When a back roader (me) finds a road back of his favorite back road (US Route 7A) you cannot imagine the resulting euphoria. And there is a backstory to this serendipitous snowy sojourn. It all started buying some books a couple weeks ago. The majority of the collection was books on Vermont. I buy books that I feel I can find a new home for, and also do not mind owning forever, and maybe even reading, or at least browsing through. One book is this collection was ROBERT TODD LINCOLN’S HILDENE AND HOW IT WAS SAVED 1975-1978. It was fascinating detailing how the home of Abraham Lincoln’s surviving son’s home was saved and turned into a historic museum. It detailed the property, and some facts I did not know. I love placing things on Google Maps, and in doing so discovered some roads between US Route 7A (the original road) and the (UGH) super slab US Route 7 bypass (that to be honest, helped protect the area). In over five decades of touring this area I had not been on, nor was aware of, these roads. A plan was hatched, reading done, and weather reports watched. February 4 looked like the day – I was on the road at 9AM. As you can see in my images, it was afternoon before the haze broke in the skies.
I headed across Vermont on Route 11 towards Manchester, but prior to entering Manchester Center turned south on Richville Road (I cannot find the origin of this road’s name). This road eventually runs along the Battenkill River in the valley between US 7 and US 7A. The first connector road to historic 7A is Union Street, and I turned right (west). Where else but in Manchester would a road run between two golf courses? To the north, The Golf Club at Equinox – designed in 1927 – and on the south, Ekwanok Country Club – founded in 1899. At the top of Union Street is the Equinox Hotel. I now know how locals avoid the ugly declining outlet stores and traffic rotary in Manchester Center.
Mary Lincoln spent two summers here with her sons. Robert was introduced to the area. Mary planned to return with her husband in the summer of 1865, and the hotel began building a presidential suite. John Wilkes Booth’s action killed that plan as well. The inn was essentially abandoned and falling down by 1972, but saved from destruction, and following a $20 million restoration, the Equinox reopened in July 1985 as a year-round resort hotel and conference center. Cathy and I had dinner here in the late 1990s, just as my first herniated disk broke loose.
Next door to the north is the former home of the Johnny Appleseed Bookstore. The shop was run by legendary author and bookseller Walter Hard. Time to re-read my copy of A Memory of Vermont. Our Life in the Johnny Appleseed Bookshop by his wife, Margaret. Ages ago I did get to see inside the shop before it ceased to operate.
Turning around and heading back east on Union Street, I turned south once back at Richville Road. Richville dead ends on River Road where I turned north to find the school house mentioned in the book on Hildeen.
continuing on, I came to the entrance to the Wilburton Mansion, and turned in. Remember my tour there in 2017? I need to return and stay.
and, coming back down their drive are these expansive views of the valley which you cannot appreciate with leaves on the trees. In this gallery (remember you can click to enlarge) the image on the right is looking off to the hilltop to Hildene.
Continuing back south on River Road it becomes Sunderland Hill Road. Sunderland is the next town south before Arlington. From google maps I saw a cross road, Hill Farm Road. And this is where the Hill Farm Inn is located. It was another great stop on that Manchester holiday tour in 2017.
looping back to the “back road” – Sunderland Hill Road – perfection soon appeared in the form of the Chiselville Covered Bridge.
With clearance supposedly of eight feet and six inches, I am not sure if LADY RAB III would make it through. Don’t think I will chance it. Chiselville you ask? I hope you do. Well click on the image to the right to read the sign at the bridge to learn.
Crossing through the bridge heading south I had to turn down the dead end Chiselville Road. I did not trespass into a yard to see the gorge the bridge crosses – but guess it is spectacular. Of course, you could not even get this image in the summer.
So continuing south where do you end up? East Arlington, and tears for Ray. Yes, I had visited East Arlington in the 70s and 80s, but once retired (hate that word) from the Navy, and was a full-time bookseller, one of my first scouting trips included East Arlington – it was packed with antique shops – but no more. In the first image in the gallery below there was an antique shop on the second floor with the entrance through the red door. Bought many books, and a 3 foot high RCA Nipper Dog that I did real well with. The next two images are of antique shops now vacant, and the last shop (in the old movie theater) was amazing. Whenever I entered the owner greeted me by name (even if a year had passed), and said he remembered Cathy as well. Did I say teary eyed memories?
One of the joys I have is planning a trip — almost as much fun as the execution. I knew that when I left East Arlington I would stop at the deli in Arlington and pick up a bite to eat. And, where do you eat during COVID? In West Arlington, of course. But sorry Ms. T., I did not clean off a picnic table, but savored my sandwich behind the wheel while also savoring this view.
My journey west to West Arlington was on the north side of the Battenkill River on Route 113, but heading back east I traversed River Road for the first time in winter. Need to do it again.
Now for some history – interesting history to win you more drinks at the bar. Below is the sign you see entering Arlington on 7A from the south.
Yes, the First Capital of Vermont. But put this into perspective. Vermont was the Independent Republic of Vermont for 14 years, and not part of the new United States until 1791. Thus, going a tad further you could say that Arlington is a former nation’s Capital. Portions of your winnings graciously accepted.
Back in “downtown” Arlington is this sign explaining that Governor Thomas Chittenden lived in this spot. It is not clear (at least to me) if it was this home, built in 1764, or one just to the east (behind it) that was the Governor’s. However, looking west from this spot legend has it that a tall pine stood – the pine that became the state seal in 1779. A sugar maple (tree on the left in image below) now towers from that spot.
Directly next door to the north is this old Gothic church. In the late 80s this was a Norman Rockwell museum. The old red sign can be seen leaning against the side of the building. At that time Rockwell models from Arlington staffed the museum and related stories of sitting for the illustrator. I am sorry I do not remember what they told me.
At the north end of Main Street (US 7A), but do not blink, is The Arlington Inn. Cathy and I were staying there when that disk popped at dinner at the Equinox. Our hosts encouraged us to leave, and fast, not wanting to be blamed for the mishap. But, now 25 years later I know it is just my deteriorating frame. In my preliminary planning for this excursion I found the Inn is now for sale for $1.6M. I decided not to make an offer – I have my eyes on river front property instead.
Next up the road heading back towards Manchester is the Battenkill Camping Ground. In the 70s and 80s I had a tent trailer camper, and several times stayed directly on the river here with the kids.
Another cross road between 7A and Sunderland Hill Road was around the bend, and I had to see it also. Laver Road — so glad I went up and back.
Back on 7A I decided to snap these two images. For a long weekend in the late 1980s I rented this house with the Battenkill in the backyard. Trying to decide what to do post US Navy Supply Corps, I decided having a bookstore in the barn would be perfect in this area. I toured the barn, and decided upon naming my shop Battenkill Books. But, now the barn is but a stone foundation.
Did I say I have spent a great deal of time in this beautiful area? Next heading north, in Sunderland, is – The Ira Allen House, a B&B. It was built by Ethan Allen, of Green Mountain Boys fame and Ira Allen (Ethan’s brother) who was the Surveyor-General of Vermont. Cathy and I stayed here on two different occasions traveling up from the shop in Connecticut.
Remember it was reading the book on saving Hildene that prompted this sojourn? About 12 years ago Scott, Betty, Rich and I toured Hildene in the winter, and then cross-country skied on the grounds. I had to pull in the long drive. I took a look at the gift shop, and snapped this view of Mt. Equinox.
What a great outing, and even nicer with a bright sky. Heading home I swung through Peru (in Vermont that is) which is always a treat.
and in Simonsville was able to catch this view of Rowell’s Inn. Cathy and I never made it there, but I did start enjoying dinners there with BLACK. BEAUTY and BLUE BELLE. It was a place were “everyone knew my name.” But, more tears, not well run (but great food), the bank foreclosed. Vacant for years, last I heard a bakery was to open, but it appears that has not happened and some deterioration continues.
Back into Chester, stop at the antique center. But, alas, it is getting hard to spend money – nothing even tempted me. But in Bellows Falls I did get to spend some coins at Lisai’s, and am set with meals for a week plus.
A wonderful six and a half hour outing, rejuvenating, nostalgic, and I maybe some touring ideas for you. But, remember I write for myself to remember, but do like to share.
Stay well and stay safe – my first shot is on the 17th — as always, yours, RAY
I love to visit that area, too. My parents had good friends in Arlington whose property was along the Battenkill. I remember going fishing there, and seeing my first crayfish. Simonsville is where we got my first dog, a standard dachshund named Fritz von Dusenburg. (We didn’t name him)
You do take some extraordinary trips which are primarily in Vermont. I have been to meetings at the Equinox. I wonder if you ever drive through New Hampshire?
On December 24 my daughter and I drive from Hanover , through Lyme through several lake areas and finally into Maine. Many beautiful areas, some scruffy areas. The funniest road sign was in Holderness: Ta Da Dump Road.
The first small Town in Maine was filled with antique and art shops… have to drive that way again.
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As always, your shunpiking excursions remind me of my own trips across 7A and Hildene and Arlington, etc. I do enjoy your outings.
I remember that great house tour and skiing day! Great memories.
The Hildene House tour and skiing was such a great time!
I also looked at the Camping on the Batenkill…shall we all tentatively plan on going there for your maiden road trip in Lady RAB III??? It looks like a lovely setting!
The pictures are, as always, quite striking, Ray! Snow makes everything bucolic, doesn’t it?
Ray, Friends of ours used to live in Danby, VT. Now they live in Fair Haven. We visited Hildene several years ago. I recall you did a Shunpiking post about Pearl S. Buck’s house in Danby. We’re off to explore the Extraterrestrial Highway (Nevada Rt 375) later this week. Unlike VT where there’s something to see around every corner, there ain’t nothing out in the Nevada desert. We’ll overnight at the Mizpah Hotel in Tonopah. If we aren’t abducted by aliens that is.
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Another great post about your interesting travels! Like you, I am sad to learn that all the marvelous antique shops and bookstores are disappearing.😰