are some examples of brief excursions, day trips and business/pleasure
outings, all in the Upper Valley area. These accounts were written by
Innkeeper David Briggs.
A casual day of wine and cool water (brief excursion)
I. Days of Summer in the White River Valley
John and Maureen were visiting Maureen's sister and it was a torrid summer day. They arrived at the Hotel Coolidge about 3 p.m. The check-in time is technically 4 p.m. but the room was ready anyway, so they checked in and changed into shorts and sandals. On their way out, the front desk loaned them a plastic pail full of ice, wine glasses and a corkscrew. They stopped at the neighborhood supermarket three blocks away to pick up a bottle of decent white wine, and then drove eight miles west on Vermont Route 14 to a spot along the White River - well chosen because there is a small turnout and which provides access to river rapids.
There they waded carefully into the rushing stream with the ice bucket of wine, glasses and ice. At just the right spot they could sit in the rushing white water with it coming up to their chins. Placing the bucket on a rock within easy reach, they opened the wine and gazed off happily toward the pastoral hills of Pomfret. After a while, several people paddled by in canoes and waved hello.
The afternoon passed quickly and the sun began it's gentle decent into the tops of hills and made the river sparkle like wine and the smiles on their faces. Refreshed from the cool, clear, turbulent water, the slow-sipped wine and an occasional wave from a canoeist, they felt ready to leave and have some dinner. Leaving the river and heading back toward White River Junction, they took a left turn at Jericho Street and traveled along a country road through Jericho District and to Dothan Street which brought them up and over the ridge to Route 5. Turning left north on Route 5, they drove two miles to Norwich and crossed over the Connecticut River into Hanover, New Hampshire.
With the weather still gloriously summer-like, they took a table on the terrace at Cafe Buon Gustaio and enjoyed the best pasta they had ever tasted. Afterwards, it was easy to return to their cozy room at the Hotel and reflect on a wonderful evening full of beauty and comfort.
In a time long ago when the country's population was largely situated in the east, Vermont had a much bigger share than it does today. Consequently, a lot more of what was happening in the east was with and by people living in or from Vermont.
The Upper Valley has many such links to history as Grenville and Marion, who are from the Boston area, enjoyed discovering in the summer of 1999. They set out from the Hotel Coolidge to see what it would be like to spend one day to touch the communities of several historic notables.
Their quest took them about thirty miles west of White River Junction to the unspoiled hamlet of Plymouth Notch where Calvin Coolidge was born and when in later years sworn in by his father as President of the United States. The Coolidge Birthplace is owned by the state of Vermont, and the setting is truly tranquil.
After their visit, they migrated along Route 100A to Route 4, where they reached Woodstock and the home of three impressive men in Vermont's history. George Perkins Marsh, Frederick Billings and Lawrence Rockefeller all occupied and nurtured the same farm and forest over a period of 150 years. The Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Park now offers a restored 19th century farm and mansion tours that reveal contributions from all three families.
By now it was time for lunch so they decided to have a quiet one. They picked up sandwiches at the Village Butcher deli counter which is next to the Woodstock Historical Society. With sandwiches in hand, they strolled down the spacious lawn at the Historical Society to reach Ottauquechee River. Grenville had brought his fold-up chairs but they could have sat nicely on a blanket. After lunch they continued their journey along the river road to Taftsville and Quechee and on to West Hartford.
They took the road through Jericho, back to Route 5 and into Norwich. There is some evidence of the roots of Norwich University roots, dating to 1819 and founded by Captain Alden Partridge. Grenville had read that Appalachian Mountain Club included Partridge in its list of the top ten "Greatest Walkers of all Time." Aside from his walks, he is known for The Partridge model for education, which is the basis for today's ROTC program. His vision for education included a plan for funding education by the sale of government lands.
A decade or two later Patridge's plan was brought to fruition by the subject of their next quest - Justin Morrill. Following the main street in Norwich to the north, Route 132 reaches South Strafford. At Barret Hall, they took the right fork and went a few miles to Strafford and a location known as "the Upper Village." The Justin Morrill Homestead is located in the Upper Village and is another state-owned site. The homestead showcases a lifestyle of a renaissance man and author of the Land Grant College Act.
By now it was time for dinner, and they were attracted to a curiously small sign with the words "Stone Soup" located along Strafford green. They discovered Stone Soup is the name of a restaurant, but they also leaned that Stone Soup only has dining by reservation - and the seats that night were all taken. Next trip, they vowed, they would call ahead from the hotel. Fortunately, they found an alternative and stopped at the Full Moon Café in South Strafford.
Driving back to the Hotel Coolidge in the moonlight, they thought of the impressive lives they had touched in one day: a President, a Senator, a University Founder, a Railroad Magnate, the first Environmentalist and a great Philanthropist
All this and they had fallen short! The 19th century sculptor extrordinaire Augustus Saint Gaudens lived only twelve miles from White River Junction in Cornish, New Hampshire. The Cornish art colony continued through the early 20th century with the presence of artist Maxfield Parrish. The Saint Gaudens National Park, located off Route 12A in Cornish, has a garden with Saint Gaudens sculpture and offers tours of his manse - all in full view of Mount Ascutney.
The thoughts of having more intriguing places to visit than one day of intensive trekking could cover sent Marion and Grenville off to bed with inspiring thoughts and the hopes of traveling more sometime soon. Happily for them, living in the Boston area means they can scoot up north for one-night stays, and even mid-week escapes with a well-chosen day "off for good behavior."
Clara lives in the Hartford/Springfield area of Vermont but years ago her husband worked in the White River Junction railroad yards. Realizing today's daily Amtrak service makes it possible to travel into White River Junction, she took the train north one Friday afternoon and arrived at 6:30 p.m. Her arrival was just in time to check into the Hotel Coolidge and get refreshed to go to the adjacent Briggs Opera House to see the Northern Stage production of "Tintypes," a musical revue of early 20th century tunes and humor.
The Opera House connects to the hotel at the third-floor level, which was fortunate this night because it had started to rain. She had enjoyed some light fare on the train and with an 8 o'clock show she had about an hour to relax in her room before walking down the hall to the theater, where she enjoyed the evening's entertainment.
After the show, she recognized some of the acting company members who were making their way back to their rooms in the hostel section of the hotel. Before she knew it, she was drawn into conversation with them and on her way to Than Wheeler's Restaurant for a post-show libation and more lively chatter.
The next morning, she enjoyed a wake-up cup of Green Mountain coffee at the River City Cafe at the Hotel Coolidge, and found herself in an unplanned stint with the jig saw puzzle. Good thing because she discovered the best sour cream cake she had had in a long time. Fresh, moist and "toute sweet."
After a relaxed breakfast, she decided to revisit the village where she formerly lived. It had been many years since she had raised her children under the smoky presence of steam engines. She recalled how she had to time putting out the laundry just right so it wouldn't be covered with soot by the time it was dry. White River sure looks different from then - less busy but in a comfortable kind of way.
She found signs of new activity superimposed on what was a major wholesaling and warehouse district. Starting at the Hotel Coolidge lobby, which has been named the Zollikofer Gallery in honor of the hotel owner August L. Zollikofer, who owned the hotel from the 1940s until 1970. During his tenure, Zollikofer commissioned the hotel's now popular Vermont Room Murals to be done by Peter Michael Gish in 1950.
Heading out from the hotel, she knew that in the 1950s all her shopping could be done in a three-block area. She was thankful that she had lived within a short walk to shopping, while many people had to travel to by car or train once a week. Nowadays, the scale of retailing and the New Hampshire zero sales tax had caused shopping malls and the so-called big box stores to locate in former cornfields 2 1/2 miles away in West Lebanon, New Hampshire.
So what, she wondered, could White River Junction be offering now? It soon became clear that the villages shops focus on two themes: craftsmanship and convenience. A frame maker and print gallery is located between a card and gift shop and hardware shore - all in good old-fashioned and convenient location - downtown.
Around the corner from the hotel, she was delighted to find hand-painted lampshades at Lampscapes, and fanciful personal, home furnishings in Zuzu's. Nearby is Fancy Felix where a bride-to-be was being measured for a custom gown. Just beyond this store is Classy Kids with it's carefully-selected used children's clothing. She went in and picked up a little sun suit for her new great granddaughter.
When she left the store, she had to do a double take because the men's store on the corner was still going strong. Briggs Ltd. was where her son had rented his tux for the Junior Prom and the Briggs Family still runs the store. The famous bar Teddy's Grill had been replaced with a respectable billiard hall. New comer stores included a fully-stocked used book store, a sports card collectibles shop and a coin and stamp store.
Sadly, the JJ Newberry company was no longer in existence, after sixty years in business. The bingo hall which draws people to the area may suggest more retail businesses will come, but slowly as America rediscovers its downtowns and their place.
By now it was time for lunch so she ambled into the Polka Dot Diner and Mary served her a classic BLT and good cup of soup. Just right! Because she had planned to take the train south the next morning, she had the afternoon and evening to enjoy so she took a brief rest after lunch and then called a cab to visit Hanover, New Hampshire.
Just a short six dollar ride away, she visited the Hood Museum of art at Dartmouth College. She viewed a wonderful exhibit of pen and ink work by John Taylor Arms and the latest of Dartmouth's own collection. That same afternoon, a youth group was performing in nearby Rollins Chapel and the concert was free. She enjoyed her double dose of culture andthen walked through the lower levels of Baker Library at Dartmouth College to see the vivid Orozco Murals once more.
When the cab picked her up at the Hanover Inn portico, she was finishing a late afternoon cup of tea. The driver recommended the African Restaurant in White River Junction. At the last minute, she picked up a scone at Baker's Studio for her Sunday breakfast next day and decided to dine at Taste of Africa. What a trip! Theater, art, memory lane, dear 'ol Dartmouth, wonderful food, friendly folks and so much to see and easily reached.
Sunday morning, she walked up to Mass at St. Anthony' where both her children had been confirmed. The large church is still as beautiful as ever; a monument to the faith of many Italian and Irish immigrants. Later that morning, the train rumbled in from the north and she boarded at 10:30 am. Only three minutes late she observed, although her husband would never approve such tardiness when he was with the Boston and Maine railroad. The best thing, she thought as the train rolled comfortably back to Hartford, is "I can come back whenever I want to; it's still all here".
On a recent business trip to Albany, Jeff listened Vermont Public Radio and enjoyed a piece by Willem Lange about his latest thoughts on life in the North Country in Etna, New Hampshire. "Where in the world is Etna, New Hampshire?" he thought? And so when he got to his motel room that night he surfed the net and found Etna is a village in the town of Hanover. His next door neighbor in Concord, Massachusetts had gone to Dartmouth College in Hanover, he recalled, and was now a Concord High School history teacher.
Jeff's thoughts wandered to his son, Mitch, who had recently come home from school complaining about how irrelevant history seemed. As a good father, he tried to persuade him that history is vital - a tough job in Concord where American history is always evident, especially at the Concord Bridge, and where the "shot heard round the world" was fired on Arlington green.
The kids have heard so much history, they can't relate. Somehow this impromptu, personal soliloquy in favor of his son led him to recall his college roommate who had dropped out in the 60s to go live on the land in Vermont. Maybe there would be some connection in all his rambling thoughts to get his son interested in history.
Before shutting down the computer, he located a map showing the Upper Valley area in Vermont and New Hampshire where Hanover is located. It occurred to him that his former college roommate, Dave, lives along the Ompompanoosuc River. How could he forget a name like that? The river appeared on the map north of Hanover. He decided right then and there it was time to reconnect with Dave, and perhaps Mitch would like to come along.
He stayed online and looked for ways to make the trip as interesting as possible. In the process, he found the Hotel Coolidge as a place to stay. What a relief to have the option of an historical and interesting vintage hotel, he thought. Mitch has only stayed in chain motels with pools. Staying at the Hotel Coolidge will a great way to get his attention now that he's not so much of a kid anymore. And the hotel's historic era ties to a history theme he wants to help Mitch understand. To top off this encouraging picture, he noticed the hotel is "priced to be a good value!"
The following week, he put his plan into action, picking up Mitch after school and heading off to the Upper Valley. By 5:30 p.m. they were checking in at Hotel Coolidge. Finding Dave again had been successful, and they looked forward to reconnecting. They had agreed to meet for dinner at Murphy's Tavern in Hanover, where later Mitch feasted on the best Black and Bleu Burger he said had ever seen. It turned out Dave has left the commune days behind and is in marketing for an upscale furniture manufacturer in East Thetford, Vermont, appropriately called Pompanoosuc Mills.
Dinner conversation revealed Dave's enthusiasm and pride in Pompanoosuc Mills and products it produces. He talks about the company's start-up days, it's commitment to quality and craftsmanship and how many young Upper Valley people actually transition from high school to a progressive role in a company that reaches outside the Upper Valley and has showrooms in other areas, such as New York City.
Before the evening is over, Dave pointed out that 19th Century manufacturing in New England which has seemingly gone the way of the dinosaur, is recurring in Vermont in a positive way. He said this is because Vermont-made products are critically tied to niche markets which means manufacturers produce typically high quality and distinctive items. This means the companies are less vulnerable to competition, based on economies of scale. Moreover, he said the Vermont companies are run by entrepreneurs and so have a daily dynamic involving all workers as well as the executives.
Listing examples on the back of his napkin Jeff noted Simon Pearce Glass which still uses water power in its Quechee operation; Long Trail Brewing Company; Charles Shackleton Furniture in Bridgewater; and finally the coup de gras - a fellow who actually builds boilers for Stanley Steamers in Woodstock! That really made Mitch take notice as he started to see that these interesting people could only do what they do with the knowledge of history.
The next morning Jeff and Mitch set out to see how many companies they could visit in a day. The hotel front desk awakened them at 7:30 a.m., and after bacon and eggs at the nearby Polka Dot Diner, they headed out by car. By 3:30 p.m., they had visited several places of interest - in Enfield New Hampshire at Dana Robes Woodworks, where they admired the simplicity of Shaker furniture.
They day passed quickly and they headed for home, having promised his wife, Eileen, they would be home for supper. Jeff had Mitch get back on I-89 south at the Mascoma Exit and off they went. Their drive home was filled with talk about the Shakers and their inevitable demise due to lives of celibacy. Jeff and Mitch reached home just in time for supper, with thoughts less about food and more about how the future relates to the past.
Thanks to his Upper Valley trip, Mitch is now getting an "A" in history. He suggested the other day that perhaps a summer apprenticeship in Vermont might be cool.
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