beautiful landscape filled with history and elegant B inns and exquisite dining.
Manchester Center is the fashion outlet centre of Vermont. The Orvis Company, founded locally, has its flagship store here, but you’ll also find establishments for Giorgio Armani, Ann Taylor, Polo/Ralph Lauren, Movado, Burberry, Brooks Brothers, Bass Shoes, Donna Karan, Liz Claiborne, Anne Klein, Van Heusen, Este Lauder and dozens more. It’s shop till you drop, then relax at one of the many luxurious inns and fine restaurants that make the Manchester area one of Vermont’s major destinations.
Boutiques and galleries in Manchester Center feature the work of some of the best artisans in the state, while the Southern Vermont Arts Center on West Road showcases contemporary painters, sculptors and performing artists. Except for the permanent collection of 19th and 20th century works, exhibits change on almost a monthly basis, so if you’ve seen it once, you haven’t seen it all.
The bustle of Manchester Center disappears in the adjoining village Manchester, where Equinox House dominates the village green. This four diamond resort began life as the Marsh Tavern in 1769, which was a gathering place for the militant activists who called themselves The Green Boys. Franklin Orvis transformed it into a grand resort hotel in the 1850s.
It was Charles Orvis who turned his passion for fishing and building rods into what is now the oldest mail order company in the United States. Orvis sales room was adjacent to his brother’s hotel, so don’t be surprised to find the American Museum of Fly Fishing located next door to Equinox House. This museum has the world’s largest collection of angling items with more than 1,400 rods, rare reels and thousands of flies including the oldest ones in existence. At the resort, you can take classes at the Orvis Fly Fishing School and Orvis Shooting School (shotguns); attend the Land Rover Off Road Driving School and the British School of Falconry; golf on a the top ranked course in Vermont or simply relax in the spa.
Equinox House is the beginning of what I call “Mansion Mile,” a section of Route 7A that’s lined by elegant homes with expansive lawns. President Abraham Lincoln and chairman of the Pullman Company, marks the end of Mansion Mile. This 24 room Georgian Revival mansion was built in 1905 and remained in the Lincoln family until 1975. Furnished with Lincoln family possessions, it’s open to the public.
The entrance to the Equinox Skyline Drive is just 5 km south of Hildene. This is the longest privately owned, paved toll road in the United States. The narrow 8.3 km road has many radically banked corners as it climbs 990 metres in elevation to reach the summit of Mt. Equinox. The Charterhouse of the Transfiguration, the only Carthusian monastery in North America, can be seen far below in the wilderness near Lake Madeleine.
Much of Vermont’s early political history took place in this valley and it remains tangible. Only 800 metres south of the toll road, you’ll find the Ira Allen House. Now a B inn and state historic site, it was built by Ethan Allen. This is where he wrote his agnostic Oracles of Reason and Ira Allen, as secretary of the Council of Safety, drafted many of Vermont’s early documents. The original interior has been retained and a “new” wing of the house was added in 1846.
Enjoy scenic views as the highway follows the famous Batten Kill trout stream for the next 7 kilometres to Arlington. The former home of Dorothy Canfield Fisher and Rockwell Kent, the village is more often associated with America’s most celebrated illustrator, Norman Rockwell. From 1939 to 1952, he used more than 200 residents as his models to create the famous “Main Street America” series that appeared on the covers of the Saturday Evening Post magazine. You can visit the Inn On Covered Bridge Green, the Rockwell home from 1942 52, and stay in his historic studio.
Just down the road is South Shaftsbury. Here Robert Frost penned some of his most noted poems between 1920 and 1929. The house, located on Route 7A and now open to the public, was built in 1769 and remains virtually unchanged since Frost lived there.
Route 7A ends in Bennington, the first town chartered in Vermont. It was settled in 1761. Bennington is internationally recognized for two things: pottery and its liberal arts college. Bennington College has an enrolment of just over 800 students, but is one of the most prestigious (and expensive) institutions in the United States. The tradition of earthenware manufacturing began in 1785 and Bennington Potters, formed in 1948, continues the tradition of making stoneware by hand in its downtown workshops.
There are three historic districts North Bennington, Old Bennington and Downtown Bennington to explore. One of the interesting attractions is the gas station and museum owned by the iconic Hemmings Motor News magazine. Every other Thursday during the summer is “Cruise In” night, when classic cars fill the lot behind the station.